Walking in LA

Val and I went down to LA last weekend for a posh hotel evaluation, and when we weren't running through various tasks designed to test the reaction impulses of the hotel staff, we spent some time exploring the city.

We drove out to Santa Monica and Venice on Wednesday morning, strolled along Abbot Kinney Boulevard and sat in the sun in the courtyard of a sweet little cafe, drinking iced latte and tea and making a breakfast of tiny little French macaroons. Venice may be a hotbed of freaks, but we saw precisely none. Perhaps they're confined to the beach and the boardwalk, blocks and blocks away from the sleekly designed shops, offices, and restaurants that line Abbot Kinney and Main. Which was fine with us, as the Haight is always at our disposal should we feel the need for some hippie time; on the day in question, we did not.

The afternoon unfurled poolside (really, a hell of a way to while away the hours, and one I recommend, especially if a fancy lunch and a glass of rose are involved), and in the early evening (before the required visit to the lounge for the required two rounds of drinks), we turned ourselves out onto the streets of West Hollywood to forage for dinner.

We walked. We walked as briefly as possible down Sunset, then broke off onto a side street, which was impossibly, unexpectedly tree-lined, quiet, warm, sweet-smelling, and generally pleasant. We went quite a way, picking up La Cienega partway, which meant an end to the tree-lined-ness and all, but made up for it on the way back by avoiding major roads altogether.

On Orlando, I turned to Val and said, "You know, this lulls me into thinking that LA wouldn't be such a bad place to live." She concurred, and we went on to discuss the odd realization that we had yet to see or smell the grimy streets we're so used to at home. How could LA be so clean, so pleasant, so free of urine-stained sidewalks?

We went downtown the next day and found our answer: it isn't. As soon as we stepped out of the parking garage where we'd left our behemoth rental car and into the sunlight, we felt right at home. The sidewalks had that familiar patina of you-don't-want-to-know. We discovered that LA does indeed have a homeless population. The trees and explosively beautiful flowers and general sense of sweet SoCal charm we'd seen the night before were gone, replaced by concrete and shabby storefronts and odd smells. We could only smile and say jokingly, Ah, at last.

So we drove (of course, though it was a distance of a few blocks) to Little Tokyo, then got back in the car and headed once more for Santa Monica, passing what certainly seemed like the dirtiest and most run-down of the dirty and run-down on our way out of downtown. We had lunch in a cute, tiny cafe we'd seen the day before, then oozed into traffic to get to the airport and left all of LA behind.

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