Our last day in LA. A long trip was drawing to an end. LA, as stated, is far too big to really get to know in a few days (try years), but we had to see Venice Beach, at the very least. We strolled out of the hotel slightly later than anticipated, but after the previous night’s drinking session, we were both in a weakened state. So where better to head than Venice Beach?
Venice Beach is but a walk from Santa Monica, although we were lazy and took the bus with a gaggle of other tourists and an angry, drunk guy who yelled at the bus driver after she’d failed to stop when he didn’t signal for her to stop: “I don’t give a fuck, let me off the bus, bitch!” She did, after an evil look and driving an extra block to show who was boss. He stumbled away.
Venice Beach is the place you always see in movies and on TV shows: where the beautiful people go to be seen, where stars are discovered, where Pamela Anderson saved lives on Baywatch and so on. It’s often portryaed as paradise, and barring the bums, the hawkers, the pickpockets, the overpriced foods and the drug busts, it can seem like it.
Either way, it’s legendary for surfing and for revolutionizing skating back in the day, and there’s still a ragged exuberance there to tap into, despite the commodification of the place. We first went to Muscle Beach to watch the mutants lift scrap metal and show off their pecs and abs. Sadly, there was only one guy to be seen, and compared to the juggernauts I saw on my last visit, a downright scrawny one at that. (He probably couldn’t have benched more than a few hundred pounds.)
But still, the beach was rife with people and there was some sort of basketball game going on. There was a stunning girl on rollerskates holding a mike, and it turned out it was some sort of amateur game for the HipHop channel or something like that. We watched her, I mean the game, for a few minutes, then headed out for hot dogs.
If you like T-shirts, Venice Beach is the place for you. I bought a ridiculous amount of t’s on the trip, and most of them I got in Venice. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Pac-Man and a bunch of other bullshit. It really is t-shirt heaven.
Now, one of the other attractions are the women. In the movies, they’re always running around in pastel bikinis, their assets bouncing in the wind and their pearly white smiles always extended, even to the pale, potbellied furry tourist from the great North. There were a number of cute girls around, but as always on the trip, the stunners just weren’t there. Believe me, we looked.
We headed back after a while; on the bus, we passed what I believe was the old Zephyr Skates shop, where people like Stacy Peralta and Tony Alva got their start. It looked closed and someone had spraypainted “R.I.P. Heath” on the wall, I assume out of respect to the late Heath Ledger, who played Skip Engblom in The Lords of Dogtown (rent Dogtown and Z-boys instead).
We spilt up to see if there was anything we needed, and I went hunting for some things I’d forgotten to pick up, but the one thing they don’t seem to have in the area is a drugstore. So that was that. We figured we’d drive up to the strip on Sunset to check out the lights; it was important not to drink too much, because we were leaving the next day.
Getting the car from the valet was a nightmare. The traffic was insane and it took nearly half a hour just to get the car. The valet was embarrassed and declined a tip, on grounds of it taking too long. But we hardly blamed him; we could see how insane it was. It then took another good half hour to get five blocks and out of the worst of it. Stig had bloody murder in his eyes, and I could see a Death Race 2000 type situation in the works.
Finally we made it out. Driving around L.A .takes time, and at long last we made it to Sunset. It was sort of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it. A couple of clubs, and that was that. Not terribly exciting. And it was too early for the crowds to come out. They did on the way back, though. Getting back was equally insane, and when we handed the keys to the valet (different guy), he looked like the saddest guy on the planet. I think we ruined his evening. Sorry, pal.
…and here, the tale ends.
Ah, Rodeo Drive. Playground of the privileged and rich; where the movie starts and the heiresses do their shopping (and heirs too, it’s just that nobody seems as interested in the antics of those guys). So, we hadn’t showered or shaved in a few days, and dressed in our finest (dirty shorts and smelly t’s), we headed to Beverly Hills.
Funny story – and true – is that driving around looking for parking, we passed a blonde in a cocktial dress and fuck-me pumps. “Was that..?” said Stig. “…Pia Haraldsen?” I replied. And indeed it was. So within five minutes of arriving, we had already spotted our first vapid and overprivileged pseudo-celeb (for those of you not Norwegian, she’s basically the local Paris Hilton – famous for nothing beyond being born with right name, connections and dearth of talent).
I’m not going to elaborate on the stores – they’re just fancier versions of what you find elsewhere in malls and such. Besides, we had bigger fish to fry.
Hollywood Boulevard is a nightmare, but we knew that. Grauman’s Chinese Theater is a glorified mall and I find myself almost freaking out what with all the people milling about. I thought there’d be more had- and footprints than there are, but maybe they move some elsewhere after a while? Not that I really counted, and you can’t when you have to part a sea of people in order to get a look at it all. We had important business to attend to, though: we needed to find a certain star on the Boulevard, and this pilgrimage was part of what LA is about to us. So off we went. I’d found an address on Wikipedia before we left, but hadn’t written it down, nor had I remembered to check it on my laptop, but that was also partly because the Internet connection at the Carmel totally blew. I mean, goddammit!
So we headed to where I think it was. It wasn’t there, nor does the block even go that far (well, the part with stars on it, that is), so we crossed the street and headed down the other way. After many blocks of names known and unknown, we decided we’d missed it. At this point, we were down to the late 30s, so it made sense. And back up we went. When back at the corner by the parking garage, Stig decided to go back to the car. “We can’t find it,” he said. So I replied “Well, let’s get a photo of the Hasslehoff one, just so it’s not a total bust”.
Stig posed over the star, but his heart wasn’t really in it. The VIF scarf was placed next to it unenthusiastically. A family of five walked by and we heard that father say “Heh, Hasslehoff,” in a knowing voice. I said “Come on, one last try” Stig concurred and less than half a block further up, we found it: Chuck Norris. Joyous times. Photos were shot, and the day was saved and as we headed back to the car, we heard the family father belt out “Chuck Norris. NICE!”
At this point, we headed back to the hotel. We had dinner and then hit a bar for a few drinks; sitting outside watching people and traffic, I saw a big car with an open window, and who was in it? Larry “Seinfeld/Curb Your Enthusiasm” David. Granted, I was a few beers in, but it couldn’t have been anyone but him. That was my first celebrity spotting. (And last – Pia Haraldsen doesn’t count)
We ended up in bar with a smoking hot bartender, and what was supposed to be just a stop in the barhopping became the final destination. Everyone were looking at her, and she knew too. After many beers and some whisky, we stumbled home. The next morning wasn’t something I looked forward to.
You know, I totally forgot to write something this day. We arrived in LA with a minimum of fuzz. The hotel was pretty good, and we had drinks in a bar with the hottest bartender we’d seen in a while, which was nice, obviously.
The day consisted mostly of driving, and I was already in winding-down mode…LA, after all, was our final stop.
Solvang / Santa Barbara
It was not a day for great journeying. Cambria had been a sleepy little burg, and while Santa Barbara would be nice, I also knew it would be a relaxed thing. The scenery on the way down wasn’t as spectacular as we’d seen coming through Big Sur, but not much is.
Still, we did see a whale just off the shore at one point. “Hey…” I went. “You saw the whale too, right?” asked Stig. It was kind of cool.
For the hell of it, we made a little detour through Solvang, the Danish enclave not too far from Santa Barbara. On the way into town, we passed “The Hitching Post”, the place Paul Giamatti meets Maya in the movie Sideways. Solvang pretty much looks like a theme park. It’s all Danish shops and Danish-style buildings and Danish names and it’s just so fucking cute. I have been to Solvang once before, when I was 11 or 12. I don’t remember much, except that I saw Conan the Barbarian on TV. I guess cable. Anyway, I didn’t make any new memories this time. We came, we saw, we left.
Getting into Santa Barbara, we found the hotel without a hitch. We were but two blocks from the beach, so we headed straight there. I normally dread going to the beach with all the vigor of a pot-bellied and exceedingly hairy guy, but I figured no-one would remember me, though stumbling around in the back of my head was an uncomfortable thought that weeks later, safely home in Oslo, American tourists would jump off the bus, pointing at me, shouting: “Eeeew. It’s that guy! Somebody get a picture!”
Anyway, by now, I had a serious farmer’s tan, which I sorely needed to balance it out. So, armed with sunblock of various strengths, I lay down on the beach blanket and peeled my shirt off for the whole world to see and avert their eyes from: I lay there like a veritable Moby Dick, a beached white whale, glorious in all its splendor.
On the other hand, Norway won that day’s leg of the Tour de France, so at least there was some semblance of carmic balance in things Norwegian.
Big Sur / Hearst Castle / Cambria
We left Carmel fairly well rested, and not too late. We had quite a drive. We would go through Big Sur, then hit Hearst Castle. We could have used two days, but still…you have to make do with what you have.
Big Sur has always been a place of mystery; also, hippies. Jack Kerouac wrote his last book here, “Big Sur,” in which he concludes the book by talking to the ocean for about twenty-four pages that nobody ever reads.
We were curious and slightly nervous since Big Sur was one of the areas that had been hit hardest by the forest fires. A few days prior, the road had been closed. It was now open again, but since the fires seemed to flare up randomly, we couldn’t be sure. Luckily, things were OK and the road was open.
Big Sur is quite beautiful, and despite residual smoke mixing with late morning fog, we had a good view. As we entered Big Sur itself, we passed a sign proclaiming “Welcome home, Big Sur souls”. It was not the last sign we saw – we passed several signs that all said “We love firemen” and “thank you firemen” or variations thereupon. (Come to think of it, it was probably “firepeople” – this is PC country, after all)
On both sides of us, the brush was burnt to a crisp and the ground was charred, though not all over, thankfully; it was more like pockets of dead land wedged in between the otherwise verdant landscape. It was odd to see these grey, dead patches in between the lively greens, but the alternative would have been terrible to contemplate. The firefighters certainly earned their pay.
We stopped at Nepenthe, to eat at the famous café. It supposedly has the world’s best view (a claim which a certain bar in Key West also makes on its own behalf), serves food and beer and you can buy macramé and incense to boot. Truly a convergence of commerce and culture. Of course, neither of us were interested in macramé, so we just had some expensive sandwiches and enjoyed the view of both the coastline and the shapely waitress instead.
Trying to describe the views you encounter on Highway 1 is a tall order, but you can’t really go wrong with any of the vista points there. It’s wonderful hiking and camping country, and I would have liked to explore more, but because of all the fire damage, it was easier to put it out of my mind. Besides, we still had to get to Hearst Castle.
Heart Castle is known as the place where good taste went to die, which only proves the writers’ narrative lack of imagination. In truth, it’s more like a theme park designed by a kid with full-on ADD. You can’t fault it for what it tries to be, I suppose, but had mr Hearst had a little less cash to throw around, perhaps a more unified vision would have been presented to the world. Thankfully, he didn’t have this problem, and we could fully enjoy the man’s scattershot vision of European-infused opulence on the hilltop overlooking the Bay.
The Castle is huge; surrounded by acres and acres of land, where wild animals from all over the world would roam freely, the compound has several pools, both indoor and out, a Spanish-inspired house with two belfries, medieval French tapestries, orthodox icons and so on. Hearst had the indoor pool decorated with tiles of 18-carat gold, as you would.
The area is literally strewn with statues bought and brought from all over Europe. They may have been timeless (if not priceless) works of art, and an example is as follows: an Apollo figure didn’t fit entirely on the pool fresco, so the legs were cut off and the now-shorter deity placed on his perch above the water. You have to admit Hearst showed a certain foresight here: it would take another 60 years before people like Damien Hirst would start chainsawing shit and calling it great art.
Hearst Castle is also unique in that it was designed by California’s first female architect. She spent decades of her life working for Hearst, the only provision being that she bring his dreams to life. She pops up for a few seconds in one of the clips detailing the construction. She seems almost – almost – out of place next to the flamboyant Hearst, and when he puts his arm around her slight frame and point to the camera, she smiles curtly and hides her face behind the blueprint, but not without humor.
Hearst the man is as known from “Citizen Kane” these days as he is from his own career, perhaps more so. While “Kane” was fiction, it hit close enough to home that Hearst more or less killed the movie commercially and put Orson Welles’ career on hold. But as we know now, Welles had a lot to answer for in regard to his own decline as well, and ultimately, visiting the castle does balance the scales somewhat:The impression one is left with of the man is that of a driven, but generally decent man with a lot of money who loved to be around people. (Check out the HBO series “Deadwood” for a somewhat less flattering portrait of daddy Hearst.)
Anyway, let’s face it: who wouldn’t really want to large it up a bit if we could? Personally, I’d go for something smaller, but I’m Norwegian, and tradition dictates that we don’t enjoy ourselves unless we’re uncomfortable. And you’d be hard pressed to be uncomfortable in any way at Hearst Castle.
We ended up in Cambria. The bars all closed at eight, so we bought some beers and enjoyed them on the porch. As much as we could; the neighbors were fighting and we heard a male voice: “leave me alone ten goddamned minutes, can you do that?” and so on. He came out on the porch, in utter darkness; we sensed he was there, most likely planning his wife’s murder, and so figured he needed his privacy. They went at it some more a bit later; I tell you, that was one car I was happy I wouldn’t be in.