I looked greedily out the window: stucco houses and palms and drive-ins, the whole mad thing, the ragged promised land, the fantastic end of America.
– Jack Kerouac, On the Road
Los Angeles. I’ve heard so many conflicting stories about this city that I simply had to see it for myself. We drove in from Santa Barbara, racing with the fog that seemed to follow us everywhere since we left the Bay Area.
Malibu, Bel Air, onto Sunset Blvd and through to Hollywood. L.A. is nothing like the movies. It’s huge and sprawling. Wide boulevards are lined with iconic Cali palm trees and one-two storey houses. There are enormous billboards everywhere, mostly with film and TV adverts competing for your attention just like the characters they’re trying to sell you.
After all these years later, L.A. is still the promised land … and still pretty ragged. I wonder what Kerouac would think of it today?
Glamorous Los Angeles
Of course there are the glamorous, polished parts of L.A. In the 48 hours we spent here, we drove through street after a street overflowing with lush greenery that partially hides equally lush villas from the eyes of mere mortals. You can feel the wealth in these streets even if you can’t see a single person owning it.
I imagine this is what making it means to many of the people who come to Los Angeles every year to chase their dreams. The hills around your little lush paradise island may be yellow with drought but it’s all alright because you’ve made it, so now the grass is always greener on your side.
Not-so-glamorous Los Angeles
Then, of course, there is the not-so-glamorous Los Angeles. The pretty magazine cover neighbourhoods quickly morph into streets where there isn’t any grass at all. The United States is all about diversity but such a diversity in incomes and quality of life existing this close together – yet a universe apart – is dizzying.
As we drive around, I can’t help but wonder if the rich notice the rest of L.A. residents. Do they see the dirty grey sidewalks or the paint chipping off the buildings? Do they realise that Skid Row has grown into an entire neighbourhood of its own? Do they notice that their American dream is not their neighbour’s?
Wandering around Los Angeles feels like you’ve stumbled upon a permanent movie set. Instead of seeing only the exclusive footage that makes it into the frame, the carefully cut and pieced together reel created only to entertain the viewers, you’re suddenly made aware of the whole picture: the locals, the gaping tourists, the tech, the trailers, the porter loos, the food stands, – the clutter that’s left outside the frame. It’s fascinating, and then it’s ordinary. The charm is gone as if someone’s switched off the spotlight.
I got that very same feeling when I saw Venice Beach. Everything you normally see on screen – the iconic six letters over a junction, the pier, the beach and the ocean – was still there. Only it was accompanied by swarms of tourists and hustlers. Oh, and seedy bars that serve the sort of food you do not want to eat the morning after a blurry Absinthe-infused night out.
Our stay in L.A. was a bit of a chaotic blur but the sunset on our last night there definitely stands out in my memory. Tired and still a little shaky from a night at The Edison, we ate pizza and watched the sun go down over L.A. from the front porch of our Airbnb. It’s all about the little things in life, isn’t it?
Before leaving L.A. for Nevada we took one final drive through Mulholland Drive to Jerome C. Daniel overlook and then to the Griffith Observatory. The sun was out, the car’s roof came down, and we drove through the hills with a new appreciation of why this city continues to attract thousands of people each year.
We snailed out of L.A. in the round the clock traffic jam on I-10 in the early afternoon. I wondered if I’d come back here again. I’d like to but for a longer visit next time, away from tourist attractions and with more beach time. A city that has inspired countless generations of dreamers deserves a second chance.
For the moment though I was happy to embrace a long ride through the Mojave desert with Elvis and the blaring sun. The American south-west was calling.
Thanks for reading rouge & coffee ♡