Local Treasures

[February 4, 2007]

My how time flies when we're having fun.  I can't believe another year has started.  Not only that, the first month of a new year has zipped pass us all.  If things keep on moving at this rate, I'll turn into a prune in no time.  Gotta get out there and ride while I still can.

The story goes, as of this writing, I have been living in the greater Los Angeles area for about 13 years now.  Before this, I was a simple farm boy in Fresno, CA.  All though I have been in Southern California for quite some time, I have never made a point of visiting Downtown LA.  Why?  I had the perception, in my little head, that downtown was stricken with tones of homeless people and there was nothing interesting to be seen.  Boy was I wrong.

Saturday morning, I received a phone call from my buddy Minh.  Minh wanted to spend Saturday touring Downtown Los Angeles.  He said it's been a while, 12 years or so, since he's been down in Little Tokyo.  As for me, I've never really explored LA.  The only reason for me to come to Downtown LA is for things like jury duty.  Yeah...  Minh mentioned something to the effect that there are a couple places he wanted to go visit as a tourist.  What the heck, I can play tourist too.  However, I have family obligations on Saturday so I had to put off the tourist attractions off until Sunday.  Minh gladly waited until Sunday to ride around in circles.

Sunday morning comes.  I got ready and waited for Minh to arrive.  I had mention 8:00-8:30 AM is a good start time.  I was kind of worried when 8:35 AM appeared on the clock and there is no Minh to be seen.  It's not usual for Minh to be late.  All the other times we had gone riding with the gang Minh was always the one to show up on time.  When 8:45 crept up on the clock I was getting a bit worried.  I called his house only to end up speaking with an electronic answering machine.  I left a message and then tried his cell phone.  The cell phone went straight into the voice messages.  Not good.  Fortunately, 8:45-8:50AM rolled around and I can hear a motorcycle engine getting louder and louder.  Cool, he's OK.  When I asked him if everything is OK, he just apologized for over sleeping.  No problems, it's a weekend after all.

We had both anticipated that it will be cold this morning so Minh came to the ride with his heated vest.  Of course, as soon as he stopped, it came right off. As for me, I originally had my North Face wind stopper under my Rally 2 pro Gore Tex liner but made the choice to forgo the liner and placed it back into the pannier.  It was a good choice.  We both finished changing out our gear and headed out for our trip.  Minh didn't quite know which is the best way to get to downtown so he asked me to lead.  I guess he's just as bad as I am in terms of downtown LA when it comes to being a tourist.  Either that or he just wanted me to lead the way.  I was looking forward to being brain dead and just follow Minh like a zombie, but that didn't happen.  Oh well, off we go as I lead the charge to get to Downtown LA.  Being that it's Super bowl Sunday, the 210 freeway was amazing.  There were cars but there was hardly any traffic.  I hadn't seen this in a long time.  It was like being on the 210 freeway back in the days when the stretch of the 210 from the 57 to the 15 didn't exist.  Fast moving with only minor idiots.  Of course you know you can never get away from idiots completely.  The best you'll get when it comes to idiots is a reduction factor.

As we took the junction from the 134 to head to the 110, it was apparent that this lack of traffic is unusual and is normally not seen unless it's 5:00AM in the morning on a Sunday in the middle of a holiday where most people has disappear from the LA scene.  The best word to describe this ... NICE!

Surely enough, we get on the race track (e.g. 110 Pasadena Freeway also known as the Arroyo Seco Parkway) and head towards downtown.  The reason why I call the 110 Freeway "the race track" is because of it's twists and turns.  The freeway was never mean to be driven at modern speeds (65-70MPH) but cagers do it anyway.  In fact, if you look at the speed posting, max speed is suppose to be 55 MPH.  A good fast safe speed on this freeway is 60 MPH, but people can't seem to control themselves these days with their highly tunned cages so they blast around the corners at 65-70MPH.  To say the least, there are a lot of accidents and deaths on the 110 freeway.  The freeway is dangerous because you're given only small track of road to merge into speeding traffic.  From what I can guess, you get somewhere in the neighborhood of about 100 feet to merge on a freeway that is moving at 65-70MPH.  That's insane!  I refuse to take the 110 unless I absolutely have to.  For today, I have to take the 110 because it is the most direct route to get to Downtown LA.  For more interesting information about the 110 Pasadena Freeway/Arroyo Seco Parkway, check out the Wikipedia.

210 to the 110 to downtown LA
(Jesus Jones - Right Here, Right Now)

We stayed on the 110 until we take the Hill street exit.  We had some car do minor races with us but for the most part it was uneventful.  There you have it.  Downtown LA.  From here it's all up to Minh.

These pictures are from Hill Street about a mile beyond the exit.

There were several sights that he wanted to see.  Me, I'm just along for the ride and the education.  First stop is the Bradbury building.  I didn't know it at the time but I know this building.  In fact, it has been featured in numerous Hollywood movies and TV shows.  One movie in particular is Blade Runner.

Ridley Scott really did a number with the effects to make the building look like it's run down.

So we drove around and eventually found the Bradbury building.  It looked unremarkable on the outside, but the inside I recognize well.

The Bradbury building.

In front of Bradbury building.

Minh only peered through the beautiful wooden doors of the Bradbury building, but I walk through when it was my turn.  Minh came back to the bike, and told me to go have a look.  He mentioned there is a guard sitting inside of the building.  I decided to go talk to the guard and ask for information.  My first thought as I step through the door is, "it's JF Sebastian's apartment".  Even with full gear, I can't help but look skyward to take in as much of the building as I can before talking to the guard.  I approach and he looked at me kind of funny.  That is until I started asking him about tours and things like that.  He told me that I have to book a reservation in order to tour the building.  He gestured to me to look at the brochure over at a counter.  He also mentioned that the people that are responsible for the tours don't normally come until 10.  I thanked him, grabbed a couple of brochures, and walked out of the building with my head cocked at 90 degrees looking skyward.  Awesome!  I wish I could have walked the stairs and ride the elevator but that is for another day.  The other thought that went through my mind is that the building looked much taller in the movie than in real life.  Ridley Scott probably added a couple false levels to the building for effect.

As I got out and walked towards Minh, I told him about the fact that I recognized the interior of the building from so many movies and TV shows.  I'm not sure if Minh has ever seen Blade Runner.

across the street from the Bradbury building is the Million Dollar Theater.  The stone work on the building is magnificent.  It speaks of Art Deco as you tilt your head back to soak in the grandeur of the building.  I can definitely see why the building cost a million to build.  As noted by Russell, Kevin and other that I show Minh's pictures to, they commented that we don't look up enough and most of the time we're just busy worrying about things at the street level.  We all should take a short moment to look up every once in a while.  Who knows, we might see something wonderful above us.  Birds and especially pigeons don't count.  There are architectural treasures everywhere in Downtown LA.  You just have to be sure to look up so you can see them.

Million Dollar Theater.

The Grand Central Market is right next door to the Million Dollar Theater.

So far so good.  I'm definitely gaining a different appreciation for Downtown LA.

We promised ourselves to drag the bunch to Downtown LA and have a proper tour in the near future because now we know where the areas of interests are.  Minh and I started our bike and head off once more.  I don't know where we're going.  I'm just following Minh.  A U turn here and a U turn there.  We made several U turns all over the place.

U Turns R Us
(Devo - Working In The Coal Mine)

Riding around the block is a form of a U turn.  Right?  Next thing I know we were stopped at the side of the road on the west side of a church.  It didn't look like a church to me but it's a church.  Minh is trying to find a place to park, but practically ever curb in the entire downtown area is NO PARKING.  Not even on a Sunday are you allowed to park at the curb.

We drove around the block to get back to the church. There was a public parking entrance on the south side.  I thought Minh was going to pull in to park but he didn't.   I wasn't sure what he wanted to do.  We ended driving pass the parking entrance and parked on the curb, which said NO PARKING.  As I put the kickstand down to turn off my engine, Minh walked over to me and made a comment "No matter what you do, there is always somebody who is not going to like it".  I wasn't sure what he was referring to at first until I turned around and noticed the guy picketing the church.  The sign says "Phony Mahony".  Ha ha.  I immediately replied to Minh, "Yeah! Yeah! that's right."  I told Minh to take a picture of the guy.  Minh walked over and talked to the picketer and then proceeded to take a picture.  Apparently the guy didn't believe in what the church is preaching.  At a later date, Minh researched into what "Phony Mahony" is all about and discovered it was about Cardinal Roger Mahony and his alleged sexual abuse of children.  Wow, the Catholic church really have something to worry and think about.

Since we looked like tourist, the picketer asked us where we're from.  I mentioned that we're local but have never had the opportunity to visit Downtown LA.  While all this is going on, I was starting to cook in my Rally 2 Pro suit with the North Face wind stopper under neath.  I decided to take the coat off and remove the under layer.  Not too long after taking the coat off, a parking attendant walk out, from the public parking structure, and told us we can't park on the curb.  I told him that we're parking here temporarily to change out clothing.  Realizing that we're not attempting to attend mass, he quickly apologized and said that we're OK.  He originally thought that we were trying to park at the curb and go into the church.  I said, "Nope, we're just changing out clothes and equipment."  He then walked back into the parking structure and disappeared.

Before we headed off, the picketer did tell us to go into the church if we haven't already done so.  We thanked him for the information, said our goodbyes, and headed off to our next destination.

We turned here, turned there, and then I finally got it out of Minh at a stop light that we're trying to find the Disney Concert Hall.  I've seen a show about the Disney building on the History Channel.  I knew you can spot the building from a mile away because the exterior of the build is covered in brushed stainless steel panels.  This rings to me like me wearing SOLAS tape all over my bike and my suit.  The Disney building should be glowing.  Sure enough, when we got close, there it is!  If you had a FLIR, you'd go blind.  If you had UV vision, you'd go blind.  White light, you'd go blind.  That thing was bright.  When we rode pass the front of the building, we can feel the sun's heat being reflected off of the building.  This time around we can't miss the building even if we tried our hardest.

This is a great picture of downtown LA.  The Disney Concert Hall is just below the tall dark building.

Disney concert hall

We turned right once we passed the building and sat at a light hoping to make turn left.  This is all fine except we sat there, and sat there, and sat there...  You get the picture.  It was getting plainly obvious that this street light sensor is not picking us up.  Mind you, Minh has a 1100 and I have a 1200.  Still, it's not enough for both of us to trigger the light.  I said, "Well, we can run on the red if the light doesn't trigger for us." but Minh was smarter than that.  He looked around and surely enough, there is a camera for the light.  Now we know that we wouldn't necessarily be breaking the law if we run the red, but we both agree that it's still a technicality and we're better off taking an alternate route (e.g. U-Turn).  We head back up the hill, made two right turns on to another street and guess what?  We're sitting at a light again.  Fortunately there is a car in the opposite direction trying to make a left turn, our right.  If it hadn't been for the car, I think we would still be sitting at the light.

Stuck at not just one but multiple lights.

At this time, the tour is pretty much over.  It was time to head down to Little Tokyo for a break and some lunch.  We circled around tried to find parking but really couldn't find anything convenient.  We eventually found Minh's favorite hang out, Starbucks, and decided to go for a coffee break before going to lunch.

You can see Minh's favorite hang out logo just left of the Quizno's banner.

The newer side to Little Tokyo.

As we are both in front of Starbucks drinking our coffee, I can't help but mention to Minh how different Downtown LA is.  It doesn't even feel like we're in the middle of Los Angeles.  It was like driving 30 minutes to get to downtown San Francisco.  Of course it's not exactly the same architecturally speaking but it has a similar flavor.  We relax for a bit but our 1 hour parking limit is about up so we head back to the bikes.  As we approach our bikes, a black guy approached us prospecting for some money.  He at least tries to get money by asking trivia questions instead of coming straight out with a, "Can you spare some change?".  I guess asking trivia questions is a form of work.  What question did he ask?  What does the BMW emblem stand for?  He also mentioned that if I got the answer right, he would give me everything he has in his pocket.  A whole $8.  Having done my research into BMW's history a while back, I know exactly what the answer is.  I told him, "The BMW emblem is a picture of a nose cone off of a propeller airplane made by BMW."  Hearing the right answer, he hooted, hollered, and laughed.  Later he mentioned that I'm the second person today to have the correct answer.  I could have been mean and demanded all of his money, but that wouldn't have been nice.  I recognize his attempts at being personable and gave him a hand full of change.  Anyway, we suited up, left the lot, and rode around in circles trying to find parking in Little Tokyo, again.  About 10 minutes later, we parked in a small parking lot right out side the Little Tokyo mall.  2 bikes, $7 bucks.  Not too bad.  At least the guy only charges us for one spot.

The parking attendant liked motorcycles and was having a fun time talking to us.  We found out he was from El Salvador and rode a motorcycle also.  Minh asked if he had a bike here, he said no and said he only rode in El Salvador.  According to him El Salvador is insane.  They have smaller bikes and everybody makes their own street rules.  We were interrupted by a car entering the parking lot so he said his farewell, and dashed off to do his job.  Minh and I walked out of the lot and saw a little Japaneses restaurant right next to the parking.  It's funny, the special menu had Japanese and English written on it.  The Japanese on it was huge.  Only in Little Tokyo.  I see curry on the menu.  I love curry.  Japanese curry is different than Indian, Thai, Chinese, or Vietnamese curry, but is just as good in it's own way.  Minh had never heard of Japaneses curry and thought it interesting.  I told Minh that Japanese curry is different than what we're use to but it is good in it's own way.  We both decided, "What the heck, we'll try this place."  As we open the door and walked in, all we see are Japanese people.  This is a good sign.  When the waitress saw us, she asked if we were pilots.  Cute thought.  "No we're just motorcyclists."  She laughed and said that made sense.  When we both sat down and the menus were given to us, the waitress said that everything on the special menu was available except for the curry.  Doh!  That's what I wanted to get.  Oh well.  Minh went for the trout and I went with the ginger beef dish.  The interesting thing is, the menu looks American but the food is very Japanese.  In other words, American food with a Japanese twist.  We finished and left a good tip for the waitress as the service was very good.  We didn't make as bad choice as the food was also pretty good.  You can't beat the price either.

Before we finished off the day, Minh and I decided to visit the Little Tokyo mall.  We didn't realize it was the Little Tokyo mall until later.  As we walk through the strip, there were a lot of restaurants am a lot of gift shops.  Even though we were full, there were a lot of good morsels being displayed at some of the restaurants tempting us into eating more.  Fortunately for us, our full stomachs said no and saved us from the path to obesity.  We have to come back here next time.  We stopped in at a ice cream parlor and had a scoop or two of ice cream.  Green tea ice cream for me.  I don't remember what Minh got.  We mozied around a little more and then headed back to our bikes.  At this time it was about 1 in the afternoon and Minh has to get back home in time to pickup his wife from the bus station.  We parted ways as Minh heads back on the 10 East and I reversed our route this morning.

It was a fun day.  I never expected downtown LA to be so interesting, but it is.  For the people who think that LA doesn't have culture, they need to take a deep breath and clear their head of preconceptions.  Downtown LA has a lot of culture and a lot of history.  You just have to be willing to slow down and look around.  Especially up.  I'm sure we'll come back again as this is only enough to wet our appetite.

All that was ever said.

All pictures courtesy of Minh.  Thanks Minh!

Hah, one of the few pictures of me.  Most of the time I'm behind the camera or the video cam.  I like this picture Minh took as it shows off my SOLAS configuration.  Man!  I'm glowing in the dark.  Nobody better say, "I didn't see him."  For more information about SOLAS reflective tape, click here.

Written on: February 4, 2007
Last modified: February 17, 2007