(photos of just about everything I’ve described can be downloaded here)
On December 22nd my parents made the long bird hop from Columbus Ohio to Burbank California to visit their most westward (if not wayward) son. I picked them up at noon and we headed to Long Beach after eating an impromptu round of burritos at Baja Fresh. Now before you scoff – may I remind you that Baja Fresh is a local bore- but does not exist in eastern cultures of the world; hell, according to Byron they don’t even have them in Texas.
Our first stop was the Wayfarer’s Chapel, a small church on a cliff high above the Pacific Ocean and down the road from Donald Trump’s new golf course. From there we headed to the Long Beach Museum of Art. I would not recommend it as it was very small; the gift shop had more art than the museum. Although, if you are in the area I recommend going on a Friday as it is free and the Binh Pho exhibit is quite interesting. Our next stop was the Queen Mary. We arrived too late to really have an effective tour so we decided to come back another time. Our guts were still so full of Fresh Baja that we didn’t even eat dinner. Instead we braved the north 710, 405, 5, and 134 freeways. In this case braved was not only an applicable term because of the insufferable gridlock (it took us two hours to go roughly 35 miles), but my parents also got to see the car next to us get rear ended and a car in the oncoming lanes become engulfed in flames. I suppose it is no great coincidence that both of these just happened to occur in the Compton/Watts area. We capped off the day with a trip to Robeks.
Day two began with disappointment. After driving all the way up to Sylmar we waited for someone to open the gate at the Nethercut museum. The minutes rolled by and I decided to call the number in the AAA guide. A taped message informed me that the museum is closed from December 17th to January (something). Funny, their website said they were only going to be closed on Christmas day. (edit: upon further investigation if you go to the visiter info page and scroll down -the site is a horrid flash mangling – for about twenty seconds they have “-Christmas holiday – 2 weeks” listed under closings. One would think you’d put the closings information by the museum open hours…not way way below the description of the museum and upcoming events)
From there we headed to the Huntington Library to discover that it would not open for another hour. We headed a few miles east to the Los Angeles Arboretum. Our nerdy (and presumptuous “who is OSU playing – UCLA or USC?”) tour guide took us around and showed us a great variety of plants. We also had a few close encounters with an overzealous squirrel.
By the time we were finished with the Arboretum we were ready for the Huntington. However, we had seen so much green leafy goodness at the Arboretum that we only perused the Huntington Library and Sculpture Garden before heading to lunch, skipping its several famous gardens entirely.
Lunch was had at Houston’s in Pasadena. Best hamburger I’ve had in a while; most expensive too.
Next on the ticket was the Gamble House just a few miles away. We took a tour of the house which seemed a little overdramatic to me, but maybe it wasn’t intended to entertain the likes of me anyway.
Next we dove a few blocks south to the Norton Simon Museum and spent a few hours gazing at its extensive collection including several originals by famous names like Picasso, Gauguin, Monet, etc. Next door my father and I perused the Jaguar, Audi, Bentley and Porsche Rusnak dealership floors while mom shopped for our Christmas dinner at the Ralphs across the street.
We were once again too full for a proper dinner, so we substituted Baskin Robbins instead. This was my third and final try at Baskin Robbins and I’m swearing off of it. Their sundae (dad and I both got the raspberry cheesecake) was the most pathetic ice cream concoction I’ve had in a long time. It was served up by probably the dumbest cashier I’ve seen in a long time as well. I think dad was just happy to get his sugar fix – as he hadn’t had any ice cream in days (shudder).
The final “touring” day started off at Dupar’s restaurant on Ventura Blvd. Several of my coworkers had informed me that they had the “best pancakes in the world.” Now I’ll admit, they were probably the best pancakes you could get at a restaurant in the world (meaning the US); but they were a far cry from the homemade buttermilk blueberry pancakes I was raised on every Sunday morning for eighteen years. The omelet, toast, and hash browns were average – Jinky’s about a mile away does it better. The orange juice was actually fresh – which was a change.
After finally realizing that our waitress wouldn’t be taking our payment – that we had to walk up to the front (apparently an unwritten rule that we were supposed to realize on our own) we walked across the street to a small street fair. We strolled past booths of crappy jewelry and local farmers produce and then stopped. “Begley’s Best Cleaners?” we thought to ourselves. The man behind the table said “hi folks.” It was Ed Begley Jr. I asked mom if she wanted her picture taken with a celebrity. She asked me where the celebrity was. Ed Begley Jr. quietly died a little bit inside.
Next stop was the Japanese Garden. Once again our first official stop was closed without notice. We again waited at the gate having arrived a few minutes early. This time even after going back and checking the website says NOTHING about being closed on Sundays. In fact this page assured us that it would be open from 10am to 3:30pm. A call to the “security tower” number listed on the exterior gate yielded a security guard saying “yeah, we’ll be closed for a few weeks, sorry.” Obviously a few people in Los Angeles county haven’t learned that the internet’s main purpose (aside from email) is to provide information about your product or service. Marketers and the general public already expect clearer information to be found on a website than by calling a company.
From there we drove forty odd miles to a nonexistent address. Thanks, Google maps, you’re awesome! We realized that the Rose Hills Memorial was only a few miles away though – so we rerouted ourselves in that direction. We blew past the “white/brown/black people” part of the cemetery and headed to the Buddhist Columbarium; a Chinese version of a cemetery and accompanying mausoleum. The way they treat their dead alone is reason enough for me to convert to Buddhism. They even had speakers playing the Buddhist chants all day out in the cemetery.
It was only fitting that our next stop would be the even bigger Buddhist draw – the Hsi Lai Temple. The outside only awed us with its largess. I’m sure my dad wasn’t really that impressed – having seen larger and better temples in his time in south Asia during the Vietnam War. I found the inside of the actual temple interesting though. Row upon row upon row upon row of little boxes with Buddhas inside lined three walls of a huge square prayer room. The front wall being filled with three gigantic Buddha statues elevated fifteen feet above the floor. No pictures were allowed inside the temple – but I managed to get off a few shots before they made me holster my gun.
Once again we were too full to eat our next planned meal. I’ll take ma and pa to farmers market on Fairfax some other time. Instead we headed to the Petersen Auto Museum. It seemed a mishmash of historical pleasantry and corporate sponsored oddities (oh wow a recreation of a Farmer’s Auto Insurance office from the 40s!). I never knew hot wheels made real cars (and raced them!) until Sunday. The huge Ed Roth exhibit was probably the most interesting part.
UCLA was next. Since it was a college there was free parking on the winter break – but there was nobody around to help us find where we needed to go. After we finally found the Franklin Murphy Sculpture Garden we were all less than impressed. The garden consisted of 20 or so modern art (bloated bodies and nondescript amorphous shapes) sculptures placed at random around a grass courtyard sandwiched between two classroom buildings.
We were impressed however by our dinner at the Shamshiri Persian restaurant only a few miles away. I ordered the Abalou Polo and it was magnificent. Turns out the restaurant is owned by the same people that own the eatery of the same name in Northridge that the crew at work frequents for Friday lunch.
Even more impressive food was to come. On Christmas day my mother cooked up a feast of my favorites that I’ll be enjoying for the better part of the next month.
And then they were gone again and I could finally get back to eking out a meager existence in the San Fernando Valley.
Speaking of which, I’m in escrow right now for this condo.