Los Angeles, California 2012

Gathered here are our posts on the Los Angeles trip in December 2012 to early January 2013. For both of us it was our first trans-Atlantic trip. It was quite an experience. Our ideas of America - and Los Angeles in particular - are very much fashioned by what we see on screen (both cinema and television). The reality can be quite prosaic beside the Hollywood sheen; but some of the over-the-top aspects of parts of US culture can be even grander when seen with the eye instead of the camera lens. It is all a matter of perspective. Here is the complete picture as it seemed at the time...

6000 MILES FROM DOVE COTTAGE
Jordanhill in Glasgow was the first leg of our
'Awfully Big Los Angeles Adventure'
Ever since Gill's brother moved to the United States, he has been keen for us to fly over there for a visit. Now while I am keen to travel; up until now this has been very much a local affair - and any thing further has been achieved from my armchair. Last year's trip to London was an ascent of Everest-like proportions for my Argyll-centric view of life, and several trips to Mallorca over the last 20 years have done nothing to assuage my thirst for staying put.

Victoria Park in Glasgow - we stayed near here for a couple of days before heading for the USA.
I love being in a new place and seeing the sights; it is the actual travelling I cannot get used to. Robert Louis Stevenson famously written that it was better to travel hopefully than to arrive. I am unsure of exactly what he meant by this, but if he was saying that travelling is better than being there, then I have to disagree ... and I feel he would not have said it at all if he had had to fly to the Cevennes or Samoa.
Ice was a serious threat to our trip with all planes from Glasgow to London cancelled the day before.
Really my aversion to travel only applies to flying. I love trains, particularly for long journeys, and sea travel - apart from one lurching trip to the Shetland Isles - is a real delight, but flying is ... un-nerving. And it is not even the flying itself, it is the rigmarole surrounding it. Flying may indeed be one of the safest ways to travel, but the response to the terrorist threat has sucked every vestige of pleasure out of it.
However, we made it successfully from Kilmartin to Los Angeles despite much sabre-rattling from Auld Nick. Threats of cancellations due to bad weather and long delays at U.S. Immigration came to nought... well, almost ...but it was a surprisingly easy trip, if a tad overlong at 14 and a half hours all in ...and we were all in by the time that we finally reached our destination.

TIME TRAVEL TO L.A.
Despite a half hour delay in Glasgow, we managed to arrive in Heathrow pretty much on time. The journey from Terminal 5 to Terminal 3 took longer than our taxi journey from Jordanhill to Glasgow Airport and making our way through security and on to the flight to L.A. left no time for reflection.
Looking along Sierra Madre Boulevard, Sierra Madre, Pasadena
There was a kerfuffle over seating on the plane as the previous day's flight had been cancelled by the airport authority and it was rather like the last train out of Calcutta, except that hanging out of the windows and sitting on the roof is frowned upon. We exchanged seats with a young couple and a baby so that they could be near the baby-changing facilities, which elicited a double 'wow' from an air stewardess. This was apparently a rare and wonderful thing to do.
The flight - at eleven and a half hours - was fairly arduous, leaning heavily toward the boredom end of the scale. None of the inflight entertainment could be made to start at the beginning; usually commencing some 8-15 minutes in. It passed the time between food, (I hesitate to call any of it a meal, although the mini pizza served shortly before arrival at L.A. International actually resembled a well-made version).
We were both amazed at how closely a lot of L.A. resembles the Northern Mallorca of our experience; much bigger in scale obviously; more of everything, but in essence a very similar landscape and much of the building style in the same manner - the Spanish influence obviously. Espana with American gloss.
Immigration procedures were a potential nightmare involving fingerprinting, photography and questioning (which might have been recorded - there was a small microphone next to the camera lens). This we successfully negotiated after a long wait, although several others from our flight were not allowed in so readily - one man because he could not give the address at which he was staying. It seemed to us he was not understanding the questioning and maybe was distressed by the hectoring tone. We saw him later before leaving the airport, so he made it through.
Our hosts were thrilled to see us - as were we to see them - and after so much planning and waiting for this moment. It was dark by the time we reached their home  and we began to accustom ourselves to having travelled 8 hours back in time to look forward to Los Angeles. 

SANTA MONICA-BY-THE-SEA
Our first 'tourist trip' was out to Santa Monica with its famous beach ...and when you get there it looks very familiar (as indeed does a lot of the Los Angeles area). There is no doubt that this is the result of watching too many movies over the years, but it is easy to see how much the camera can edit out, or nowadays how CGI can change a scene. Caught sight during our journey across the LA basin of the 'Hollywood' sign, something which heightened the unreality of our whole experience thus far. This is a whole nother country, dude!
Nowhere have I seen photographs of romantic sun-soaked Santa Monica where it shows the gigantic parking lot on the beach ...so maybe I just mis-saw it. But it was a thrill nonetheless to be on the Pacific coast gazing on that vast expanse of water for the first time ...and the other unusual sights:
- The near-naked painted man who climbed up a ladder while brandishing a snake in each hand.
- The pier stretching out into the Pacific, just like one of the three at Blackpool. Arguably the one at Santa Monica has been filmed more often though.
- The fashion van on the promenade which contrasted sharply with all the Michael Kors, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Gucci, Versace, etc, etc stores in the town (sorry, City) centre. 
Here in LA land, every small corner is called 'The City of Wherever'. I suppose it is fair enough when LA itself boasts six and a half million residents; there is room for cities within the city.
Santa Monica - like all of Los Angeles (and I suspect like all America) - is a temple to commerce and commercialism; following the American dream, and Los Angeles has making dreams a cinematic reality woven into every sinew of its vastness. But living alongside the fantasy - maybe even a byproduct of it is an astonishing degree of poverty seen and encountered on the streets of the richest nation on Earth.
I do not want to be critical or holier-than-thou, but I find it difficult to understand why this happens. Maybe at home we are better at keeping this sort of thing out of plain sight. I know that the amount of importuning we experienced on the streets of Santa Monica is not allowed in the UK. It is said that some of these 'beggars' have a better take-home pay than many of the gainfully employed. And they are bold too. The Brother-in-law gave a dollar or two to a 'Vietnam veteran' in spotless fatigues (in fact very well turned out altogether) because of his sharp humour - what in Glasgow would be called 'The Patter'. Most mendicants are just rude, some offensive and belligerent.
Not exactly sure what this was about - but it was so eccentric a thing I had to collect the image.
However, it was in Santa Monica that I discovered a strange effect of a stay in the US of A. It is some sort of tractor beam (as it is named in 'Star Trek'), that is placed at each entrance of every shopping mall which drags you inexorably, or inex-horribly into its gaping maw. One can only look on in despair as the dollars are clinically and smilingly removed from your person. Maybe the place should be called Santa Money, Ca. Never mind, we shall be able to compare California with Nevada. We are off to Las Vegas next.

LAS VEGAS: FANTASY AND REALITY
Shortly after our day-trip to Santa Monica, our hosts took us on a two-day excursion to self-proclaimed Sin City: Las Vegas.
Leaving LA through the mountains
...and through the mountains
Travel to this famous, or infamous (depending on your viewpoint) desert resort just over the California state border into Nevada, involved a 4 hour drive across the Mojave desert to arrive at a strange mix of fantasies stuck down in the middle of nowhere, which seemed to have at its heart the notions of making the impossible possible; making dreams a reality and making your bank balance a thing of the past.
...and down into the desert
...until we reach Nevada. Whiskey Pete's is the first casino across the state line - about 100 yards across it!
More desert
In fact, parting you from your cash in as quick a time as possible and without you realising it, is something in which Las Vegas excels. It is all done so effortlessly and in the worst possible taste, because nothing excels like excess. At least that is the working premise here - demonstrated in the excessive style of every premises from Caesar's Palace to Planet Hollywood.
Paris and Caesar's Palace
We were booked in at Caesar's Palace, where the reception clerk made us feel special by offering us and our hosts an upgrade - available to only a few (hundred) - of adjoining rooms at only $65 extra per room. Wow! Rarely have I felt so singled out for special treatment ...and at only an additional $65! OK, my deep-rooted sarcasm is starting to kick in now, so I must be careful. We were treated exceptionally well, even if I was finding it difficult to remember that the practice of tipping is not optional in America; it is mandatory. This means that some 'tipees' will tell you that you are not tipping enough, even to the point of stating the minimum gratuity they will accept. (This happened to us at an establishment in Los Angeles International Airport, where the service was frankly, very poor).
As near as I can work out the arrowhead marks the location of our suite 
One of the entrances
Very understated don't you think? I mean for Las Vegas.
A collage of views from our window
The view from our room was of another accommodation tower within the Caesar's Palace Complex. Indeed, our bedroom window was pretty much the only window from which we could see the outside world. The entire complex looked inward on itself - focussing your attention on the sales areas; the gambling tables and machines; the bars, restaurants and shops. Caesar's Palace is very 'Roman' in feel, but I doubt that any ancient Roman citizen would recognise it as such. Or maybe they would recognise the decadence and the conspicuous wealth lavished on every detail and human comfort. That aspect at least made me think of the last days of Rome and the empire.
Our first evening in Las Vegas was spent at the Trump Tower Hotel, celebrating a 40th birthday. A fine meal - and again we were treated royally - the staff outnumbered the restaurant and bar guests by some way. Here was where it was brought home to me that the American's really do not walk ...anywhere!
Part of the lobby at the Trump Tower Hotel
When we left the Trump Tower, we were going to take a scenic walk back to Caesar's Palace by way of some of the other attractions. However, inspired by the icy wind whipping around the hotel entrance - and insistently encouraged by the doormen (who no doubt received 'a percentage' of the fare - we opted for a cab. 2 minutes and half a mile later we alighted at The Venetian, a rendering in concrete of the spirit of La Serenissima, complete with Rialto Bridge, St Mark's Campanile, masked courtesans in authentic costume, as well as a pop combo adorning a genuine Venetian platform, all the while belting out an inaudible current 'hit' into their Venetian microphones.
Another cab - this time steered by a magic-trick-playing New Yorker - returned us to Caesar's Palace, where we were soon sinking into wild and exuberant sleep, populated with bright and sparkly thoughts and technicolor dreams.

More 'L.A. Story' soon ...


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