Saturday, December 27, 2014

Walking LA - Hollywood

The Hollywood Walk of Fame

To be honest, Los Angeles is not my favorite city. I have always felt that it is more of an over sized suburb rather than a city. You know, the kind of place where no one ever walks, and the car is king. However, about 5 years ago one of my daughters moved out here, and in my time visiting her, I have discovered some parts of the city where walking can be fun and interesting.


Hollywood stretches East from La Brea and north from Santa Monica., but its most famous and tourist heavy section is along Hollywood Blvd. from La Brea to Highland. La Brea and Hollywood is the start of the famous Walk of Fame. At this intersection there is a little pavilion to commemorate the start of the Walk.

   The four pillars of this "gate" are tributes to four famous actresses who represent the actresses of all races: Mae West, Delores Del Rio, Dorothy Dandridge and Anna May Wong

Dorothy Dandridge

Mae West

Delores Del Rio

Anna May Wong

 If you walk east along Hollywood Blvd you follow the walk of fame. It is a fascinating cross section of American culture. The placement of the starts is fairly random, and some of them are in better shape tan others - this is because it is up to the stars themselves to pay for cleaning and repairs.

As you continue east you get to the TCL Chinese Theater.

Noon on Christmas Day

 Now you might think that you will go and take a picture of yourself with the foot and hand prints of your favorite star. Let me warn you - this place gets a Times Square type crowd, complete with costumed characters who, for a tip, will let you take a picture with them. So getting the space to take a shot with just you and a 4 square foot piece of concrete is hard to arrange.

Walking back to La Brea and then south there are some interesting things to see, especially this time of year. I encountered a pop-up Christmas tree stand called The Lopez Ranch. Now Christmas Trees in LA can seem incongruous under the best of circumstances, but then I was reintroduced to idea of "flocking." Flocking is the spraying of a snow-like substance onto the branches of the tree. I had first seen it in Paris 18 years ago, where snow was added to make trees in public spaces to make it look more 'Christmas-y". In LA they have added their own take to it - color:

Continue south on La Brea and you get to this incongruity:
Kermit Chaplin?

Yes that is Kermit the Frog in Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp outfit. The reason? This is the home of Jim Henson Studios.

But the history of the studio goes back to the 1920's. It was the home of Charlie Chaplin's studio. So in tribute, Kermie wears his costume

 But don't worry, Charlie is still hanging around:

There are some other classic things to see:

Micky D's doesn't use this logo anymore
LA is also home to more hamburger chains than you can stake a stick at. Everyone knows about In n Out Burger, but there are others:

I will add my two cents to the "best burger" debate later in this series.

One thing that I like about LA is that there is a lot of street art, both formal and informal:

One last thing today. When you get out of your car and slow down you do notice other pieces of LA weirdness that puts a smile on you face. I offer this in evidence:

seen on Santa Monica Blvd

More to come:

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Real NYC Part 7 - Times Square and Hell's Kitchen

I hate areas filled with tourists. Not just in NYC but wherever I travel. They are crowded. People just stop walking in the middle of the sidewalk. No one is really paying attention to what is happening around them. Unfortunately, sometimes I just have to bite the bullet and dive in. If you want to see Piccadilly Circus, the Parthenon, Florence or the Mona Lisa you are going to have to be part of a crowd of tourists. Here in NYC, if you want to go to see a Broadway play you are going to be part of a crowd of tourists. It is unavoidable.

On a recent Saturday I had a ticket for a Broadway play so I decided to head down early and see what has been happening in Times Square. Now I grew up in NYC during the 60's, 70's and 80's. A time wen some people feel that Times Square was at the nadir of it's existence.

On 42nd Street, the theaters were divided between "third-run" movies and porno. The street had its share of drug dealers and others up to no good. It was SEEDY with a capital C! But it had something else. It had character. It was a place that did not, nor could not exist any place else. You knew that when you went to Times Square you would see something that you could not see anywhere else.

Just west of Times Square and the Theater District is the neighborhood called "Hell's Kitchen" (any other name is an approbation made up by real estate developers). This is the area that was home to dock workers theater workers and the Westies mob. It was made famous in the movies "On the Waterfront" and "Sleepers".

Times Square

So what is Times Square like today? Well, truthfully I don't plan on going back unless I have to. On a normal Saturday afternoon, no holiday, no special show or event, it was almost impossible to walk from 42nd street to 46th street due to number of people present. I don't remember being in a crowd that tightly packed. Now it is true that there is major construction going on. The famous islands between Broadway and 7th avenue are being removed and replaced with pedestrian malls. This formalizes the changes made by former mayor Bloomberg. Maybe when these are open it won't be so bad.

The multitudes at Greely Square

The other major change of the past 20 years has been what I call the "mallification" of Times Square. Instead of finding unique NYC experiences the area is now filled with restaurants and stores that could be in any mall in America - Disney, M&M, Bubba Gump, Forever 21, Hard Rock Cafe and many more have outposts here.

The mall that is Times Square today

Looking west along 42nd Street

The old movie theaters have been replaced

More Tourist Trash along 42nd street

One final aspect of the new Times Square, that I actually like - The lights. I was impressed the first time I went to Piccadilly Circus at night. The lights were so bright. The use of neon and LCD screens was mesmerizing. Well, Times square has outdone what I remember about that trip. Covering eight blocks along both Broadway and 7th Ave the buildings are covered with LED display boards. They blind you at night

Hell's Kitchen

The roots of Hell's Kitchen still show through, even as it is being rebuilt into a land of tall condos and overcrowded streets. Walk up and down the side streets and you can see the old tenement buildings. No elevators, window air conditioners, these building date back up to 100 years.

Neo-classical doorway

Today this block has trees, but they are a relatively new addition

The old buildings along 9th ave with the World Center in the background.

What to do if you have theater tickets?

Let's say you have tickets to one of the plays on Broadway but you want to avoid the Times Square and it crowds, and tourist trash (I mean traps). Well there are actually loads of other choices.

First - getting there.  If you are coming by subway, follow Duke Ellington's advice - Take the A train. Avoid the IRT to Times Square, The IND line (A, C, and E trains) will drop you off one block to the west along 8th Ave. Most theaters are between 7th an 8th avenues.The crowds are much thinner. If you are coming in from the suburbs - Penn Station and Port Authority Bus Terminal both are on 8th Ave. 

Port Authority Bus Terminal

Looking up 8th Ave at the old and the new

Next - Where to Eat. I divide eating in the theater district into 3 categories - There is the Tourist Trash - Bubba Gump, The Hard Rock, TGI Fridays and other over priced national chain restaurants. I usually skip these. There are the fancier restaurants, especially along Restaurant Row - 46th street between 8th and 9th ave. This one block has restaurants for many different tastes, Asian, New Orleans, Brazilian, Italian. The prices are a little high, but not outrageous. Finally if you want good food at a good price, with lots of choices, there is 9th Ave. the stretch from 42nd street through to 57th street is filled with restaurants and bars. The choices are many and food is usually good. Use Yelp or TripAdvisor to narrow your choices.

I can recommend one place in particular -  Obao. This is a southeast Asian restaurant that serves street style food. I had the Crispy Pork Belly appetizer and the Basil Chicken main course. They have a $25 pre-theater prix fixe menu. The food was great. The Pork Belly was moist and flavorful. The Basil Chicken, a dish that has become as common and over done as General Tso's chicken in many places, was well done, with the right mix of cool basil and hot pepper.

So go to the theater, enjoy the show, the restaurants, but man, I would skip Times Square, unless you have never seen it.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Beautiful Catskills - Hobart NY

There are so many beautiful place in the world. However, the Catskills have always been a place that tugs at my heart. It is the place where my earliest memories of vacation reside. From the time I was little my parents rented a bungalow at a bungalow colony called Mirth in the tiny village of Mountaindale NY. I remember tree covered roads and lakes with turtles and streams with salamanders. 

The Amazing Ms. D and I spent a weekend in the Catskills when she was invited as a participating writer at the 2nd annual Festival of Women Writers in the town of Hobart NY. Hobart is a small hamlet in the north-west corner of the Catskill Mountains. It is the "Book village of the Catskills" with 6 bookstores in a town of around 440 people. The stores range from high end antiquarian and rare books to mass used mass market, and there is a wide range of choices.
Blenheim Hill Books

Mysteries and More

The Amazing Ms. D in Mysteries and More

Liberty Rock Books

Around the World with Books and Cooks

William Adams Antiquarian Books
As I said, Hobart is small, but many of the buildings show the history of the town:

This barn is right on Main Street

Supreme Court Chambers?

Where the sidewalk ends

Hobart lies along the West Branch of the Delaware River, which is a small trickle here.

For those who like to hike through nature this part of the Catskills has a an old rail bed that has been turned into a very nice trail. The Catskill Scenic Trail stretches from the town of Roxbury to a point about halfway between Hobart and Delhi.

One of the things that I love about the Catskills is that there are wonderful scenes that just appear, seemingly out of nowhere, as you drive from place to place. One my way to Oneonta I has just passed through the town of Davenport Center when I came across a wonderful bend in a river:

Or driving into the town of Stamford I saw this vista: