This past Labor Day weekend (a holiday weekend in the United States that falls in early September), I visited Los Angeles for a few days. Prior to September 2012, I’d been to that city four times. I therefore had already experienced many of the area’s signature attractions, such as the La Brea Tar Pits, the Griffith Observatory, the Universal Studios theme park, the Getty Center museum, and Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. This time around, I focused on investigating some of L.A.’s lesser-known treasures. Of course, as with just about any H-Bomb vacation, I also searched for karaoke.
Somehow, even though over three months have gone by since that trip, I haven’t yet blogged about it. It’s time to get caught up already! This will be the first of two articles recapping that weekend.
I arrived at LAX late on Friday night and headed to my hotel in Hollywood, near the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and North Highland Avenue. I really like staying in that area. In contrast to much of the sprawling, freeway-centric metropolis that is Los Angeles, that section of Hollywood is easily walkable — an important consideration for me, since I refuse to drive ever. Even in California. It did help, though, that I have friends with cars who live in the area and were nice enough to take me around town. At the same time, it was good to be able to walk around on my own in the vicinity of my hotel.
A MACABRE MUSEUM, A QUIRKY HOUSE, AND A BREATHTAKING VIEW
The Museum of Death
On Saturday I began by hoofing it to the Museum of Death, which is located on Hollywood Boulevard. On my way there I passed by the iconic Capitol Records Building (seen in the photo at the upper left).
Here’s what the Museum of Death looks like on the outside:
I stepped inside to pay the admission fee. In the entrance area, I noticed an appropriately morbid clock hanging on the wall.
Before allowing me to proceed further, the staff member on duty subjected me to a test to ensure that I wouldn’t be overly shocked by some of the graphic photographs and objects that the museum displays. The nature of the test was as follows: I was shown a photo that depicted the aftermath of a collision between a motorcycle and a tractor-trailer. Suffice it to say that the motorcycle and its rider hadn’t been the victors of that face-off. Seeing the grisly photo didn’t cause me to pass out, so I was allowed to proceed into the main galleries of the Museum of Death.
Contained in those galleries are various artifacts pertaining to that fate that awaits all of us when our time is up. Particular strengths of the collection include an exhibit on serial killers; a room devoted to suicides, by individuals as well as groups (including the famous mass suicide at Jonestown); and a room collecting examples of advertising by funeral homes (including fans and matchbooks that were distributed for promotional purposes).
There’s also a screening room whose appearance replicates a mortuary, in which the museum shows a film, roughly one hour in length, in a continuous loop; the flick, entitled “Traces of Death,” shows people meeting their demises in various ways. I watched it for about 10 or 15 minutes. The only other audience members at the time were an adolescent boy and his mother. I found it disturbing that the kid had seen the movie a number of times, and was excitedly describing some of his favourite segments to his mom. Perhaps my uneasiness reflected the fact that he reminded me of myself at that age.
Following my life-affirming tour of the Museum of Death, I met up with my friends Michael and Erica, who live in the region of the Los Angeles metropolitan area that’s known as the San Fernando Valley (commonly referred to as simply “the Valley”). Within the Valley, Michael and Erica reside in Tarzana, a community named after the legendary Lord of the Jungle. (Tarzana was built on the former site of a ranch owned by Edgar Rice Burroughs, the author who gifted the character of Tarzan to the world’s readers.)
Our first stop was the Chemosphere, a remarkable home in the Hollywood Hills. Designed by John Lautner (a modernist architect who’d been mentored by Frank Lloyd Wright) and built in 1960, the Chemosphere boasts a unique octagonal shape and sits atop a 29-foot concrete pole.
You may be wondering how one actually gets inside the Chemosphere. The column that supports it doesn’t contain an elevator; the only way to ascend to the front door is via funicular. (That funicular can be seen here, at the lower right portion of the photo.) Moving day at the Chemosphere must be a bitch.
Michael, Erica, and I weren’t able to get into the Chemosphere, as its driveway is gated (I guess I could have tried ringing the bell . . .). But unlike gated residences that aren’t propped up on 29-foot poles, the Chemosphere is easily visible above the surrounding treetops. So anyone who drives up close to the place can at least gaze upon its bizarre exterior.
The Encyclopedia Britannica once dubbed the Chemosphere “the most modern home built in the world,” and it still looks modern, if not futuristic, today. Over the years, this Jetsonian abode has made a number of appearances in movies and on television.
After checking out out the architectural wonder that is the Chemosphere, we drove around on Mulholland Drive, a road that winds through the eastern Santa Monica Mountains. Mulholland Drive has been immortalized in a plethora of popular songs as well as a film bearing its name that was directed by David Lynch. The road was named after William Mulholland, the legendary civil engineer who spearheaded the construction of an aqueduct and dams that provided the water supply Los Angeles needed as it grew from a desert backwater into a mega-city. (Mr. Mulholland also served as a consultant to the builders of the Panama Canal; so he was kind of a go-to guy for water-related engineering issues.) Mr. Mulholland is a sufficiently towering figure in the history of Los Angeles that he served as the inspiration for one of the characters in Roman Polanski’s classic 1974 film, Chinatown.
And the street that memorializes Mr. Mulholland is pretty awesome. Back in 1924, while it was still being paved, the construction engineer who oversaw the project intoned that “[t]he Mulholland Highway is destined to be one of the heaviest traveled and one of the best known scenic roads in the United States.” That destiny was fulfilled. Today, many scenic overlooks appear at intervals along Mulholland Drive. We stopped at one of those lookout points, and we were rewarded with views like this one:
While wandering around in the scenic overlook area, I also stumbled upon a curious sign.
Had the fine for lighting up been only $540, I would have been chain-smoking like a doctor in the 1950s. But the potential for a $541 penalty totally deterred me from puffing away! Well, that plus the fact that I like having my lungs . . . And I wouldn’t want to be “that guy” whose carelessly discarded cigarette started a wildfire that destroyed 20 homes.
KARAOKE: A RETURN TO BURBANK
On Saturday night, naturally enough, I ended up at karaoke. During two of my previous times in the greater L.A. metropolitan area, I’d indulged my karaoke needs at Dimples, a Burbank institution that dates back to 1982 (thereby making it the first karaoke joint in the Western hemisphere). This time, I wanted to try out a different place. So Michael and Erica took me to the coincidentally-named Michael’s Bar & Grill, which can also be found in Burbank. The menu at Michael’s was outstanding, featuring both Italian and Cajun fare. I tried the blackened catfish, and it was excellent.
The karaoke stage at Michael’s is well-lit with an attractive red backdrop. Singers have a vast selection of songs to choose from.
I opened with “Rocket Man,” which I’d sung for the first time a week earlier on the day that Neil Armstrong passed away. At Michael’s, before I took the stage to belt out this Elton John classic, a drunken punk asked me if he could go up to sing with me. I turned him down. The inebriated asshole was undeterred; in the middle of the song, he rushed the stage and I literally had to push him away — only to see him attempt to climb right back onto the stage. Here’s a complete video of my “Rocket Man” performance, with the asshole’s stage-rushing starting at the 2:00 mark. You can see that I kept my composure despite the rude interruption:
My second song at Michael’s was “My Life” by Billy Joel. This time, the intoxicated idiot didn’t bother me:
Thus concludes Part I of my 2012 Labor Day weekend shenanigans in Los Angeles. Part II will be coming soon! Highlights will include my visit to the final resting place of some of the greatest stars from the golden age of cinema.
Have you visited Los Angeles? What were your favourite things to do there?
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