Throughout most of our cross country trip, even in big cities like St. Louis and Memphis, I wondered where all the people were.
They’re in LA. (And mostly stuck in traffic.)
At the Griffith Park Observatory, city residents hiked on the dusty trails that snaked through the mountains around us, getting a respite from the congestion. One had dropped to the ground to do some crunches, hooking his toes onto the base of a statue for support. Tourists, including us, posed for pictures with the Hollywood sign in the background, barely visible through the fog (or smog?). Our friend Zak, who now lives in LA and works in the movie industry, pointed out landmarks through the haze.
The observatory itself is an iconic piece of old Hollywood, most famously seen in James Dean’s Rebel Without a Cause. Inside is Foucault’s Pendulum, a ball suspended from a chain, which swings back and forth according to the earth’s rotation. Over the course of the day, it knocks down pegs one by one as it slowly progresses in its circular path. People crowded around the opening, waiting for the moment when the next peg would fall. “It assures us that the Earth is still spinning,” a docent explained. Just in case we were worried. After several more swings, the peg teetered and fell, to loud applause.
Route 66 ends at Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles, so it seemed fitting that we end our cross country road trip there. Jessica, my beautiful college roommate, joined us, along with Zak and his girlfriend Rachel. We got ice cream and funnel cakes, and did some people-watching.
On the pier, a crowd gathered around a magician, who declared in a hoarse voice that for his final act, he would make children shoot laser beams out of their fingers. There were no volunteers. He pried one boy out of the audience, who called out, “Stranger danger!” as he was brought to the front. We left when the magician started asking for donations, however, so we’ll never know how it turned out.
At “Muscle Beach,” men with bulging biceps swung between rings, like monkeys in the jungle. Others climbed up smooth, unknotted ropes using only their upper-body strength. We saw a Jewish wedding on the beach, the bride’s long veil caught up in the breeze, and yelled out “Mazel Tov!” when the groom broke the glass.
As darkness fell, the Ferris wheel on the pier lit up with bursts of colored light, like self-contained, never-ending fireworks.
On to the next adventure.