Monday, August 8, 2011

Passing Through LA and vicinity - August 2011

Perhaps this brief account can suggest a few ways to appreciate Los Angeles and its environs - a few needles in a vast haystack - for those of you who, like me just last week, do not have time to stop and savor the sites. [As elsewhere this account may be edited shortly.]  

I had the pleasure of seeing a little bit of urban and exurban LA last week, during a trip whose main focus - a 25th reunion for a 1986 peace walk - I briefly wrote about a few days ago.  While I have a love-hate relationship with LA, as it represents at times the 20th-century epitome of an auto-dominated blob, as well as being able to claim a large share of the superficiality of U.S. culture, I love parts of the same aspects including the architecture of the 20's and beyond as shaped largely by the auto, and being, like I would guess most people, a sucker for the glamour of Hollywood.

This account presents just one way, and a grab-bag to be sure, of what you might do in just passing through.  One piece of advice is to bear with my low-pixel views and to get a better camera, but they'll show some of what's up when you fly into LAX, take a "flyaway" bus from there to downtown LA and then a train from LA's Union Station out of town - to Ventura, maybe 60 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, in my case. Perhaps needless to say as well, there's at least one accident here in the minutiae of travel and my own idiosyncrasies.

[As elsewhere in this blog, clicking on the pictures themselves is likely to give you enlarged and clearer views, after which you can return to the text.]

I'll blend sites I saw on the trips from LAX to Ventura and back, on Monday, Aug. 1 and Sat., Aug. 6 respectively.

When I got in to LAX Mon., 8/1, it was a joyous homecoming of sorts; my travel of any sort has been limited for most of my adult life, due to brilliant time and money management (ahemmm...) but, for some strange reason, I now have at least passed through Los Angeles three times in the last seven years.  That strange reason is my seminal role in the renaming of LAX, which initiated a contentious and lengthy renaming contest in 1997; after ten years of no clear winner, I came in (just as I did recently with the debt crisis in DC), and broke the logjam with an interim solution - why not rename the facility ex-LAX?  While that is now in the courts, I was awarded two free trips to the airport formerly known as LAX in 2007.

No, in all seriousness....

Just below you'll see my picture of the somewhat emerald city skyline of LA on Aug. 1, not so emerald a few days later in the thick smog of Aug 6; this view (again, low pixel strength and all) is looking north from where the 105 eastbound goes into the 110 northbound (as on this map, where if interested, you will see the 105 and 110 meeting roughly a little bit to the right of the image's left center -- ); here and perhaps elsewhere, it appears that the transmission of the picture right here may cut off the right or left side, but a click on the picture will reveal the whole view (and enable you to enlarge and perhaps make it clearer) before you come back to the main body of the text:

One element you notice pretty easily covering part of the vast LA basin from LAX to downtown is, not surprisingly, palm trees, but I'd say, from my times in LA in recent years, that most of them are like very tall people with very small heads, not grand, thick-trunked specimens with great curving branches and leaves; on the way back to LAX on 8/6, the tops of trees, seen below to the west of the 110 north of Manchester Avenue, roughly near South-Central LA, were remindful to me of the Little Prince's planet (seen at:; I include all three of these views to suggest a few points in the spectrum from barren to lush cityscape:

After the enjoyment of seeing an older LA in the last 3-4 miles to downtown (no pictures here, but I'm referring to a landscape including bungalows from maybe 1910 and up, 3-4 story brick apt. buildings, etc), the flyaway bus stopped at Union Station, a classic (1939?) structure seen here in what is noted as a "vintage postcard":

While waiting there before catching an Amtrak train to Ventura, I enjoyed a patio north of its main hall which I had known about from a 2007 visit, and while it is likely part of that space has been privatized to accomodate outdoor dining for a fashionable restaurant since my last stop there and my patio bench seemed to be close to a subtle smell of urine, the spot was otherwise wonderful for relaxation, being very quiet, perhaps because I was there in-between rush hours:

I also sat in the main hall with its worn but plush seats (originals from the 30's?):

Five days later, in leaving California, I did not luxuriate in the Station, pretty much going right from the train to the flyaway bus, but, while stopping in a bathroom there, found what I had been searching for my entire life - the Robert Mueller memorial toilet, seen here in distinctive detail and in full Spanish scrawlanguage close-up with the words "Robet [? (sic?)] Mular [? (sic?)] Director del FBI es Puto Guey":

Evidently, the (graffitist?) here thought enough of Mueller to call him a "puto" - a male prostitute, or homosexual (in the homophobic sense), or "coward" etc. in a Mexican context [with thanks to].

The last word above is at least likely to be "guey" and crediting the "urbandictionary" again [at] it is said to mean "[d]ude in Spanish", with its "literally meaning 'ox', and either being a negative term like 'fool' or 'ni**a' but also "[being] used as a term of endearment more like 'dude'".

It appeared that the inscription could not kiss my a-- but perhaps my thigh, and while I am no big fan of the FBI, I left the stall relieved and with no personal animus against the FBI director.

{In all seriousness, I wonder how much time the words took to carve, and tonight (Aug. 11) they also led me to google “robert mueller – toilet”, where, coincidentally, I found a reference to an article [from the 70’s probably] titled “Getting Rid of Sewage – Isn’t There [illegible] Better Way” by someone named Robert Mueller and a diatribe headedWHEN SOMALI TOILETS ATTACK!!!” which says in part: June 18, 2011 at 5:52 AM -- Anyone who still believes in this ‘When TOILETS attack’ shit is mentally ill.… Maybe we can get Jack Nicholson to play in the sequel of “When MARS INVADES” but we’ll just rename it to “WHEN SOMALI TOILETS ATTACK”, starring J. Edgar Homo and his dog, Robert S. Mueller…”]

Moving on, though, perhaps to where my restroom products moved....

The ride out of Union Station starts partly with the industrial and often semi-dry Los Angeles River (seen here near a "San Fernando Winery" just a little north of downtown):

gives vistas of hilly neighborhoods (in what often seems to be an overpoweringly flat city) such as Mt. Washington and Highland Park, with this view - neighborhood unknown but just a little to the (northeast, I think) of San Fernando Blvd (in its 700-900 blocks) as a rough stand-in:

and shortly thereafter goes through the edge of Glendale, a suburb of LA but a sizeable city in its own right, with a beautiful station (possibly in the "Churrigueresque" style? - but Spanish-inspired) from 1929:

Somewhat beyond Glendale, you begin a diagonal slice to the northwest through the San Fernando Valley - which may unfairly be characterized as all-bland and all-suburban in character, and is famous in parts for being within the L.A. city limits but not "of" the city (trying to secede from it as recently as 1999 or so, etc.); what little I have learned of the "Valley" is that it IS largely ticky-tack housing, big box stores, etc., but goes beyond that in diversity of people if not as much in cityscape, so my sense is that it is like Queens in New York or the "Greater Northeast" here in Philly - including the historically newest sections of its city and also attracting a variety of immigrant groups over time.  No pictures here, but I'm assuming you could find loads of them in terms of ethnic restaurants, etc., and far fewer - but at least a precious few - in terms of built heritage of mementoes thereof.

Let me see if I can find one of the museum of transportation and heritage in Chatsworth, a section  at the far west central point in the valley, which I noticed from my Amtrak window along with a sign that that area was founded in 1888.....

This website looks pretty cool partly in that it has a picture of a surviving structure which stored dynamite to blast tunnels (used for today's Amtrak line out of LA) through mountains which I believe roughly separate the Valley from the beginning of Ventura County to the west:

No pic of the museum, but here is a quick sense if desired of the Chatsworth train station:

Just beyond Chatsworth and close to the tunnels is a very desert-like landscape made up partly of big rocks and yellow earth:

I had been told that Ventura County had many farms, and the small part I saw along the Amtrak line had many, while interspersed with large-scale suburban developments.  Long rows of dirt and plantings which looked somewhat like Kit-Kat bars as here near Camarillo

would sometimes be covered with plastic which shimmered in the sun, as below just west of Camarillo 
and when I saw either the field above or one nearby on Aug. 1, I wondered what its workers were doing in the "water" as the plastic fooled me into thinking.

From LA to the Ventura "station" a short one-track stretch where I got off of the train:

the Amtrak line does not exactly touch the beach, but I noticed (by sight and sound) that maybe a mile beyond the station, it is virtually on the beach, as seen here with a train between my reunion's camp at the "Emma Wood" state park and the oceanfront sands:
Either satisfied or time-management-challenged, I never saw more than slivers of the ocean during the day, except from airplanes in and out of LAX and from my hotel room balcony on Sat., Aug. 6, so all hail the Peaceful ocean (and the Ventura pier) courtesy of a peace march reunion....

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