Friday, April 30, 2010

Kayaking in Marina del Rey

I could write an entire thesis on how much I love LA's one and only Country Station Go 105.1. One of the wonderful services they have provided over the years (Altville w/Buzz Brainard, Sundays 10:00pm-12:00am is another) is introducing me to a spattering of LA-centric songs that make you really, really hate LA. The only positive country song I have ever heard about Los Angeles is called Marina Del Rey by George Strait, and that makes perfect sense, since Marina Del Rey doesn't feel like Los Angeles AT ALL.

It feels more like a slightly rundown, 3rd rate faux-fishing village in Maryland. As anyone who knows me is well aware, this is not a diss. The Hadster LIVES for shady, prefab or authentic seaside areas. So I was instantly smitten when I started my journey at the Fisherman's Village at the Marina, an almost deserted retail space that smelled like my grandfather's old stores and was populated mainly by bewildered tourists and very elderly, mostly blind people. It was a breath of fresh air: ice cream shops, fish n' chips eateries, boarded up rental space plastered with maps to movie stars' homes....well I suppose we are still in LA after all.

I then walked around the promenade overlooking the Marina, where worn out looking yachts competed for space with party boats like the one on the left (which I would very much like to drink on, in a floral sari while listening to Jimmy Buffet), and shorts clad dock workers called out to each other and complained about the screeching seagulls. It never ceases to amaze me what a great leveler sea water is. Marina Del Rey is home to many uber-expensive sailboats, super-yachts, skiffs and motorboats but after a few years no amount of upkeep and paint can keep them looking anything more than tired.

And even though I too was very tired, (do not go to yoga and do the elliptical and practice hard as crap Frank Sinatra inspired voice lessons all in one morning) I rented a kayak from the very friendly, sun-burnt college gal at Marina del Rey Boat Rentals. They rent all types of boats by the hour, as well as Paddleboards and WaveRunners, and at very reasonable prices. A kayak is only $15 an hour, a small sailboat $45. I put on one of their trusty life vests and a very charming, fratty type fellow pushed me into the water, reminded me to stay in the Marina, and I started paddling away.

The breeze was mild and the sun was out and soon I was in the middle of the marina. It was quiet, the only sound the clanking of a sailboat's metal masts. A seal started playing about 3 feet away from me, jumping in and out of the water while a bunch of birds flew overhead, dropping some poop in the water.

I paddled by a small park, and spied a couple of homeless looking dock-dwellers arguing about something. I watched from the safety of my boat as one of the women glanced around and climbed onto a docked yacht sneakily while her friend looked on. A rough looking couple fished on the other side of the park and called a friendly "Hello" out to me. We had a very pleasant conversation. I wished them more luck in their fishing (they had yet to catch anything) and then turned my boat around with much difficulty.

That is when I realized the wind had picked up something horrid. The large sailboat in front of me was almost sideways, its sails touching the water as it glided near me. I later learned there was a wind advisory in effect. But no matter, I paddled with all my might back to Marina Del Rey Boat Rentals,dodging bigger boats, braving the elements and pretending I was Charlotte Doyle (come on girls my age, you know what I am talking about). Eventually, pooped but alive, I made it back. The nice fratty pulled me back onto the dock and said since I wasn't out for a full hour they wouldn't be charging me.

OK, now it's official.
Marina Del Rey is nothing like LA.
And that's all right with me.

*PS: I recently went to my friend Doren's b'day party at The Waterfront on the strip of large restaurant/bars on Admiralty Way. It too feels more like a place in Myrtle Beach than uber-trendy divey Hollywood. Plus the Spazmatics, an 80's cover band was playing, and the ambiance was that of a middle school dance. It was a damn good and UNPRETENTIOUS time.

Ease: B+
Subjective coolness:A

Directions: Take the 101-s to the 110-s. Take the exit to the 1-10 west. Merge onto 1-405 S twds. Long Beach. Exit at CA-90 W. Turn left at Lincoln Blvd then turn right at Fiji Way. You will drive .8 miles and parking for the Fisherman's Village will be on the right. Marina Del Rey Boat Rentals is dockside, below El Torito Restaurant.

Hours: Call (310)574-2822 for hours of operation.
Price: Depends if you rent a boat, get ice cream, drinks etc. Parking is free first two hours with validation. If you do rent seacraft, you will need your driver's license and a credit card for them to hold.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Angels Flight

I think I deserve some kind of loooovvvee award.

Because this weekend Stefanie and I found the most romantic night time date spot in Los Angeles. Besides the slight smell of urine and the always present threat of a pick-pocketing, Angels Flight is hands down the greatest spot I have discovered for fanciful making-out, or perhaps some sexy Magnificent Ambersons' style historical role play, if that's your thing.

Cause Angels Flight is historic, baby. "The shortest incorporated railway in the world" is only 350 feet long. It was built in 1901 to transport Victorian elites (oh I've just been waiting for a chance to use that buzzword) up to their posh homes on Bunker Hill and down to the business district below. Although the neighborhood is long gone and the railway was moved 1/2 a block from its original locale, the two bright orange funicular cars, Olivet and Sinai, are originals. After a fatal accident in 2001 the railway was closed and reopened this March. It costs 25 cents per ride- how's that for historic?

Stef and I parked in one of the pay lots nearby and walked over to the Angels Flight archway, which sits grandly in a steep little park. It was around 9pm and the area was pretty much deserted except for parking attendants and the occasional homeless/hip folk that make up downtown. The railway literally goes straight up and down (about the incline and length of the Santa Monica steps) and one of the cars rumbled down the hill. A hipster stepped off to meet a friend and we stepped on, slightly confused b.c. we didn't have to pay.

The empty car had been beautifully restored, all shining wood and metal, and we were still trying to figure out where to sit when it began lurching up the steep hill. The car rides like an old beachside roller coaster (it's very jerky-not for the easily motion sick) and you feel like you are going to hit the other car as it runs in the opposite direction. This is prime "Oh, I'm scared, hold me time" which leads to our *make out opportunity #1.*

Once the car jerks to a halt you pay the friendly attendant sitting in an elegant historic kiosk at the top of the hill your hard earned quarter and step into *make out opportunity # 2.* A beautiful, almost totally deserted, fountain filled, misty courtyard with a twinkling view of the city and many cement sitting areas. In the daytime it is just a busy outdoor mall and eating area for lawyers and annoyed jurors (I have eaten many a dry sandwich there) but at night it is quiet and kind of magical- the only sound we heard was a wedding party posing outside at a nearby hotel.

After our trip back down we rediscovered *make out opportunity #3,* the atmospheric bar La Cita which sits directly across from Angels Flight. The interior is cool Mexican, the bartenders are tattooed and the patio is awesome. It was pretty empty when we were there (save a sad looking high school reunion) and there is a well stacked jukebox, always perfect for the first few dates. And to all of our future dates- please be kind. If we take you on this little adventure, act like you haven't read about it here first. Let us think we surprised you!

Travel: B-
Ease: B
Content: A
Subjective coolness: A
Overall: A-

Directions: Take the 110-S and exit at Downtown/4th Street. Merge onto W. 4th Street. Turn left at South Hill Street. Park in one of the pay lots. Address is: 351 South Hill, 90013.
Hours: 6:45am to 10pm daily.
Price: 25 cents(my computer doesn't even have a button for that!) plus parking(around $5.00).

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Bronson Caves

Let's not beat around the bush. I've had a rather depressing week. So I decided to do what every good pseudo-hippy does when they are sad/confused and angry- walk into the wilderness alone. Not really the wilderness, more like the giant city park that is basically my backyard. I have had many excellent solo adventures in Griffith Park (the best was when I got stuck on the side of a mountain clinging to a pipe and had to be rescued by two Marines) but I had never heard of Bronson Caves till my friend Kevin told me about them, so I decided to get my butt over to Griffith and have a gander.

The Bronson Caves are formations left over from a quarry set up by the Union Rock Company in 1903, for the excavation of that most mundane of natural resources- crushed rock. Like every other useless place in LA (we do know how to recycle!) it became a popular production location for film and TV from the 20's on. Movies that have filmed there include "The Searchers," "I am a Fugitive from the Chain Gang" and the fantastically titled "They Saved Hitler's Brain." The site is most famous for being the suspected Batcave from the original Batman TV series, though for some reason that theory cannot be proved- which makes no sense- aren't at least 65% of the people who worked on that show still alive?

Anyway, the walk up to the site is very short ( about 1/4 mile from the road) and not the prettiest of hikes. In fact, the first path I took straight up Canyon Rd.,which as is often my lot was the wrong one, was absolutely beautiful and misty and magical, and it was all overcast and chilly with bright yellow flowers, low hanging trees and a couple sitting in the middle of the stream holding each other.(Oh and did I mention the skating ramp with a bunch of pimply teenagers and a giant spray-painted dragon? Cause that was there as well.)

Once on the correct and rather barren path I suddenly saw a stream of nicely dressed people coming from the fork in the trail which led to the caves, many holding beers, some holding children. I was confused, but just walked by and pulled my red Garbo hat over my eyes in full "I want to be alone" fashion. The Caves are right off the fork in a man-made canyon which will look very familiar to anyone who has ever driven through the otherworldly stripped mountains of West Virginia or Tennessee.

In the middle of the canyon sit the "caves". There is actually only one cave and it is really just a very short tunnel- though it has two exits and you can walk through both, which I did with great trepidation. I am not a fan of confined spaces, but I must say it was totally worth it. It was quieter than anywhere I have ever been in LA, and someone had sprinkled glittering confetti all over the tunnel's floor, so it glittered like some pathway to another planet.

On the way back to my car I ran into a friend who explained the mystery of the group of people I had seen before. They had been holding a covert service for a family member who had recently passed and had always loved the quiet beauty of the quarry. Suddenly my little pity party seemed very trivial and far away. Score one reality!

I have not posted any pictures of the caves because seriously loveys, this is like a 30-minute meal post. You can do this hike and exploration in the time it takes to watch one episode of Batman, and for anyone who lives on the Eastside the drive couldn't be easier, it's free, and it's cool especially for you dudes who like to have a little nerdy trivia ("Invasion of the Body Snatchers" also shot in the canyon!) mixed in with your exercise.

Travel: A+
Ease: A+
Content: B- ( Griffith Park as whole gets an A++++, you are truly an idiot if you haven't explored it yet.)
Subjective coolness: C (A positive C as in- it's neat, not as in it's worthlessly mediocre. If only my teachers felt that way about my math grades growing up....)
Overall : B-

Directions: Turn from Franklin Ave. onto Bronson, continue on Bronson after it turns into Canyon Drive. You will enter the gates to Griffith Park on Canyon Drive and there will be a gravel parking lot on your right. Park there and turn right on the main road. You will see a curb painted red. Follow the curb and turn right onto the trail. You will walk for a couple minutes and the trail will fork into two, turn left and you will see the caves.
Hours: Daily, sunrise to sunset(Seriously, you do not want to be in Griffith Park after dark my brave ones).
Price: Free!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Queen Mary

If you thought Gaga's and Beyonce's collaboration on Telephone was epic you ain't seen nothing yet. This is a very special cross-pollination posting about the Queen Mary brought to you by 35 in 52 and Lonnie's Blog ( Keep a look out for a wonderful video of our adventure shot by Lonnie that I will be posting soon. Until then you will have to use the power of imagination pictorially.

As many of you know, David Niven is my absolute hero lifestyle wise and I consider his delightful, insightful and hilarious memoir about Hollywood, Bring on the Empty Horses, to be essential reading for anyone who chooses to be a part of this crazy company town. That's why I was absolutely thrilled his beaming face was in exhibits all over the Queen Mary. The charming, devil may care aristocratic allure he exuded can be felt all over this massive, once luxurious transatlantic ocean liner which was christened by its namesake the Queen Mother in 1936. That and the decided pallor and occasional odor of decadent decay.

And ghosts. One cannot forget the ghosts.

When Lonnie and I arrived at the Queen Mary, which has been docked in Long Beach at the Port of Los Angeles since 1968, we were overwhelmed with its size. The thing is huge; it doesn't seem real, with hundreds of portholes and slanted red smokestacks that look almost like blow up, massive replicas. Once we bought our tickets we tried to figure out a way onto the ship and were slightly grossed out by the number of flies that seemed to breed in the various stairwells. We made it on board (not on the designated tour path, we later found out) and entered an empty, beautifully molded art deco wood paneled hallway, which we learned is part of the still functioning hotel. From there on we started to explore.

We had total free reign.

This is the coolest thing about the Queen Mary and why Lonnie I had so much fun. We are both people with few boundaries- if we see a locked door (or an old safe in one instance, or a room where a meeting was taking place,...or maybe they were fat ghosts!) we are going to try and open it. If we see a mysterious curtain we look under it. We discovered multiple masterful art deco ballrooms, massive kitchens(some functioning some not), beautifully weathered old bars, food-less restaurants with fanciful murals and cheap metal tables. A maid let us peek into a very pretty, expertly crafted cabin. We walked down creepy hallways that seemed to go on forever, like in The Shining, and I freaked out not once but twice when Lonnie hit his head on low hanging exit signs.

We eventually made it onto the deck, where we found an amphitheater, a strange chapel, a shuffle board court, a beautiful promenade lined with stores(some closed, some open) like a downtown street. We found a radio room where two very old men (Lonnie joked they must have come with the ship) sat messing with a CB radio and "broadcasting live" while insisting they take my picture in front of a microphone. We climbed over everything and anything we liked, staring into the rather lovely harbor,and going into side closets. Not once did we see any kind of security guard.

Once we got on deck we were on the official touristy path and there were many half-assed exhibits to be seen. This is something else fascinating about the Queen Mary- the sad, kind of makeshift-ness of it all. The people who work in the almost empty stores looked pale and lonely, the hotel workers stand rather silently behind the check-in desk. The exhibits are not very informative and look like high school history projects that were put together in the early 70's. This is a permanently docked cruiser after all.

Which brings us to the lamest, but most hilarious part of The Queen Mary experience. The Ghosts and Legends Tour. The Ghosts and Legends Tour is included in a regular adult ticket, so we decided to go since it was the only way to see the pool and the hull of the ship. And boy was it a treat. A man with a pointy beard and BA in theater from OverActing College led us and some very eager tourists into a small room where we watched video reenactments of paranormal events that had supposedly(read: never) happened on the ship. He kept telling us we "should" be alright and then led us down a hallway with a blinking red light.

And that's when the fun began. Much to our surprise the tour was short on history and long on cheap special effects. The already creepy enough pool filled with dry ice and recorded children's cries. In the already inherently terrifying, futuristic hull that once housed the furnaces, where we "should" have been safe cold mist shot up our ankles as we stood on a platform. Our host informed us that if the mist had been steam, we would have been severely burned.

No s**t.

And on and on it went. The Queen Mary was commissioned by the Army in WWII, called the Grey Lady for its new coat of paint, and transported over one million American soldiers to the European front. Isn't that cool? Not as cool as the thought that some ghost solders might attack us in the "Grey Lady corridor" which I am pretty sure was just a 3rd class hallway, though it was so dark I couldn't tell.

I have no doubt that the Queen Mary is haunted. You could feel whispers of conversations and assignations all around- on the velvet couches beside the old travel office, in front of the wall mural with its very own moving ship which tracked the Queen Mary's progression across the Atlantic. But if the ghosts are in anyway as classy and clever as Mr. Niven, they are in these places- not some cheap two bit Knott's Berry Farm attraction.

Travel: C
Ease: B
Content: A+
Subjective Coolness: A+
Overall: A-

Directions: Take the 101-S to the 1-5 S. Take exit I-710 S towards Long Beach(17 miles). Continue on West Shoreline Drive. Turn right at Queens Way, take exit for Queen Mary/Cruise terminal and merge onto Queens Highway, continue on Windsor Way. Parking is to your right.
Hours: Daily 10pm-5-pm. They also have various events at night, check website for details.
Price: General Admission: Adults: $24.95(steep but totally worth it, you bums!), Seniors:$21.95, Children: $12.95. Parking rates vary but for us it was $8.00.