Los Angeles: the Zen of travelling

August 9, 2005, [MD]

Travelling When my family used to travel, they did it very differently than I do now. They’d be working hard all year, saving up vacation days and money, and then we’d often go off on a two week jaunt to for example a Spanish island, spend lot’s of money on hotels, food and airfare, and hope to have “intensive fun” to make up for a long year of drudgery. To be fair, it’s not easy to travel with three kids, and we did go camping a lot in Norway as well.

Travelling as I do, and have mostly done in my life, with very little money and a lot of time is a very different thing, with its own challenges and rewards. You are forced to rely heavily on other people (because I cannot usually afford hotels, at least not in the first world), you often travel on buses, trains, walk around in strange cities with a big backpack not knowing where you are going to go next. There is no chartered plane that is met by hotel busses whisking you straight to the pool, and the breakfast buffet. The upside is that you see a lot more of the real society, you meet a lot of wonderful people, and you often find yourself in interesting and funny situations. The downside is that it can be very tiring.

Los Angeles I walked around San Francisco a whole day; met a friend from the project in Mexico for lunch, and finally got on the night-bus to Los Angeles at around 11PM. The trip was uneventful, and we arrived in Los Angeles at 7:25 in the morning. I already knew from a previous visit that the Los Angeles Greyhound station is kind of scary (especially at 3AM, which is when I was there last time), and that it was in a rundown-part of town, but my host had promised to meet me. I was waiting outside for about an hour, until I gave up. I tried calling her from a payphone, but could not get through. The nice Chinese lady that I helped interpret for in San Francisco (she didn’t speak a word of English) lent me her cellphone, but nobody picked up on the other end. OK, I just dropped my luggage there, and walked in to town.

Los Angeles is certainly not the best city to walk around in, but I was lucky enough to stumble upon a tourist bureau that provided me with free maps (these should be available at all Greyhound stations!) and some information about different walks that I could take. They told me that I could use the public library for free internet, so I went there to see if my friend had written anything. She told me that I could contact her later, and that she was quite busy that day. I was kind of tired, so I chose a book and sat down in a nice chair.

A while later, I wake up, in a nice chair, with a book about the Ruby programming language open on my lap. It took me a while to figure out where I was. I left, got something to eat, and headed for Hollywood. The street called Hollywood boulevard is where a lot of Hollywood movie history was made, but right now it’s not very glamorous. At least I got to see the star’s footprints in the concrete, and where the Oscar’s are handed out. A tout convinced me to do a “tour of the star’s homes” (I figured I’m not in Hollywood that often, might as well).

I finally got in touch with my friend, and she told me she’d be helping her uncle photograph his scooters at a warehouse downtown, at 10PM. I made my way there, and was standing outside the gate waiting for her uncle to open up. The warehouse was in a sketchy part of town, and several “interesting” individuals came up to me to “chat”. I was happy when he let me in.

The shoot turned out to take a lot of time… a lot of time, in fact they didn’t finish until 8 in the morning. (She always thougth they’d finish really soon, so she didn’t take me home in the meantime). We all arrived at her parents’ house completely devastated, and fell into bed. When I woke up, around 2:30, she was gone. Her mother gave me a glass of Apple juice before she left, and there was only her little sister back. I didn’t know what was going on, tried to call her but her cellphone was at home. I just sat there, watching Chinese TV on a bigscreen, waiting for the world to make sense again.

Profound conclusion Sometimes you need to step back and think, wow: I am in a big warehouse in downtown Los Angeles, with Chinese workes taking catalogue pictures of imported scooters! Or, wow: I am in a nice suburban Los Angeles house, drinking apple juice, and watching a Chinese drama, or wow: I am in the multimedia lab at University of Arizona, soaking wet because of the crazy rain, helping my friend digitize cassettes of tradition Chinese ethnic music… The last one is right now, while I am writing this.

So yes, travelling like this can be tiresome. Walking around all day, carrying bags, waiting for buses, for people… not knowing what’s going on, wondering what’s the polite thing to do, what’s going to happen next? Things might not work out as you thought, but in exchange you get to meet some amazing people, experience some great situations, accumulate some great stories to tell!


Stian Håklev August 9, 2005 Toronto, Canada
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