LA FIELD TRIP
Santa Monica Blvd and Veteran Ave
A decade ago, M. lived in an apartment overlooking this billboard, with its digital counter tallying the number of “Smoking Deaths This Year.” The numbers tick upward, of course, an argument for the reliability of human frailty, of never learning better, a marker of fatal mistakes. Except! For this once a year when at midnight the billboard resets to zero, and you can stand out on the balcony with M. in the warm Los Angeles winter and suck in the stuff that might kill you, and revel in a few too brief seconds of nothing you’ve done being nothing you shouldn’t have done, and the mistakes still ahead, still uncounted.
Snack Break: Herbal grass jelly, rice balls and a small drizzle
of caramel on Taiwanese-style fluffy shaved ice milk at Blockhead.
I like the basic plain or speckled black sesame, in a real bowl.
Franklin ave west of La Brea
Finding Joan Didion’s house and standing in front of it will tell you nothing about yourself or about how to write sentences that will break the heart of a 15 year-old girl, who will never get over it. But a few weeks ago, when things were falling apart with far too much civility, A.R. and I decided to track down the house Joan Didion lived in when she wrote The White Album, during a period of time when Didion said she “began to doubt the premises of all the stories I had ever told myself.” The house ended up being the first one we saw, on Franklin Ave. west of La Brea, though we wouldn’t know it until later when we did a public record search. These are the clues we started with, and they’ll get you there if you’re looking
Snack Break: Seasonal produce from the Hollywood
farmer’s market: little plastic baggies of onion sprouts,
purple haricot vert, chioggia striped beets, whole bunches
of fresh garbanzo beans still in their shells.
Los Angeles City Hall
It takes three elevators and a walk through a metal detector to get to the best view in Los Angeles. It’s a bit shabby behind the columns but with a sort of grand bureaucratic charm, like bird poop on marble and oil paintings of dead mayors and finding yourself completely alone on the top five floors of the city’s main government building at 3:30 in the afternoon. There’s a view from City Hall of county jail and my apartment, of parking structures where they make no sense and fountains and the river, and of the hills above Chinatown flowing into the city. In the corner of the 27th floor observation deck is a small locked door that is rumored to lead even higher, to the very top of the obelisk. They say there’s a room up there just large enough for one person, empty except for an old rotary telephone. Don’t pick it up. It’s a giveaway you were there.
Snack Break: $2.50 pork pate banh mi sandwiches
at Banh Mi My-Dung or a plate of simple small fried fish
and fresh warm tofu with ginger syrup at CBS Seafood.
I don’t know the lore of westside high schoolers, or why they’re called the Time Tunnels, but there is something timeless about teenagers needing someplace to spray paint and smoke weed and be brave, and to act like the world hasn’t already been discovered, every corner of it. This was A.K.’s spot, around the turn of the century. It’s not even a tunnel, really, just a storm drain behind a metal guard rail off Topanga Canyon Rd., surrounded by poison oak. If you are foolhardy enough and shimmy down the drain, you’ll emerge a few minutes later into wooded, dappled sunlight, and there’s a stream below the rocks. It’s the most romantic place I know of in Los Angeles, dotted with pieces of cars that flew over the side of the road.
Snack Break: Salad pizza—a sesame-seed flecked
bagel-crust pizza topped with lettuce, feta, tomatoes and
avocado in tart lemon vinaigrette—from Abbot’s Pizza.