Nostlagia on the 405

Friday morning, Sept 24, I woke up at 4:30 to catch an early-morning flight to Los Angeles to be part of the online gaming summit sponsored by BetOnSports. Now, some people who I’ve showed the site to have responded with glassy-eyed polite silence, making me think it’s probably pretty crappy. Other people, when I tell them to go to, get really confused, which is why you can also get here through But people who tell me they like the site say they delight in learning more about my worldview.

So here’s my thoughts on Los Angeles, either the biggest or second-biggest metropolis in the United States, and the place where I spent four years or so in graduate school (UCLA).

I had a very strange feeling flying in to LAX and getting a rental car, flashing back to the time nine years ago when I first came to LA to scout for an apartment as a hopeful would-be graduate student. Tempus fugit, huh? Now, I remember that last time I was in DC I thought that people there were very rude, and I started to think that maybe it was my becoming a West Coast softee, overly sensitized to the brusqueness of life in the East. Not true, because luckily the woman “helping” me at the Hertz car rental counter made a real effort to be unpleasant (though she did say she liked my tie). In all fairness, if I was stuck behind a car rental counter at 9 AM when it was 80 degrees and sunny outside, I’d be a little snippy too.

After getting the car, I had a breakfast reunion with my dissertation chair, Eric Monkkonen, who I credit with a) helping me get through the dissertation process and b) letting me work in an area that other historians might not have. After that, it was down to the beach–either El Segundo or Manhattan Beach, right off PCH where the steam plant is. Not that I laid on the beach or went in the ocean–I was wearing my suit for the summit, so I just wandered around a little. Getting up to the summit on the 405 north proved a little daunting–traffic is as bad as ever. Now, because I spent 4 years in LA, I knew enough to take the surface streets–Sepulveda Blvd. in this case. It was neat seeing parts of my old extended neighborhood. The Lucky’s that I used to buy groceries at is now a Trader Joe’s, not a bad change.

In general, I noticed two things about outdoor advertisements. There are still casino billboards: MGM Grand’s read “Come home tired” (which is something that commuters probably do every day), and I also saw a few for Excalibur. Second, where in Las Vegas we have tons of strip club and escort service billboards, LA has scores of them about TV shows. I learned more about TV in a few hours driving around LA than I had in months of living in an apartment with a television. Did you know, for example, that Mariska Hagartay is going to be in a Lifetime movie? I forget the title, but it was probably something like Innocent Deception, Seductive Betrayal, or A Mother’s Love.

Cool moment of the day: driving down Avenue of the Stars, I passed under the bridge shot in the riot/uprising scene in Conquest of the Planet of the Apes.

bridge over Ave. of Stars!

Anyway, driving under that bridge always cracks me up, because I think about Ricardo Montalban saying “Lousy human bastard!”

The summit was great–it was at the Century City Park Hyatt. There is a major construction project on Santa Monica Blvd that I’m sure is making traffic there pleasant.

Afterwards, I went down to Venice Beach to get some reading done and observe the fauna. Now, I sometimes think that I’m a bit eccentric (I do, after all, maintain an online image gallery of casino carpet), but it seems like many of the people down there are flat-out insane. I don’t just mean Templar conspiracy obsessive insane (although there is a guy who has a sign about the Masonic influence on the dollar bill). I mean ranting and raving, bark at the moon crazy. That, and a lot of people selling stuff like henna tatoos, crystals, and incense.

After all my fun there, it was time to head back to LAX. It’s hard getting used to all of the dead time you waste sitting in traffic in LA.

One final thought:

I think that smoking pot, if it doesn’t flat out make people stupid, certainly doesn’t make them any more intelligent or creative. I’ve now got some anecdotal evidence to back up my claim. As I’m waiting to get off the plane, some early-twenties hammer-head is loudly telling everyone how he’s en route to Vancouver, because he’s going to smoke put there. In addition to trotting out all kinds of ghetto and Jamaican slang for marajuana (pretty funny coming from one of the most white bread kids I’ve ever seen), he felt obliged to tell the entire airplane that “they’ve got the only rainforest in North America, so you can walk around the forest stoned.” That’s a great goal!

Anyway, here’s the kicker. Because he’s such a member of the cognoscenti, eager to impress the deplaning passengers with his inside knowledge of the drug subculture, he starts spouting off about how he’s going to “Vamsterdam, Vamsterdam! Because it’s got everything that Amsterdam has, but it’s not in Denmark.”

Frigging moron.

Final final note: the entry title, “Nostalgia on the 405,” is an intentional borrowing of Charles Mingus’s
Nostalgia in Times Square.” The freeways are probably the closest thing to public space that LA has, and might be the place, outside of home and work, where most Angelenos spend most of their time. Seriously.

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