Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Mile 2864 -- Salinas, CA, USA -- Day 7

Los Angeles!

You have some impression of the city, no doubt. One of the great megalopolises of America alongside Chicago and New York, the city is full of stars (at least in the eyes of its residents). I carry a great deal of Midwestern baggage with regard to big cities. Chicago is to my liking for a variety of reasons--its distinctive urban center and lakefront chief among them--and I appreciate the cultural melting pot that is New York City as well as its iconic profile across a steel and glass horizon.

Los Angeles is none of these things. Previously, I noted my surprise at the clement temperatures and ocean breeze that I experienced at Los Angeles Union Station--a sea change from the sultry heat of Indiana. I had expected a shimmering concrete jungle and was not to be disappointed, though I had never fully considered the implications of LA being a coastal city with a maritime climatic influence. My stereotypes for city and its residents were mostly validated: poor drivers and mired freeways, it was an automotive purgatory with an endless expanse of flat houses and squashed commercial space inhabited by the trendiest legion of groomed fashionistas this side of Tokyo.

That being said, I had lovely visit. I made a rendez-vous with Michelle, who will be my traveling companion and her close friends, Ashley and John, whom I had never met. Both are lovely hosts and I hope to renew my acquaintance with them at greater length in the future. I stayed at their apartment in Santa Monica just long enough to get my bearings and get a sense of the wide breadth of the city. I confirmed my presuppositions about Los Angeles in a very neat fashion--too neat, if you ask me--as it no doubt deserves a more detailed evaluation and a much longer stay to make an informed judgment as to its relative virtues. Time is short and let me close by saying that in Los Angeles you will see what you expect to find in the city. Anything and everything may exist somewhere amidst the sprawling neighborhoods (or more accurately, disparate human colonies) that make up the greater metropolitan area. It is no worse than I had at first supposed and perhaps somewhat better, though I regard it as a failed urban experiment that I and my four generations of eponymous ancestors absolutely abhor.

Michelle and I left together after only two days in Santa Monica for her hometown of Salinas, a pleasant day's journey north along the historic Highway 1. While I do not normally condone driving as an effective means of sightseeing, the Pacific coast highway is really not to be missed. The palisade cliffs, kelp forests and crashing waves of central California are a sight both dramatic and uniquely American. This is particularly true on Sunday afternoons when the speed limit is not regulated by signposts or even the winding lanes of traffic mere inches from the plummeting cliffs, but rather by the slow, determined progress down the coast made by beetle-like Recreational Vehicles and Airstream trailers. These specimens are all but extinct in middle America but thrive along the temperate coastline as rental machines for the comfort-conscious driver and family with a high disposable income.

Though the days since have entailed a great deal of last-minute preparation as a result of my excursion into Southern California, I am pleased to have done so not least because I was able to visit several of the places my father called home when he was my age, chiefly Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. There is much charm and even more money to be found in theses places besides the waves and ubiquitous surfers paddling on the horizon. Yet all this pales as I face the prospect of departing for Cambodia tomorrow afternoon at 1:20 PM. I suspect that the flight will be long and uneventful much like teleportation, though it does cover the distance of 7814 miles at a speed that cannot yet be bested by the commercial market. While my father encourages me to include this figure into the sum of my total mileage (as you see in the title of this post), I myself am more interested in keeping record of my total overland miles, and as such I will keep that tally separate from my overall mileage which will include two instances of air travel both to and from the United States.  

Tomorrow is the real beginning of things, even though I left home a week ago. Michelle and I will be breaking gauge (from American Standard Gauge to nothing at all--there is no conventional rail travel in Cambodia at present, courtesy of the Khmer Rouge) and crossing oceans, beginning our Trans-Asiatic crossing in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

I hope to see you there.

View Los Angeles to Siem Reap in a larger map


  1. Safe journey~if you return through SF please call! cousin Shannon

  2. Good luck Daniel - have fun and be safe!! Lee connor