August 29, 2020

Green Forest Car Wash 2: Return of the Bubblecano

Every good creature thriller gets its sequel...

...and that's what brought me to yet another location of Green Forest Car Wash for yet another "Jungle Wash."

Like most follow-ups to smash successes, I found the Florence location a bit disappointing compared to the original.

But this location of the mostly LA area chain (plus a Vegas outpost) had its own unique offerings making it worth checking out regardless.

Besides, it had been over a month since my last Jurassic car wash—so, it was time for a bath. And I'm not inclined to patronize to any purveyor of dinosaur-free car washes unless they've got something much better to offer.

On this follow-up visit, I once again shifted into neutral, took my hands off the wheel and my foot off the pedals...

...and let the automated mechanism take my doom buggy through the slatted Astroturf scrubbers and past rainforest creatures in silhouette (including a bouncing monkey that I swear was taunting me).

As the second location of the chain to open, the Florence Avenue Green Forest Car Wash actually preceded the Bell Gardens one.

Which means I still haven't experienced the original one that started it all—the Hawthorne one.

Is it possible that Green Forest has improved with each new location it's opened, making the third edition the best one?

Sure, though I can't think of many trilogies or other long-running movie franchises in which the third one is the best—except maybe The Muppets Take Manhattan and Goldfinger.

But I digress.

When it comes down to it, even the worst dinosaur-themed drive-thru car wash is better than driving around with a dirty car—or paying through the nose for one of those "Hand Wash" scams—or waiting in line at the Shell station in Hollywood.

Or having to hose my car down myself and scrub it with old rags. I had enough of that during my childhood. And I'm no longer that desperate to escape the summer heat by getting doused by the hose.

But I digress again.

What other themed car washes in SoCal am I missing? Is there a tiki one anywhere? An alien one? An underwater safari one? A Halloween/horror one?

Were there ever?

Let me know in the comments or send me a message through the form in the sidebar.

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August 27, 2020

Overcoming a Mental Block, Thanks to a Hail Mary Bellyflop

The neon diver at West Hollywood Pool, circa 2015

Isn't it funny how we get these mental blocks about certain things?

Some formative event happens—and we become convinced of something that may not actually be true.

Or, to the contrary, some formative event never happens—and we assume that's because it could never happen.

For me, one of those hangups involves getting out of a swimming pool.

I've been swimming laps consistently since 1998 or so—at hotel pools, gyms, and public plunges. And no matter what the pool, I've always insisted on climbing a ladder or handicap-accessible steps to exit the water.

I've seen other swimmers launch themselves out of 4 feet deep of water with simply the power of their upper body strength, maybe balancing on a knee before padding off wet-footed to one locker room or the other.

To be honest, I've marveled at this sight.

Granted, if one end of the pool is shallow enough—2 or 3 feet—I can get myself out. But in most circumstances, I'll dip under multiple lane dividers and dodge other swimmers just to step my way out rather than hoist myself out.

I've had that option—up until just recently.

I was at the Santa Monica Swim Center, where I'd gotten assigned to swim in lap lane #11. That's right in the middle of the entire Olympic-sized pool, which is more than 7 feet deep pretty much in its entirety.

There's only one lane that provides a ladder exit—lane #1.

I couldn't change lanes because the rest of them were full. As it was, when I'd checked in that day, they couldn't find my reservation and had to put me in the last remaining lane.

So, I spent my entire time slot swimming with one eye on the rest of the lanes, trying to determine how other people were getting out of such deep water without a ladder or even a railing to grab onto. They all seemed to levitate onto the pool deck with very little effort.

And I just couldn't believe I could do the same.

In fact, just a few days before, I'd "tested the waters," so to speak, to see if there was a way I could launch myself out of the pool by floating up to the edge and rolling out—or even flopping my legs out first.

My theory was that because the Santa Monica pool is different than some of the others I'd gone swimming in—that is, the water level is right at the edge of the pool—maybe there would be some trick I'd never tried yet.

After all, in other pools, I had tried to lift my body weight out by the mere strength of my arms—and failed.

And I weigh a lot more now than I ever did then.

But those other tactics I'd tried before in the Santa Monica pool didn't seem to work. At least, I couldn't get them to work without making a spectacle of myself. And that's exactly what I was trying to avoid.

That's why I didn't want to cross 10 lanes to get out while the lifeguards were calling out through a bullhorn, "The pool is now closed!"

So when the time came, I waited and watched. I saw an older man and a woman about my age and size (maybe bigger) make their way out onto the deck without flailing or drowning.

I put my feet on the one step embedded in the pool wall, bent my knees to gain some leverage, and sprung up as high as I could go using the force of my lower body.

That was enough to get me to bellyflop out of the water enough to pivot my body, swing a leg over, and roll onto my back. The whole thing happened so quickly, I doubt if anyone really noticed.

And no one was there to judge me or give me a score on my performance anyway.

Once I stood up, I put my hands on my hips, looked down at where I'd been, and said out loud, "Huh. OK!"

That wasn't so bad. Though I'm not 100% convinced I could do it again exactly the same way.

But the worst part is over. I got over that feeling of "I can't" and "I could never."

We'll see what happens when I return for another swim tomorrow.

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August 26, 2020

Dwelling On the Lost Tropical Paradise of The Beverly Hilton Hotel

I've long been fascinated with the Beverly Hilton hotel in Beverly Hills, California—for reasons having nothing to do with the Golden Globe Awards, whose ceremony has taken place there every year since 1961.

View from the Waldorf-Astoria, where Trader Vic's once stood, circa 2017

It really doesn't have anything to do with its architecture, either—though the Welton Becket-designed hotel (in a lovely shade of "marshmallow white") is a nice slice of Mid-Century Modernism circa 1955.

The hotel—which was opened by Conrad Hilton and retained the family name despite being bought by TV game show impresario Merv Griffin in 1987—held my fascination on nearly every business trip I took to LA because of the Trader Vic's it once housed.

I'd been desperate to visit it—but had a hard time determining my own schedule when I was in town working.

And I couldn't convince any of my colleagues, coworkers, or contacts to meet me there.

Then in 2007, Trader Vic's lost its proper location—a wing of the Beverly Hilton that was ultimately demolished—and was relegated to a new poolside location until 2017, when it closed for good.

Although I did visit the reduced Trader Vic's bar a couple of times during those 10 years...

circa 2009 (Google Street View)

...the ghostly shadow of the demolished wing haunted me while it sat there vacant for way too long (until the Waldorf-Astoria was built in its place, finally opening the same year Trader Vic's closed for good).

Fast forward to last week, when I was somewhat inspired by my recent "tikication" at Caliente Tropics Resort in Palm Springs...

...and decided to spend a day of the recent heatwave working poolside at the Beverly Hilton's Aqua Star Pool.

At 93 by 36 feet, it's supposedly the largest heated hotel pool in Beverly Hills—which meant swimming laps in between typing on my laptop and sipping on mojitos.

The pool is fraught with celebrity lore—starting perhaps with its inauguration, when it was christened by "Million Dollar Mermaid" Esther Williams swimming through a cascade of floating gardenias.

And then there was that time Angelina Jolie jumped in fully dressed in her Golden Globes gown after winning her award for Gia in 1999.

Of course, the hotel itself has drawn its fair share of famous and infamous clientele, too—even outside of awards season.

They ranged from the Rat Pack, Cary Grant, Grace Kelly, and Whitney Houston (who drowned in her hotel room bathtub in 2012). international heads of state, including JFK who nicknamed the hotel the "Western White House."

All of those celebrities and more loved the old Trader Vic's restaurant just as much as they loved the hotel itself and its pool...

Trader Vic's Lounge circa 2010 (Photo: Neeta Lind via Flickr, CC BY 2.0)

...but I can't imagine any Hollywood elite enjoyed happy hour at the poolside "lounge" version of Trader Vic's.

circa 2010

The first time I went to the lounge—the only Trader Vic's at the Beverly Hilton I ever got to experience—I ordered a drink called the "Parrot Pot." According to my Facebook post at the time, I got to keep the parrot.

circa 1986 (menu pages via LAPL Menu Collection)

Only now, 10 years later, I have no clue what happened to that parrot. And it's freaking killing me.

When the bell finally tolled for Trader Vic's Lounge, I didn't know until it was too late. One night, I showed up after an event elsewhere in the hotel, and I couldn't find any trace of it left.

It was heartbreaking—because even a disappointing Trader Vic's is better than no Trader Vic's at all.

Likewise, the one at L.A. Live in Downtown Los Angeles by the Staples Center—which the Eater blog called "a mall version," and rightly so—had only lasted five years, closing in 2014. At least I managed to get a souvenir mug from the that one (even though it was after the fact).

I tell myself that there's absolutely nothing I can do about having missed out on Trader Vic's proper location at the Beverly Hilton. It's never coming back.

And while I was hoping to get some closure by visiting its gravesite, I think my poolside day only made my regret worse—and made me feel more forlorn about the whole thing.

The lounge is a grab-and-go snack bar now. It's completely unrecognizable.

My only recourse, I think, is to try to keep this type of thing from happening again.

For historic views of The Beverly Hilton, visit Water and Power Associates

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August 25, 2020

Photo Essay: Swanning Echo Park Lake, In the Company of Stolen Lotuses

The first time I remember visiting LA's Echo Park Lake, in 2012, I was disappointed to find that it had been emptied the prior year and was being dredged as part of a $65 million renovation.

circa 1897 (Postcard image: Security Pacific National Bank Collection, LAPL)

There were no ducks, geese, or swans skating along the placid surface of a lush, tranquil oasis as there were when the City of LA opened the manmade lake as a park in 1891—only a fenced-off mud pit lacking nearly all vegetation.

I've been aching to go boating on the lake ever since—but even though it reopened in 2013, I could never find someone to go with me and could never work up the courage to go on my own.

In that time, the historic boats and canoe of Echo Park Lake were relocated to the Redondo Beach Pier—and, in 2018, replaced with larger-than-life swans. Pedal boat swans, that is.

And this past weekend, I finally got my chance to walk the plank of the circa 1933 boathouse, embark on an oversized waterfowl, and get to pedaling.

Of course, you don't really go anywhere on Echo Park Lake. That's kind of the point. You just enjoy the palm trees and the Downtown LA skyline while trying not to bump into any other boats.

You can pedal forwards or backwards—or not at all, and just coast on top of the rippling surface.

Maybe you'll even get spritzed by the central cascading fountain (installed around the 1984 Olympic Games improvements)—somewhat of a relief on a sunny Sunday morning during a heatwave.

Fortunately, the canopied boats provide some shade—but the long-necked avian forms of these watercraft dominate much of the view.

Still, with a shift of the rudder, you can aim yourself towards "The Lady of the Lake"—a poured concrete, Art Deco-style statue that was created by Ada May Sharpless as part of the Works Progress Administration in 1935 (and mothballed between 1986 and 1999).

On dry land, a walk around the park that surrounds Echo Park Lake reveals flowering trees in red and yellow...

...but the real botanical attractions of the lake are the water lilies and lotuses, the latter being the namesake of an annual festival at the lake.

Since the 1970s, the Lotus Festival has usually occurred in July, when the lotuses are in bloom—except this year, which has left the 2-day celebration postponed indefinitely.

The lotuses aren't original to the creation of the lake—especially considering Los Angeles Canal and Reservoir Company constructed it in 1870 to hold drinking water.

But the type of lotuses associated with the lake today—the sacred lotus (Nelumbo nucifera), native to Asia—arrived sometime in the 1920s, shifting the focus of the English-style gardens decidedly eastward.

By in 2008, though, the lotuses had completely disappeared. They'd perished—maybe because of climate or pollution, or improper trimming, or being munched on by predators (like turtles and coots).

And when the lake renovation effort attempted to restore the aquatic plant population for its grand reopening, there was only one guy who could make that possible—the thief who'd hacked off some cuttings eight years prior, back in 2005.

At his aquatic nursery in the San Fernando Valley, the bandit—an intrepid horticulturalist—had gotten those cuttings to grow and proliferate.

After confessing his crime, he managed to sell some of the resulting plants back to the City of Los Angeles for a hefty profit, despite their shady history as stolen goods. 

In a way, his thievery makes the story of Echo Park Lake even better. It's very LA—or very Hollywood, at the very least.

People like to gossip about all the stuff they've found at the bottom of the lake each time it's been dredged over the course of its 150-year history—but I prefer seeing it filled with water, completely unaware of what may lie beneath the surface.

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