Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Taking a Sun Break in the City of Angels

"Coming into Los Angeles,
Bringing in a couple of keys"

These immortal words of Arlo Guthrie kept running through my mind as we flew south Friday morning, having left SeaTac on a typically wet and gloomy February morning in the Pacific Northwest. The keys I was bringing in, however, were more in the way of door keys than contraband. I also got a lot of the Mamas and Papas' "California Dreamin'" on my mental ipod mix. Ah, the romantic songs of my youth.

We were taking a well deserved break from winter and were rewarded, as we touched down in Burbank, California, with a beautiful sunny morning reminiscent of Seattle in midsummer. Leaving Bob Hope Airport in our tiny rental car, a Nissan Versa, we arrived at the Pasadena Howard Johnson's in midmorning where the staff was kind enough to let us into our room 5 hours before normal checkin time.

Howard Johnson of Pasadena
We soon contacted Becky and, after a long walk, met her for lunch at a Thai restaurant where the wonderful food was only exceeded by the company and conversation. Afterwards, we walked back to the hotel and took naps (we had been up since 4:30AM) to prepare for the main culinary event of the day, a dinner at the prestigious Athenaeum private club on the CalTech campus. Becky had wormed our way in for us by way of a friend who is a member. It was a delicious meal in a refined setting: dark wood paneling and high ceilings, beautiful carpets, and unobtrusive servers.

Many famous scientists have eaten at the Athenaeum over the years. In fact, when Einstein made his regular visits to CalTech he often ate here. You know how when you visit a historic site, say, Westminster Abbey, and you think of all the famous people who have been exactly where you are standing? If you are like me, you get a real historical high on occasions like that. So it was quite a thrill when I visited the men's room and realized I was standing exactly where Einstein had stood on countless occasions! After all, he was known to knock back a few and what goes in must come out.

Einstein Urinal. Different fixture, same location. No commemorative plaque for some reason.
The next day, Saturday, we woke up to another beautiful day and went to meet Becky for a day of fun. First we admired the view from the hotel parking lot.

Early morning at HoJo Pasadena
Then we visited Becky at her office and she showed us around the building where she works.

Becky in situ
There are an alarming number of palm trees in southern Cal
From there, we hopped into our tiny car and sped off to the north to visit Vasquez Rocks, a must-see destination for any self-respecting Star Trek fan. Many movies and TV shows have been shot here, but in our family mythology, the original Star Trek episode "Arena" is the main attraction. Kirk's legendary confrontation with the captain of the Gorn ship which he wins through his ingenious use of the rich mineral resources of the planet is, of course, magnificent. Here are some images from that compelling episode:

It's a scary place. Hey, look at this!

Saturday at Vasquez Rocks
Gorn planet in 1965. Coincidence?
We had a picnic in the hot February sun and, after this exhilarating experience, we rolled on down to the La Brea Tar Pits in central LA for even more fun. We arrived to the smell of tar and the sight of a Daddy Mammoth sinking into the tar pit while Mommy Mammoth and Baby Mammoth look on in dismay. Quite a bummer but true to life I suppose. Apparently, thousands of animals have been excavated from the tar pits but only one unfortunate human has been found so far, a 25 year old native woman from pre-Columbian days. No one knows exactly how and why she ended up in there but it hardly bears thinking about.

Sad Mammoth Scene

A real Mammoth
After a few pleasant hours spent in the museum and sitting outside people watching, we moved on to Santa Monica where we visited the Pier to watch the sun set over the Pacific and had an excellent pizza dinner nearby. 

Traffic was horrible on the way back to Pasadena and, exhausted by the day's fun and driving hassles, we immediately fell into our HoJo beds.

The next morning we were up early and arrived at Huntington Gardens just after opening time. The parking lot was already crowded. However, the grounds were as beautiful as ever and the museums, both library and art, were great. Here are some scenes from the gardens.

We found a friend on the sidewalk!

We spent most of the day at the Huntington and then went for dinner at an Italian restaurant in Pasadena. I have been there three times now and have somehow ended up at the same table every time! And it IS a nice table, being outside with a heater.

The following morning, Monday, we met Becky for brunch, went to an antiquarian book store,  and then took her back to her office where we said our sad goodbyes. On the way to the airport we stopped off at Griffith Park and drove up to the observatory.

The Observatory
This is the city

A major scene in "Rebel Without a Cause "was filmed here
From here we drove back to Bob Hope and, at length, boarded our 737 and flew back to Seattle where we were greeted with freezing temperatures and a car completely fogged over inside and out from sitting in the rain for four days. It was nice to be back in our own car though, rather than the tiny tin can we were driving around LA.

Funny story. On the plane home, we were sitting by a nice young fella from Pasadena who was flying for the first time in his life. He was on a business trip and apparently had never been out of California. He was excited to be coming to Seattle and was asking everyone where he should go out to eat. However, it seems he had never heard of the Space Needle or Mount Rainier and he seemed a little taken aback when I mentioned that Rainier is a volcano. Since he is staying in Kent, I feel pretty good about NOT telling him that if Rainier has a major eruption while he is here, he and Kent will both likely be toast. I often admire my wonderful self restraint.

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