Friday, December 15, 2023


For all of the trepidation I felt over the marathon flights between Los Angeles and Melbourne, they weren’t too bad. The seats were far enough apart that I didn’t feel crushed, and there was always plenty to watch on my little screen. On the return leg from LA to Melbourne I decided to take the opportunity to just binge the entire first season of ‘The Last of Us’, which isn’t on any of my streaming subscriptions at home, so that took care of at least ten hours of the time.

Arriving in Melbourne at dawn, I had some coffee and did some writing and photo editing, then boarded my final aircraft of this holiday: another unpleasant little Virgin Boeing 737-800. Goodbye free booze and small touchscreen full of movies and TV shows, and hello… other people. Ugh.

It turned out that this particular flight was going to be even more ghastly than normal. There was a baby two rows behind me that started crying almost immediately. There was another baby two rows behind her that also started crying almost immediately. And across the aisle there was an entire party of severely autistic people and their carers, returning from some sort of Neurodivergency Con, judging from their matching T-shirts, who could only express themselves in shrieks and bellows.

It was so awful that it circled around and became hilarious. The two screaming babies and the autistic people actually set each other off. Either the babies thought that this was a game of who can howl the most penetratingly, or the autistic people thought that the babies’ screams give them permission to let loose. Then the screaming autistic people panicked the babies and they screamed louder.

And just to add a sweet cherry onto the parfait of misery, it was at this point that the battery finally ran flat on my noise-cancelling headphones.

But the good thing about horrible flights on budget airlines is that they eventually come to an end, and you are probably somewhere you want to be. And so it was that I landed in Perth and shortly thereafter was back at home.

The Nerd didn’t get a Fiat like Benny or Explorer Sam, or a Vespa like Admiral Ackbar, but he had the ‘Friends’ set to bring together my other Lego holiday companions and regale them with stories.

Wednesday, December 13, 2023


Today was the day that I left Los Angeles and the United States, but my flight wasn’t until mid-evening so there was still time to get a little last minute touristing in. Since I was in the neighborhood, I decided to go up to the Venice Canals at Venice Beach.

The Venice Canals are what the canals in actual Venice would look like if they were laid down in straighter lines, dredged on a tight budget, and all of the Renaissance buildings were torn down and replaced with small, very expensive designer cottages. Still, these canals were similarly bereft of cars – uniquely in Los Angeles, I suspect – so it was pleasant to walk up and down the narrow paths that separated the cute little buildings from the cute little canals.

With time slipping away I chose to make one last run to the Getty Museum, to catch the parts I missed the first time around. This mostly entailed a couple of galleries of wonderful modern photography, including this work:

Turtle Orgies Take, Like, Forever, Arthur Tress, 1975

I also stumbled across a perfect composition of my own, which I snapped with my iPhone as I emerged from one of the galleries.

Still Life with Fatigued Fat-Ass, Blandwagon, 2023

As the sun dipped towards the horizon there was also an opportunity to stroll in the gardens, which are an amazing work of art in themselves. It’s a bit of a cliché to say that a garden is a work of art, but the gardens at the Getty actually look like they were designed by a leading modern artist, playing with the artistic possibilities of mundane items like garden stakes and trellises, contrasting poisonous flowers with quaint cottage plantings, and glorying in great swathes of architectural cacti and succulents.

It was actually a lovely way to finish my Los Angeles holiday, standing on the terraces of a spectacular art gallery, watching the sun sink into the ocean and casting a golden glow over the land. Although realistically, the smog probably helped with the glow.

Once the sun had set there was nothing left to do but battle rush hour traffic to get to the airport… pausing only at In-N-Out for one last brush with American fast food.

Tuesday, December 12, 2023


The complementary breakfast at the Manhattan Beach hotel turned out to be the most lavish one yet. Oatmeal. Danishes. Eggs, sausages, pancakes and hashbrowns. A pick and mix yoghurt bar. Four kinds of cereal. Two kinds of bagels and three kinds of toast. SEVEN different flavours of make-your-own-waffles! The coffee was terrible, as all American hotel coffee is, but it was on the less offensive end of the spectrum.

I decided to make use of the kitchenette in my room and make dinner tonight. All of the local supermarkets are the expensive ones, so I persuaded my friend to drive me to the nearest Aldi to Manhattan Beach... which turned out to be 7 miles away in Inglewood. Inglewood isn’t quite South Central, Watts or Compton, but it’s adjacent; you could probably chuck a rock from it and hit those areas... not that I’d recommend that unless you want a cap popped in your ass. At least Aldis in the US are as comparatively inexpensive as their Australian cousins, and I could buy groceries without weeping. The presence of sweet old black church ladies, who made up 90% of the people in the store, helped to offset the dead-eyed gangsta youths loitering in the carpark.

In the afternoon I went cycling along the beachfront from Hermosa Beach right up to Playa Del Ray, about eight and a half miles each way. From a grand house on the boardwalk up for sale at $45,000,000AU to homeless people washing themselves at the dog watering taps next to the sewage treatment plant under the flightpath of the airport, all in just a few minutes’ cycling.

Dinner in the evening was a success, primarily because US Aldi sells the same great prosecco as Australia Aldi. Any meal with Aldi prosecco is a good meal.

Monday, December 11, 2023


The new room at the terrible hotel was a significant improvement over the previous one. It was much smaller – barely larger than the bed itself – and had no desk, no closet, no chair, no luggage rack and a pervasive odd smell. However the bed was much more comfortable, and once the drug dealers closed up shop for the day it was so quiet that I could sleep with the window open and have delicious fresh air flowing in and abating the smell.

Even so, it was with great relief that I left it this morning and travelled a few miles to the south-west to Manhattan Beach, and my final hotel for this holiday, which turned out to be a completely different experience. My room is actually a mini-suite, with a kitchen, two televisions, a dishwasher and even a fireplace. It’s such a contrast that I suspect there may have been a booking error, but since it hasn’t been charged to my credit card I’m keeping my mouth shut.

After settling into my suite I took a walk down the seashore, through the immaculately curated upper-middle class suburbs. It’s the sort of place where the residents set up those little library boxes on the sidewalk, and have bowls of free candy in their gardens for the local children to take as they admire the comprehensive displays of Christmas lights and inflatable Santas. Manhattan Beach doesn’t have homeless people, so these affectations can be entertained. Why Manhattan Beach doesn’t have homeless people is a mystery, and one suspects there is a lot of shadowy work behind the scenes to ensure that it stays that way.

Even down on the beach itself, which is crowded with decaying Winnebagos and dirty tents just a mile or two north, there’s just children cavorting wholesomely on the sand or in the surf, locals walking expensive dogs or riding expensive bikes, and tourists carefully Instagraming their serenity in the golden glow of the sunset (#blessed). Like Sydney, LA makes a lot more sense when you can see the water – all cynicism aside, it’s genuinely beautiful, tranquil and delightful.

After watching the sunset and strolling the pier, I looked up the nearest hipster bar, apparently just called ‘X’, and wandered in that direction. My initial impressions were promising, as I walked back and forth on the little stretch of street where Google Maps promised it was without being able to locate it: in my experience, all of the best bars are almost impossible to find. When I finally worked out that I needed to walk into a closed and dark restaurant, then dart quickly to the left through its lobby into the bar, I was rewarded with exactly my kind of venue. Velvet couches, mezcal-heavy drinks, fondly kitsch 80s music (Electric Dreams by Georgio Moroder, The Riddle by Nik Kershaw, Chequered Love by Kim Wilde, etc), high quality stainless steel garnish skewers that no one cared that I souvenired, and a chatty bartender who turned out to be from Colorado Springs and comped me my second drink. Best bar ever!

Sunday, December 10, 2023


My hotel in Sherman Oaks didn’t have a complimentary breakfast, apparently because the previous owners sold the dining room and kitchen to a Denny’s franchise, leaving the hotel with barely enough room for a lobby. But the new terrible hotel had a complimentary breakfast, and I figured it couldn’t be worse than the grim breakfast options at Joshua Tree.

Again, I am very good at underestimating Los Angeles.

The breakfast room had little pouches of microwavable sausages and biscuits, packets of shortbread cookies, sachets of instant oatmeal and, bafflingly, the same make-your-own waffle machine as the nice hotel in Palm Springs. But there was no cereals, no fresh fruit, no yoghurt, no eggs or bacon, no muffins or even toast.

With limited options I decided to make myself a waffle, and it became a cautionary tale of how to ruin the concept of waffles completely. I pushed the lever to issue the batter, and it took fully 60 seconds for enough turgid batter to ooze out of the nozzle to fill the cup. The waffle machine itself was clean – clearly few people are as desperate for a waffle as I am – so it cooked up nicely, but then the syrup dispenser didn’t work. I eventually got some syrup out of it by disassembling the pump.

As I ate the World’s Saddest Waffle it occurred to me that, given the turgidity of the batter, and given the general lack of care or cleanliness in this hotel, it probably wasn’t the wisest move to do so. Batter goes off in almost no time, growing mould more efficiently than agar. Besides sadness, what else was I ingesting?

I still ate it, because waffle, and also because of the sunk cost fallacy: I’d put a considerable amount of work into making it and syruping it.

I regained my composure by walking half an hour down to Republique, the fanciest cafe in Los Angeles, where I had an excellent cortado coffee and my first LA celebrity sighting when Vince Vaughn reached in front of me in the order queue to grab a loaf of artisanal bread.

Unfortunately I have to be at the same terrible hotel tonight. I looked into the boutique hotel around the corner, the one with the delightful bar, and their cheapest room for tonight was $280US, or $400AU. I may be a rich and fancy man but I am not that rich. The terrible hotel is $130US ($200AU) cheaper, so here I stay.

I did have to move to a different room, but this one is on the upper floor so I won’t have someone crashing about overhead at 4.45 as I did this morning. This new room faces the alley rather than the noisy street, so apart from a couple of blaxploitation characters currently making a drug deal out there, it’s quieter.

Walking around this part of Los Angeles reminded me of a concept of John Kenneth Galbraith’s; that private affluence and public squalor are a warning sign of malaise in a society. It’s almost painfully obvious in this part of LA. Fitness studios and doggy daycare spas stand next to abandoned cars and roads that are more pothole than asphalt. Cutting edge robot delivery drones manoeuvre themselves around homeless people sprawled on the sidewalk. The garden beds around restaurants and homewares stores are immaculate and lushly planted, but the sidewalk pavement is broken and buckled.

It may seem like an odd example, but take these hanging baskets at The Grove.

With their packed volume of meticulously cultivated blooms, and elegantly trailing tendrils, they are ridiculously, ostentatiously perfect. And there are dozens of them hanging from the lamp posts all over The Grove’s privately owned footprint. Meanwhile on the street outside, the crosswalk is so worn and faded that I didn’t even realise it was there until I saw the call button, and the bus shelters all have homeless people living behind them, using them as one wall of their makeshift shacks.

Saturday, December 09, 2023


After staying in a hotel in Sherman Oaks for the last week, I got the opportunity to switch to a different hotel in the same chain in Fairfax, just east of Beverly Hills. Sherman Oaks is an almost featureless suburban wasteland – the nearest proper supermarket was a 45 minute walk from my hotel – so moving to a more central location with plenty of cafes, shops and bars seemed like a good idea. Fairfax has a Wholefoods, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the CBS TV studio where they film some of their reality shows, so I assumed that it had to be a decent area.

I had much to learn about LA.

The first indicator that this hotel might be a step down from the previous one was the stench of old urine in the external stairwell. Then there was the fact that the lobby had security doors that could allow it to be locked down from the rest of the hotel.

The room itself, once I got there, was very spacious, but unfortunately that just allowed more horribleness to be packed in. The pillows on the bed were somehow simultaneously flat and lumpy. It was on the ground floor, facing the street, and the window overlooked the homeless encampment on the sidewalk. The catch on the door wasn’t a metal insert, but a series of holes gouged into the door frame. There was no little pad and pen, no desk lamp, no complementary bottled water. There were mysterious stains on the ceilings. And walls. And carpet.

But staying at this hotel is a little like voting for Donald Trump: you don’t want to do it, but you can’t identify a viable alternative so you hold your nose and just get it over with. And to be fair the location really is great. It’s only a block from The Grove, one of the other tourist attractions that Google will inevitably throw at you if you ask it for classy things to do in LA. The Grove is a singular example of the American philosophy that if something is worth doing, it’s worth wildly overdoing.

If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to wander through a Hallmark Christmas movie’s idea of a charming town square, then visit The Grove in December, when they go apeshit with the decorations, fairylights and an overloaded Christmas tree the size of the Burj Khalifa. I half expected to see Lacey Chabert bustling though the crowds, arms loaded with Christmas presents, before bumping into the hometown hunk she dumped when she left to become a professional girl in the big city.

I finished my evening at a much nicer hotel than mine, having cocktails in the bar at the Short Stories boutique hotel just around the corner. If only I could have stayed.

Friday, December 08, 2023


The day began at the Belgium Waffle Haus, a cafe about as authentically Belgian as a wallaby, but serving waffles loaded with fruit and toasted pecans. And acceptable coffee, which is almost alarming at this point.

After breakfast, my Angelino friend and I went for a couple of rounds of minigolf. It turns out that I’m better at minigolf than I am at go-carting, and I actually won by a couple of strokes. Fear my mad skillz, giant novelty toadstools and little Dutch windmills!

Following my minigolf triumph, I thought it only fair to give The Nerd a chance to further experience the thrill of proximity to TV fame. So I bought him a scale model of Central Perk from 'Friends'. I realise that 'Friends' was set in New York, but it was in fact entirely shot in the LA suburb of Burbank, so it counts.

Then it was on to 'The Golden Girls'... which was set in Miami but, again, filmed in LA. The exterior shots of their home were actually from a house just up the road from me in Brentwood. THIS COUNTRY IS FULL OF LIES!

In the evening I followed my nose to Public School 808, a local bar a half hour walk from my hotel. Or maybe it was just an actual school that sold booze? In any case, they had decent cocktails, so at least they’re teaching relevant life skills to the children of Sherman Oaks.

The Nerd maintained his opposition to my incessant boozing. I took his opinion under advisement.