Hollywood in all its glory
Unknown to most tourists, Hollywood is spectacularly dodgy. Its full of creeps. Still confused with the city layout after being in LA for 8 days, I decided I'd buy an illustrated map of the city. A couple of crazies glared at me as I crossed the street on the way to the gimmicky little map shop. One even tried to shoulder - charge me, but he seemed to change his mind when he was a foot away from me and stopped right in front of me. I kept walking down Hollywood Boulevard. I picked up the map and walked over to the cashier to pay. At that moment, another crazy ran passed the shop screaming and flinging his arms above his head. He had a long beard and old clothes on. The cashier says "He's high on crack. They all high on crack. Do you know what crack is?" I was still focusing on the crazy but when I looked at him and his raised eyebrows, it seemed he was trying to lull me into some sort of drug deal. I mumbled something about having to go, and took the map. I also witnessed some oscar worthy performances from some bird and her pimp (I think) and some guy trying to get a free drink at McDonalds which led to the outlet closing down for the next 10 minutes as the cops where called and the drinks machines put on hold.
There are definitely more crazies in America than anywhere else. Apparently there is a story about bums and beggars being dropped off in LA by other city metropoles in California and Arizona. There definitely seemed to be a lot of bums around.
Los Angeles: "The Angels"
LA is a mega-city. It is absolutely huge. There are a vast amount of freeways throughout the city, and cars everywhere. Its extremely cosmopolitan, and suprisingly, given the political climate with Iran, there is a large Iranian presence in the city too. Even more of a suprise, is that large parts of Beverley Hills are dominated by the Iranian community. The city, and all of southern California as well as Arizona, is supported by the Colorado River. It never rains in LA, perhaps only a dozen days a year. As a result, I was wearing shorts everyday, despite it being near the height of winter. Perfect weather.
My old pal Keith Davis met me at the airport. Its been 9 years since we last saw each other when I was back in first year at varsity in Grahamstown. Keith had been on exchange for a semester and we've kept up ever since. There was a lot of catching up to be done. Keith's a great host - he took me to so many of the famous places in LA - Venice Beach (bumped into a drugged-out hippie party on the beach, and saw all the famous basketball courts where street teams compete aggresively for the courts), Santa Monica Boulevard (street musicians as well as the famous pier), Mulholland Drive (where James Dean crashed his bike), Manhattan Beach, Bel Air (unbelievable mansions), Beverley Hills and the San Fernando valley (full of all the famous studio houses). When Keith was working I cruised about the Hollywood area, and wandered up to the Hollyood Hills, or the various boulevards - Sunset Blvd especially. There is a lot to see in the city - its truely massive. The day I went up to the Hollywood Hills I found the view even smoggier than expected - the fires at Yorba Linda (outlying district) were creating such a haze that I couldn't see downtown LA. The entire valley was grey and the next day ash was falling over Hollywood. Being in LA was a surreal experience - especially for someone from outside the US - all the names, places, buildings - are familiar - I've seen them in so many movies and shows that it feels like I've been there already. I kept saying "This is just like the movies!" and then Keith would mock me. Keith was always pointing out something from some movie.
Dr Phil, my hero
I did a day trip to Universal Studios, but found it less than impressive, its one of those places where you need to be with mates, or perhaps just 15 years younger I also went to Paramount Studios for a studio tour - that was great. Unfortunately we had to witness Dr Phil rounding off one of his shows with his legion of bored housewife fans. This was excruciatingly painful to say the least. Dr Phil was walking along this fan-filled aisle up to his studio stairs and his legion were just cheering and cheering. There were guys hanging just out of sight from the camera's who were revving up the crowd every 30 seconds or so. Dr Phil looked in our direction, aknowledged us, and then made some corny, lame-ass joke to his die-hard legion, who erupted into hysterics (some of the fans almost did some Beatles-mania faint maneauvres). Yuuurghh. Anyway, the rest of the tour was great. We saw a few famous people on set, between takes (well I didn't recognise them, but apparently they're big news).
Living the dream: Roadtrip into the American South West
Keith got a week off from work over the Thanksgiving break, and we headed out west from LA, with the intention of hitting some of the the national parks in California, Arizona, and Utah, with a final fling in Las Vegas, where his folks live. We hit Joshua Tree National Park just outside of LA. This was a symbolic moment for me as I've been a big U2 fan for years, thanks to old school mates. Like hardened U2 fans, we played their greatest album - The Joshua Tree - at full volume. Fortunately there weren't any tourists about. After about half an hour we came across our first Joshua Tree. It looked like a big cactus... We took some pics and moved on! The build up was better than the real thing!
Our first night was in Phoenix, a massive, sprawling city - seemingly endless, and with random suburbs spreading for many miles beyond the downtown area. Its fascinating to see - the city is quite literally built in the desert. Another example of the the wonders of the Colorado River and the Hoover dam. I couldn't help but wonder how this city would deal with a massive petrol price hike - its so spread out that building any public transport system would cost a vast fortune. I reckon a massive price hike would cripple the city, and LA, for that matter.
Its so spread out that we struggled to find a hotel. When we finally did, we found ourselves in Tempe, considered completely seperate from Phoenix city. We dropped off our stuff and headed into the Tempe area of Phoenix, which is the home of Arizona University students. No problem! We ended up in Hooters, which was quiet anyway.
Phoenix is a little strange in my opinion - its so spread out that I think it loses a lot of character.
We rose late and cruised north to the Grand Canyon, passing a few small towns along the way. Keith stopped at a typical Diner and there was some great people watching in order. It was like another world. Guys were even arriving in hunting gear with rifles strapped to the backs of their "buggies." Later, we stopped off at some old Native American cliff dwellings and at Sunset Crater national park. Both were absolutely gorgeous. Sunset Crater is a large dried out lava field - a total moonscape. Arriving late at night at the Grand Canyon, we almost hit an elk caught in our spotlights. Keith freaked out. (Maybe it was all the long hours on the open, desert roads) Still, it was pretty funny. I was also freaking out, but mostly because Keith was making me listen to Annie Lennox. Roadtrips are one thing, but inviting Annie Lennox to the party is something else altogether. He's a borderline Annie fan, which is shameful. Day 3 and we did a small trail into the Canyon. Its unbelievably huge. You start to feel that you are looking at a painting, because it just doesn't feel real. Its that big. There are some great walks and viewpoints along the ridge and we cruised along the edge stopping every now and then to get some pics. The sunset was great - the canyon went bright red and I got some great pics.
Utah: Bryce Canyon and Zion National Parks
Another day, another state. Utah was next, and the deserts kept rolling in. We crossed the north-eastern point of the Grand Canyon, and went over the Colorado River, which was stunning with its bright green waters. Keith and I even met a Navajo woman later, on the rim of the Canyon. She was pretty engaging and told us lots about the culture and the squaw dances they still do every year. We managed to reach Bryce Canyon as the sun was setting, which was fortunate because the next morning it began to snow. We managed to walk a trail down into the canyon and get out as the weather turned icily cold and the snow started to come down quite hard. Bryce is spectaclar. It is a small canyon with bright red rocky pinnacles surrounding its rim. It has a planet Mars feel to it. The viewpoints, once again, were great.
Zion is spectacular, but in a different way. The highlight of the park is a cliff viewpoint that looks out over enormous domed mountains. There is a stream and valley below the viewpoint, and the entire place just makes you feel so insignificant. Its one of the most amazing viewpoints I've been too. I think that says a lot taking into account this year of travel so far. I could have sat there all day staring at the domed mountains ahead of the viewpoint.
Viva Las Vegas!
Vegas is unreal. As you can imagine, its all the glitz and glamour of the casinos world, along with as much sleaze and as many slimeballs as you could possible have in one place. The city has plenty of character! I think half of Mexico is there too. Keith gave me a few tours of the city and its famous casino's, but the highlight for me was spending my first thanksgiving in America, with his family. It was great doing the whole turkey thing, and staying in the comforts of your own bedroom, if only for while! Hostels get to you eventually! Keith's brother and sister-in-law came through from New York and it was great meeting them too.
So I'm in Portland, Oregan now. I've just been in San Francisco for three days, and they were epic. The city is definitely a place I could live, if the oportunity ever presented itself. Golden Gate was magnificent. I've only been in Portland for a few hours and it looks nice too. Its meant to be the micro-brewery capital of the US, so I'll have to conduct some firm investigations into this statement.
Til next time, ciao.