Treeleaf Diary,  The United States

Treeleaf Diary entry 1.3: USA - Los Angeles

June 23rd, 2019. Arriving to the City of Angels and dreams fulfilled, and how I walked my feet into bleeding blisters on day one. Or, what on earth was I doing in the USA, vol 3

(Original post from August 24, 2020)

I had just stepped on the night bus going to L.A. in the chilly night of San Francisco. The ride was supposed to take around 8 hours, which suited me fine as a way to spend the night.

I tried to sleep on the road. Didn't succeed very well but I must have got at least 2-3 hours. Weird thing is, that for some reason I always think of this bus ride as something that happened AFTER Japan, although in reality it was my first night bus ride (if not to mention my bus trip to St. Petersburg many years back but that bus must have simply driven for ages. I think.) It could be because the first time I even heard of a night bus as an option was in connection with Japan, as a recommendation by someone to travel on budget, or perhaps because I had written that chapter first in my previous blog. But doesn't matter anyway, as I didn't get to sleep properly on either of those times!

My first Californian sunrise, on the other hand, left me with an unforgettable impression. I could only see it through the bus window (which is why the photos are not so great) but it did have that certain familiar Hollywood movie feeling to it. Desertlike landscape, with orange sand full of shrubs. Very beautiful and something completely different from what can be seen in Estonia (or even Asia, as I am able to say now). Writing it down now I get a feeling of watching some 90s movie that took place in California; it does have its own special vibe. Johnny Depp leisurely driving a car, a cigarette between his teeth, is what I can see in my mind's eye now, thinking back.

Instead of holding a steering wheel, I sat in a bus, and had to make do with just looking out of the window. I no longer felt like sleeping, instead I simply enjoyed the open nature and the sun rising from behind the line of mountains on the horizon. It really felt like an ending (or perhaps a beginning?) scene from some cult movie.

Of plans and their unplannedness

The half empty bus took me to the campus of University of California, Los Angeles. I had planned to walk from there to the area of Hollywood Boulevard where our 7-people studio apartment was situated that we had booked. Finding a suitable accommodation for our group had involved a whole saga in itself by then - one of us had booked a luxury hotel room for 7 already months back, it had everything we needed and locationwise it was right in the middle of most events happening that we wanted to attend. Only a few days before, I don't remember how it happened anymore, but basically on the last minute before my departure from Estonia it came out that the hotel booked was meant only for 3-4 people... with no exceptions (at least that explained the really good price that was asked for it). Naturally it created a lot of confusion and worry, especially for the ones coming from across the ocean, but in the end we decided to cancel the booking and rent an apartment through Airbnb. Barely a day left, 7 people, knowing that most places had already been sold out as a lot of people were expected to come to LA during this time... Fortunately, we found an apartment that suited everyone and was still free, but the challenges were not yet over - I was the only one with an Airbnb account and my card did not allow such a large payment (and it took more than logging onto my bank to change those limits). All of us got to practice a lot of counting to 10 and taking deep breaths during that time... Of course, it all worked out in the end, one of us was able to create an account on Airbnb and make the payment (even this was stressful as it takes a while to create an account, you have to scan your ID and send it to Airbnb team, and it can take some time for it to be confirmed - you have to prove you are who you say you are). Throughout all that process I had to be in correspondence with the apartment owner, making sure the booking was still ours. Fun times.  
It was lucky that it all got sorted out before I left San Francisco. However, I couldn't help but think, what happens if there's going to be another issue? Well, there wasn't. At least, not that kind of an issue.

The route

Google Maps showed the approximate distance to be a little over 8 miles (~12-13 km), with the duration of approximately 3 hours. As I arrived in the University campus around 8 in the morning, I literally had the whole day, and walking has always been my preferred method of exploring new places. What I didn't take into account when working out my route, however, was my 10kg backpack and footwear that should not belong to any hiker's equipment - flat tai-chi like trainers without any kind of support... At the same time, I had toured around SF all previous day, and there was no pain or blisters. Let's go!

Trekking the city streets

Before anything, however - breakfast. I admit, I tried to save money on food in all ways that I could in the US, which is why choosing the right place to eat in took a while. I was lucky though - I found myself on a university campus where student priced food could be found (is that even a thing in the States?). I came across a café, with aroma of coffee and crispy pastries coming from it that simply did not allow me to walk past. And I'm not sure if it was because I was literally starving, but that avocado flatbread sandwich with omelet was the best thing I had eaten for a while! So simple, and yet so delicious! (Even now, as I'm feeling a bit hungry, I start to drool thinking about it.)

Never saw Beverly Hills 90210...

And then - let's start the walk! I had music playing in my earphones, Michael Jackson of course. This was his city. Beverly Hills came and went, rows of palm trees, blossoming trees and flowers of early summer everywhere, magnificent cars, enormous villas, almost hidden behind the tall walls. My attention was especially pulled by the various small images and messages in the form of street art that could be found all around - on roads, pavement, walls, posters, park benches... Some were rather thought provoking, some just seemed to be someone's practice drawings or signatures, some advertisement - sort of like graffiti but in Los Angeles it left the impression of more everyday, almost legal and even encouraged activity. It was the city of creative people, after all. And art is appreciated regardless of its form.

My step, however, became slower and slower. My feet simply refused to press on in the way I had. One blister on top of the other, and what's worse - they were UNDERNEATH my feet. That's something you can't patch up with plasters, although I tried - but what do you do when there's just a thin layer of cloth and rubber between your skin and the asphalt... Silly child :) I did what I could, sat down on the grass verge right in front of someone's house and put a few thicker plasters on top of each other to create some sort of softer padding, and taking a lot of breaks, I somehow kept moving towards my destination, now at the pace of a snail. The backpack became heavier and heavier...

Sunset Boulevard

Michael had an old demo song (around 1978-82, Off The Wall and Thrilleri era) called Sunset Diver which I almost *had* to listen to, while stepping along that very long street called Sunset Boulevard. That song had a lot of oldskool L.A. feel to it. I don't even know if there is a connection between those two originally but I liked combining them at that moment. Despite my hurting feet, I kept walking. The general impression, as I moved on from Beverly Hills, the residential area of the wealthy, along Sunset Boulevard, was completely different from what I had expected of the famous city. Lower, worn out and faded buildings, dry and sort of... desert grey? Huge advertisements for movies, music, and fitness everywhere and there were probably more studios around than mushrooms after rain. But it was a bit... more dull than I imagined. So this was the city where all youngsters with dreams of stardom want to come to fulfill them? There was a complete discrepancy between those glam, money, and bloodstains filled Hollywood movies, and what was now staring back at me lazily from the streets. At the same time, something about this felt very right - that discrepancy was right. The contrast. For some, it's the city of dreams coming true, for others - the city of rock bottom, addiction, and broken dreams... Glamour, desperation, fame, all as if signing a contract with 3 drops of blood. It really felt like that there were no limits in this city, good or bad. How can some place be so special and so ordinary at the same time? Is that the real charm of L.A.?

My phone in hand with Google Maps, I kept going. The time was much later than I ever thought this trip was going to take. 5 hours? 6? One of the brightest moments, before I arrived, was a group of beautiful young people hanging out together on a quiet street. With tents. The whole part of the street was full of their stuff, I thought they were waiting for something or preparing for a performance maybe? They said hello and smiled at me. It was only later, when I put it into a more general context of new info I had learned, I realized. Homeless... There's around 800 000 of them in L.A... Living on the streets. You wouldn't believe simply looking at them, they were such well-mannered and well-dressed people. Fortune seekers? Only a few houses away from our rental apartment...

Finally there but the challenges were not yet over

I was the first one who arrived at the apartment. All you needed to enter was an entry code, which I fortunately had. I had put the pain behind me for a time, or my body just realized that its warnings would not make me stop. All up to this point felt as if in a movie, it was really difficult for me to actually comprehend it was all happening to me. Me, randomly in Los Angeles. You see it and you're still amazed at it, as if you expect to be woken from a dream any moment. Such a bizarre feeling.

Finally I could put my heavy bag down with a deep sigh of relief, knowing that for a long while I don't have to concern myself with moving onward. On a moment like that, a refreshing shower was one of the best things in the world! After I had gone out and gotten a takeaway dinner from one of the nearby Indian fast food places, one by one the other members of our gang started to arrive - meeting them was like meeting old friends! But, one of us had disappeared - my friend from Romania, there was no sign of her even 3 hours after her landing. Three of our group members were supposed to meet in the airport and take a taxi from there together but my friend's phone remained switched off. It was only after 9PM, after the other two had left the airport after hours of waiting, a very tired and weary young lady showed up on our doorstep. Finally! We found out that she had been kept and questioned by the airport security for over an hour (they tend to pick on Romanians especially), and she also had problems with her sim card... Really now, how many things can go wrong even before arrival? We were all hoping that it was a sign of all our mishaps lining themselves up and happening all at once, so the rest of the trip could just flow according to plan and without any more worry. We'll see! At least we were all there now, all except for one who was supposed to arrive on the next day.

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