Stranger in a Strange Land: An Old Hoosier Visits Los Angeles (Part 1)

800px-Downtown_Los_Angeles_Skyline

I had never visited Los Angeles before and had little idea of what to expect besides movie stars and cement ponds.

Having just returned a couple of days ago from my first trip ever to the enormous and mesmerizing city of Los Angeles, I figured that I would share some thoughts and impressions of this place.

Millie and I spent a week out there to visit my youngest daughter Carol and her family. They moved to L.A. about four years ago when Carol’s adorable second husband Mark decided to switch jobs so he could be happy.[1] Oh, and Millie was herself very happy that she could take her little Pomeranian dog Angie with us, too! And they all had a wonderful time, too, Millie and Carol and our 17-year-old granddaughter Taylor, and Mark, too, I suppose.

Having never been to Los Angeles, or even to the West Coast, the experience was entirely alien to me, and indeed I felt very out of place there, like an alien should. But I doubt that I was very conspicuous in Los Angeles, as a sampling of just about everyone imaginable can be found there.

These are my impressions of the Los Angeles area:

Carnivorous Plants

coral-trees2

Originally from the Flintstones, the coral tree is the official tree of Los Angeles.

One of the very first things that struck me as odd was the variety of prehistoric plants that fill the city. Of course everyone knows about the tall palm trees that we see lining the streets in the movies and television, but I had never before noticed the Flintstone plants that border the streets and houses. Lovely trees the likes of which I’d never seen were growing everywhere. These include very large and gorgeous coral trees, with their deformed, gray Brachiosaur-skin bark and twisted roots, and a bizarre variety of other trees like eucalyptus and magnolias and mysterious shaggy pine trees. Some great fern-like trees with stinky purple flowers bloomed all over the city while we visited; the flowers smelled like filthy dogs. Other strange plants were just as exotically beautiful, including a variety of shrubs and ferns and cacti. I enjoyed the intense flavor of little oranges from a kumquat tree: very sour at first but with a sweet rind that makes up for it.

395px-Dayofthetriffids

“Triffids don’t really eat people. They just pinch us sometimes for fun.”

The strangest of all the flora was an unusual variety of carnivorous plant that the locals call “triffids”. The triffids stand guard along houses and city streets to protect against evil-doers. But triffids don’t really eat people, I was chidingly told, they just like to pinch people sometimes in their mischief. The triffids only eat flying insects, which is why the city is largely free of mosquitoes and other airborne pests.

Money

No one would exchange my US dollars for California ones. The scowling lady at Western Union told me in a very condescending tone that businesses would accept my American bills all over Los Angeles. Very rude and frustrating. One American dollar equals 1.5 California dollars, and my trip cost me 50% more because of this failure to exchange my money.

Venice Canals

800px-Bungalows_on_Venice_Canals,_Los_Angeles,_California,_Sept_2011

Shallow canals instead of yards and sidewalks full of tourists who gawk just inches away from the back patio. The owners must enjoy the attention!

My daughter lives near a neighborhood called the Venice Canals, and she was most anxious to show us this remarkable place. Some fellow named Abbot Kinney had the canals and homes built in 1905 in an attempt to recreate Venice, Italy.  The canals are shallow but populated with little fish and minnows.  If the place ever resembled the real Venice at one time, it shares very little with that great city today.

We all walked and walked along the sidewalks and little bridges past dozens of crowded, gaudy houses with tiny gardens, each house seemingly populated by moderately wealthy baby boomers.  These houses were somewhat interesting at first, but I grew tired of the sameness of their diversity.

It’s like a world where hippies grew into old age, gave up their earthy asceticism for earthy materialism, made lots of money, and ruled the land.[2]

Demographics

I had imagined that Los Angeles was a place dominated by gays and Hispanics (and gay Hispanics), with large sub-groups of druggies, hippies, and failed actors. Much like a Cheech and Chong movie. Surprisingly, this was not exactly the case. Many of the people seemed remarkably normal and down-to-earth, though in a slightly abnormal way that I couldn’t quite identify.

Of course, the area is quite ethnically diverse, with no single group predominant in many of the areas that we visited. One area of the city where my wife shopped for hours had a large Jewish population, as determined by the large number of yarmulkes and all of the abandoned Taco Bells restored into synagogues. Elsewhere, I saw a statistically large number of midgets (I know, I know, “little people!”).[3] Maybe these were actors.  But, once again, Jews didn’t dominate the Jewish areas and little people didn’t dominate the little people areas.

hides222

She danced near me and sang about the hides, but she wasn’t offended when I didn’t buy.

I walked through another area of town with large numbers of Ethiopians, one of whom danced barefoot and sang rituals on the sidewalk to her sacrificed goats. She sold the goat hides from a shopping cart. The hides had a very wild odor of dirt and, well, goat hide, I guess. I did not buy. No room in my luggage. The Ethiopian woman was not offended by my refusal.

Politics

I knew that I was traveling in an overwhelmingly liberal city, the “Left Coast” and all that. I think 91.2% of the “Angelinos” voted for Barack Obama[4] in the last election, and the other nine percent thought Obama too conservative and voted for Roseanne Barr.

398px-Roseanne_Hard_Rock_Cafe

I was afraid that Roseanne Barr would discover that we were from Indiana and then kill us.

So I was very concerned that if the people found out that my wife and I came from Indiana that they would assume that we’re Republicans. They might spit on us, or refuse to serve us, or shout to the world that we were from a red state. The streets would overflow with angry people demanding that we explain ourselves, and they might riot and tear our limbs off.

When asked where we were from, the conversation would proceed like this:

“So where are you guys from?”

“Back East”, I would say, and often that reply would suffice, and I could breathe a sigh of relief.

But my answer irritated Millie for some reason, and she began to add to my reply “Indiana”, or my son-in-law would over-exert himself to volunteer this secret, much to my annoyance. Mark is such a helpful little guy!

Then I would quickly add, “We’re from the most liberal and progressive town in Indiana, a very enlightened sort of place where everything and everyone is free. The people back home have even started a committee to draft Mrs. Obama to run in 2016!”

This always seemed to satisfy them, and the conversation would move on.

Food

People can buy a huge variety of food in Los Angeles, particularly ethnic cuisine. There seems to be a large number of doughnut and coffee shops. And we very much enjoyed the great Farmer’s Market for its enormous variety.  I was frustrated, however, that none of the places my daughter took us had either coleslaw or mashed potatoes with gravy. What sort of place was this Los Angeles?

Hippie food prevails throughout the area, with an emphasis on organic fruits and vegetables mixed with a hodge-podge of ethnic items such as vegetable curries, dolma, falafel, and dahl, whatever those things are. I saw several smoothie or juice bars, and they seem to be replacing real bars that serve real liquor. One time three tough-looking scraggly dudes pushed out of one of these bars, each daintily sipping their gaily colored drinks through tiny straws.

the-sandwich

Whoever heard of a restaurant that puts jelly on a turkey sandwich? At first I thought it was a prank, but no, this was all too real!

One day I had to eat lunch at an odd little eatery called “Lemonade”, my granddaughter’s idea. This restaurant played loud and mind-numbingly cheerful pop music. Everyone in this place looked like they came out of Three’s Company.[5] I did not understand the cafeteria layout and found the experience very frustrating, with the order-taker very smug and patronizing with my ignorant questions: “What’s in that? How about that?” Finally I settled on the safe option of a turkey sandwich. The gourmet sandwich arrived with purple jelly slathered on it and it cost me 12 California dollars (not including my lemonade), paid for with wasted US currency. I tried one bite of this frou-frou creation and could not adjust to the presence of the jelly, so the sandwich tumbled into the trash while the rest of my family ate in apparent contentment.

Thinner People

The people in Los Angeles are generally thinner than those of the Midwest, it is true! Evidently the reason for this is the peer pressure in the rest of the country for people to grow fatter. Apparently fat people don’t want thin friends hanging around who make them look bad.

Little Dogs

lorde-walking-poodles1

People in L.A. love their little dogs. But how many clean up after them?

Many people walk tiny dogs around the city, often these are toy poodles. Useless, yappy creatures! Dog grooming shops abounded, and Millie spent an entire morning with her Pomeranian in attendance, giving the dog a bath and unneeded haircut and a frivolous pedicure.

I almost stepped on these little pampered dogs a few times by accident.

Frequently I observed tiny little piles of dried dog feces along the sidewalks.

No Air Conditioning

While many shops and businesses must have had the infrastructure for air conditioning, they refused to use it, and several stores were uncomfortably hot and stuffy. In fact, I was hot during the entire visit just about everywhere we ventured, which only exacerbated my endless battle to stay hydrated.  Even my daughter’s house lacked this amenity.

Los Angeles’ Mediterranean, sub-tropical climate actually doesn’t get much hotter, normally, than about 80 degrees in the summer. And usually a cool breeze blows from the ocean, so many people don’t bother with air conditioning.

Helicopters

At night helicopters buzz around, often pointing their spotlights towards the ground. Many of them are police helicopters on the hunt for criminals. There is a thriving black market for antique high-flow, “assault” toilets around here, and the city is currently cracking down on the illicit trade because of the severe drought.

To Be Continued…

I will continue to make further unsolicited (and likely unappreciated) observations of the Los Angeles area in my next post…(Part 2 is here.)

[1] Personally I greatly preferred Carol’s first husband Dennis, a man who understood that a husband should be more concerned for the happiness of his family than for his own, but my little Carol dumped him because he didn’t make her happy enough. Ah, kids.
[2] Do I refer to Venice Canals or to Los Angeles itself? Yes.
[3] I mentioned this observation about the midgets to my teenage granddaughter Taylor as she fiddled with her smart phone. She angrily corrected me, “They’re little people, Grandpa!” I don’t know why they would prefer being called a “little person” instead of dwarf. “Little person” sounds condescending. I understand their disdain for the term “midget”, as it is often used in a derogatory kind of way, but “little person” sounds very awkward in that special way that only political correctness can elicit.
[4] Peace be upon him.
[5] In fact, this trip in many ways was like having spent every waking hour for a whole week watching back-to-back episodes of Three’s Company. I have always found John Ritter very irritating, and I’m sure that this feeling would only grow worse with the start of each new back-to-back episode. In fact, now that I think of it, my son-in-law Mark reminds me a lot of John Ritter. Hmm…

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5 thoughts on “Stranger in a Strange Land: An Old Hoosier Visits Los Angeles (Part 1)

  1. “It’s like a world where hippies grew into old age, gave up their earthy asceticism for earthy materialism, made lots of money, and ruled the land.”

    That’s a good line! Those houses along the canal have that expensive yet cheap look that I notice (and hate) about McMansions around here. They’re neat looking at a glance, but there’s no substance, no actual style, just flash.

    Why do you need AC? Its a “dry heat”!

  2. Pingback: Stranger in a Strange Land: An Old Hoosier Chased by Angry Hippies at Venice Boardwalk in Los Angeles (Part 2) | Ostrander Bellepoint

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