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A blog wherein a literary agent will sometimes discuss his business, sometimes discuss the movies he sees, the tennis he watches, or the world around him. In which he will often wish he could say more, but will be obliged by business necessity and basic politeness and simple civility to hold his tongue. Rankings are done on a scale of one to five Slithy Toads, where a 0 is a complete waste of time, a 2 is a completely innocuous way to spend your time, and a 4 is intended as a geas compelling you to make the time.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

To Live and Die in LA, Part 1

When I visited Los Angeles two years ago for the World SF Convention in Anaheim, I was fascinated by the fact that I was able to use mass transit to Do Something.  It was a small something, but I was able to walk from my hotel by LAX down to the Metro Light Rail, take it to downtown Long Beach, and visit a new-ish Borders on the beach.  This got me to thinking what I could and could not do if I tried a future trip without renting a car, and I decided to try and see.  And the answer is that you can kind of get away with it, though the occasional cab ride or friend with car of the like is probably still extremely helpful.

Flying in, I went to Burbank's Bob Hope Airport for the first time, and I am inclined to do so again. The pedestrian-friendly airport is around 3 miles from the North Hollywood stop on the Metro Red Line subway, which is not far for a backpacker, not too far for me except it's in the valley, the heat can be high, the sun high in the sky, so it's feasible but not ideal.  Not a long cab ride, of course.  There's a bus that goes fairly straight up to the airport from Hollywood, and other buses that go to the Red Line stop, and there's also a Metro Link commuter train stop one block from the terminal that has infrequent service but could work if you're in downtown LA and can time the trip.  Bottom line is that the airport is more manageable and feels a lot closer to things than LAX.  (Which is also pedestrian-friendly, belive it or not, walk right in off of Century Blvd.)  The airport itself is functional but no more than that.

In this particular instance, I was met at the airport by Del Howison, the proprietor of the Dark Delicacies horror emporium that is around two miles from the airport.  I am the agent for the Dark Delicacies series of anthologies he co-edits with Jeff Gelb.  We hung out at his store for a bit, which has all kinds of things horror from DVDs to books to gift items and more, and since it's the only store of its kind has a great crowd for signings, including some Tor f&sf authors because there isn't a genre indie in the LA area, and is well worth checking out to preorder signed copies by mail from their busy signing schedule.  In fact, my own Brandon Sanderson has a HERO OF AGES signing there in October.   We were then joined by Lisa Morton, a writer and bookstore operator herself, of the Iliad Book Shop a few blocks from Dark Delicacies.  We headed a few blocks down Burbank Blvd. and had a wonderful Thai lunch.  I steered the three of us away from the buffet and toward the combo meal for three, and all the dishes I had were very yummy and way more food than the three of us could have.  The $11.95 per person was very reasonable by NYC standards, though I don't know if it was as reasonable by Burbank standards.  After lunch Lisa drove me a few blocks to her store, which is a large and well-stocked used book store with a very good selection of sf/fantasy paperbacks.  We chatted, I purchased a few books, and then I walked around a mile or so from her store to the Red Line.

This was my first trip on the LA subway.  Stations are large and spacious.  Tickets only $1.25.  But there's no human presence to see in the stations, and I don't like that there's no place in the stations where you can find a schedule for the subway lines or for connecting bus lines at that station.  Not much help if you don't know heading out to Burbank airport if you've got five minutes or 50 minutes to chill for a bus.

In order to do the car-less thing, I decided to stay in downtown LA so that I would be close to the transit hubs, and also because I've never been in downtown LA.  It was around a 25-minute ride on the Red Line and then a few blocks walk to the Marriott downtown.  I had a few hours of daylight after settling into my hotel room and I was determined to explore as much of the downtown area as I possibly could in those few hours.  I walked thru the Bonaventure Hotel, the one with the four circular towers that's a lot look like the one in Detroit, and then thru the main branch of the public library which has many murals and handsome architectural details and is quite a delight, adjacent to a more modern and well-designed wing named after the former mayor Tom Bradley.  Definitely worth a visit.  Visited the Borders Express in the Macy's Mall, then wandered south toward the convention center.  Came across an IHOP open 24 hours, a big Ralph's that's open 5AM to Midnight, all kinds of old buldings that are being converted into lofts and other residences, the Gas Company Lofts a typical example.  A little bit East took me to the gorgeous Mayan Theatre, which is across the street from the historic Herald Examiner building, and from there I walked up Broadway.  Broadway is quite something, a street that was once full of big old theatre buildings of all shapes and sizes, many of which have been carved up into tawdry jewely stores or otherwise of no note other than for the lingering name on the marquees outside.  In one, a video game arcade was put into the once opulent grand lobby of a theatre building, with the upper level walkway around the lobby still lingering somewhat ghostly overhead.  A few of the buildings are still in use as theatres for special events or concerts or the like.  It was all far more Bladerunner than you could possibly imagine, which is not entirely a surprise because the historic and gorgeously restored Bradbury Building that was used in the movie holds court at the north end of Broadway.  And I do mean gorgeous, stunningly and gloriously so.  Happily, the building doesn't hide from its Bladerunner fame.  It has a poster on the walls regarding its use in the movie, and does invite people to explore the lobby and to walk up to the first stairwell landing to take a look around.  I wish I were alive when Broadway was in its fullest splendor, but I still found myself captivated with it on many many levels.  Just a few short blocks away took me to the historic Los Angeles Times HQ, which has a nice lobby with a revolving globe that's a kind of mini of what you find in NYC's Daily News building on 42nd St.  This is also open to the public, with the lobby area serving as a kind of mini LA Times museum.   This is across the street from the LA City Hall, whose grand staircase has been used in LA Confidential and many other movies, and a couple blocks from the CalTrans HQ building, which got a lot of architectural notice but which I liked less in the flesh than in the reading of the architecture reviews about it.  There's a tiny underground shopping mall nearby that still has a B. Dalton with the old-fashioned script sign on it that should probably be a historic site itself.  There are so few B. Daltons left in the world, fewer than 75, and not so many of them with the old lettering on the sign which brings back fond memories of when a B. Dalton was big news, like when one arrived in the Orange Plaza mall near my hometown in the 70s.  From there I walked past a historic old hotel building thru a park and in to LA's Union Station.  This has some nice architecture, but is horridly dysfunctional if you want to do things like find a map or a transit schedule or a bus map or other things you might want to find in a central transit point.  Way at the far end there are theoretically timetables for the bus system by the Metro Link ticket windows but almost all the slots were empty.  If you go all the way to the far end and up to street level there's a Metro Customer Service office, but it's only open 8AM to 4:15PM Mon-Fri, and all the timetables are in the office and not in an a anteroom or something that could be accessed when the office was closed, and when I went back the next morning they did have timetables but a system map had to be requested at another window around the corner.  And believe you me, the LA system map isn't a fun thing to look at on your computer.  In fact, the entire LA Metro web site is pretty bad.  It works if you want to play with it exactly in the way they want  you to play with it, planning a trip from point A to point B, but it is almost useless if you want to just see where you can go and explore from your living room.

But I am digressing!  The nicest waiting area in the train station is off limits to the public, but if you want to rent it out for filming or a private function your wish is their command.  There are a couple courtyards that are part of the complex for pleasant outdoor waiting in a historic setting.  But while I'm not so uncaring about my surroundings as to want train stations to look like Penn Station in NY, I would happily have traded some of the architecture for a train station that was more functional to me as tourist wanting to explore LA.

From there I ascended Temple St. to the cultural complex with: the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion, the opera house where the Oscars were often held; the recently renovated Mark Taper Forum playhouse, where I toyed with checking on a ticket for the 8PM of House of Blue Leaves but decided against because I would probably have just fallen asleep since it had been a very very long day; the Ahmanson Theatre; and the Disney Concert Hall which, like the Caltrans HQ, impressed me less seeing in the flesh than reading about in the reviews or seeing in the Get Smart movie.  You could look down the hill at city hall, and across the street the LA Water Dep't HQ has wonderful fountains on the roof of its parking level that you'd almost think were a grand park leading to the Chandler.  I sat on a bench between the fountains and the Chandler for a few minutes, resting my legs and watching the sunset while debating the existential question of whether to Blue Leaves or not.   And then I headed back to my hotel room, vegged for a bit, found some strength to walk a bit to the IHOP for some double blueberry pancakes and 2 scrambled eggs, and then kind of collapsed happily in bed at the end of a very long and very interesting and very good day.

1 comment:

Tim Akers said...

Fascinating stuff. While I've been to LA a number of times, it was always to visit family down in Corona Del Mar, so I really don't know much about the city. And I totally remember B Dalton being a big deal. They were the first serious bookchain to plant themselves in the Asheville mall. Ah, memories.