Day 253 (18th of November, 2016) – Los Angeles, CA, USA
It was around 7am by the time I crawled out of the bus, joints stiff and aching. I clumsily loaded up a Google Maps route of how to get to the hostel. It involved passing through LA’s downtown area. I actually quite like the look of the financial district here. It reminds me a lot of Sydney’s.
Some of the more beautiful cityscape photos I’ve seen have also been of this city.
I found my way down to the metro station, using my basic knowledge of the city through Grand Theft Auto V as much as I was using my map.
I didn’t come out from underground until I was on Hollywood Boulevard, just near my hostel. It wasn’t too crowded at such an early hour and was a good chance to be able to peruse the walk of fame with ease.
I also spotted some Aussies. They would turn out to be the first of many.
Arriving at the hostel, they kindly let me check into my room early to catch a few extra hours of sleep. I still woke up in time for the free breakfast which they also let me have despite not having stayed the night before. It was DIY waffles and pancakes. Not bad.
I fell back asleep shortly after breakfast and far too much of the day was consumed by sleep. Perhaps this was a sign – I definitely needed it. It’s the cost of those overnight buses. I did manage to properly explore Hollywood Boulevard in the late afternoon and evening, though.
Here’s the TCL Chinese Theatre. This theatre has hosted everything from Academy Awards ceremonies to the original premiere of Star Wars, and has since become the single largest IMAX auditorium in the world seating 932 people.
And the Dolby Theatre, where the Oscars are presented.
I was recommended to go to a shopping centre which gave a good viewpoint for the Hollywood sign. I was able to spot it in the distance from the main Boulevard.
I worked my way up to the vantage point through the centre.
In many ways, this place reminded me of a much bigger Gold Coast. I was enjoying myself a lot, but no doubt I would be enjoying myself much more if I was a movie buff. To me, it just seemed like a big entertainment capital (except you had to be 21 to enjoy yourself…).
One of the more exciting things which I spotted on the main boulevard was Donald Trump’s star.
If you recall, a protestor smashed his star to pieces in the lead-up to the election.
People had graffitied both pro and anti-Trump messages on the plywood which covered the star.
Another Aussie. This one I’ve met!
It was funny to see a Scientology Church, the spiritual home of Tom Cruise, situated perfectly in the centre of Hollywood Boulevard.
After a quick Indian dinner, I returned to the hostel.
The hostel is a converted home which gives it a really warm feel. It’s quiet compared to the San Francisco hostel which is surprising given its location on Orange Drive just off the main road of Hollywood.
Day 254 (19th of November, 2016) – Los Angeles, CA, USA
I decided early on to make today my “coastal day”. LA is such a spread out city. This means that to get from one district to another can often take over an hour, hence why people choosing on which district to live in is akin to an Aussie choosing which city to live in.
The journey out to Santa Monica beach took one-and-a-half hours. On the way there, right after watching two buskers on our train carriage, there was a sharp scream from the carriage over from us.
“GET OFF ME, GET OFF ME!” a woman yelled.
Immediately there was more screaming and most of the carriage shot up to see what was going on. N-words were being hurled all over the place, and for the first time in a while I felt genuinely threatened. I huddled in the corner of my seat while I watched everything go down. The person sitting next to me leaped up out of his seat and held the door open while he yelled out to the next carriage to see if everything was OK. In his rush to jump up, he dropped something which sent shivers up my spine.
It was lying on the floor of the train in plain sight for a good 20 seconds. I was holding my phone at the time and didn’t dare to make the action of taking a photo, I just sat frozen. When the situation had calmed down and the man returned, he realised that he had dropped his knife and put it in his pocket again. By this time I was back on my phone, discretely facing the wall pretending to be reading something. I snapped a photo where you can see him putting the knife in his back pocket. Don’t worry, I wouldn’t have taken this photo if it put me in any danger. At this point it was clear that he was just a vigilante, but not only that, I figured that a picture (if it was guaranteed that no one would notice me taking it) would come in handy if anything went sour and there had to be a police report.
With only a couple of stops to go and the train having calmed down, I figured that it was safe to stay on the train until Santa Monica. Even if I had changed trains, there would’ve been a similar situation on there too. I began to notice a lot of people with knife-shaped outlines in their back pockets. Scary that you would ever need to hold a weapon like that. And that’s not even getting started on concealed carry laws in other parts of America.
Santa Monica is a beachfront city in western Los Angeles County. The Santa Monica Pier, with its food stalls, ferris wheel and roller coaster, remains its most iconic feature. A true mark of the resort town it has become.
The Santa Monica Pier.
Any GTA players will know this place well.
From the boardwalk you could look out across the ocean towards Malibu, the home of many celebrities including our very own Miranda Kerr.
Walking past a plethora of street performers, I decided that the half-an-hour walk to Venice Beach would be a good way to spend the next part of the day before finding lunch.
The first part of the walk was crossing Muscle Beach, a place where sun-tanned men with inflated egos go for their daily workout.
Muscle Beach was a very pretty viewpoint for the Santa Monica pier.
What I found to be the nicest thing about the walk was all of the families riding their bikes in front of the beachfront hotels.
I found myself a nice, quiet spot where I could do some more reading.
I was also able to watch some beach volleyball from a distance.
One of the things which you start to notice about LA is the abundance of palm trees. They really do embrace it as a symbol of the city.
The beach became quiet in small patches between Santa Monica and Venice.
But then, things started to spice up very quickly. They got seedy, in fact.
Tucked away behind the smoke shops and graffiti walls were some stunning private luxury properties.
I stopped off for a bite at the legendary Big Daddy’s Pizza. Now, listen up, this is the best pizza crust I’ve ever had. Anyone who finds themselves in LA, this is totally worth the AU$7 per slice. I bought two, in fact.
While walking to the bus from Venice Beach, I passed by Snapchat. They couldn’t stop me from rocking up at their HQ no matter how hard they tried.
A quick break for tutoring back at the hostel came to a premature end due to the need to move on to the STAPLES Centre where I had bought tickets for the LA Clippers vs Chicago Bulls basketball game.
I passed another handful of glitzy LA shopping centres on the way there.
I bought the cheapest seats only a few rows from the back right up in the corner. But damn, it was a good atmosphere. America does live sport really, really well. I wish we had the same level of enthusiasm in Australia with regards to chants and dances.
My friends, many of whom are diehard NBA fans, were surprised that I of all people had found themselves at an NBA game watching legends such as Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, Dwayne Wade and Rajon Rondo do their thing. Meanwhile, they watched on from the comfort of their own homes.
The game came down to the wire with the Clippers ultimately overcoming an initial trailing to nip the Bulls in the final quarter. I was going for Chicago myself (for no reason other than that the city is more… in line with my image), but it was good to see the local team come out on top.
I had one goal at this game: to get on the big screen. I thought that making a televised NBA game would warrant the ultimate bragging rights. Needless to say, I was up and dancing during every “dance cam” session. Unfortunately, my slightly hesitant moves were clearly no match for the people in the row behind me who managed to get the camera placed on them. In classic Xavier fashion, though, I leaped up a few metres in order to intercept their shot and claim the fame.
One of my friends screenshotted it on his computer at home.
I followed the crowds back to the metro station for the ride home.
Tutoring that night didn’t end until 3am. I have made some strong commitments to a few students who have exams this week and it had to be done. I’m not regretting it yet, but maybe I won’t be thinking in the same way tomorrow morning.
Day 255 (20th of November, 2016) – Los Angeles, CA, USA
I slept in as much as I could before the check-out time of 10am approached. I dumped all my stuff into my luggage in order to make it out on time (hostels love to charge you an extra night just for being a few minutes late).
I had initially planned to see some of the more culturally diverse parts of LA’s downtown area today, but upon recommendation of the hostel staff I decided not to do that. Apparently it isn’t very interesting. Instead, they recommended going to Griffith Observatory for some views over the city. I Googled some photos and instantly decided that I would go there, especially given that it was a clear day.
I figured that it would be wise to quickly finish whatever Winter shopping I needed to do today, though. After all, the Black Friday sales are on, and it would be cheaper that I collect some things here rather than later in Taiwan or South Korea after it’s already too cold.
I decided to head to a shopping centre, The Grove, which was directly next to one of the recommended sights of the city, the Farmer’s Market.
When I arrived, the laneways were flooded with jazzy Christmas carols and festive season decorations.
There was also production crews setting up for the live performance of this evening’s Dancing With The Stars finale.
I noticed an Apple Store and decided to tick another thing off the list – acquiring some documentation needed for my insurance claim. I was put in a queue which was estimated to take almost three hours, so I used the spare time to shop around for a casual coat and some winter boots for the colder weather.
I eventually settled on a nice green coat and some brown Timberland boots, both of which should last me a few years.
I received a text message to say that I had been moved up in the Apple queue and was able to get my hands on the necessary pieces of paper about an hour in advance. While walking back to the store, I was caught in a heavy storm without an umbrella and was drenched all the way through my clothing. The weather had turned sour and the clouds had rolled in, meaning that a trip up to the Griffith Observatory would have been painful and unrewarding, so I decided to call it off.
For lunch, I roamed the Farmer’s Market (similar to The Grounds of Alexandria, Sydney).
On the recommendation of Angus Gilbert, though, I ultimately settled on Chipotle.
This place is ranked the best fast food chain in America by customer satisfaction. The ordering process was simple (helpful for a non-Latino like me), and the food was tasty (despite not being the most physically attractive burrito I’ve eaten this week).
I dawdled down to the nearest bus stop a little further away from the shopping centre to head back to the hostel in Hollywood to prepare for the evening’s flight. I was standing at the bus stop sending a Facebook audio message when the strangest, most coincidental thing of the whole year happened.
I looked up, and walking straight past me was Jeremy Smith, a graduate from Riverview a few years above me who also happens to be the older brother of Sam Smith, one of my best mates. I knew Jeremy and his good friends from school days and also from when he used to tutor in the boarding house – we always got along and had some really good chats.
Both of us couldn’t believe just how slim the chances were that we would run into each other on a random street in LA, and not a particularly iconic street either. It was in the heart of suburbia.
Jeremy was with a girl named Clare who had recently graduated from uni, and the pair were off on a celebratory trip through LA, San Francisco, Washington D.C. and New York City. What a dream trip.
It was only right that we took a few photos to mark the incredible coincidence.
What a small world.
Walking back to the hostel I passed one of my other favourite stars while one of her Christmas carol tracks happen to flick on during a shuffle of my phone’s music.
The rest of the evening was spent rearranging my luggage and heading out to LAX for my flight to Taipei, Taiwan. Here, I’ll be meeting Dylan, Lachie and Ben, three of my good mates from boarding. I can’t wait. They’ve already left.
It only just struck me that today marks the last day of the whole gap year where I am travelling on my own. Day 255, and the bulk of it has been solo. From tomorrow until January 29 when I return, I will always have company.
I’m immensely proud that I’ve made it this far on my own. And further, I’m immensely proud that I’ve learned to enjoy my own company.
Until next time,