Television teaches you quite a bit about LA. Crazy superhero furries, completely plastic women and Hollywood execs in too expensive suits and cars make up the backbone of the region. Having driven past, but ne’er through the city, a moat of massive, multilane freeways separating the suburban sprawl from the city streets, and seeing the smog forming over the coastal horizon, my desire to ever actually visit the hot and harry Los Angeles has always been on par with my eagerness to drill myself new earholes.
Alas, we had two hours to kill between train transfers and I couldn’t waste an opportunity to explore America’s second largest city. Union Station, which houses LA’s Amtrak and several connecting public transit options, is a grand old Spanish-tiled villa of a building centrally located near what seemed to be the city center (given that city hall was just around the corner), and so we dipped into the squelch of sun and summer to find what we would. And find we did, the area immediately surrounding Union Station was an eclectic mix of skyscrapers, a downtown mall, a Mexican plaza and Little Tokyo.
Olvera Street is basically a park surrounded by pedestrian-only brick sidewalks, each lined with tiny wooden cart shops doling out Mexican foods of all types, and every Latino themed knick knack one could imagine: tiny rustic wooden guitars you can have your name painted onto for $10, shirts with slogans like “GI Jose, a Real Mexican Hero”, and various carved animals, cacti, and sombreros of a painted wooden nature. Oh, and don’t forget the massive American flags for sale, because no store would be complete without 20 square feet of stars and stripes.
A few blocks down, in Little Tokyo, a middle aged Japanese man plays his saxaphone next to a wishing well, surrounded by txt messaging teens in skinny jeans, every sushi and sake variety you could want (including a store named Frying Fish, the Japanese apparently willing to make a good joke at their own expense) and plenty of stores selling Hello Kitty chop sticks, Doko kimonos, and Super Mario cell phone cases.
This little jaunt through LA has me optimistic about any returns to City of Angels, though no immediate plans to rush back are in the works.