Treeleaf Diary,  The United States

Treeleaf Diary entry 1.4: USA – L.A – Hollywood

June 24 - July 2, 2019. In the footsteps of Michael Jackson; cemented glory of bygone eras; and a culture shock at a dirty motel. Or, what on earth was I doing in the USA, vol 4

This post will be the last one touching upon my time in the United States. Mostly because Asia won't leave me alone and demands to be written down - everything up to arriving there was sort of a prelude in a completely different key; but also because it involved other people and was more of a private endeavour. In some ways, I should've perhaps named my blog "Hermit's Travels" or something, as there were only a few times where my plans involved other people in equal measure. Not that I didn't meet other people, or hadn't spent time or communicated with anyone; but rather, I found myself more in the role of a solitary wanderer or observer and, actually, I discovered it's the way I often prefer things. I make the decision, I'm the one responsible. No waiting after anyone.

Still, I have hundreds of photos of Los Angeles and there are still some places I want to introduce and talk about here. Especially those that the more regular visitors may not find themselves in easily, such as the gates of Neverland; the house where the world famous Thriller music video was filmed; and the last resting place of many celebrities, Forest Lawn Glendale Memorial Park. I will mention my dear companions here not by their name but more in general terms of that happy group we spent time together as. Anonymous. For traveling around we had rented a universal 7-seater car, thanks to which we were able to see so much more. But just in case, a little "warning" - if you don't like Michael Jackson, or don't care about anything related to him, then it's perhaps best to skip this chapter altogether. Or maybe you'll learn some new and interesting things, or can simply train your eye muscles by rolling them around a lot (a therapist's sidenote: to better your eyesight, it's actually much more beneficial to relax your eye muscles!). I try and leave the fandom related content to a minimum, but still conveying how much effort the fans have put into honouring their idol; also not forgetting that it was Michael who brought us all together there, and the only reason I went to US in the first place.

I also want to add that, during the week I spent in L.A., there was something magical happening around us. Things like entering a random souvenir shop and suddenly one of MJ's songs started playing - sometimes 3 in a row - were daily events. Even when none in our group was wearing "fan clothes". Seeing his face featured in street art at a random location or walking by a pub and noticing him depicted on a mural inside. There was something in the air! And in the Forest Lawn cemetery park there was a bright blue bird (I searched it later, possibly blue jay), repeatedly appearing near us, chirping, as if it had something to say to us.

Hollywood Walk of Fame

The part of Hollywood Boulevard they call Hollywood Walk of Fame, where the pavement is decorated with the red-and-black stars of the most famous, was just around the corner from our accommodation - only a few minutes away. The times have changed now and Hollywood may not have the same influence it once did, but you might have still heard of those terrazzo stars poured into the pavement that secure a place in history for those who have been remarkable in the world of cinema, movies, acting, music, directing, or other professions related to creating Hollywood, real people or otherwise. Our first day passed at a calm pace, us just getting familiar with our surroundings and being real tourists in the bustle of others like us. In some ways, it was a street like any other - I had already walked along it to get my dinner the day before, albeit on autopilot. However, seeing the star of Queen only a few meters after turning the corner, it did feel rather special. For some it is everyday, for others once in a lifetime. For some, it remains an unreachable dream. Our goal for the day was to find the star of Michael Jackson and also visit the location where the brightest stars of Hollywood have had their hand- and shoeprints pressed into cement - a movie palace called Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. The weather was great, warm and not too hot. It started to become more and more clear to me, however, that I couldn't walk much further. So, in the evening, accompanied by my friend from Romania, I went shopping - for a hat and new shoes that would feel like walking on clouds and that would provide relief and support for my hurting feet. (Sidenote: I still have those Sketcher's shoes, by the way, and they remain my favourite summer/dry weather footwear for casual outdoor activities. My main requirements were that they would be supersoft and lightweight for carrying around, but also that they'd have no laces - convenient especially in Japan, but elsewhere in Asia as well, where taking shoes off is required in many temples and indoor places, so tying up your laces and even needing a shoehorn could become troublesome.)

Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale

After a day of exploring our surroundings, adjusting, and somewhat resting, on June 25th we had planned to visit Forest Lawn Memorial Park where Michael was buried. Fans had organized different events, everything was full of flowers, cards, posters, and fan art. More talented dancers (or, impersonators, as they are called) gave performances; fans had really taken over the park for the day. Regardless of me greatly appreciating Michael's music, artistry, and contribution in general, and being genuinely sad over his passing, I felt I could not relate much to the fans or what was going on in general, as if I was merely a bystander who accidentally found herself in the middle of all this but still having some right to be there. For me, he was never an idol but simply a remarkable human being. There was a lot of people there, surprisingly; I noticed a few from Japan even that created a certain excitement in me - it was to be my next destination. Despite my new, very soft shoes, however, I could no longer walk without limping badly. Hobbling around somehow, sitting down where I could, I remained a distant observer rather than participant. In addition to fan events, we had a chance to visit the grand Mausoleum (The Great Mausoleum), inside of which it was forbidden to take photos. We found more than one familiar name from the tombs in there. At the same time, it became very clear I could no longer take another step. It wasn't simply blisters on the soles; something hurt deep within the foot itself. I was really concerned, sitting on a marble bench in the middle of that hauntingly beautiful Mausoleum, tears of pain in my eyes. The others tried to console me but what could they do? I truly needed to rest and I told myself that everything is going to be ok and there's no need for a doctor. I don't know if that helped but within the next few days when we traveled more by car and less on foot, my feet healed completely with me barely even noticing. Of course, I had to skip a few events. Then again, when the body screams for a break, you gotta give it to it. Right?

To the home of Peter Pan - Neverland! Or at least to the gate

I didn't take a single step on the day after, or well, I did probably hobble to the bathroom and kitchen. My companions were kind enough to bring me some food from the local supermarket. On June 27th, however, we had planned to visit Michael Jackson's once home Neverland (now known by its previous name of Sycamore Valley Ranch) which was a good way outside the city, and I wasn't going to miss that. One of the reasons we needed a car for. This was another chance to drive through that incredible landscape I had seen through the bus window on my arrival, and also get more familiar with it. It was surprising for me to learn that when it comes to temperatures, it was comparable to desert lands - it can get rather chilly at night time. The landscape seemed indeed dry, redish-brown with few trees, perhaps even something savanna-like. It reminded me a bit of what I had seen years ago in Portugal and Spain. We took a little break in Santa Barbara - do you remember the once famous soap opera? I really liked the atmosphere there, a little Spanish, or well, Mexican. White buildings. We had a specific goal in mind with our break - KFC! It may seem odd but it had a rather significant reason - the KFC chicken bucket was exactly what MJ had on his cheat days, when he needed a break from his very strict diet. Every true fan knew it. We were hoping the KFC we went to was the one where he got his chicken from as well. (As a sidenote, the chicken we bought remained uneaten almost until the end of the day, nobody besides me was hungry, so we left it for dinner. I'm always hungry). The way to Neverland ran across mountainous landscape which was so peaceful. I simply looked out the window, removed from the general chatter. It was so beautiful! I realized why Michael wanted to live there - away from the noise and the fame. Basically completely isolated, on a large piece of land mostly covered with untouched nature (he used to have a small zoo there too, with free roaming lions and giraffes). One of our group members had a friend or acquaintance that had some connections to the people operating in Neverland, or so they said. For the whole trip there we were all very excited, hoping that perhaps there was a way to get into the house (it was on sale at the time). Well, we didn't get in, and it left us a little disappointed. It would have been just extraordinary coincidence, as we did see the gates open for a few cars going in... We even joked among ourselves that, come on, the next time the gate opens, we'll make a run for it, but they'd probably shoot us :) And of course, there was a dog there at the small guardhouse... Wouldn't have wanted to race that one :D The wooden fences all around were quite low, you could've stepped over it at any time. We still put our toes in from underneath the gate! Such rebels, eh? Nonetheless, there was a certain very special energy there. We all felt it. Something similar you may feel when you enter a church or another holy place, not in terms of religion but as a place people come to, to find inner peace and answers to their prayers. Overwhelming sensation of peace, as if there was a healing aura all around these grounds, to this day. Even 10 years later. None of us wanted to leave but as the sun went down, the evening chill crept near - a reminder of the desert land climate.

The Jackson 5's first L.A. home, the Thriller house, and a lot of street art

After a good night's sleep, our next day had already been planned and waiting, and it involved a lot of cruising around. We had gotten very lucky with our driver, who was the husband of one of our group members (who was also the main organizer), and he had plenty of previous experience driving around Los Angeles. On our list of places to visit, there was the house the Jacksons bought and lived in for long years when they first became famous and moved to L.A. We also wanted to find the spooky house featured in the end scenes of the Thriller music video, with zombie-Michael breaking through the door. I let the others decide where to go, I didn't have the knowledge or desire to delve deeper into the subject but was still happy to join in the flow of things. Our group of five Americans and two Europeans was made up of very special and cool people, it was fun and even safe in their company somehow - we all cared about each other. It's just that, the whole being a truehead (lifelong) fan and idolizing someone on that level remained a mystery to me, I occasionally even felt that I had to pretend to be as enthusiastic about everything as others were. I felt myself become more distant and rather choosing the role of a bystander, observing everything. It didn't mean at all that I regretted coming to L.A. I guess I was just trying to figure out why I was there and why my enthusiasm had suddenly exhausted itself.

We must have driven around for hours, from one place to another. We found the Hayvenhurst house that (still?) belongs to the Jackson family but all we could see were huge metal gates with spikes on top. We tried to peek in from every gap and corner, to find some way to see the house itself but the location was well chosen and the privacy remained intact. I think we were even told something through the intercom hiding in the flowers, asking us to step back or leave or not climb? I can't remember anymore. I'm sure they've gotten tired of the endless pilgrimages of fans. Also, I cannot say if we were indeed out of line (out of excitement not mischief - also, don't roll your eyes, it's easy to get carried away in a group! :D) or was it just the general mistrust of the Americans?

The Thriller house decided to give us a little scare of its own. When we arrived there, we noticed the house was in a pretty bad state, the wooden beams on top of the front door were about to collapse, it all looked old and tired. And quite abandoned. We curiously inspected the house from the outside, me peeking around the corner as well, where an old side door with even older lace curtains could be seen, they must have been at least 50 years old... Original? Everything was quiet and it was obvious nobody had taken care of the house for a while, although the front garden was full of flowers, underneath a great tree with powerful roots. I don't remember anymore if I had just joked to myself or to my friend that someone's probably watching us through the window or something, when suddenly an older man jumped out of the house and started shouting at us, telling us to get off his property immediately. Dear me, how we jumped, and almost ran down the small stairs back to the others (it was just us that time, the two foreigners :D Perhaps now I know, why). We genuinely didn't think someone could live in that house, even though, to think logically, I doubt even an empty square meter of concrete goes without an owner in that city... We were completely shaken, and yet we decided to stay there for a while. For our group photo with the house, we didn't dare step closer than the edge of the sidewalk or the first steps of the stairs leading up to the house, and afterwards we just viewed the house from a safe distance from across the street where our car was parked. I took a little walk along the street as well, looking at the neighbouring houses and gardens - none of them could be called boring. A pretty, red-coloured residence a few houses away stood out to me - came out it was the home of the young witches from the once hugely popular youth series "Charmed". I used to love that show when I was young! So, it was in a way fascinating to see that those places actually exist in real, material world, casually among other normal living residences. And probably inhabited by real people, nothing to do with being a simple filming set. Who knows, of course.

While driving around the city, I was very curious about seeing the other side of Los Angeles. The less glamorous, backstreet junk, derelict buildings, and graffiti filled side, lined with the panorama of the downtown skyscrapers. We had business going into that part of the city - I didn't fully understand what we were looking for exactly until we got there - the object of our keen interest was a huge mural of MJ's very characteristic eyes and eyebrows, with a curly strand of black hair falling across the forehead. It was enormous, literally the size of the entire wall of the warehouse building. The whole area, in fact, was filled with amazing street art/graffiti, without an inch left paint-free. Also, large statues of native ancestors (or deities?) had been put up there, made of some sort of foam and painted like wood. A curious combination.

That was the last bit of our "official group program". Afterwards, everyone started making their way back home, or forward - like me and my Romanian friend. We were the only ones who had decided to stay for a few more days. However, it meant we had to change accommodation. She had already booked it earlier and it was no problem to change it to 2-person stay (we made plans as we went along). My flight towards Japan was on July 3rd, so there was still a few more days to go. The booked double room was in a completely different part of the city, in a cute Mexican-style house in the middle of a residential area. As it was rather far off, we took a taxi. Arriving too early, we had to wait for some time before someone even let us into the building - there was no staff on site and the phone conversations were a bit confusing. Because we had arrived before our check-in time, we just thought to leave our bags somewhere and go explore the neighbourhood a bit, along with finding a grocery store for food. We actually felt quite tired after a week full of so many new things and places, all we wanted was just to be and get some rest.

A motel from a bad horror film, moving house, and a trip to the famous hillside Hollywood sign (or to be more exact, towards it)

We finally either received the door code or someone already staying there was kind enough to open the door for us. Anyway - we got in. And wanted to get out as fast. Inside it was dark; a dirty kitchen-entry area with greasy walls and interior whose best days were definitely passed a long time ago, maze-like corridors covered in stains, and a room that was equally distasteful - it was just so dirty! Estonians are not the most spoiled people in the world, far from it, but what we saw at that moment - it was... questionable, to put it mildly. We even ended up wondering whether the bed linen were washed, and there was an issue with the shower, it either made a terrible noise or had water splattering everywhere. To be honest, we were reluctant to even put our bags on the floor... Again, what a contrast, between our previous accommodation and what was staring at us now. My traveling companion decided on the spot she was going to leave immediately, going who knows where, just to get away from there. But we were tired, physically and mentally, so we decided (probably my strong suggestion) to stay one night and leave first thing in the morning (of course, I tried to take this as a small adventure on its own. Like, aren't unexpected unpleasantries a different kind of a challenge, sort of like in a movie, right? Also, I had no idea what I was going to have to deal with once I got to Asia...). In the hallway we met that guy again who I think had opened the door for us - he was from India if I'm correct, and said he had been living there already over 4 months... I guess, in the name of our dreams, sometimes we have to put ourselves through some crappy things...? Only thing that consoled us at the time - the neighbourhood, called La Brea, was rather pleasant, with fancy villas and beautiful gardens. We walked around for hours, managed to somehow survive the night, but in the morning we packed our stuff (which had remained mostly packed anyway) and almost ran to the new place - we hadn't wasted time booking a new place on Airbnb in the same La Brea area, although in a different part - thankfully! The new place was a room in a local girl's apartment, very well decorated and comfortable. The icky feeling of that stinky and dark motel was soon wiped from our minds and we got to enjoy the L.A. life in a new way.

Be that as it may, I'm still not really used to luxury and comfort, and it may come through in my writings in the future as well. Meaning, when we decided to take a trip to the famous Hollywood sign as our last "touristy" thing, I proposed to go there either by foot or bus. Taxi felt not just unnecessarily expensive but also too easy - you get there in 10 minutes and learn nothing of the city. I wanted to know how the bus system works, how to buy the ticket, what can we come across on the way, where can we get lost to, how the normal people operate in that city...? I suggested to walk in the general direction towards Hollywood for a while until we get bored or tired, and then hop on a bus, and that's what we did. We were back at Hollywood Walk of Fame, met again with the now familiar pavement stars and cemented footprints and autographs. Our walk took us away from the tourist noise, to more ordinary sidestreets, places we probably never would have gotten to. We kept the general course in the direction of the Hollywood sign on that hillside, but we ended up finding out there was no way up close, nothing like you see in movies with people sitting on the letters and whatnot. Without the car, you can't even get near. We were finally directed by a local to a nearby parking lot where H O L L Y W O O D in the distance was best seen and where people actually came to take photos. If I'm not wrong, I think that local who gave us advice was the shopkeeper of the organic/farmer's market style store there, who totally embodied a type of very elegant, older Italian gentleman from some bygone golden era. The shop had mostly local organic or handmade food for sale, nothing like a normal supermarket. As it was the only store we came across on our way that sold any kind of food, we finally managed to get something to fill our stomachs (muffins, I think?). The neighbourhood was beautiful, with villas built high up on hillsides, but with a certain private atmosphere that made us feel slightly out of place - imagine a remote village where tourists and foreigners are not an everyday occurrence, so they always remain strangers. We simply did not belong there, although it did feel very peaceful. But also separated from the rest of the city in a way, as if the whole area was in its own private bubble. Walking all this way we had not taken into account my friend's flat shoes which had started to really hurt her feet, so we decided to find the shortest way back. With a bus, of course. Torturing myself, clearly, was not enough for me - now I was torturing other people. And I felt guilty.

Today, I would have probably taken the taxi.

My time in Los Angeles, California, was ending. I kept seeing signs from Japan and simply couldn't wait to get there. In a weird way, all the past events had started to already fade in memory, making space for the new. New places, new experiences. La Brea was actually a really nice place, comfortable, more everyday and less touristy, so it felt more like home. Ordinary people's L.A. I had set my sights on new lands, however, and contrary to my friend, I did not dream of staying in L.A., for longer or for good. Asia was waiting. For a long time now. The detour was over, although with one last stop before Japan but that was already on the "right" side of the globe.

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