Day 16/17: L.A. is Awesome When You Don’t Have to Drive in it.

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One of these men is not a crook. (Photo by Peter Mackie)

Wow, ghostlings, we have a lot to catch up on. I don’t exactly have a good excuse for not posting anything yesterday, but L.A. is such a rich tapestry of sensual stimulation that it’s hard to find time to step back and reflect. So now, as I sit here in the obscure corner of a nice air-conditioned Arizona Starbucks, let me attempt to catch you up:

First of all, I didn’t really get a chance to properly thank Peter and his wife Ina for their generous hospitality. They put up with me for three days and that’s not easy for a newly-married couple with shit to do.

I wanted to share with you some of Peter’s cinematic work. He truly is a talented filmmaker whose creative energy inspires my own. His most recent original work is called Panofsky’s Complaint, which you can watch here. It’s a sleek, charming and humorous portrait of a hapless Manhattan doorman. I urge you to watch it (it’s only 10 minutes long so your boss probably won’t catch you slacking).

As much as I love Panofsky, I maintain that Peter’s masterpiece is last year’s For Annabelle, a bold dark comedy shot on real film. The cinematography is perfect, and to this day it remains my personal gold standard for short film writing. (This one’s only three minutes long, so if you’re really pressed for time dig Annabelle first).

When he’s not stealthily conquering the film industry, Peter works part time as a Lyft driver. I mention this only because he spent much of the last 72 hours driving me around Los Angeles and neglected to charge me a dime; a further exhibit of his infinite generosity. On Thursday night Peter and his friend Alex had an engagement in downtown L.A. that I could not attend, so I told him to simply drop me off downtown and let me bum around for a few hours.

For three hours I enjoyed a personal safari in the human zoo that is L.A. I roamed the blocks of the Fashion District, gawking at the suave $250 shirts in the storefront windows as well as the bums outside that probably won’t collect that much money this year. The juxtaposition of wealth and poverty in L.A. is as extreme as any place in America; success and failure, beauty and ugliness co-mingle everywhere. The American Dream and the American Reality performing live street theater before your very eyes.

Trying to watch my finances, I passed over the various sushi and Korean BBQ restaurants in favor of a light dinner of canned tuna and dried apricots in a place called Pershing Square. It’s a nice quiet spot with a gorgeous view of the downtown skyscrapers. I stared at those buildings for a long time, watching with childlike fascination as the early evening sun reflected off the glass. Gazing at this picturesque sight, this poster of capitalist progress, it was easy to delude myself that everything was wonderful. Are we really a divided nation? Is this all really so unsustainable? Is civilization really about to collapse?

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Downtown view from Pershing Park.

A short walk to a nearby 7/11 brought me back to reality. I watched a grimy, ragged man play around with his backpack, twirling and heaving as though he were about to throw it right into the street. I found the sight so amusing I stopped to stare, but I soon realized I stopped too long as the man began to stare me down like a rabid dog. I walked on at a relatively brisk pace.

Later I checked out a place called The Last Bookstore which is really so much more than a bookstore. It has a a lovely annex for rare first editions, a space for musical performance (some guy was playing folk songs on guitar) and a series of lovely art galleries upstairs. There’s much to say about it but I really feel like letting the pictures do the talking.

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A couple of rare books…
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You’ve probably guessed from the tone of the blog that I’m a huge fan of HST. When I saw this I really, REALLY wished I was rich enough to buy it…

The next morning I woke up at 9:45; by far the latest I’ve risen on this tour and perhaps the latest I’ve awoke in the past 3 or 4 years (hell, if I was still at my cafe job the day would be half over by then!). I realized I was truly on California time; the Ghost on the Highway Tour had gone from adventure to vacation. Peter woke up a half hour later and we had brunch at the Griddle Cafe, home of the biggest and richest pancakes I’ve ever seen in my life.

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Fancy Pancakes at the Griddle Cafe.

After we nearly died from a Carb Coma, it was time for the day’s real adventure; a trip to the Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda.

Richard Nixon is a figure that has long fascinated me, not so much for his politics as his personality and his Machiavellian instincts. Here’s a guy who was born into poverty, lifted himself up to the Presidency, and yet still remained an introverted, suspicious, quasi-sociopathic personality whose own paranoia and desire for control ultimately brought him down. Nixon wrote the blueprint for the “Man of the People besieged by an Elite Liberal Media” narrative that conservatives have built upon ever since.

Even the tone of the Nixon Library seems defensive. One begins the journey by walking through a sort of Hallway of Historical Context, where images of 60s protests, race ritos and Vietnam combat remind one of the former turmoil Nixon implicitly takes credit for smoothing. Later there’s an exhibit highlighting the moon landing (for which Nixon really doesn’t deserve credit) and for the overtures to China and Russia (for which he genuinely does).

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A brilliant photo at the Oval Office Replica Room by Peter Mackie

There are very few original documents housed in the Library, it’s basically a giant propaganda museum. But even so I found it immensely entertaining as a Poli Sci nerd. Outside the main building is an outdoor garden (where, amazingly, a wedding was taken place during our visit. A tour guide told us this was fairly common), a replica of Nixon’s original family home, the Presidential helicopter that he actually used, and finally the resting place of President Nixon and his wife Pat. I especially enjoyed the house; it was re-created so faithfully (with, we were told, the original furniture) that you could really imagine a young rural family struggling to scrape out a living.

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Replica of Nixon’s original Orange County childhood home. 

After Nixon we spent a few chilled-out hours at a Silver Lake bar and then before I knew it dawn had broke and it was time to ramble on. I’ve been to L.A. three times now and each time it’s felt like a voyage of discovery. You’re never at a loss for stimulation in that town; every day I saw something in L.A. that I’ve never seen anywhere before. But to actually live there is another matter. It’s a cruel and unforgiving place, and I sincerely admire people like Peter, his wife and their artistic friends who try and succeed in that town.

To them I say Keep Dreaming. The world needs dreamers, the world needs creativity, now more than ever.

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