Los Angeles

Los Angeles, the City of Angels. The town of scary gangs, a horrendous airport, heavy traffic and not much in the way of entertainment. Why then did I love it?

My secret weapon is a girl called Sloan and her boyfriend Jason. I first met Sloan Scuba Diving in Utila and she offered to act as a tour guide and had a couch I could sleep on and I couldn’t have wished for anything better – Jason and Sloan turned out to be lovely hosts and showed me things I never thought I’d see! For the week or so that I stayed with them (over two visits) I drove Jason’s Mustang, toured UCLA, attended a couple of frat parties, played on roller coasters at a theme park, walked through Hollywood, cruised Venice beach, drank coffee in Beverly Hills, drove along Mulholland drive, walked around Griffith Observatory and sun bathed in Santa Monica…

UCLA, it’s not quite the same as a British University

The first thing that Sloan did was take on a walk of UCLA, the college that she and Jason attend. The differences between it and my Uni back home was extraordinary. First of all, the campus is huge – it takes 15minutes to walk from the South the North. The buildings are spotless and all of similar “old” style. There are sport pitches in the middle of the campus with people practicing football. The people are all friendly, wearing skimpy clothing and actively doing something. The Library is huge with hundreds of spaces to set up a laptop and couches to sleep on. The “worst” dinner hall is an all you can eat buffet affair where you can get every type of food you can imagine from pasta, pancakes, pizza, salads, waffles, toast, fruit, cakes, veggies… It’s all there and all available for one food “chit” (comes with your accommodation). It’s incredible!

We met a few of Sloan’s friends and walked around a little bit more before heading to In-And-Out for a burger (it’s horrible) and then back to the party so that I could have a couple of beers (the underage drinking rules are harshly enforced meaning everyone is frightened to drink if they are underage!) and then headed to a Frat Apartment party. It’s a strange affair entering a flat of someone you don’t know, slightly tired and speaking with an accent everyone looks shocked to hear. People would ask where I was from, what I was studying and then walk away when they realised I was just a tourist invading their space.

The Beaches

Venice Beach is an extraordinary place, not just because you start to recognise sights from Californication and other films / tv shows, but also because of the openness of the people smoking weed. In California it’s legal to smoke weed if you have a medical card, which pretty much means everyone smokes with gay abandon! Coming from the UK where it’s a closed door activity, to walk down the street seeing all the shops selling the paraphernalia you need to enjoy the bud, to see people smoking away on the beach in front of policemen, to see people clearly enjoying too much of it… Well, it’s extraordinary, especially in the excessively law ridden United States of America! Venice Beach was great though and I’m really glad I had a wander around, even if I wasn’t able to take many pictures due to a broken camera!

Santa Monica is similarly lovely, indeed it’s somewhere I could see myself living! It’s a crisp clean beach, a spotless town center with it’s wide streets and performers busking every few yards. The shops are in abundance, the people attractive, friendly and confident. If Los Angeles is a horrible, dirty place with dangerous un-tones, then Santa Monica is the elixir!

Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Griffith Observatory

Hollywood is a dive. It’s a horrid, nasty, dark, dank place filled with intimidating men and prostitutes. The only thing that is worth seeing is the Chinese and Kodak theatres but it was at night and the people surrounding me meant I didn’t take the camera out. The star walk takes you past loads of the worst areas of town – it just aint a nice place to be! I wasn’t disappointed as I didn’t expect anything, but man, I was glad to leave the area!

Beverly Hills on the other hand was lovely. The streets are clean. The people are all friendly and perhaps surprisingly excited to chat to a tourist. The wealth is obvious with a Bugatti Veyron parked up on the street (that’s a £1 million car!). I walked around a bit but as I wasn’t that interested in the shops I sat and had a coffee and watched the world go by. It was here I needed to pinch myself as I suddenly realised that travelling like this isn’t normal – I’m doing things that most people never get the chance to do. I’ve been seeing things that most never even know exist. I realised in Beverly Hills I’m now a traveller! On the way back to Sloan and Jason’s apartment, I took a detour to Mulholland drive – the streets behind Beverly Hills leading towards it are gorgeous. The streets are reminiscent of the the movie view of Hollywood with the wide streets, the manicured lawns and the smart houses. It’s the place where the idyllic “American dream” is the most visible!

I also became a bit of rebel in Los Angeles. I walked across the grass. I parked the car badly with a tyre a tiny bit onto the white line. I J-walked. I didn’t hold the door open for Sloan and Jason. I drove over the speed-limit. I used a swear word. I had no cause, I wasn’t fighting “the man”, it wasn’t in reaction to any event or aimed at anyone in particular. I was simply a Rebel Without A Cause staring at James Dean’s bust at The Griffith Observatory. It’s a great place to view the Hollywood sign but also the little museum is filled with information about the Solar System, allows you to touch a piece of the moon, see the solar flares on the sun, watch a tesla coil zap electricity, explains cosmic phenomena nicely… It’s a great place to walk around all whilst been able to overlook the different areas of Los Angeles!

Frat Parties with red cups!

On my second visit to Los Angeles we headed to Jason’s frat for a foam party – that was probably the most eye opening experience on my time in the states by far! Let me explain one thing straight away – the people at a frat party can’t dance. The men all act like jocks, walk up behind a woman, grab her by the waist and pull her into his crotch. She’ll then start to grind all whilst continuing the conversation with her friends. The more, well, sluttier I guess, the woman, the more exaggerated the grinding becomes – some bending over to touch their toes, or using the walls as leverage… The blokes then started to fist pump each other and yell to each other. Apparently if the girl is grinding whilst facing you, that means “she’s into you” otherwise she’s not interested.

There is no talking, no chat up lines, no politeness – just grab and grind.

I’d been looking forward to the Frat party for ages – here I was, a tourist getting to take part in an stable American tradition but I couldn’t have felt more like an alien if I’d tried. I wasn’t the oldest in the room but I certainly felt it. At one point Sloan said “you’ve seen what the men do, go dance with a girl” but I couldn’t bring myself to do it – maybe it’s my English sensibilities getting in the way, but come on, how can you objectify women that like and why are the women happy with it?

The other thing that was weird was that my accent didn’t create the intrigue everyone told me it would. The guys acted aggressive and antagonistic and the women just walked away. I’m guessing the guys were threatened and didn’t want me to “steal” the girl they wanted (hence the aggressiveness). Similarly, the girls didn’t know what to do when I was talking to them rather than staring at the back of their head with the backside in my crotch so walked away to go back to the familiar.

Don’t get me wrong, I had a brilliant time at the party and am really grateful to Sloan and Jason for taking me but it was a surreal experience – I left feeling like an old man wondering about the “kids these days”. I felt like my dad Sad smile

Six Flags and a spot of Jacuzzi action

Six Flags is an amusement park just outside of LA and Sloan, Jason, John and I headed up to enjoy the day and evening at the park. John had come over the night before in preparation and we decided to hit the Jacuzzi – unfortunately this was news to John and he didn’t have a bathing costume with him. Jason and I declined to offer him our spare shorts but Sloan was more than happy for him to wear one of her bikini’s… We had to walk across the street and the looks John didn’t get was hilarious – people were actively looking away from him and when we arrived to the Jacuzzi the two blokes in it jumped up and ran away!

We headed to the park the next morning and started the process of queuing for the different rides – our average wait was probably about 1 hour for each ride. There was fast rides, slow rides, rides you rode backwards, rides that shot you vertically into the air, rides you rode like superman, rides that drenched you, rides that scared you… They are all there and all fun! I’m never really scared on ‘coasters as it’s “safe” fun, but one of the rides there had me screaming like a little girl. Halfway through the ride it came to a sudden stop and then started up again, the problem was the next section it went from horizontal to a steep dive to the left and underneath – at speed its fine, but at a snails pace, without the centripetal force, we were sliding across the seats and felt in danger of falling out. It was terrifying but the rush was unbelievable!

As the day progressed and the night drew in, the park changed. Smoke billowed out from the bushes, vampires, zombies, devils, night watchmen, witches and ghouls roamed the streets appearing and vanishing into the gloom. Blood curdling screams could be heard as people were terrified by the costumed characters looming large in front of them. You could still ride the coasters and you were offered a spectacular view – below the park was a sea of grey smoke illuminated with flashing lights, above the twinkling of stars and the moon. It was pretty special!

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