back in the USSA: los angeles


For my trip back to the States, I flew into LAX since it was $500 cheaper than flying into SFO. And I got to fly a better airline. And I was planning on going to LA anyhow to visit my brother, and the J., and other LA compatriots of mine as well. So I ended up saving myself a plane trip within the U.S. as well. Aside from having to leave my liquids at the door — and a second round of searches for any excess liquids that might have been left over from the first check — my flight from Japan to the U.S. went without incident. Except for the fact that X-Men III totally, totally sucked — which was really too bad since I really liked the first two offerings in the franchise. Oh yeah — and the Davinci Code was no great shakes either. And don’t ever, ever, try to get through RV. Actually, in truth, I spent most of the flight glued to Chang-Rae Lee’s A Gesture Life, which is a brilliant novel.

My brother, Cain, was kind enough to come pick me up at LAX. And the first thing we did was drive by LAX’s famous UFO building. I’m really not sure what this building is, but it looks totally Jetsons and it’s definitely the place I’m going to be the next time comet Hale-Bopp comes by. By the way, have I mentioned how awesome California weather is? I’d been sweating in the Kansai for about two months straight and I got to walk off the plane into that sweet, sweet, dry California air. Sure it’s hot — but it’s a dry heat.

The first thing my brother and I did was drive to El Tropical, a Cuban sandwich shop in Los Feliz (one of my favorite neighborhoods in LA). El Tropical has really good Cuban sandwiches, and good coffee, and more importantly it has these guava-cheese pastries that are so good that they might have convinced the Heaven’s Gate crew to take off their Nikes and retire.

After El Tropical, we dropped my stuff off at Le Château and then headed out for more food. This time we went to a Mexican restaurant called Allegria, where I was able to eat chicken mole for the first time in over a year. I had decided, before coming out to California, that just about the only food I was going to eat was food from Mexico and South America, though of course this quickly went out the door since there is so much incredibly delicious food in California. For example, the next night I went out for dinner with the J. and we had Thai food while Thai Elvis crooned over our coconut curries. And then we went to Pink Berry for yogurt and toppings. And then the next evening, Cain, the J., and I had some really delicious Italian right across the street from the place where Robert Blake allegedly had his wife done in. I ate a lot of breakfast food too.

My brother’s dog, Henrietta, aka “The Catfish,” didn’t care what we were eating as long as we would throw the Kong for her.

LA is a classic motor city in the sense that the city is meant to be navigated by car. The scale of the buildings is such that they make sense as you’re passing by at speed, but simply become boring boxes when you’re on foot (of course, this isn’t true of all LA architecture). Venturi, Brown, and Izenour’s Learning From Las Vegas still holds for LA — it’s a city of signs. And one of my favorites is this here Linoleum City sign. In fact, LA is full of great signs — many of them leftovers from a time before corporate homogenization decided to flatten every last thing.

It was really nice, and kind of wonderfully out of place, to see my friend Anne — who I met in Japan — in Los Angeles, where she’s living now. Right next door to a 70-year-old smoker who plays her television too loud and owns a greyhound named Good News. Actually, I found out that that last part isn’t actually true, but it’s too good of a falsehood not to propagate. Anyhow, we had lunch at a great café in Echo Park, and then looked at the Menger Sponge next door, and then we returned to her brand new VW Golf to find it covered in cement truck schmutz. Luckily, for whatever reason, it hadn’t actually set on the car, so we were able to drive by the local carwash and get that schmutz off.

A couple of days after I landed in LA, my brother and I ended up inviting a few people over to his place for an afternoon hangout. This ended up involving Anne, who brought cupcakes, and my friends Ryan and Denise, who brought their sons, Ethan and Gavin. A lot of cupcakes were eaten, and a lot of wine got drunk. In fact, I tried to make it a point to subsist almost entirely on a wine diet while I was on the West Coast, since California wine can be so good and so amazingly cheap.

Finally, let me talk about Los Feliz again, a neighborhood that I love. Anne and the J. and I spent some nice time at a gelateria in Los Feliz, and there are also shoe stores, and a cheese shop, and revolutionary new wave graffitistas.

And it’s really true — LA does have beautiful sunsets.


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