Now you can bag Walmart all you like, but we actually think they’re ok, for the simple fact that you can park in their carparks overnight for free, with the added comfort of the security it brings. One downside is that they can generally be miles out of the downtown areas of major cities. Walmart on Rush Street in Rosemead LA was one of those cases. It took a bus ride, a subway and an hour and a half later before we were downtown. But it’s still a good option if you don’t want to pay for a hotel.
LA Downtown doesn’t have a lot to offer the average tourist, and the tourism office had been demolished and was now a construction site. Finding a random tourist officer on the street opposite we got the down low and headed for some chow in a food court with Noda Sushi on Wiltshire Boulevard (for Google purposes) with reasonable prices. Appetites satisfied and map in hand we shifted along to the delightfully wispy Walt Disney Concert Hall, home to the LA Philharmonic Orchestra. Designed by Frank Gehry, a Canadian-American Pritzker Prize-winning architect, it is considered one of the most acoustically sophisticated and architecturally beautiful concert halls in the world.
Taking the bridge over the to The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, you see what looks like an ex-Soviet control station ominously rising above the surrounding trees. This actually turned out to be the Ramon C Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts, and an interesting venture into abstract architecture. Making it to the all but empty Cathedral the polished stone walls seemed fitting for a building such as this, wedged into slick LA. The fact that it was only opened in 2002 doesn’t mean that the bells and whistles have been left out, with modernist angles that allow the light to drop on altars, and hidden nooks and crannies around every bend, most with high vaulted ceilings. Slim minimalist chandeliers delicately drop from the roof, with the organ in the corner completing the mood. The highlight of our visit was probably discovering the niche which holds a collection of paraphernalia dedicated to Pope John Paul II, including a small vial containing what is reputed to be an actual piece of him. There’s even a certificate to back up the fact that yes, this really is a piece of the Pope. Slightly twisted but probably fitting for LA. If anything, this place gives a well needed respite from the scorching summer sun.
From here you can swing past another Chinatown on the way to Olvera Street. Known as Los Angeles first street, it’s set in the oldest pueblo, with many Mexican stalls and the oldest surviving house in the city, Avila Abode (free to visit). Whilst the back of the building is undergoing renovation you’re still permitted to wander the short hallway at the front for an insight into the life of an 1,800’s Mexican pueblo.
Having the bikes it was a short-ish ride out to the Art Deco wonder of LA’s Central Station. Yep we didn’t realize that LA would have a beautiful central station either. The gentleman behind the tourist counter is a helpful and friendly chap. Stomachs rumbling again, and with the look of hanger creeping into our eyes, we shot silently (to avoid a potential confrontation) to Koreatown. With a mixture of both Korean and Japanese food on offer, and prices to match your chosen quality, we settled for the classic western Sushi train at Kula Revolving Sushi Bar (budget kinda dictated the rules on this one).
Hollywood was next on the agenda. Matt sighed with disappointment when we passed the Grand Central Market and noticed one food stall named Egg Slut, which Matt is a huge one. Peddling our way towards Hollywood Boulevard, the buildings of City Hall and Caltrans District 7 were passed and snapped, before we loaded the bikes onto the subway after realizing how damn far it actually was. The next couple of hours was spent walking the Hollywood Walk of Fame (you all know it so we won’t dwell) and trying to decide between running, hiding or capturing on film a police officer drawing his gun and shouting ‘You, yes you, on the ground now!!’ right behind us. So obviously we went with the later, and here’s the photo to prove it.
The mayhem and hustle of the boulevard is something to experience, dodging and weaving the throngs of tourists, hustlers and homeless while trying to read the stars at the same time is a mission in itself. Spotting the likes of Kermit the Frog, Ozzy Osbourne and Matt Damon, we found ourselves at TCL Chinese Theater. Matt kept ducking into the numerous tacky souvenir shop looking for a special hat that only an NWA fan would understand the need for.
Having renamed the van Porkchop, we felt that since then we had been neglecting our other, just as important, modes of transport – the bikes. So it was time to grab some cheesey name license plates for the two beasts and here they are……..
Our second night in LA was on totally the opposite spectrum of randomness than our first night, yet turned out equally as random. Heading east on the Boulevard, we were hunting out a slightly less touristy joint to enjoy a beer, a semi dive bar by the name of Dillons, in the old music industry’s heart. Having finally stumbled across it, you realize you’re not quite in tinsel town anymore by the plethora of bong shops which start to replace the souvenir shops, dotted with run down cinemas and theaters alike. We enjoyed a couple of beers whilst alternating between watching the LA Kings vs New York Rangers in the ice hockey (weird when it’s like 28 deg C outside), American football and the women’s world cross fit finals, before finally being forced to watch the end of the ice hockey when all screens were switched to that. Luckily having spent two winters in Canada we don’t mind the sport, thought it wasn’t a good vibe when LA finally lost to New York.
Speaking to a couple of locals guys out the front, we were soon invited back to their joint to enjoy a few more beers, so we took Pedro and Jesus round the corner to take them up on the offer. Picking up a 12 pack we enjoyed a couple of beers on the street, with the guys admiring our bikes, before they admitted they didn’t actually live in an apartment, but actually in an old office building converted into rooms. Having friends from our early London days who spent time living in an old bank in Elephant and Castle (Camelot Properties, they do it to prevent squatters moving in…the bank still had artwork and graffiti from when it used to be a squat rave club), we weren’t the least bit bothered, and joined them inside to meet some of their other mates and fill the evening with good conversations and way too many beers.
Finally extracting ourselves from ‘the office’, we managed to get the bikes on the subway, followed by the bus, before navigating our way down the backstreets all the way back to Walmart. Not surprisingly, given the neighbourhood we were in, we were soon pulled over by the cops asking what the hell we were doing riding around here at 2am in the morning. Sarah being ahead, Matt got stuck answering the questions, telling the simple truth that we were on our way back to our van in Walmart to spend the night. Once again the Aussie accent and a simple ‘we’re getting married in Vegas in a few weeks’ sweetened them enough to tell us to be on our way. Finally making it back, we had a solid night sleep and one of the best sleep ins of the whole trip, neither of us stirring until after 11am.
Now if waking up in a Walmart carpark at 11am is your idea of fun, there’s something seriously wrong with you. So we consoled ourselves by visiting the McDonalds. Deciding today was time to move on from LA, the checklist still had some blanks. Snapping the Hollywood sign from the road N Gowers Street, this is meant to be one of the better vantage points of it, and also happens to be on the same road as Paramount Pictures Studios. If you’re into that you can arrange tours of it, we didn’t.
Cruising down the Miracle Mile to the La Brea Tar Pits, it feels as though this has also been manufactured to fit into the glitzy LA landscape. Actually the pits have been here for tens of thousands of years, though the ones seen today (since 1915) are as a result of mining for asphalt. You’re free to roam around at your leisure, even being able to take a picnic in the grounds, and you can also choose to pay to watch the movie and visit the museum, though on the verge of an overload of this sort of stuff, we decided to save the $12 each entry for something else.
For those who aren’t familiar with us yet, we’re quite into funky design and architecture. Porkchop also needed refreshment for the next leg and we’d heard about the Helios House gas station which we had to visit on the way to the oldest operable, 3rd built, McDonalds.
You’re probably thinking by now that we love this kinda food, though this is definitely not the case. We felt that being such a worldwide phenomenon it would only be right to visit it whilst in the area. A little run down (worst toilets in any McDonalds ever), you order your food through a window and then sit in a walled off outside area. Complete with a museum dedicated to the history of the Mcdonald’s empire, you find at least a small part of you becoming nostalgic over some of the old school wrapers, toys, logos and such which remind you of your childhood and those awesome McDonalds calendars with the freebie of the month (do they still do those in Australia??).
From here it was Compton hats on and heading toward South Central LA. Cruising Crenshaw to Englewood and then onto Compton, Matt finally had a chance to see all these places that he’d first heard of through the rap music he listened to back in late 80’s as a ten year old kid. A particular highlight was the old run down RV parked on the side of the main road in Compton, clearly growing several dope plants on the roof. Nice. Not daring to venture too much from the main roads for fear of Porkchop being carjacked (joking, obviously), we moved to Long Beach, the home of Sublime and a magnitude of other great bands like Long Beach Dub Allstars and Snoop Dogg, finally making it out and settling into Joshua Tree Town and another Walmart for the night.
Waking for the magic hour to enter the Joshua Tree National Park, a sense of mystic enchantment is felt as the skies being to transform through the spectrum of oranges through to blue. Joshua Tree has long been immortalised in many a musical tribute, including U2’s famous album of that title.
Exiting to the north of the park we headed toward the Old Route 66 again and into Amboy, which by this time had the tour buses arriving constantly and herds of people out on the roads pissing the locals off by holding up traffic to snap the Route 66 sign painted on the road. Guilty! They also pissed Sarah off when after holding on for over 20km, the entire female contingent of the bus beat her to the toilet queue. Finally time to say our goodbyes to the Golden State and move on into Arizona, Lake Havasu and The Hoover Dam.