I’ve been to LA before. When I was about 15 my mum, sister, brother, auntie, cousin and myself all went on a 2 week trip to LA, San Francisco and Las Vegas – it was fun! I’ve been to the States a few times other than that – about 6 years ago I travelled by myself to Miami and New York, and then in 2011 my brother and I met my mum and dad in New York for a week or so. I really like New York and can probably see myself living there. San Fran was the highlight from that trip back in the day, I didn’t like Miami at all and at the time, what’s a kid to do in Las Vegas?
The only reason LA was planned into this holiday was because I had to have a stop over before getting to Hawaii and the most logical place seemed to be LA, so it was planned in and I was going to make the most of it – mainly by eating food, shopping and shaking a disapproving head at the US (kinda like when one of your friends withdraws all his superannuation at the age of 30, blowing it on a hotel, coke and gambling – but that’s another story).
I’ve attached photos of most of the meals I ate but probably the best was my French Dipped Lamb and Swiss Cheese sandwich from Philippe’s the Original. It’s been around for ages and I found out about it from both Man vs Food and Tony Bourdain’s No Reservations. It was brilliant and I’d definitely recommend it. For a place with such history and popularity, probably the thing that touched me most was how nice and helpful all the staff were. The place was packed and it was breakfast time but they serve sandwiches from 8:30 which I was relieved to hear. A choice of lamb, pork, beef, turkey and duck, a few choices of cheese and the option of either a single or double dip, where they dip your bun in the meat juice that collects as they roast up the meat – awesome and well priced!
After my lamb sandwich I was only an inch away from grabbing another (probably pork) but decided against it as I didn’t want to fill myself up too much – who knows what else I might find today. And luckily I didn’t as whilst walking back up to Union Station I noticed a small Mexican market with food and music going on and decided to check it out. I knew there were a lot of Mexicans in LA, but I didn’t realise there was so many – the placed is packed with them! This suits me absolutely fine as with Mexicans comes Mexican food and stumbling my way through the market I found one stall that was bustling with Mexicans choking down on tacos, burritos, enchiladas and all the rest. Luckily I still had room for a few tacos and for $4 picked up two chicken soft tacos with all the trimmings. I love Mexican food and when done traditionally (as opposed to “disgraced in my kitchen”) it’s awesome. The place was called Las Buenas Noches and there’s a few photos below.
Now, I’m a bit of a fast food junky. I don’t give a fuck about what you think, some of it tastes amazing and I love it. America has all these different fast food chains that you only hear about in the movies but never make their way outside of the States. One such chain that I’d never really had the chance to savour was Popeyes Chicken. In all honesty, I’m not a huge fried chicken fan. KFC is alright going in but on the way out it always causes me problems. Nevertheless I still took this opportunity to have a go and try some Popeyes, so I picked up a couple of pieces of chicken as well as a Po’boy, which is like a fried chicken sandwich. If I had to rate it out of a “fast-food” 10 (that’s a different scale to regular food because it pretty much doesn’t even compare), Popeyes chicken picked up a 4. It was ok but I’m in no rush to get me some more. I didn’t feel bad or anything afterwards, but I think the main reason for my score is that it just didn’t pack as much flavour as I was hoping. You know how KFC is like a flavour explosion in your mouth? Popeyes was a bit dry and just lacking that punch – 4.
The last place really worth speaking of was a real gem. On Sunday night I went to the Laugh Factory for some stand up comedy (excellent by the way – fucken hilarious!), and needed to kill some time before the show. I walked up the road a little and McDonalds caught my eye, there was also a Subway and some Asian place, but way off in the distance was a blue neon sign which I could barely make out, but I was pretty sure it said “tacos”. Pinches Tacos was a gamble but there was something in me that said that this was the right choice. Checking out the menu my taste buds landed on the Al Pastore pork burrito and fuck me dead it was delicious. Costing about $7 with a drink, chips and salsa, it was up there with Philippe’s sandwich as one of the highlights of LA.
Now for a little note about LA itself…
Initially I began this blog to focus entirely on food – what I eat, where I eat, what I cook and related prose. However as I explore writing and expressing myself, sometimes there are things I just want to say and stuff I feel like writing about – an example is how I feel about my trip to LA.
As I rode a shuttle bus from LAX to my hostel, the first thing that struck me was the general look and feel of LA. The roads, the buildings, houses, parks and vacant land, the place looked like a dump. The roads were rough and the amount of decrepit buildings and ghosts of small businesses were, to be honest, a bit of a shock. I was literally sitting up the back of the shuttle bus thinking, “this place looks fucked!”
As we neared Hollywood and eventually reached Hollywood Boulevard things started to look more respectable, and as you can imagine the areas around Hollywood appeared relatively well kept – but I still felt a little concerned. After all the travel and years meeting Americans the general consensus I got from American films and television is that America is “the greatest country on earth!”, but I simply wasn’t seeing it. As I explored Hollywood and took in the sights, caught a bus down to Venice Beach and the Metro to a few other areas I really didn’t see much evidence that made me believe this place was anything near great.
Probably the most troubling thing I saw was homelessness and poverty. Especially around Venice Beach the homelessness was rife, in your face and I was really struck with despondency. I saw a homeless couple lying underneath a blanket trying to sleep in the park and I took a moment to consider their circumstances and how they ended up there: I figured they were a couple prior to becoming homeless because I can’t imagine two homeless people meeting each other and beginning a relationship. They probably lived together, working and thinking about starting a family, then the financial system crashed, they lost their jobs, interest rates rose, they couldn’t afford their mortgage, lost their homes, couldn’t get jobs and now find themselves trying to console each other in a world that appears to have… forgotten them. And as I reflected on all the movie sets I’d walked by in Hollywood and considered how much money is poured into rubbish television and film flops, I just didn’t get it. I turned around and the road running along the beach had traffic stopped at a red light; a new BMW, a Maserati, a Ferrari, a big SUV and this, that and the other example of extravagance – I almost spat in disgust. The wealth gap in the States is astronomical and it’s blatantly obvious. I see similar sides of the coin in the UK and Australia where you find both rich and poor people, but at the same time you find the middle-class – I didn’t see much of the middle-class in LA at all.
Whilst I was in Hawaii (coming in a later post) I was introduced to an American girl through a friend I was staying with. She was nice enough and we all spent the day together in Hawaii, picking leaves and helping her prepare for a tea stand she runs at one of the markets. As we were hanging about, sorting out the tea leaves and chatting one of her friends pointed out a little boil-type thing on the back of her neck that didn’t look very good. Her friend asked if she’d had it checked out and if she was going to do anything about it and she replied by saying “yeah, I will when I can afford it.” Now, I follow American politics relatively closely and am aware of the issues raised and debates had over the last few election periods, so I realise health insurance and medical cover is very different to what I’m used to in Australia and the UK, but to live in a place where you can’t go to get a seemingly basic medical concern taken care of is fucken frightening. How can this really be called the greatest country on earth?
I don’t claim to be any kind of expert here. I follow the liberal media in the States and I’ve been there a few times (4), I’ve lived in a number of countries and have travelled to many. I’ve met a huge variety of people and can boast experiences beyond most people I’ve met, but I’m only 31 and don’t feel I’m in a great position to hold a strong argument about life and liberty. However, I’m pretty confident that I can say a country that doesn’t and hasn’t taken care of their sick and needy has lost all connection with the notion of “great”, only with the exception of the state of America becoming a great shame. This once may have been one of the greatest country’s on earth to live but things are very, very different now.
I remember a few years ago working at the hostel, sitting around getting high with some of the guests and chatting about this and that; an American couple, some people from Scandinavia, Switzerland, Germany (I think) and maybe some others. The American girl, who was a very cool and in touch girl from California said she was so happy and felt lucky she lived in a place where she was so free. Free? I remember this Swiss guy questioning her and basically drawing to light how un-free she actually was, making comparisons between the American “land of opportunity” versus a place where education and health-care are free. And I realised the scary thing is that most Americans actually believe they live in the greatest country on earth, it’s what they’ve been told since they were kids, it’s what Hollywood has preached to all of us but over the years I’ve also realised that the only ones fooled are Americans themselves. Like I’ve said before though, the Mexican food is awesome!