At 3am on the morning of November 11th, I jumped out of bed to the blast of train horn. The hotel I was staying at bordered a train track, but given the look of the area I was in, thought it one that didn’t see much use. I was mostly right; a train slowly chugged by outside my window, consisting only of seven or eight locomotives. It was gone in seconds. If you haven’t noticed, I’m a fan of trains. Normally, such an occasion would be uplifting. This one, however, was loud and more dissonant than usual. Almost frightening. This jump start would, in retrospect, be sort of a harbinger of an increasingly stressful and worrisome day.
As I mentioned before, for these last two days I’d booked a few events. The plan this Monday was to do a loop of Los Angeles, hitting up a bunch of sights briefly before ending up at the El Rey Theater for Andrew McMahon and the Dear Jack Benefit show in the evening. First on the list was Pasadena, solely for a pair of locations seen on the screen, big and small. Being Veteran’s Day, the traffic was light. Hallelujah. I coasted easily up I-710 into South Pasadena before I was forced to navigate the slow streets of suburbia. One particular street I won’t forget. I was heading east on Hope Avenue, leisurely driving along at the speed limit when I noticed that the approaching cross street, the aptly named Mound Avenue, didn’t look quite right. On both sides of Mound are concrete rain ditches, each dipping a few inches below the road surface, while the paved road rose to a rounded peak likely the result of multiple pavings. There were no stop signs at this dangerously uneven crossing. I hit the first ditch straight on at 30 mph, which launched the rear of the car into the air. As the back came down into the ditch, the front bounced up and over the apex of the cross street, falling down directly in the ditch on the other side. The jolt was forceful and concussive. I’m sure it felt worse than it looked; it felt awful. The car lost power steering control briefly, so I pulled off to the side to inspect the damage. I was convinced the car was a goner. To my surprise, there wasn’t even so much as a scrap (that I could see) and restarting the car fixed the steering problem. I sat there for a few seconds, heart racing, thanking the stars for my good fortune. I had taken my car for granted; had I been unable to drive, I would have been totally SOL for the remainder of the trip. In Los Angeles, you cannot survive without a car. Crisis averted?
I pushed on, gingerly this time, up to downtown Pasadena. I parked on a city street and walked a block over to City Hall, where a Veteran’s Day gathering was underway. In front of the historic structure were a pair of camouflaged military vehicles, soldiers in uniform, and members of various service branches in formation at the building’s entryway. Police abounded and I, a casual observer, kept my distance. What I came there to see that morning was the simple stonework of the entrance to Pasadena City Hall. Why? Because, in the fictional world of Parks & Recreation, that same stonework marks the city hall of Pawnee, Indiana. The CITY HALL inscription and keystone head are used as establishing shots in nearly every episode of Parks & Rec. Since it’s one of my favorite shows currently on television, I didn’t want to miss it. Sure, every time I see it on Parks & Rec now, I think “Pasadena” but, as I’ve no doubt established by now, I love visiting places I see in media. I creates a more personal connection.
Whilst in Pasadena, I took a quick hop to the northwest to see a city landmark and another famous film sight. The Gamble House, built in 1908, is a beauty of a residence. To me, it’s the 1955 home of Doc Brown in Back to the Future. I thought it looked cool on the screen as a kid; in person, it’s so much better. I’m not knowledgeable in the field of architecture, so I’ll describe it simply. The house is three stories tall, has low angled roofs, and awnings held up by large rounded-rectangular wooden pillars. The north side has two very large balconies off of which hanging plants draped. I walked around to the back on a brick and red-tiled patio to a garden featuring a pond and exotic-looking plant life in the patio’s center. I’m not a botanist either, so I have no idea what the name of that particular kind of plant is. Out back, a pagoda-looking lamp marked the stairs out to the yard, while similar wrought-metal lamps hung from the balconies above. It’s all very Asian-inspired and it actually reminded me a lot of the Eastern-style building set from Age of Empires II. I didn’t venture inside. Tours are rather expensive and I had other places to be.
I soon left from Gamble House headed north, hopping on the Ventura Freeway toward Burbank. On the route toward North Hollywood, I stumbled upon the back gate of Warner Brothers Studios. I was going to be attending a taping of Conan the next day, and it turns out the gate I’d found was the exact place I needed to be. From 101, I drove into the Hollywood Hills. The way through the neighborhood is a labyrinth of winding, steep, narrow streets. Where Echo Park and Silver Lake are more angular, more-grid-like corridors, the Hollywood Hills are a tangled mess of infrastructure. For such a famous area, the houses lining the streets seemed rather modest; I was expecting mansions and what I found were mostly narrow two-story townhouses. Every single one had a fence and a gate, no doubt privacy and security are of utmost importance out there. I wound down along the Hollywood Reservoir over to Lake Hollywood Park. I’m not really qualified to say so, but I would imagine the spot where I pulled off the road above the park has the best view of the Hollywood Sign in town. From dusty the bend in the street, one can see down onto the Hollywood Reservoir, Mulholland Dam, and the tall buildings of Central Los Angeles beyond. Still very early in the morning, I ate breakfast there while sitting around on a boulder in the sun reading about the history of the sign and the area on my phone. A lot of crazy things have gone down on that hill.
As the day marched on, so did I. I got lost again in the labyrinth of the hills, winding up and down Mulholland Drive before finally emerging in downtown Hollywood. Before the trip, I had planned to stop there and walk along the Boulevard, just to say I’d done it, but that was shelved with the reallocation of my Sunday to 5-Second Films. Again, nothing was lost. Being a non-tourist, I skirted over Hollywood Boulevard and then across Sunset Boulevard without even slowing to take photos or look around with any more than a glance. The drive over to I-10 was longer than I thought it should have taken. I must have hit every light on La Cienega. Another jump on the freeway later and I had arrived at the next stop on the day’s itinerary, Santa Monica. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do there, so I left my car parked on the street and walked around for awhile. Downtown Santa Monica isn’t quite like I imagined; it’s more urban, less beachfront. After all, it’s a few blocks from the ocean.
I shuffled over to the bluffs on the edge of Ocean Avenue when I had a revelation: I’d been here before. No, not in person, obviously, and not even on TV or movies. As previously mentioned, I’d been watching Toby Turner play Grand Theft Auto V. Why? I don’t know, I have too much time and I find him entertaining (if frustrating, occasionally). Anyway, there’s a mission in GTAV that takes place on this very bluff in Los Santos, where you race down to the beach on foot. In the game, there’s winding path along the bluff to a brick stairway, which leads down to an arched footbridge across the Pacific Coast Highway to the beach. This was my first time in Santa Monica, so I might have been lost, but to my shock, there a few meters in front of me was said bridge, down below was the highway, and of course, just beyond was the beach. This wasn’t the first instance of the game being incredibly true to life either. While driving on I-5 in East Los Angeles, I noticed a plain-looking warehouse building near a bridge over the LA River. Normally, I wouldn’t have batted an eye, but it stood out to me as a meeting place used by Lester in an early mission. So kudos to the folks at Rockstar Games; you guys nailed it.
The beach at Santa Monica is beautiful. It was a cloudless day in Los Angeles and the ocean glistened a pure blue. Off in the distance lay typical coastal haze, or perhaps smog. I can never really tell. I ventured along the sand up to the Santa Monica Pier. I couldn’t care less about tourist traps, theme parks, or overpriced food. I just wanted to be out on the sea. I spent the entire walk along the pier drawing comparisons between Santa Monica and Santa Cruz. Considering its popularity and fame, I found the Santa Monica Pier to be small and relatively sparse. Apart from the theme park, there are just a handful of restaurants compared to seemingly an entire row of them in Santa Cruz on the pier. Granted, there was some kind of renovation happening on the north side, so perhaps there will be more development in the future. I sat on a large wooden step at the west end of the pier for some time. All I wanted to do was look out at the ocean and enjoy the warm marine air.
With a limited time on my parking meter, I neglected to visit the Santa Monica Beach Boardwalk. I don’t think I really missed out on anything. I can go to Santa Cruz if I really want that kind of experience again. A quick scamper back up the hill to my car downtown and I was off again, this time to Central LA and a view I’d been looking forward to seeing. I passed through the oil fields between La Cienega and La Brea at Baldwin Hills before entering a residential neighborhood on the way to the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area. Then tragedy struck.
I broke my car. I went over a speed bump on a side street, possibly a little too fast, and dislodged something somewhere. It sounded so bad. Like the undercarriage was dragging on the road, or the muffler was just gone. Not sure if an impending catastrophic failure was looming, I slowly lugged the car up the hill. A couple things: I had gone the wrong way to get to the park, so I wasn’t getting in anyway, and it was incredibly smoggy down below and I could only barely make out downtown in the distance (as opposed to the beautiful snow-capped scene above I’d been hoping for). On a street corner, I stopped to check under the hood of my car for obvious damage. I saw nothing. My heart had sunk and my day was almost ruined, yet my car seemed able to keep running fine. I wasn’t about to miss out on the rest of my trip, and I continued on very gently so the wheels wouldn’t fall off or something awful like that. I drove it a few blocks through Central LA without any problems before I decided to take a chance on the freeway. Nothing happened there either and I thought it actually sounded relatively okay in higher gears. It was in starting the car that it sounded like death. That morning’s luck had run out and I was feeling down.
I stopped at a mansion in Central LA, the exterior filming location of the HBO series Six Feet Under. I’d watched the entire series during the summer of 2011 and despite that being over two years ago, I knew the sight of the iconic Fisher & Sons Funeral Home as if I’d seen the show that day. Outside of it were furniture and lamps like a yard sale were happening, but not quite. Perhaps someone was moving? Maybe renovations? I took a peek through the open front door, looking for familiar interior sights. I didn’t recognize anything; I’m sure they filmed those scenes in a studio. I only stayed briefly since my dying car was still foremost on my mind.
I headed up toward the El Rey to scout parking for the evening. I’m not going to write about this part because it sucked. I drove around and around for ages. When I finally rolled past the theater, I saw a queue already formed out front. Determined to get a good place in line, I parked the car in an expensive garage nearby (because I’d given up looking), grabbed lunch across the street, and settled in on the sidewalk. It was only 1pm.
I slowly ate a burger from Five Guys, drawing out everything I did to kill time. In an hour, I’d been sitting there minding my business roasting in the hot LA sun, still at the end of the queue, when who should appear in front of me but Andrew McMahon himself. I’m not sure if it was because I’d lost my ability to be starstruck around 5-Second Films, or that I’d met the guy already in February, but I stood up, calmly shook his hand and re-introduced myself. I had him sign the CDs sleeves from all of my Jack’s Mannequin albums (yes, I brought them all with me) and took a photo. It was so sunny that it didn’t come out well. I got to talking to the people in line next to me about Andrew, about how many times we’d all seen/met him before, and expectations for the show. As Andrew moved on toward the front of the line, I decided to meet up with him again and get a better photo. He’s a class act for obliging me again. Also, I just had to congratulate him on his coming baby, having forgotten all about it earlier. Afterward, I ran back to my car to deliver my precious cargo to safety for the night. When I returned to the line, it was another uneventful three hours on the sidewalk before I was drawn away from my post.
I previously mentioned an employment opportunity. That day I was to have an interview prep call with a recruiter. I headed around the corner where it was more quiet and settled on the sidewalk with a pen and paper, hoping for a short call. It turned into an hour and a half talk on the phone and one of the most humiliating experiences of my professional career. It started really well too, but lack of preparation combined with a guy who suddenly revealed himself to be a rather condescending jerk turned it into a no-win situation for me. It ended with a decision to delay the upcoming interview, and I walked away from the call feeling absolutely terrible, with a dead phone battery to boot. When I returned to the line, it had been drastically reorganized and only after frantic scrambling did I find my place again. Thankfully, no one seemed to care that I hopped in at the front; I knew who my witnesses were in case I needed someone to vouch for me. It was another hour before the doors opened and I spent the whole time in a catatonic state. I was so shattered I couldn’t bring myself to move. It was there that I discovered something very important about myself: intense negative feedback does not serve to motivate me, rather it paralyzes me with self doubt. So good work, jerk. I’ll have to find somewhere else that is collaborative and encouraging, instead of patronizing and antagonistic.
I tried to feel better; once the doors opened it helped. I made my way in and got a decent spot right up against the stage to the left, basically the same as last time. I chatted a bit with other fans standing around me and we killed time betting on when the acts would begin. To everyone’s surprise, they both started within five minutes of the advertised time. A concert first, I believe. The opening act was a group called Hunter Hunted. I’d never heard of them. They employed a singer/keyboardist, a pair of acoustic guitarists, a violinist/keyboardist, and a drummer with nothing more than a pad drum machine. It was odd, but it worked really well. They played a set of seven songs, a few of which reminded me a bit of Milo Greene, which is a good thing. I’m normally wary of openers, however this quintet succeeded in taking my mind off the troubles of the day. I was ready for Andrew.
In no time the curtain once again pulled back, revealing just Andrew and his piano. He stood there with posterboard signs, each having a message to the crowd, and he tore them off one by one before sitting down to play. I’m not going to go through his set track by track; honestly my mind was still scattered and without differentiation in the instrumentation, the songs tended to blend together. Andrew McMahon is a fantastic pianist and only rarely was he unable to bring to life the music of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin with the solo instrument. In some instances, the crowd did the work. For example, during Straw Dog (which I was so happy he played) the fans at the front of the stage filled in the opening drum break. Andrew reacted with delight, but also thought the attempt was just a bit off. More than once he broke playing to chat with the crowd, though he wasn’t as verbose or outright hilarious as Sara Bareilles had been. In all, it was a lovely show. He played Dear Jack for the first time ever, which surprises me given that the concert was the 4th Annual Dear Jack Benefit. As I usually do, I snapped pics throughout the show. Most of them are pretty similar, since he didn’t really move at all. A few came out really well, in my opinion, although the lighting was very tough to work with. I wish I had been in a better state of mind, however it’s hard to be down around a guy like Andrew McMahon. He just radiates positivity. I need more people like him in my life.
It’s funny I should say that, because when the show ended, rather than sticking around to meet him outside as I would normally do, I decided instead to go back to my hotel. I’d already talked to him twice before the show, so doing the same afterward would probably have been somewhat awkward. So that was it for the night. My car made it back to Commerce no problem and I went to sleep early, eager to shed the day’s troubles as soon as possible.