Iain McGill's Christmas: Part 1 – Los Angeles

Iain McGill's Christmas: Part 1 – Los Angeles

by Iain McGill
article from Sunday 17, January, 2016

CHRISTMAS may be a poor excuse every 25th December to pick a man's pockets, but I find it's a great excuse to get the passport dusted off and some travel done. Having harassed my friends around the world to see who had plans that I could crash and sofas I could surf a cunning plan was hatched to spend a three weeks across three very different places.

Flying into the first port of call the plane's map showed up interesting place names - whilst I was sure the good folks living in Death Valley were having a fine and happy Christmas, the residents of Chocolate Mountains were probably having a better one. Happily the pilot took me over both and dropped me off in LA.

I was immediately impressed by the skills of folks in LA - whoever took the photos of the Air B and B apartment we were staying in was a genius deserving of all industry awards. It was clearly the same apartment, just a trifle larger, cleaner and better facilitated in the photos. It had a smashing bar next door though, Gabes on S Sepulveda Blvd is an unpretentious dive bar that was just what the doctor ordered after a long flight. 

Possibly not what the doctor ordered the next morning though as I rose early to spent my first day in LA diving with Malibu Divers. I could have done with a couple extra hours of sleep, and maybe a unit or two of alcohol less, but my new buddies were gentle enough with me. That was not necessarily a foregone conclusion, as although I had asked about fun diving they had persuaded me to do a wreck diving course. Googling the instructor it turned out that he had appeared in movies including "Satanic" and "Ed Gein: The Butcher of Plainfield". Very reassuring, but Matteo Indelicato got me through the day in one piece. We did 3 wrecks in the main bay, The Avalon, The Palawan and just to make me feel at home The Star of Scotland. I was more excited about what we could see from the surface though, as we had sea lions, dolphins and whales keeping us company. 

It was easy to get excited seeing the Hollywood sign for the first time, and to make rash promises to hike up and around it. I never did hike round it, but I did make the rash promise to myself. Hollywood itself was disappointing though. Lots of touts, lots of tourists, and lots of stuff that's the same everywhere. Needing food around the famous Chinese Theatre? It's Hard Rock Cafe or Hooters. Both have their place I'm sure, but they're everywhere, what's the point of going across the world to eat in the same overpriced tourist trap as you could any old place? I must be getting old and grumpy though - I blame all the other star-struck tourists getting in the way of me trying to get that perfect selfie of me grinning wildly next to the star of my favourite dead Hollywood A-Lister. 

Thankfully LA is not all a tacky tourist trap, far from it. The Getty Centre gave me a healthy dose of culture, and a reason to be around Bel-Air. I got in the odd little fight as a kid in school, but my folks never sent me to no rich auntie and uncle in Bel-Air. My mums from Larne, the Prince they celebrate there is not exactly Fresh... Not sure about the Getty Center's architecture, nor all it's exhibits - but I did enjoy a snooze on the grass of the well presented gardens and their Lichtenstein (he's a favourite) sculpture Three Brushstrokes.

The best place by far in LA was Venice Beach. It's brilliant. I spent ages watching the basketball games, you know the courts - I know you've seen White Men Can't Jump and American History X and love them as much as I do. I even learned some new swear words, though nobody offered me a game - I'm putting that down to them imagining I was along to hustle them, just like Woody Harrelson was. 

I managed to resist impersonating Arnie on Muscle Beach, instead enjoying watching the volleyball, handball and paddle tennis. The brilliant skate park also provided great entertainment - some in Edinburgh once had ambition for a great skate park, but unfortunately nobody wanted it in their back yard. If they could see this one they would maybe change their minds... 

The sea, the sand and the promenade also provided leisure opportunities with fishing and surfing going on. The beach houses feature some truly wacky architecture and the boardwalk has all manner of shops, bars and places to get fed. There's freaks of all sorts to enjoy, some performing, some just passing by.

I had a good chat with some folks selling medical marijuana licenses from shops on the beach. It's a legal, regulated drug across California, fascinating to see and hear how it's working. It was interesting later that day to find out that Kenny MacAskill, the SNP’s former Justice Secretary, had shared his personal views on drugs that did not match his party’s policy. More power to him as he argues now for what he believes as opposed to what the focus groups tell his party they need to say to secure another referendum.

I'm always fascinated with how cities and countries are tolerant of one thing, but not another. California has a reputation for knowing how to party, and have a very relaxed attitude to marijuana among other things, it seemed strange to see Bikini Bars were still a thing whilst Edinburgh is much more relaxed about strip clubs but still carries on the war on drugs. California was a famously early adopter of a smoking ban, but they are civilised enough to still allow cigar bars. Of course, when we adopted the law we had to go further and gold plate it. Their most bizarre law of all was the one that you will get ticketed if you park your car facing the wrong direction. We might not be able to smoke a fine cigar among consenting adults in a bar designed for such an activity, but we're left alone to park our cars in whatever direction suits us. Win some, lose some I guess.

Walk on along from Venice Beach and you hit Santa Monica. Plenty to see on route, the aforementioned freaks and all manner of talented and flexible people practicing their gymnastics, tightrope, slackline and yoga skills. No idea how many forms of transport people used to whizz past me, wheels attached any old how to any old thing with their music blaring out. 

Santa Monica Pier is famous, and fabulous. Especially for a kid. I found a Zoltar Machine and wished to be a kid again, but alas remained big, so instead of the big dipper I had to head to Santa Monica Main Street and enjoy the bars on offer there. Tight competition, but The Basement Tavern at The Victorian wins big as the best bar on the street. The Californian red wine is a real pleasure, I got to know Pinot much better, and still kept my nose turned firmly up at even the idea of a Merlot, doing my own wee bit for the Sideways effect. Next time I'm California way I'm going round the vineyards, doing the Sideways tour. That, walking over the border into Mexico and hiking up and around the Hollywood Sign. Rash or not, a promise to myself is still a promise...


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