May 302011

The sun is still low on the horizon this early holiday Monday morning on Wilshire Blvd. The streets are empty.

It’s Memorial Day. Monday morning and the streets are still empty. The first sun rays are making their way to ground level as we are about to start our ride home. These quiet desolate occasions in a city that is almost always abuzz, sure is a peculiar sight. This is a part of Los Angeles few have the opportunity to see. By 9:00 a.m. the roads will be full, shops will be open, and the frenzy that is found in this metropolis will be back in full swing.

Looking south on Wilshire Blvd toward Santa Monica and the Pacific Ocean just about 4 miles away on an early holiday morning in May

The Wilshire Motel is on the right. About four miles straight ahead is the furthest west we can travel without requiring a boat. Just down the street is Santa Monica and beyond that, the Pacific Ocean. If time allowed, we would head that way for one more walk in the sand, but we are expecting heavy traffic on the return to Phoenix as we were not alone in heading to southern California. San Diego, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles are probably the three most popular weekend destinations for those of us who need to get away from Phoenix for a break. As I look at this empty thoroughfare, I can easily imagine a no-car day in L.A. where on that occasion, only bicycles would be allowed. All across the southland (as it is known locally) people could explore the various interconnecting cities in the luxury of quiet that we are able to experience on these rare holiday mornings when most people opt to sleep in.

The Original Pantry Cafe has been open for business since 1924 - it is a landmark in downtown Los Angeles.

Well, we weren’t going to leave L.A. without at least a little bit of fanfare. First stop before getting on Interstate 10 eastward was at The Original Pantry Cafe

. I’ve probably told the story on my blog before, but here it is again. This place has been open 24/7 since 1924 – it has never closed. I have been coming here since 1981 and Caroline made her first visit somewhere in the late 1990’s. Besides some furniture repairs and equipment replacements, I don’t believe much has changed about this place in the past 87 years. The breakfasts are huge and very inexpensive. The nostalgic feelings from a time lost is still alive and kicking at this landmark. With bellies, our minds, and experiences full for one long weekend, we leave for the 388 mile (628km) drive home.

May 292011

Caroline Wise enjoying breakfast at Zabies Cafe in Santa Monica, California

Los Angeles is one of those places where you can feel like you have a purposeful life as a part of the city, that your existence is intertwined with the culture that surrounds you – as opposed to a city where you simply exist as an element within the hive. This was our first visit to Zabie’s Neighborhood Cafe in Santa Monica and the owners welcomed us as though we were familiar regulars coming in as we would on any other Sunday, you won’t find that in Phoenix very often. Caroline and I both ordered the Whole Grain Pancakes but couldn’t choose if we wanted blueberry, strawberry, or banana, so we asked for all three and that is what we got. Breakfast at Zabie’s was perfect, starting us off on the right track to enjoy our Sunday.

On the south side of the pier at Santa Monica beach

It was still too early to do much in L.A. – even in go-go Los Angeles. So there was but one thing to do, head on over to the beach for an early morning walk in the sand and surf. In a few hours as the day warms up, this beach like most others along the southern California coast, will fill up with worshippers of the sun. My preference is for a quiet walk on an uncongested strand where for a moment, the beach is an idyllic island setting, and it is all mine to enjoy.

A stop sign with a sticker attached below the word stop, it reads, "Eating Animals"

Free parking is not always easy to find in L.A., as a matter of fact, just around the corner from this stop sign that asks us to "Stop Eating Animals" , we saw our first parking meter that allows the use of a debit or credit card in addition to coins. We kept on driving into the neighborhood and found an empty parking spot free of charge. Approaching this stop sign we saw a placard outside a small duplex advertising a two bedroom unit for rent. I called the number to see what they were asking for, $2,400 a month; I choked. We pay less than a third of that in Phoenix – one of the main reasons we put up with our desert town.

Inside the Craft and Folk Art Museum on Wilshire Blvd in Los Angeles, California to see an exhibit by Jennifer Angus titled: All Creatures Great and Small

Years, it took years for Caroline and I to finally make the time to visit the Craft and Folk Art Museum on Wilshire Blvd across the street from the La Brea Tarpits. Every time we drove past this small museum, one or the other of us would sound off the reminder that one of these days, we need to stop in. Today was that day. On the second floor is where the exhibits begin, the museum typically hosts two artists or themes. For three and a half months, the second floor would be dedicated a bug art exhibit by Jennifer Angus, titled: All Creatures Great and Small. When you walk in to the main space, you don’t immediately recognize what you are looking at, it doesn’t even look all that striking from a distance. Then as you approach and start to see the detail of what makes up the exhibit, you are struck. You are looking at insects. Brightly colored and arranged in patterns or made up in scenes within the cases, filling in for what might  normally be figures in a dollhouse. Extraordinary and fun.

The artist occupying the third floor was Ann Weber, her exhibit was titled: Love and Other Audacities. Ann weaves together large sculptures created from found cardboard. We should have started up here as her work is really nice, but being overwhelmed from the exhibit a floor below, it was hard to change channels from shock and amazement to interest and subtlety.

Wurstkuche in downtown Los Angeles, California - a hot place for an exotic sausage

Time for lunch on our unfolding perfect day. I had read about Wurstküche on some blog some time ago. They have become somewhat famous and very busy. The line was longer before I snapped the photo, then it snakes through the lobby before you arrive at the cash register and place your order. We split three sausages, the Mango Jalapeno with chicken and turkey, the Rattlesnake & Rabbit with jalapeno – this is one of their signature sausages and it was yummy. The one sausage we didn’t really enjoy was the Vegetarian Mexican Chipotle, it was too spicy, and we love spicy, but there has to be other outstanding characteristic flavors besides just hot – this sausage didn’t cut the mustard. We also split an order of Belgian fries glazed in white truffle oil with two dipping sauces, the first was Bleu Cheese Walnut and Bacon, the other was Chipotle Aioli. Caroline topped off her lunch with a rare find, a bottle of Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier from Bamberg, Germany – a smoked beer.

The 2nd Street Tunnel in downtown Los Angeles, California - made famous by a scene in Blade Runner

Over to 2nd street for a drive through one of our favorite landmarks in L.A. – the 2nd Street Tunnel. If you don’t remember this sight, think Blade Runner, Terminator, and recently the movie Transformers. We have on previous visits taken a moment to go over to Union Station, another location used in Blade Runner. One of these days we’ll visit the Bradbury Building where many of Blade Runner’s interior shots featuring J.F. Sebastian’s apartment were filmed.

A Royal Paulownia in bloom street side in Los Angeles, California

When you live in a desert, splashes of unexpected colors can be startling. We were meandering through the downtown area as we were not in a hurry to get to our next location. Along the way, we came across a bunch of Royal Paulownia trees in bloom – WOW. Our destination was Mitsuwa Marketplace at the corners of Centinela Ave and Venice Blvd. There is a Japanese grocery that also features four or five small restaurants around an open court, a Japanese bookstore is near the entrance. We stopped here Saturday night with the hope of eating at Santouka Ramen, a highly rated and super popular ramen shop, but we arrived shortly before they were closing. As we just had lunch and weren’t hungry, we wouldn’t be eating at Santouka today either, we were going back for Caroline to check the bookstore for their collection of Japanese craft books.

We had come back out towards Santa Monica and West L.A. because we had reservations for eighth row center at 4:00 p.m. at The Landmark Theatre on Pico Blvd for a showing of The Tree of Life. This and the Burmese food were the main reasons for our weekend trip to southern California. I was nearly certain that The Tree of Life would not play in Phoenix, or if it did, it might play to near empty theatres for a week and be gone. As it turned out, The Tree of Life would end up playing in Phoenix for almost two months – who knew? Yes, it was worth it, driving to L.A. for a movie – we loved it.

Green Leaves Vegan Vegetarian Restaurant on Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood, California

After the movie we took a drive through Hollywood. By 8:30 p.m. we were getting hungry again but with so many choices of small funky little restaurants, it is hard to choose one. We had considered Korean in the Koreatown district but kept on driving looking for something really different. Then at 8:58 p.m. on a Sunday night we spot this place called Green Leaves Vegan Vegetarian Restaurant

on Santa Monica Blvd in West Hollywood. Drats, it’s 8:58, they’ll never seat us, but we’ll try anyway. Hey, no problem, come on in have a seat – we are open until 12:00 a.m. Big frowns ensue for the city we live in, is anything open past 9:00 p.m. on nearly any day of the week in Phoenix? I’ve stated this before on my blog, I am not vegetarian, Caroline is, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying something different, and for most of the country, vegan and vegetarian is as exotic as finding cuisine of central Africa. This place rocks, we split the Cha Cha Pumpkin – worth coming back for. The other dish is lost to forgotten memories, but it must have been good too, because we both want to go back.

Now this was a perfect day.

May 282011

Yoma Myanmar-Thai Restaurant on 713 E. Garvey Ave Monterey Park, California

Up early in Phoenix, Arizona for a 380 mile drive to Yoma Myanmar-Thai Restaurant in Monterey Park, California. Our first stop in California was just across the street at Shwe Minthamee where we picked up some desperately needed Burmese ingredients for making salads that we fell in love with back when Little Rangoon was open in Scottsdale. Now well stocked, it was time for lunch. First up we split a laphet thote. Laphet is the most famous salad ingredient in Burma (now Myanmar), it is pickled (fermented) green tea leaves. When these tea leaves are mixed with shredded cabbage, tomato, egg, and a mix of crunchy bits – including peanuts, roasted garlic, sesame seeds, roasted yellow peas, we have the perfect salad – in our book. We had a couple of other items but it was the salad that made our drive worth while. For dessert we visited Beard Papa’s, obviously very popular with L.A.’s Asian population. Beard Papa’s serves up “Fresh’N Natural Cream Puffs”, claimed to be the world’s best.

Shopping in Little Tokyo - downtown Los Angeles, California

Next stop was Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles. This was our first goofing off mini-vacation this year as I had to cancel any pleasure trips in order to focus on writing my book. The first shop and really the only stop we were interested in was the bookstore upstairs in this photo. It is called Kinokuniya and rarely do we leave this place without spending a quick $100. Caroline spent a good hour looking fhrough fiber craft books in Japanese – it is a Japanese bookstore afterall. Afterwards we took our time to walk around Little Tokyo.

Looking at the south-eastern edge of Little Tokyo in downtown Los Angeles, California

Coming out of Phoenix with our drab conformist and generic urban areas, it is always nice to visit a vibrant city center. We are looking at one of the corners of Little Tokyo, also in front of us is L.A. City Hall far in the background. A mile north is China Town and adjacent to that is the Old Barrio of L.A. – where Los Angeles got its start. A few miles west is Korea Town, Little Saigon is over in Orange County, Little India is in Artesia, and Thai Town is over near Hollywood. Throughout the greater Los Angeles area, funky enclaves of culture thrive and give Caroline and I wonderful choices to choose from for entertainment and food compared to strip malls and drug stores on every corner out in the desert we live in. If you are wondering why I can complain about Phoenix while extolling L.A., we would live here in the City of Angels, except the cost of living would probably keep us as slaves to work and a small apartment.

Inside our tiny room at the Wilshire Motel in Los Angeles, California

Time to head west and check into our motel, one of our favorite motels anywhere – The Wilshire Motel. This tiny spot on Wilshire Boulevard on the way to Santa Monica is a cluster of cozy and clean bungalows just a few miles from the beach. The lady who operates the Wilshire always remembers us, even if it has been a couple of years between visits, although I don’t think we’ve ever gone that long between returns.

Caroline Wise walking on the beach in Marina Del Rey, California

With our lodging taken care of, we raced to the ocean and headed south through Venice to Marina Del Rey for a sunset walk on the beach. It was almost too late when we arrived as the sun had just dipped below the horizon, but we still had a short while to walk in the water and enjoy the late day golden glow of the setting sun.

A bowl of steaming hot seaweed and tofu ramen from Ramenya on W. Olympic Blvd in Los Angeles, CA

Heading back towards our motel and about a mile roughly east is another Los Angeles favorite – Ramenya. Since our first visit when the line was outside the door, this small ramen shop has since gotten some serious competition, but we are still loyal and enjoy their variety of ramens on offer. This somewhat unappetizing view (I will not claim to be an exceptional or even mediocre food photographer) is a bowl of seaweed and tofu ramen. I opted for the spicy curry ramen. This ended our perfect day in Los Angeles after waking up at 5:00 in the morning over in Phoenix. It’s amazing what one can do with a little effort to get out and have some fun.

Apr 072010

Joe, Rainy, and John in the car on the way to Los Angeles, California from Phoenix, Arizona

Out west things are done differently. Out here, the days are always beautiful and inviting. We do not live on work alone, we seek out fun and entertain ourselves with the spontaneity befitting the movie star lifestyle we deserve for being children of the sun. Do not put it past us to simply pick up and fling ourselves at frivolity. So began this day as Joe and Rainy joined me on a midweek excursion to find a path off the hamster wheel.

Joe and Rainy at Ten Ren Tea Shop in Rowland Heights, California

Next stop, California. We need some green and our desert isn’t supplying the kind of green we need. Some may think this an allusion to a particular medicinal alleviator that California has adopted as a kind of cure to malaise, but you would be wrongly assumptive in your conclusion. We are opting for other shades of pleasure beginning with a stop at Ten Ren Tea Shop for a boba green tea with green apple syrup amongst the green hills of Rowland Heights. Still searching for greener pastures far away from the land of cactus we push on into the interior of this la-la land of indulgence. Entering the other world of Little Tokyo we whet our palates to the exotic flavors of the orient, satisfying a need for munchies with the tasty morsel known as the Imagawayaki – to the uninitiated, I will spare you the gory details of where and how this came to pass.

Joe and Rainy on Olvera Street in Los Angeles, California

Out of Asia into the central core and heart of primal Los Angeles, home of the people who celebrate the holy encounter with the Day of the Dead – we step into the 1781 barrio of the angels, Olvera Street. In this mystic enclave we find wondrous rapture as cultures entangle to transform our experience of visiting California into one of becoming California.

Joe and Rainy in China Town in Los Angeles, California

We emerge beholden to forces we cannot fully comprehend. Changed in form we venture further into the depths of the exultant liberties of freedom in this land of anything goes. Our journey has become a quest, we will explore deeper questions and find meaning through the enlightenment granted to those who don The Mask. Precious few have gone before us, the physical strength of endurance rarely witnessed by the public eye but oft seen on late night Lucha Libre broadcasts from across the border carries us on into the maelstrom of metal L.A.

A straw hat on display in China Town - Los Angeles, California

Dancing into China Town anonymous and hidden behind the mask, our stealth moves secret us through passages of carnal pleasure with entreaties made by the racks of goods beckoning the green from our wallet to indulge our cheap consumer egos where a good deal pushes the buttons of ecstasy. We oblige with ruthless haggling, overwhelming shop owners with our mad negotiating tactics to a point of nearly paying us to leave with their merchandise – we score a kill and move to the next vendor who wilts beneath our mighty powers. Viva la Mask.

Los Angeles City Hall

Ah, more greenery. Los Angeles is kind to us. The high rises and stoned facades give this metropolis a gleam that only half baked eyes would fail to be overwhelmed with. A dispensary of wicked charm has graced the city like a fog moving in to clean away the haze, leaving behind a lucid clarity of mental fecundity found after a long journey through a dark pipe before emerging into the light. Moments later, our waiting carriage is revved up and ripping across blazing highways of perma fun taking us to the next level of munchy cultivation.

Menu from Oki Dog in Hollywood, California

The food is barely greasier than this old sign. No matter to us. We are peaking in our state of nirvana. The bright day-glow orange of Oki Dog only works to elevate our senses of having reached the promised land. If the food doesn’t kills us, we will belch stronger; this new Nietzschean maxim will someday adorn future legions of Oki aficionados standing in amazement that a generation of Americans never knew the pleasures of a chile laden pastrami veggie pickle and mustard super burrito that eventually supplanted the boring old Big Mac as a force majeur.

Rainy and Joe enjoying a Pastrami Burrito at Oki Dog in Hollywood, California

Now watch how the sinful pleasures of the Oki delight the senses. Peer on to the lips as succulent fat drips and smears into a frothy lather like a beard of chunky lard over the flesh. Skin rises in delight at the opulence befalling the olfactory and richly stimulated taste buds that whisk one to the boundary of what was previously insatiable culinary desire. Rainy wipes her chin and dips in for another bite finding the depths of a chilling extravagance never thought possible from a road side grimy shack that deceptively hid away this epicurean treasure. To die right now from heart disease would seal a life that has worshiped at this Church of Perfection.

Rainy and Joe laying next to the star for Dr. Seuss on the Walk of Fame in Hollywood, California

Gullets full the time was upon us to lay pilgrimage to the street shrine of our mentor – no, not Scientology and L. Ron Hubbard. No, our homage is aimed at far loftier heights, the deity of our admiration rests upon the nonsensical, the whimsical, the poetic – behold the temple of Dr. Seuss. We prostrate our unworthy selves before you and lie down in respect that you have attained this status of worldly honor where a star on the Walk of Fame has been created for all of us to pray in deference with the Seussian mantra that, “Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you.”.

Rainy and Joe being naughty in Hollywood, California

As we sit street side alit from a day that was all that a day should be, a moment of bereavement weighs upon our thoughts – we are about to depart Los Angeles for a return to the valley of the sun and our scorched earth home of Phoenix Arizona. The road ahead is long with much darkness enshrouding the way. The bleaching desert sun will shrivel our brains to try and make us forget this perfect day of metal mayhem and decadence, but in our hearts will beat the shriveled memory that for a few hours one day we stepped off the hamster wheel and exposed ourselves to fun. To close I quote once again, Dr Seuss: If you never did you should. These things are fun and fun is good.

Aug 312007

A concrete church tower in downtown Los Angeles, California

We know the sites along the freeway by heart now. Interstate 10, the road that starts at mile marker zero in Key West, Florida, seems like a short extension of highway leading from Phoenix to a strip mall just slightly farther away than where we shop in town. We driving to Southern California yet again. We could not be more familiar with the 10 by now, as I have stated before, we may have driven this freeway more than 70 times. About thirty miles from the 10’s terminus in Santa Monica, we veer north on the 101 passing through downtown Los Angeles to points further north en route to our destination in Santa Barbara. It is Labor Day weekend in America and the last three-day-weekend of summer, which typically makes for crowded roads. Not this weekend, though. Although getting out of Phoenix was time consuming , the rest of the drive was a piece of cake. Maybe everyone else is weighed down with high mortgage payments, high gasoline, electricity, and food prices so they can’t afford any leisure travel. For whatever reason, we made near record time of only 8.5 hours to drive the 507 miles from our house to Santa Barbara with two stops for gas and one for dinner in Los Angeles.