the Backpack ~ Strange and Unexpected
when I post something from the archives, it involves bringing
back an essay or article or such that had appeared on the In My
Backpack web site and was removed during one of the updates or
computer issues over the years.
entry is a bit different though… in addition to appearing on the
site, it was part of the Travel
Trilogy project… or, more specifically, Strange
and Unexpected: Backpack on the Road – Volume Two: California.
that means a couple of versions exist… somewhat specific, almost
definitive versions if you will… the work that was on the site,
and the chapter that was edited and potentially revised from that
piece and used for the book.
material was originally posted on July 25, 2005. It was later
published in April 2013. Some minor proofreading edits and adjustments
may have been made while bringing the material back to the site
in this posting.
~ ~ ~
two, Sunday, April 17, 2005
turned out to be one of those funny days where everything was
still more or less all screwed up, more or less unplanned, and
yet worked out so wonderfully that it seemed like I had it planned
perfectly all along.
check out of the Radisson and Justin has made it clear that he
expects a Denny’s to be in our plans for breakfast, and that expectation
includes his desire that one magically appear in front of us within
three to five minutes.
before the magic show, a note about the Radisson. It was fine.
The room was comfortable and clean. We never had a chance to check
out any of the real offerings at the place… heck, we didn’t even
need ice… so I can’t offer much more than fine, but overall it
was exactly what we had hoped to have for a single-night stay.
When the time to head back to LA arrives in the future, I wouldn’t
have any problem if one of the first calls was here to arrange
arrived in the middle of the night, the neighborhood looks different
in daylight than it did just a few hours earlier around 2am. I’m
pretty sure the highway is off to the right as we exit the hotel’s
parking lot. (I made a lot of right-hand turns getting off of
the highway to backtrack to the hotel, so continuing the progression
to the right seems appropriate). But with no city map in my hands
and no true directions, I’m not 100% certain where I’ll find the
ramp to get back on route 405.
don’t tell anyone that effectively we’re lost, start moving, and
turn right out of the parking lot. Straight ahead we see the highway
overpass situated so that it appears yet another right hand-turn
will bring me parallel to it. So we turn right again and find…
signs for 405 North and a Denny’s at the light before the entrance
to the highway.
if that wasn’t perfect enough, the Denny’s is in a shopping center
that includes a store where I will find my street and landmark
map of Los Angeles. After literally destroying a great reputation
built on impressive past travel efforts with two hours of hooker
sightings and trying to find a hotel the night before, Tour Guide
Bob is recovering nicely on a beautiful April morning in Los Angeles.
don’t tell anyone it’s all a bunch of random potential mistakes
that worked out in my favor.)
Denny’s… breakfast… time to get a map.
strange happened to me in New York City about twelve or so years
ago. I was in the city with some friends, and we were just planning
on a casual day meandering around… Empire State Building… maybe
a Broadway show if we could get tickets to something we wanted
to see. We wandered into a store, and I began to look at a display
of maps near the counter. They all were for New York City, but
each one was focused on different locations… theaters, museums,
points of interest… stuff like that. I bought one that had museums
and a few other places listed, and it helped me learn how to love
New York City. Beyond finding the regular tourist sites, this
map had subway stops marked, was laminated, and always folded
up nice and neat. Having it as a resource when needed made me
feel incredibly comfortable in New York.
Jay wound up going to school in Baltimore, we were given a similar
map for the city during his orientation. Next thing you know,
I’m not having many troubles navigating around Baltimore.
the map idea full circle and this diary back to southern California…
much like accepting the backpack I drag along on trips, Tigg now
looks for city maps when she knows I’m going to be driving in
a new place. So, the first full day in Los Angeles, no 100% definite
plans for later in the afternoon and knowing we would be coming
back to LA later in the week, she’s asking if I have a map yet.
wander into a drug store that shares the plaza with Denny’s. After
searching through several maps, I finally pick one made by National
Geographic since it seems to contain the best information on landmarks.
in the car, we are heading to The Getty Center.
say that because the property that The Getty Center occupies may
be the most impressive museum-type property that I have ever seen.
And the total cost for our group of 4 to visit the facility… $7.00.
seven bucks. The price to park the car. No admission charge. (Which
isn’t an amazingly odd thing... lots of museums have free admission
or suggested donations for admission. But, most of them are also
located in places like New York, and good luck parking the car
for $7 there.)
you enter the grounds and decide on a path to follow through the
buildings, everything works together quite well. The Center is
home to an impressive collection of sculptures, paintings and
other assorted pieces. Most of the big names are well represented,
including selections that will be familiar to everyone.
tram runs from the parking area to the facility. There is a gift
shop… just like all of the regular museum gift shops you’ve probably
seen… but I quite easily found prints of two paintings I loved,
and I don’t believe I had ever seen either painting before. They
were “Sunrise” by Claude Monet and “The Entry of the Animals into
Noah’s Ark” by Jan Brueghel the Elder. I mention them because
I thought they were both striking, but… art can be an incredibly
individual medium for appreciation. There was so much here that
picking just two things really doesn’t do the full collection
addition to some very interesting architecture, The Getty Center
also features some amazing and beautiful landscaping. It is set
on a hill that has some incredible views of the surrounding areas,
has fountains and streams and other elements incorporated all
around the property… and has an absolutely stunning collection
managed to walk through most of the facility and the surrounding
grounds in just a few hours. Although I know we could have spent
more time there -- after about three hours Justin and Tigg had
pretty much exceeded their fill -- and as we crossed four hours
it was time to leave.
is where we find out that our National Geographic map stinks.
hotel is in San Clemente. It’s not even 4pm as we finish at The
Getty Center, and we have time before dinner… which we are planning
at a Japanese steakhouse roughly a half-hour away. We also have
time before the need to get to our resort… which is a half-hour
or so beyond the restaurant, and we have told them to expect us
in the evening. So we decide to cruise along Mulholland Drive
(with a starting point just north of the Center), head down toward
Sunset Boulevard, and see if we can find a good view of the Hollywood
heard of Grauman’s Chinese Theater? I’d find it very hard to believe
that you haven’t. It’s Mann’s Chinese Theater now and home to
some of the most famous hands, feet and other assorted autographs
and imprints ever found in cement. Do you know what street it
is located on? Well, when you open up the main map of Los Angeles
that I have from National Geographic, Hollywood Boulevard isn’t
listed. And Mann’s Chinese Theater is depicted right at a t-intersection
where La Brea Avenue meets Sunset. It’s right near Highland Avenue.
started driving back and forth along Sunset and never find the
theater. (Yes… yes… people of LA… later I was shaking my head
as well, feeling quite embarrassed. If you flip the map over,
look around and eventually find the more detailed version of that
area of LA, Mann’s is on Hollywood Boulevard. But how
does Hollywood Boulevard not make the main map? Probably the same
way that the map can’t possibly follow all of the twists and turns
of Mulholland Drive… because it doesn’t, it approximates
them. But what a gorgeous, twisting, turning drive it is.)
stopped at the Stone Canyon Overlook (which is identified as part
of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy and the City of Los
Angeles). Nice views from there, although the haze we had seen
around the city earlier in the day… and especially seen while
at the Getty… was still there. We then followed the street into
some connecting roads that took us to Laurel Canyon Boulevard
and through a portion of Beverly Hills. From there it was Sunset
Boulevard and heading away from the coast toward Hollywood.
quick note on the streets and Hollywood Boulevard. Yes, you would
be absolutely right in saying that I should have known Mann’s
was on Hollywood. But other than possibly New York City -- and
I mean that, possibly New York -- LA has more famous
streets than any city in the country… Sunset… Hollywood… Santa
Monica… Laurel Canyon… Mulholland… and the list goes on. It really
is quite amazing, because even if you get lost in Hollywood, the
names are so familiar that you feel like you should know where
you are. The end result is, when you are looking at a map that
shows Mann’s Chinese Theater on Sunset Boulevard… well… you basically
just nod your head and say “right, Sunset, of course it is, I
knew that.” You don’t question it.
the time we reached Hollywood & Vine while moving along, it
occurred to me that we not only hadn’t seen the Hollywood sign
yet… for some reason we hadn’t really been looking for it. So
I started looking down streets toward the hills and there it was.
And in true “Los Angeles doesn’t want you to visit” fashion, trying
to get closer to it was one of the most amazing experiences of
really should tell you about our car rental.
and I are thinking about buying another vehicle soon. Right now
we have two smaller cars. Having driven an SUV in years past,
we have missed the extra space on several occasions and have been
kicking around a lot of options… truck, SUV, mini-van. Obviously
cost and gas mileage play into it, but some of our biggest debates
have involved seating capacity as well as a few of the items we
have had to lug around in recent moves. The end result was that
when we had the chance to rent a Toyota 4Runner, which was a model
we are looking at, we took it. Driving it for a week would be
a huge help in deciding if we wanted it.
this thing isn’t huge by SUV standards of the day, but the Toyota
4Runner is big. Big enough that while I believe they have smaller
lanes on the highways in California (more on that in a moment),
I could definitely see where it might be the car we rented playing
in to my perceptions.
get the idea… big SUV. Ok? Back to the trip…
we drove up toward the Hollywood sign, we kept turning onto a
variety of streets that I felt was bringing us closer and closer
to the sign. For the most part, it was, but now as we were driving
up and down curving streets of houses and trees, the sign was
no longer visible. But the amazing thing was how the streets curled
up incredibly steep angles and were narrow enough that, with just
a single car parked on the side of the road, they became virtually
impassable for our group.
the time this trip was over, Tigg, Jay and Justin had begun to
question the state of Connecticut for granting me a driver’s license.
But on this day, I was putting on a demonstration of skills… in
drive, in reverse, heck even in neutral and while parallel parking…
that I feel comfortable saying none of them could equal.
you can’t drive and aren’t sure of the direction to drive, take
your picture from down below and just try to zoom in on the sign
as best as you can.
finally asked a man walking down one road where we were going
wrong, and he pointed us down a side street that we never would
have even considered. Three quick turns… one making a selection
at a fork in the road where he told us to go to the left… and
the sign appeared. Along the way we passed a tour bus that seemed
to be having troubles going up the incline in the road… and held
a ton of tourists that seemed very impressed by a small house
for Hollywoodland Realty (they took a lot of pictures of it, and
it does have an interesting history… you can check that out on
your own though). If it weren’t for having the walking man’s help,
I’m fairly certain only a herd of mountain goats would have been
able to lead us there.
was taking pictures, and decided we should all stand with our
hands out. (So she could move around a bit and get the sign on
top of our outstretched palms. Folks, I’m telling you… you think
I’m kidding when I explain what Jay, Justin and I go through because
you know that Tigg is such a wonderful person (and she is). But
I’m not kidding… outstretched hands so she can line up the Hollywood
sign on them.)
now it was about 6pm and we decided to head out of LA and toward
our hotel. I’m thinking that the best way might be to head back
out to the coast, get on the Pacific Coast Highway just north
of the Santa Monica Pier, and then turn south along the PCH out
of LA and toward Huntington Beach. I thought that was a nice,
lazy drive with a good chance for some great scenery.
you weren’t laughing at me after my description of the neighborhoods
near the Hollywood sign, those of you that are familiar with the
area are not insulting me in the least by laughing at me right
now. I get it. And you’re right. Nice, lazy, scenic drive indeed.
But on this evening… I didn’t know any better.
route 1… the Pacific Coast Highway… turns away from the coast
just south of the Santa Monica Pier. And it heads past LAX and
tempts you with a return toward the coast before heading back
inland again moving toward the Long Beach Airport. In short, it
was a very dumb idea for what I wanted, because of very little
time on the actual coast. I give up on it just as we pass LAX
and get on route 405 South.
lanes are definitely smaller.
convinced of it. I don’t know the exact measurements, but the
highways are six lanes wide. I’ve got a funny feeling that instead
of say a 60-foot wide stretch of road with five lanes that are
all 12-feet wide, someone came up with the brilliant idea of improving
the flow of traffic with six lanes that are all 10-feet wide.
already noticed this phenomenon in other places too. The parking
spaces seem smaller. I can’t prove any of it. But as we cruise
down 405 on this Sunday evening, I’m beginning to believe it has
nothing to do with driving a vehicle bigger than the one I have
been operating for the past six years. Another thing that I’ve
noticed is that at this point in the trip, I don’t recall seeing
a single identifying mark on any of the exit signs except for
street names. No numbering system… whether 1-2-3 and so on, or
by mileage, or whatever.
heading to a restaurant called Matsu on Ocean Boulevard in Huntington
Beach. While trying to bring together some information for the
trip, I happened to e-mail someone I got to know on-line through
National Novel Writing Month… Paula. Before we left, she and I
had exchanged information on a variety of things, including her
tipping us off about The Getty Center. Since that went so well,
and everyone in our group is a huge fan of Japanese steakhouses,
the decision to stop at Matsu was an easy one.
like to tell you the dinner was fantastic… it was ok. While almost
every Japanese steakhouse I have ever been in served ginger and
mustard sauces with the meals at the grill (you know… most places
call it a hibachi grill, although I’ve seen it called teppanyaki
dining as well), Matsu adds a teriyaki sauce that was outstanding.
I ordered a chicken appetizer that I hadn’t seen before. It was
a deep fried dish, and it tasted as though it was only partially
cooked. I checked the chicken, and it was done, so the only thing
I can think of is that enough oil seeped past the coating to give
it that texture and consistency when I ate each piece. I think
that probably had something to do with the oil temperature, might
not be an every-time occurrence… but I wasn’t in the kitchen.
Still, that threw me off from the very start. Between entrees
that included chicken and shrimp though, everyone in our group
came away with a feeling that the meal was fine, and simply nothing
on the 405 and we move along to the San Clemente Inn.
had spent a fair amount of time researching places to stay on
our trip. At the start we were looking at places closer to the
Los Angeles area… with the thinking being that between LA and
Anaheim, we would be spending the majority of time closer to those
cities. But three funny things happened… (1) The more we looked
at San Diego and places like the Joshua Tree National Park, the
more it became quite apparent that the majority of our days weren’t
going to be spent in Los Angeles. (2) The traffic is a funny thing
around here… and while I had never experienced it before, I had
talked with friends about it. One thing they mentioned was getting
out of the cities when selecting a hotel, and in essence setting
it up so we only experienced one rush hour on any drive. In other
words, instead of trying to get out of Los Angeles during the
beginning of the morning commute and then going in to San Diego
at the end of the morning commute, we’d be significantly better
off staying somewhere between the two cities and only dealing
with one traffic headache or the other. (3) Ellen and Richard
delivered a great option when you consider points 1 and 2… finding
and referring us to the San Clemente Inn. Essentially centered
between LA and San Diego, it was near a highway, and had plenty
to offer. We’ll talk more about the resort as we continue with
the diary, but for now…
boys slept on Murphy beds. In general that was a good thing…
they were happy with it overall. But, when pulled down, it cut
off the door from the bedroom into the main portion of the suite.
nice facility and we were quite satisfied. But, for those of
you that are more experienced time-share-facility travelers,
don’t be fooled. The San Clemente Inn is much closer to a converted
hotel than some of the resort properties I have experienced
over the years.
we were checking in I decided to ask about the Joshua Tree National
Park, and I had a very good reason for that… up until this point,
no one had ever heard of it.
my NaNo friend, said she hadn’t heard of it and thought she might
want to look into it for her family. When I called the San Clemente
Inn a few days before our trip to let them know we were planning
on arriving around 8pm or 9pm to check in, I had asked about Joshua
Tree. The person I spoke with on that call thought the drive to
the park was about 6 hours, but she wasn’t familiar with it.
two girls at the counter when we checked in also had never heard
of it, but they pulled up some information over the internet and
printed it out for me in just a few seconds. All of this created
a really interesting scenario… where we figured either no one
knew about the park because it was horrendous and not worth telling
people about, or, it was going to be an amazing day that left
us wondering what people in California paid attention to that
caused them to miss it.
now we’ve arrived at our room, have started unpacking, and are
trying to organize things for the trip to the San Diego Zoo on