February 28, 2014

Photo Essay: Overlooking Old Hollywoodland from the Letters That Once Spelled It

Why do I always seem to get sick at the most inopportune times? I had a stomach bug for my first Atlas Obscura excursion as field agent (to the St. Francis Dam disaster site), and then I caught a cold just in time for my second, a hike up to the Hollywood Sign.

Fortunately, I knew my group would not consist of hardcore hikers, since there are plenty of MeetUps that go up Mt. Lee if you just wanted to do it for fitness. Hopefully my slow pace (about the same speed as during my scouting mission a month before, still reeling from my New Year's sinus disaster) would make the short-but-steep mountain climb less daunting for those not-so-used to being in the sun, in midday, for that long.

In typical fashion, I agonized over what to wear. Without an Atlas Obscura t-shirt (which I don't have, and as far as I know, doesn't exist), I rifled through piles of $5 tees in every souvenir shop along Hollywood Boulevard until I found the right one: just white letters on a black background, spelling out the word "HOLLYWOOD."

I envisioned myself a beacon, not unlike the Sign itself.

Everyone would know they were in the right place. Everyone would know who to follow.

Photo: Todd Eric Andrews

Quite frankly, the other considered option was an evening gown or at least a shiny cocktail dress - it being Awards Season and all - but I decided to limit my glamour to a pair of star-shaped silver earrings and my sparkly Converse.

Photo: Todd Eric Andrews

You might as well make hiking fun. Especially for those who are not very used to it. I might've scared off my group had I shown up in full athletic gear - hiking boots, trekking poles, running pants, the works. Instead, I wore a skirt and leggings. And all black.

We met at the Old Hollywoodland Gate, one of the first landmarks I hunted down during my first trips to LA. Normally I look for opportunities to do something new, but these field agent excursions give me the opportunity to share places I love with others, and you just can't beat that.

Photo: Todd Eric Andrews

All it takes is a sell-out tour to make you feel like you're not alone in this world.

Photo: Todd Eric Andrews

And once the general business is done - checking people in, making sure they have plenty of water, sending them to the restroom, letting them borrow sunscreen, providing safety advisories and monitoring for health issues and injuries - the fun can begin.

We walk, spotting horses returning to Sunset Ranch from a morning journey.

Photo: Todd Eric Andrews

We point out the sights - Griffith Observatory across the park, the LA Basin below -

...and we stop at every vista point and scenic overlook (of which there are many).

Our plodding pace comes to a quick pause at the marker for Cahuenga Peak, the neighboring parcel of land that was saved from private development in 2010. This marks the juncture of Mt. Lee and the trail to Cahuenga Peak and the Wisdom Tree, and the gateway to the Sign.

Though I've been to the Sign three times now, standing so close to it - separated only by a chainlink fence - still takes my breath away. When I'm up there, I just can't believe it.

People are inclined to hop the fence, but even if you touch the fence, an automated recorded warning message blares and an alarm sounds, and if you don't relent, the helicopters come.

Instead, it's better to walk past the radio towers atop Mt. Lee and climb a knoll behind the Sign, from which you can look down upon it.

Up there is an overlook devoted to Hugh Hefner, who has donated his own money and rallied his friends to save the Hollywood Sign and Cahuenga Peak, both in the 1970s and in 2010.

Although more chainlink fence prevents you from getting too close to the letters... can scramble along the relatively new Aileen Getty Ridge Trail which leads to Cahuenga Peak.

(I'd tried to find all of these markers when I hiked Cahuenga Peak last year, to no avail, but now I realize they are connected by a narrow, rugged, single track trail which is so daunting, it's hard to even spot it.)

Photo: Todd Eric Andrews

For me, I kind of just like to hang out by the Sign for a while, looking down on the Valley on one side and at Lake Hollywood on the other, feeling like I'm on top of the world. Even while sneezing and nose-blowing and muscle-aching and eyes blearing, even though I've been there before, this is a magical spot. And there are people who have lived in LA for decades that have never been here, that don't even know how to get here.

I'm glad I could show my little group. It wasn't easy for everybody, and some people struggled with the heat and the sun and the elevation change, lagging behind even our slow group (which took lots of rests). But everybody made it to the top. And now they know how to get there on their own, if they want to.

Sometimes, though, it's more fun with a group.

More photos at the official event recap on Atlas Obscura.

Related Posts:
EVENT: Behind the Hollywood Sign, with Obscura Society LA
Photo Essay: The Found Trail to Cahuenga Peak
Photo Essay: Climbing Hollywoodland

February 27, 2014

Photo Essay: Walking the 110

Every time I drive north on the 110 freeway by Elysian Park, I always notice the pedestrian walkway on the left, dotted by these olde tyme hook lampposts. I'm fascinated by the idea of being able to walk a freeway (and have not-so-secretly hoped that CicLAvia would shut down a freeway in favor of bikes one of these days), but I'd missed opportunities to join public walks of the path in the past.

This Saturday, I finally got to go, having some time to kill in the afternoon and wanting to stay on the east side. I kind of thought it would be like, "Well, there it is," and then I'd move onto my evening plans, but actually, it was fascinating, and I suspect I've only scratched the surface of the walking that you can do around the 110.

We started our journey in Northeast LA, technically in Cypress Park, just east of Elysian Park and the LA River, heading under an overpass that looked like any other.

It's easy to miss the narrow stairs leading up on one side, under the overpass, marked only by a dirty mattress tossed on the sidewalk. This is the first sign that more people probably sleep in this area than walk through it on a commute.

Built in 1937 to alleviate congestion, the 110 - also known as the Arroyo Seco Parkway, a national scenic byway - starts at the Four-Level Interchange in Downtown LA at its southern terminus, and heads north all the way to Pasadena (hence its short-lived, former identity as the Pasadena Freeway).

It actually opened to traffic in 1940, making it the "first freeway in the West."

It was designed for cars maintaining 45 mph, although the posted speed limit is now 55 mph, which many cars far surpass today, making it a bit wonky to not only maneuver all of the banked turns, but to enter and exit on extremely short ramps.

But perhaps even more interesting than driving it — which is scenic for sure — is walking it.

You cross the LA River by the Old Figueroa Street Bridge...

...along the railing and viaduct by the northbound 110...

... and northbound 5 sidehill viaduct... a circular staircase around the freeway pilings at Avenue 19, right by the confluence of the Arroyo Seco and the LA River.

Climbing up the staircase, glancing down at the lower level of the freeway, the train tracks of the Metro Gold line, and the river flowing below...

...right by the north portal of Tunnel #4, we began our journey south...

...along the northbound side, passing many of those decorative street lights...

...and the four, four-lane tunnels that take cars through (well, under) Elysian Park.

Along the way to Solano Canyon, we were able to enter the gated fences that separated us on the walkway from the homeless encampments built into the hillside slopes... get a better view of one of those Art Deco tunnels...

...and to wander a bit down an old decommissioned dead end paved road (which I'll have to go back and explore to see where it goes).

There are actually lots of pedestrian offshoots from the main 110 walkway...

...though we mostly stayed between the fences, looking down through the chainlink.

We descended from our walkway journey in Solano Canyon... Stadium Way, from which we made our way to the North Broadway Bridge at Solano Ave...

...a 1911 bridge that was (and still is) an entrance to Elysian Park...

...between Radio Hill Gardens and Buena Vista Meadows.

Upon my first walk of the 110, I suspected there were many ways to walk the 110, giving me more to discover on foot, and hopefully lots of more photos to take.

February 25, 2014

My Side of the Bed

Even though I've never upgraded from a double-sized mattress, for a long time I would only sleep on one side of it, turning over in the middle of the night by lifting my body up, rotating, and plopping back down in the same spot.

I was saving the other side of the bed for someone who might come occupy it. In New York, I'd gotten used to someone sleeping over there on and off, and always hoped he'd return. When he didn't, I tried replacing him with others, all temporary tenants, renting the spot by the hour, maybe for a night or two, just so I wouldn't have to be in that bed all by myself.

When I moved to LA, I'd hoped that the other side of the bed would be occupied by someone I'd been seeing out here during my regular, repeated scouting missions throughout the year before I actually moved. But it turned out he'd started seeing someone else, and after six months of waiting, holding out hope, it became clear that he wasn't leaving her anytime soon, so I gave up. I started turning over onto the other side of the bed.

For a while, it was still the other side. I felt like I was sleeping in someone else's spot, borrowing it, renting it, ready to give it back, waiting to give it back.

A year and a half later, there's nobody I want to give it back to. I want to keep it for myself, and make it all mine.

I don't merely turn over onto that side anymore. Some nights, I start on that side, positioning myself next to a pillow which occupies my usual spot.

There is no other side of the bed anymore. It's all — the entire thing — my side of the bed.

I don't know what changed. I had a visitor last August whose visit made me feel like I was ready for my close-up, whose departure made me miss feeling like a girlfriend. A week with him made me desperate to date again, sending me in pursuit of some other guy who I deemed my intellectual equal, an adventurous companion, but who, ultimately and unfortunately, turned out not to be my emotional equal.

I tried dating him for a couple of months. I tried liking him for a couple of months. I tried making him like me for a couple of months.

But as I suffered through teary loneliness while sitting across the table from him, on opposite sides of a large diner booth, turned away from him while clinging to the edge of his bed, he against the wall, scrolling through his cell phone, I just couldn't wait to be alone again.

And most of all, I did not want him intruding on any part of my bed.

And now that it's over (after he unceremoniously stopped contacting me, much to my relief, though also to my insult), I don't want anybody invading my side of the bed.

Perhaps — in my older age, with my slowed metabolism — the need for sleep prevailed. Now, if I get late night calls or messages, I ignore them, preferring a restful night so I can get up the next day for whatever I have planned. I no longer wait for the phone to ring; I dread it.

Everything associated with dating and sex feels like a huge bother. I'm selfish. I don't feel like listening to and supporting another person's illnesses, financial woes, and job stresses if they're not going to support me in mine. I don't care to hear the same stories over and over again, with the glaring absence of any questions asked of me.

I want to be told I look nice. I want to be kissed in public. I want to be prioritized. I'd like an occasional orgasm.

But I just don't want to beg for it.

A coworker recently asked me if I was freaked out about turning 40, a doom that awaits me in 2015. "No, not really," I said, "Because I figure my time has already passed. I mean, I live a very full life, but it's pretty much over for me." After all, I've been looking down the barrel of 40 for a while now, breathing down the necks of the 40-somethings that surround me, who, 10 or 15 years ago, would've seemed so much older.

In fact, I told her, I'm kind of looking forward to my 40th birthday, an excuse to do something (else) crazy. I went skydiving for my 30th — what adventure can I concoct for my 40th?

I'm still grieving the loss of my youth, and the missed opportunity of love and companionship, but I'm advanced enough in my grief to vacillate between Depression and Acceptance. (Actually, I think accepting it is what depresses me. I don't like giving up.)

I have lots of things to do, and no desire to be weighed down by or make compromises for another.

I have lots of sleep to get, and can't be exhausted because someone's snoring kept me up all night.

I'm glad I'm alone now, because everything that's mine is mine.

If I ever change my mind, I'm sure it'll be too late. And that's something I'll have to accept.

But I think it's already too late. So I might as well be happy the way that I am.

Related Posts:
The Other Side of the Bed

February 24, 2014

Photo Essay: Behind the Scenes at Bob Baker Marionette Theater

I find the puppet shows at Bob Baker Marionette Theater entrancing.

I usually go during the week, when a few chaperones bring troupes of young schoolchildren, who scream and crawl and bounce, alternately grab at the puppets and wince away from them, and outnumber the adults by a good proportion. I'm the creepy old lady without kids in the back.

Every now and then, they'll have an "adult-themed" evening where I can avoid kids, but then I'm the creepy old lady who wants to sit on the floor and act like a kid, giddy at the puppets sitting on my lap and stroking my hair.

This weekend I went to see Bob's "Fun With Strings" show for the second time this spring, incentivized with the chance to get a glimpse backstage and behind the scenes at the puppeteering, and the marionettes themselves.

Those things have taken on some kind of real existence to me, with each individual persona as distinct and lively as each of my stuffed animals while growing up in Syracuse with no friends, and only a sister - and a menagerie of dolls and bears and puppies and rabbits - to keep me company.

Sitting on the floor at eye level with the puppets, the show can be kind of a blur. All sorts of creatures sail through the air in a circular dance, guided by strings but taking on a life of their own. It's hard to catch a still moment with any of them.

They dance and skate...

...wiggle and shimmy...

...and sometimes even fly.

A little bit circus...

...and a little bit vaudeville...'s always a grand, musical show.

After the show, audiences get free ice cream, and the chance to buy a marionette of their own...

...and on this special day, we got to watch the puppeteers bring the marionettes to life, up close.

Not only did we get to look out from the "stage" area into the house...

...but we got to go behind the curtain... the small backstage where they store the puppets actively used in the current show.

A set list hangs as a reminder of the show's sequence.

The puppets are nested away, dangling from their strings, hung carefully from S-hooks to keep them straight and untangled.

It's a little bit creepy back there...

...but then again, this theater - like many in LA - is notoriously haunted.

The strings glisten in the dim working lights.

The lighting board, marked in fluorescent tape, is lit in black light.

Is it weird, as a grown woman, to want to meet the puppets? To prefer to hang out backstage with them than to reenter the real world?

To not be scared by the ghosts?

Bob Baker - the mastermind behind the marionette theater, the maker of all the puppets, and, you might say, the ultimate puppetmaster - turned 90 years old this year, and still oversees the theater's productions as much as possible, dictating they use the same old music they've used for the last 40 to 50 years. Every now and then, a new puppet is introduced, but there are thousands of puppets to choose from, making it easy to curate a new show or a new version of a show. (I hear a rendition of Arabian Nights has been in the works for 20 years...) But mostly, the same choreography has been handed down from puppeteer to puppeteer in a folk tradition.

Hopefully they can find enough young people interested in carrying on with puppets for a few more decades to come.

Maybe they're recruiting and would consider a weird old lady like me.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Halloween at the Marionette Theater
Photo Essay: Christmas With Puppets
Photo Essay: Puppets on a Spring
Photo Essay: Puppets on a Spring, Addendum: Equinox Edition