The first time I went to Los Angeles I was about 16 and it was a mind-blowing adventure where I discovered that the world in the television I grew up watching was a real place. Back then we were entranced by Beavis and Butthead and the Jerry Springer show. This time, I was the grown-up and my sons would be the teenagers discovering this strange and wonderful place for the first time, glued to the hotel television much like I was back then.
On the surface you could view the theme-park capital of Los Angeles as the toilet of California, but on second glance, once you see past the concrete leviathan of roads and unsightly strip-malls, it has a strange beauty that begins to work its magic at sunset. Even our view of the hotel carpark transformed into a miracle of light at that special time of the day, when the electrical towers became sculptural marvels and the palm trees caught the golden rays of the fading sun, casting their long shadows on the world below.
I hadn’t been to Medieval Times on previous trips, so it made our second night there one of the most memorable nights of the whole holiday. The food wasn’t great and we ate it with our hands in the custom of the venue but the entertainment was incredible; live action jousting and battles, dancing horses and the visceral communion of being part of a heaving crowd, all cheering and booing and clapping all night long. Our Blue Knight kicked ass and won the tournament, and so of course we were hoarse by the end of the night.
Staying in the tourist part of town right near Disneyland, we weren’t really part of the thrust of ‘real life’. We were instead living a strange parrallel existance among the other holiday-makers and conference attendees; days spent at theme parks and on studio tours, wandering around strip malls and record stores, mornings and nights eating out at take-away joints and restaurant chains. At first, eating out is a novelty and truly one of the best parts of being on holiday. But here’s the thing about eating out in Los Angeles, every menu has the calories listed. And so, after one-too-many-french-fries and the burden of knowing exactly how many calories are in each meal, it gets a bit tiresome. And it’s not just because there hasn’t been anything green on your plate since you left, it’s the decision-making that you simply don’t have to face when you’re at home. Do I go for the ‘healthy’ salad knowing it’s almost twice the calories of the pulled pork sandwich? Should I get the fried chicken thigh meal or the fried chicken wings and fries?
That being said, one of the best parts of any trip to the USA is the food. Americans really know how to eat. Aside from my one request for a Mexican meal at La Casa Garcia across the road (which was amazing and served the best Margarita I’ve ever had), it was mostly take-away and chain restaurants, but every single meal was delicious. We made sure to try the local burger institution Carl’s Jr who had the tastiest burger on offer, even though the onion-ring behemoth from the Outback Steakhouse was incredible. In n’ Out Burger while only having a tiny menu, won the prize for the freshest burger, made there on the spot with fries cut from potatoes we could see in sacks in the kitchen. When it came to fried chicken, Roscoe’s was by far the most amazing fried chicken I’ve ever eaten; ours came with collard greens, hot-water corn bread and coleslaw. The BBQ situation was dominated by Lucille’s Smokehouse – which we went to twice because their BBQ meat sandwiches were to die for. We didn’t try the ribs because they were super expensive, with the sandwiches coming in at half the price and half the calories it was a no-brainer. The salad prize goes to The Frontier Cafe in Yucca Valley – they were serving super fresh salads and sandwiches that were the perfect foil to our daily meat/carb loading and I can’t thank them enough for being there.
I could’ve spent weeks in California hitting the road to explore the desert and the coast, soaking up the sunshine and expansive blue skies, trying out all the smaller chains and taco joints; but I was grateful for our 8 nights of wonderful, especially considering the state of the world only a few weeks later as Covid19 continues to spread.