LA Weekly

I’m just back from 10 days in downtown Los Angeles – and I am very jet lagged so there is every chance this will make even less sense than usual. 

Here are 10 things that stuck with me though even through my current fatigued and brain fogged state → 

Skid Row and the homeless population was pretty startling up close. Being based downtown it was pretty stark. Whole blocks have essentially given up their ‘sidewalks’ to homeless encampments – made easier as nobody walks anywhere! Drug deals took place right in front of me (on a Sunday morning) but I have to say I didn’t feel particularly at risk – I might as well have been invisible – the dodgiest bit was having to walk in the road due to all the tents and LA drivers are aggressive! There were clearly a lot of people out there with mental health issues though and I wasn’t out much at night.

‘Soccer’ seemed huge here this time. There was a time that if you saw someone wearing a footy shirt out and about in the US you could be sure they were a Brit on holiday or an ex-pat. This time they were everywhere – especially Arsenal – and it was locals rocking them. Taxi/Uber drivers and bar staff all wanted to talk about the Premiership or Messi. Reassuringly they were all pretty clueless though .

Bar culture sucks – at least in DTLA. Bars don’t open until 4 or 5. You need ID even to enter most of them (which meant I needed to carry my passport – and when I didn’t I was out of luck!). More often than not the bar staff seemed to think customers were a burden and they’d rather be chatting to their mates. A couple were great but generally I found it all pretty disappointing.

Being downtown meant the public transport was pretty good this time – I used the Metro a lot and a few buses. I was able to get to/from Santa Monica & Venice for about $5 as well as the Griffith Observatory and USC campus. It is pretty limited and if you can’t get somewhere directly the transfers get complex quickly and journeys can take ages – but on the direct/ish trips it works well. It also felt safe and clean – especially compared to NYC.

The USC ‘football’ match was quite the experience. The tailgating culture was fascinating. People had custom RVs and trailers decked out in red & gold, massive TVs – some built in – grills, fridges, sofas. All sitting on the side of the road or in car parks like it was their living rooms. For hours.

I’d say more than 90% of attendees wore USC merchandise – it was a sea of colour and people ate so much! It all feels different to the sports I’m used to – weirdly I’d say it was closer to cricket as a spectator culture than football or rugby. It takes ages. People come and go. Wander off or turn up late. The atmosphere feels artificial with the band and MC doing so much heavy lifting – and this was with USC crushing Nevada.
Also I didn’t have my passport so couldn’t get a beer until I convinced one of the stadium hawkers to sell me an overpriced Modelo.

I’m so glad I shook off the jetlag and fatigue to go to the LL Cool J gig on the first Sunday night. I’d overdone it walking in the morning, was really struggling with the time difference and generally had talked myself out of it. Instead I popped out for a couple of beers and through luck more than judgement had just enough lager, at just the right time to decide to go after all and jumped in an Uber before I had time to change my mind.
It was a brilliant if surreal evening. I was a bit drunk, very tired and found myself watching LL, the Roots, Salt n Pepa, Jazzy Jeff, Chuck D, Rakim and Ice-T all perform their hearts out in front of a seriously up for it crowd at the famous Forum. Honestly it all feels like a bit of a weird dream but not something I’ll forget anytime soon.

My god I was lucky with the food. My hotel was about two minutes away from Grand Central Market – a pretty hipster food hall in a historic market space. I was hopeful – especially as much as I like CitizenM hotels the food in all of them is average – but wasn’t prepared for the consistent quality from everywhere I tried…and I tried a lot. 15 different vendors in 10 days! Thai, Chinese, Filipino, Italian, pastries, burgers, sandwiches, ice cream plus fruit juices and craft beers. All superb.

The art – both on the streets and in the galleries – was wonderful. The street art in the Arts District was a really nice mix of graffiti and Instagram friendly. With some massive pieces and interesting smaller works. I bumped into some guys painting on Sunday and had a lovely chat about LA graffiti and my experiences of travelling around the world to talk pics of it. The Broad was a fantastic museum. From the architecture of the building itself to the permanent collection it was a really inspiring venue full of wonderful pieces. The Haring exhibition was comprehensive though a bit similar (inevitably) to the one at Tate Liverpool back in 2019. The Basquiat exhibition curated by his sisters was across the road and despite the weird layout was a wonderful tribute to my favourite artist. Amusingly I suspect The Broad has almost as much of Basquiat’s work in their collection but the show had a lot that I had not seen before and some lovely insider videos alongside the paintings.

The contrast between Venice Beach – perhaps the scuzziest ocean front in the world – and Venice Canals is perhaps the biggest leap in just a couple of hundred yards I’ve ever experienced. I like the Venice Beach front but the mix of run down tourist shops, homeless, street vendors, skaters, confused tourists and the heady smell of weed and piss isn’t for everyone. Walk just off the front though and you are in amongst the ‘canals’ and it feels like you are on location in a romantic comedy or something. It really is gorgeous though it must be a pain living there with all the tourists.

Christ it was all so very expensive. The pound being worthless doesn’t help for sure but food and drinks felt like they cost soooo much. Like even more than NYC. Beers were $11+ outside of happy hour everywhere I went and I decided to stop looking at the food prices once I realised I spent 10 quid on a fruit juice. It was also very much the land of Apple Pay – I don’t think I used a card more than once when I was there and only used cash in bars. This might not be unusual for most people but I never use my phone to pay – I’m too paranoid about the battery!

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