September 29, 2018

At the Car Wash

On the eve of my 43rd birthday, I decided to cross something off my to-do list.

I went to the car wash.

It's not my car was that dirty. After all, I'd let a man who'd told me he was a Chinese prophet only pretending to be homeless wash my windows at the gas station the weekend before.

But the United Oil at La Brea and Slauson—conveniently on the way home from Huntington Park, where I'd been celebrating someone else's birthday—isn't just any car wash.

It's a Tomorrowland ride into the sky, a millennial version of Googie that takes the "drive-in" concept to a whole new level.

Given its history at the nexus of car culture, it's no surprise that LA would have its fare share of fabulous gas stations—from the recently landmarked 76 station in Beverly Hills (circa 1965) to the "Helios House" ARCO station (formerly BP, circa 2007) at Robertson and Olympic.

But this is the only one I've seen that offers a car wash that's worth taking the long way home—though much of its appeal is an optical illusion. You don't actually drive on the roof from the concrete on-ramp and across the steel canopy above the gas pumps. The ramp simply ascends and descends up, above, and down behind the gas station market.

And either because it's so visually attractive or just conveniently located near LAX in the traffic-heavy Mid-City LA, the wait is too long (with no escape off that ramp) and the washing is too short to contemplate the future in any meaningful way.

With a project cost of about $8 million in 2009, it was the most expensive United Oil station at the time—designed by Kanner Architects to resemble or at least approximate the feeling to a freeway ramp.

Who would want that? After all, taking Slauson is one way to avoid the freeway.

But it's in our blood—even if we weren't born here. For true Angelenos—those of us who love it here and want to stay—the transfusion happens slowly, maybe even imperceptibly.

And then one day, you realize you're waiting in line for a ride like Autopia or Radiator Springs Racers at Disneyland and you're making a list of the gas stations and car washes you want to hit before you die.

I needed a car wash anyway, at least eventually. And I'll need one again. I might as well make it interesting rather than a chore.

Related Posts:
The Coffee Shop That Welcomes You To LA (And Sends You Off With A Smile)
Photo Essay: The Many Lives of LA's Original Farmers Market

September 25, 2018

A Recurring Dream

I've been having this recurring dream.

It's not the same as the dreams that plagued me for most of my adult years (that is, until recently)—being back at school, getting lost in an unfamiliar place, struggling to open my eyes to see, falling backwards, or driving off a cliff.

It's not even the sleep paralysis that occasionally wraps its arms around me, nor the night terrors that send me leaping out of bed to chase an invisible intruder into the kitchen.

Fortunately, most of that nighttime nonsense ceased once I adopted my cat.

But for some reason, by some impetus, I now have nearly the same dream every night—though the supporting characters might rotate and the exact circumstances may bob and weave around actual historical events and dramatic imaginings.

I dream that I'm still in touch with my parents—sometimes actually staying with them in their house or even living in my old bedroom—and I'm trying to get out.

I'm packing, collecting, scheming, and ruing the day I ever let them back into my life.

In my awake reality, of course, I haven't heard a peep from my parents in over a decade.

But while I'm asleep, I find myself alternately telling myself "They're not so bad" and asking myself "How did I end up back here?"

I'd gotten out!

And I have to get back out again.

Usually, in my recurring dream, I'm planning a clean break—to drive away one day and never turn back. Stop calling. Go into hiding. Change my identity.

But that's not how it happened in real life, all those years ago. I didn't even know it was happening at the time.

What I thought had been a stalemate or something of a game of "chicken"—who would give in and call the other one first?—turned out to be more of a one-sided, decisive event.

There was no fight, no ultimatum, and no declaration nor letter of intent. From either side.

And by then, I'd already picked up anything of mine that my mother hadn't thrown away. There was nothing to pack—and nothing I'd want to bring with me anyway.

But in my dreams, I'm still sorting, giving away, throwing away. I'm opening dresser drawers and hiding under the clothes hanging in my old closet. I'm folding and fitting into suitcases, rolling up posters and picking up shoes from the basement stairs landing.

My car is parked somewhere out on the street or in the driveway—at least I have my car—but I can't quite remember which way to drive to get out of Eastwood.

I worry about getting everything and not having to go back, especially because the locks were changed, and I don't have my old set of keys anyway.

How did I let this happen?

I have to get out—and this time, for good.

In the waking hours, I've stopped wondering what I'd do if one or both of my parents reached out to me. I'm relieved they haven't.

And I don't think I'll wake up one day back in their house. My dad commandeered my old bedroom a long time ago. My parents had erased any trace of me there long before they exorcised me from their lives.

They did me a favor, of course, by letting me go. I'm much better off now than I was back then.

Are they still alive? As far as I know. Are they still together? As far as I know.

Do they regret what they've done? I bet they don't.

I don't know if I'd feel better if they did.

But clearly, my brain is working overtime to clear things out while I'm asleep. I've already unpacked a lot of these issues while conscious, so I hope my subconscious can manage to pack it all up and ship it out to wherever it needs to go.

And I can move on to dreaming of better things.

Related Posts:
I Dream About Sleeping
That Which Haunts Me

September 23, 2018

Photo Essay: How An East Coaster Helped Turn San Juan Cove Into Dana Point (Updated for 2020)

[Last updated 3/30/20 10:22 PM PT—info on the sinking of the Pilgrim added]

In the 19th century, before the Oak of the Golden Dream and the first gold strike that led to an influx of would-be prospectors, there wasn't much reason for East Coasters to come out West.

It was wild, savage, and inhospitable. To those from more "civilized" regions, it might've felt downright prehistoric.

But in 1835, Harvard student Richard Henry Dana, Jr. caught the measles, was put on leave, and set sail on a brig-type tall ship called the Pilgrim.

After rounding the tip of South America (this was 80 years before the Panama Canal opened), Dana found himself at San Juan Cove, in the southernmost part of what's now Orange County—and at the time, the only safe anchorage between Santa Barbara and San Diego.

Photo from 2018, added 2020

[Ed: Tragically, the replica of the Pilgrim—built in 1945 and permanently moored in Dana Point Harbor at the Ocean Institute since 1981—began taking on water on March 29, 2020 and, mostly sunken, was deemed incapacitated beyond repair.]

It was just three or four miles from the Mission San Juan Capistrano, where cowhides were tanned to be brought to the cliffs above the beach, in an area known as The Lantern District.

Entrepreneurial types set up camp here—and when ships would come in, they'd light up their color-coded lanterns to advertise whatever wares they had available for trade. (The motif persists today, though the trade does not.)

The most famous of those were the sailors who chucked the cowhides from the mission off the cliffs, to be retrieved by the Yankee merchant seamen standing below. The hides were California's most valuable currency, with one hide—or "buck," for short—valued at approximately one gold dollar. Bostonians would use them, for example, to fabricate leather shoes.

Though Dana deemed the area "romantic" and remarked at its grandeur, he didn't stick around and instead returned to Harvard and became a maritime attorney. But his impact on San Juan Cove was lasting, thanks to his memoir of his sea voyage and tales of "hide-droghing," as published in 1840 in Two Years Before the Mast.

Once people read about the ragged shoreline and staggering cliffs, of course they wanted to conquer them—not the least of whom were Ned Doheny the oil fortune heir (murdered in 1929 and the namesake of Doheny State Beach) and Sidney H. Woodruff of Hollywood Sign fame.

As real estate developments were booming in the environs north of San Juan Cove in the 1920s, Woodruff tried to make a go of it with the Dana Point Inn.

The Hollywoodland developer envisioned capturing the romance and adventure of Two Years Behind the Mast to attract tourists and homebuyers alike to his burgeoning resort community.

He planned a grand hotel like what you'd find in the Mediterranean—and in 1930, he broke ground.

But the stock market back east had crashed in 1929. And although the Depression was slow to reach the West Coast, it was enough to halt construction of the half-completed Inn in 1931.

Its ruins stood atop the bluff for decades, though all that's left now a bit of the old rock-lined walkways...

...and a set of stone arches, which mark the former hotel site like a tombstone.

Down the cliff, not far from where the Pilgrim first docked and where its replica is moored today, there's one more remnant of the Dana Point Inn.

A 165-foot shaft had been tunneled out of the bluff to make the beach easily accessible to hotel guests—by elevator.

Its boarded-up entrance serves as a final point of historical interest for the Dana Point Inn, though there's no mechanism or working parts inside.

In the time since Woodruff lost everything in 1939 (and died in 1961), San Juan Cove has become far less rugged and far more refined, incorporating in 1989 and officially changing its name to Dana Point (though the name had been coined years before).

A jetty was built, using granite excavated from Catalina Island, calming the waters enough for two yacht clubs to move in but driving the surfers away.

Now, the rock wall provides habitat for cormorants and Western gulls...

...crabs and an underwater kelp forest...

...and brown pelicans and sea lions.

So, maybe that means that some of the development is managing to keep Dana Point Harbor wild. And that seems like a good thing.

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Combing the Beach For the Royal Palms Country Club
Photo Essay: Crystal Cove Cottages, Frozen in Time

Photo Essay: A Museum of Railway Giants and One Missing Big Boy

To be honest, I really only wanted to go to the RailGiants Train Museum to cross it off my list.

I'd only heard about it in 2013 when the crown jewel of its collection—the "Big Boy" steam locomotive—had been reacquired by Union Pacific to return to its rolling stock as part of its Heritage Locomotive fleet.

At 600 tons and 132 feet in length, it reportedly dwarfed all the other choo-choos in the museum's collection—and once it left Pomona in early 2014 to return to Cheyenne, Wyoming for restoration, I couldn't think of another good reason to visit its former home.

But I had to go and find out anyway. I'd rather confirm disappointment rather than be left wondering. And of course, like most places in the LA area, RailGiants is quite fascinating when you bother to take a closer look.

For instance, with all this talk of building high-speed rail between LA and Vegas, behold the Santa Fe 3450. It provided passenger service at a speed of 110mph—in 1927! By comparison, most Amtrak trains today go about 65 mph; and while Acela service can reach 150 mph, because it shares the tracks with slower trains, it usually doesn't go that fast.

And then there's the museum visitor center and gift shop, located inside the repurposed Arcadia train station, erected in 1887 for the Los Angeles and San Gabriel Valley Railroad but rendered obsolete by construction of the 210 freeway. The gingerbread-style Santa Fe station has called RailGiants home since 1969.

Besides the 3450, the museum's "gateway locomotive," among the museum's static displays are a few train cars that you can actually climb aboard. But for the Nickel Plate Business Car No. 6, you need somebody with a key to let you in.

This Pullman-built luxury car, built in 1923, was originally owned by the Palos Verdes Peninsula Railroad Company. When it was rebuilt in 1935, it had room for a dozen passengers and crew of two.

The red curtains, crystal chandeliers, and carpeting were installed specifically for the upper-class passengers who'd be taking the train to the Del Mar horse races.

After that, the car served as a makeshift sales office for a housing development in Orange County. And when the last house was sold, the railcar was up for grabs.

Looking back, I realize now that seeing this Pullman car ultimately inspired me to take the sleeper car to San Diego for an overnight trip.

It was better than most motels and vacation rentals I usually stay in.

In fact, I would've booked myself a staycation right then and there, if accommodations were made available to the public.

But while some people do get to sleep on this train every now and then, it's more likely the museum volunteers and members of the Southern California Chapter of the Railway and Locomotive Historical Society who maintain and restore the rolling stock in its collection.

And fortunately, a museum that's been around as long as RailGiants has must have more than one or two interesting locomotives. (Especially after losing the biggest one in its collection.)

Equally intriguing—and available for boarding—is the Santa Fe Horse Express car, which once transported race horses to and from the LA County Fair racetrack. Also manufactured by Pullman, it's something of a movie-star train car, having been used in the film Seabiscuit. 

And just to prove how much the RailGiants collection doesn't rely on the presence of the Big Boy, there's also the Santa Fe Caboose No. 1314—the crew accommodations that have been not-so-affectionately referred to as either a "shanty" or a "jailhouse"—and the turn-of-the-century narrow-gauge locomotive that hauled ore along a short line railroad until 1946.

At just 72 tons, it could only go as fast as 25 mph. And unlike a caboose, it wasn't trailing a bigger, more powerful locomotive that could essentially tow it. That was it.

Parked behind the U.S. Potash Company little guy is the steam-powered Southern Pacific 5021. Built in the mid-1920s, it remained in service until 1955.

It retired after spending much of its final years in the Portland area, though it initially serviced the route between Sacramento and Reno over the Sierra Nevadas.

It's the last of 49 such locomotives to survive, but there's something else that makes this one even rarer.

The SP 5021—along with the Union Pacific 9000, also at RailGiants—are two of the four surviving three-cylinder steam locomotives built in the United States.

Used for fast, heavy freight service mainly between Wyoming and Iowa, the coal-powered, 4750-horsepower UP 9000 was donated in 1956.

And while the Union Pacific "Centennial" 6915 may not be as heavy or as long as the "Big Boy Steam Dream," it's still the largest and most powerful diesel locomotive ever built.

This fast-freight locomotive is actually powered by two diesel engines, which drive a generator that provides electricity to electric motors.

Built in 1969 upon the centennial of the "the last spike" completion of the transcontinental railroad in Utah Territory, this one was only in service until 1984—though one of the other 13 remaining Centennials is still in service in Wyoming.

Maybe I'll eventually get to witness the refurbished Big Boy in action. There's talk of some kind of excursion happening within the next couple of years. I just might have to travel father than Pomona to get to it.

And now that I've ridden a few trains along scenic excursion routes, I'm spoiled. Why just look at them when you can rideor drivethem?

Related Posts:
Photo Essay: On the Sleeper Car to San Diego
Photo Essay: Riding a Ghost Train and Bunking Up In a Caboose (Or, This Is What A Traincation Is All About)
Photo Essay: Upon the Opening of the 2018 LA County Fair
Photo Essay: The Ghost Railway of Eastern California
Photo Essay: A Taste of Orange Empire Railway Museum
A Travel Town Birthday in Griffith Park