Return to Gringoland

So when we left off at the end of The Vegas Adventure, I had just left my good friend Chris in the blinding light of a Vegas morning, to fend for himself on the Strip for one last day. While he wandered around in a daze, trying to think of things we’d forgotten to do (most of our To Do List, it turns out) I raced to the bus station, past sad wedding chapels, dingy hotels and offices where bikini girls on posters urge you to “get your bail bond here!”.

I’ve taken many a Greyhound bus in my time, it being the only transport between my hometown and Brisbane, where I study back in Australia. They’re always an experience – you’ve got your drunken vagabonds being loud up the back, the child that throws up, the other child that will scream for the entire trip, and a driver who’ll leave the baggage hold open, fall asleep at the wheel or leave someone behind. My American Greyhound experience was a bit of a contrast – Americans are so friendly that a sense of community sprouted immediately between the Polish driver, the Mexican couples sitting in front, the African American guy sitting beside me and the Vietnam veteran up the back. They were all probably wondering who the Mormon was sitting next to the black dude (me, still in Vegas suit). Desert turned into metropolis over five hours and as I dodged the dealers outside the bus station in downtown Los Angeles, a familiar voice let me know that no, I wasn’t going to have to start looking for a hostel.

All in all, not much happened in Los Angeles. I was there to visit a friend I’d met in Bogota a few weeks after I first got here, who’d since left to chase dreams of music stardom in California. The guitarist in her band was at the bus station too, a nice Australian dude named Chris who married a local and has been playing in various bands in Los Angeles for years. “Mate it sounds so good to hear the accent again,” he said as we got into his convertible – anyone who knows how I feel about running into other Australians abroad will tell you what kind of effect that had. But he was a nice guy, nice enough to take us out for dinner, and drive us out to Santa Monica, Venice Beach, the Hollywood sign, the Griffith Observatory and Universal City with the top down.

My friend lives in Hollywood, a few minutes walk from the thoroughly underwhelming Hollywood Boulevard. There’s a bunch of stars on the pavement with people’s names on them, most of which I didn’t recognise: “Oh yeah, Alec Baldwin, I think I saw him in a movie once. Cool.” There’s a bunch of theatres and clubs where Chris would point out random star-related facts: “Jim Morrison used to stay in that hotel for a while”, or “Guns and Roses recorded (insert album name) there”. There’s also a lot of homeless people screaming at invisible assailants, pretty girls who look like life’s been a little tough on them and aspiring actors and musicians printing off scripts and posters at the local FedEx. A lot of people I met seemed eager to impress you with the famous people they’d encountered: friends who live next door to Halle Berry, chance encounters with the lead singer of so-and-so, people who say they knew Michael Jackson’s maid, and so it goes on. Celebrities don’t get me near as excited as, say, the guacamole my housemate makes, but if that sort of thing floats your boat, you’ll enjoy Los Angeles.

I was only there for three days or so, and in the very centre of the swirling cloud of bullshit, smoke and mirrors that is Hollywood so I can’t really speak with authority. But the city seems full of people dedicating themselves entirely to something that has room for only a select few. The fact that you’re living among, even interacting with celebrities – the very people you’re trying to be – makes it all feel so tantalisingly close. People forget about acting or making music for the love and become focused on simply “getting there”. There’s a lot of people in bands and TV shows they hate, solely to “make connections”. I imagine it’d be enough to make you go crazy. Many are.

The Hollywood sign is perfectly representative of the city as a whole. It’s a landmark immortalised in countless movies and photographs, a physical incarnation of the supposed ‘larger-than-life’ nature of Los Angeles. In reality, you park at the edge of a national park, a little scrap of dirt road surrounded by mansions whose owners are not too receptive to gawking tourists. Within two minutes a friendly police officer turns up, telling you to move your car back into the designated parking space – five metres behind where you parked. The closest you can get to the sign is halfway up the hill – any closer and you’ll trip censors that will, apparently, send helicopters charging over the hill, loudspeakers screaming at you to go back down. And it is, after all, just a sign. You look up and see workmen re-surfacing the ‘wood’ part. You take a photo. You hang around and say “Well, there it is.” Then you leave.

One great thing about Los Angeles, and the United States in general, is its diversity. Colombia has barely any incoming immigration, and although there are definitely differences between costeños, paisas etc, it’s nothing on the mix of African, European, Asian, Latino, Indian and Arab culture you’ll find in North America. Colombia is almost completely mono-cultural by comparison. It reminded me of Australia and the fact that, like the United States, multiculturalism is one of our country’s biggest assets.

All told, Los Angeles is not a place that needs another look. It was great to see my friend and her new life up there, but I also managed to prove my ineptitude with anything that involves feelings. Changing stations on the long metro ride out to the airport I got my very own “Cops” moment, where two plainclothes policemen arrested a guy standing next to me on the platform who, it turned out, had a gun in his pocket. Meanwhile, a helicopter scoured the surrounding streets from above with a searchlight. I had Inner Circle’s “Bad Boys” stuck in my head all the way to Fort Lauderdale. Almost twenty-four hours in planes and airports later I was back home in Bogota, which greeted me with sunshine and a very messy chivas party. Although the U.S. looks a lot like Australia in many ways, I felt much more at home stepping out of the shiny new El Dorado airport and chatting with the taxi driver on the road home to La Candelaria. I love this country.

Venice Beach

California

Cheers to Chris for taking this one.

Santa Monica, looking up towards Malibu

Santa Monica Pier.

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