At perhaps the only place in the world where a parking attendant wishes you a "magical day," we exited the rental car after paying $17 to park. Five hours and $98 (a person) later, we returned. It was the end of our last full day of our Southern California vacation, culminating appropriately at Disneyland in the heart of Anaheim in all its smog and highway chaos.
Just two months prior, we booked the trip. She has a friend living in the Valley, I have three living all over the LA area. And let me just tell you, I love this state. I've visited now three times, and every time I go I'm reminded of why.
This place, at least to me, and relative to the Mid-Atlantic North East that I know so well, might as well be a different country. And I mean that as a compliment. California is posh and poor, palm trees and beaches, traffic choked freeways, and gorgeous mountain peaks. It goes from gangland to gated communities, authentic Mexican to chicken and waffles, tourists and turistas all walking around together gawking at the artificial glamour, gazing at the natural beauty.
This state, of nearly 40 million people is all of this, yet spread out over a vast area of 164,000 square miles.
We however had the pleasure of being able to stay in one small neighborhood that encompasses that entirely - Venice Beach.
You see, our first two days of six were spent in a hotel downtown in Koreatown. But my friend, who would be leaving for a 7 day retreat that Sunday, so generously offered his small studio in Venice at no charge. And if you haven't yet visited this city, you must do so.
Venice Beach is where the weirdos roam, again a compliment. It is the perfect microcosm of California. Its boardwalk, edgy and packed with all sorts of characters, is complete with tattoo parlors, bars, and "doctors" who I'm pretty sure possess no medical degree in any form handing out business cards advertising medical marijuana. Its beach, with a majestic view of the mountains in the distant north jutting out to sea, complete with drum circles and intense dancing. Even the cops here, roving around in their squad cars, might be hippies. Within the confines of my buddy's apartment each night, next to the windows that face the small fenced in courtyard with a gate that must be locked at all times, we surprisingly got great sleep. This, in spite of the drunken banter, the odd Gregorian chanting that may or may not have been Satanic til 4 am, and the sound of trash trucks picking up garbage three or four times each morning.
We saw the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the steep cliffs above it where the other 8% reside, the land of Disney, beaches, fantastic restaurants, the tourist packed promenade of Santa Monica, even the San Diego Zoo.
But nothing says, or feels, California, a state only "civilized" and enveloped in a political boundary because of a random Gold Rush in the Mid-1800s, like Venice Beach.
I thank my friend.