(Author’s note: Four years ago we took a trip to Southern California. This column was a compilation of my thoughts on that part of the world.)
I send you greetings from the left coast of our good old USA. To be a little more specific, my actual location is sunny, glitzy Los Angeles where the stars are out even in the daytime and where, as I’ve discovered, a distinctly different culture exists. Some of the contrasts are good, some bad and some exceedingly ugly. I’m not really sure why I thought my country self would enjoy Southern California, but here I am.
Upon touching down at LAX and getting off the plane I first noticed a mild temperature, cool breeze, and low humidity. Very pleasant indeed. That about covers the good.
As for the bad and the ugly, let me give you a few of the particulars.
The first mistake we made was renting a car. It was a nice car, but as Laura and I quickly discovered automobiles are a very popular mode of transportation in LA. Unfortunately, they don’t have enough roads to accommodate all of them. Right off the bat, we were engulfed in a traffic jam of historical proportions. Cars were backed up completely out of sight and moving at one mile per hour on average. As things turned out, that’s just the way they roll in the City of Angels. Oh, by the way, gas costs $4.25 per gallon so that kind of throws a wet blanket on the riding around looking at stuff scene.
Our first stop was the Santa Monica Pier and it was a Barnum and Bailey circus and zoo combo of young people and grown folks acting like nuts so we left and moved down a little way to the famous Muscle Beach. From what I could tell, it should have been called glandular beach because that was the major body part on display. The bathing suit business in California should be knocking down some serious bucks because swimming attire costs a fortune and the amount of cloth they use is negligible.
We then headed on back to the traffic jam so we could get to our hotel. Upon arriving in our room I noticed a couple of oddities right off the bat. First of all, our bathroom facility was stocked with the thinnest toilet tissue I’ve ever come across. I thought it was a scroll of rice paper. I just don’t understand that portion of the eco-friendly concept. Anyway upon further inspection of our restroom I noticed that on top of the commode there were two buttons. As things turned out, one was for a half flush and one was for a full flush. We don’t have that option in Buckhead but then we don’t live in a desert region as is the case in LA. For some reason, Laura quickly instructed me to use the full flush button each time so I didn’t even get to see what half a flush looks like.
Now that we had a place to stay with a cool bathroom, we ventured back out to the turmoil which is Los Angeles. Made it over to the Hollywood section of town where I saw another unique sight. There was a store that had a big marquee in front that said, “Medicinal Marijuana.” The line of people waiting to be seen by the marijuana doctor looked like one you might encounter for a popular ride at Disney World on July 4th. I must admit the people in front of that establishment looked like they could use some quality medical assistance. They all had dark circles under their eyes and were carrying bags of potato chips. I hope that therapy worked for them because if not the hospitals are going to be more crowded than the freeways.
As for the sports culture of Los Angeles, I was able to make a few observations. From what I could tell, the major spectator sports are surfboarding, skateboarding, and motorcycle stunt driving on the interstate highways. Those motorcycle guys take their games pretty seriously. They see who can most efficiently weave in and out of the traffic jams at high rates of speed while doing a wheelie. Laura and I were lucky enough to witness one wreck in which a dude (that’s what you call humans in LA regardless of gender) on a cycle cut things a little too close and was rammed by a car. Motorcycle boy went skidding gracefully end over end down Interstate 405 like ninety going north. I’m not sure how they keep score in that game but I’m pretty sure he lost that particular match.
Food is another area in which I noticed specific cultural differences.
Everywhere we went to eat offered fare that ended with a vowel and with which I was thoroughly unfamiliar. Often times there were vegetables on the menu but I couldn’t recognize any of them once they arrived at our table. Most of these meals have kept my stomach in a highly agitated state all week. As far as I can tell there is not one place in all of Los Angeles that serves country fried steak, baked ham, or biscuits and gravy.
Finally, we saw a sign one day while hiking around the Torrey Pines Preserve that read, “Nudity in California Preserves is Illegal.” Hmmm. It struck me as strange that they would actually have to remind people of that. I guess if you get outside the boundary of that area it would be ok to walk around naked. I made sure right then that I knew where the property ended so I could do a strip down. Like they say “When in Rome…”
So, culturally speaking I’m pretty lost over here in California. I’ll be glad to get back to normal traffic patterns, cheap gas, standard bathrooms, and biscuits with gravy. It’s also fair to say that I’m curious about how that medicinal marijuana thing works out. I will, however, miss that cool ocean breeze, the low humidity, those miniature bathing suits and the possibility of watching passers-by in a state of undress.
(E-mail your stories of unique travel destinations to firstname.lastname@example.org)