We dropped our bags at the hotel, The Farmer’s Daughter, on Fairfax Avenue. The neighborhood was liminal. To the south were Ethiopian strivers–restaurant proprietors and hairdressers. Neatly kept, one-story homes and apartment buildings sat back from the sidewalk palm trees. To the north were offbeat boutiques and gritty bars that at once disdained and coveted the wealth that glittered a mile to the west in Beverly Hills. Across the street was a shopping megalopolis, The Grove.
We walked along Third Avenue, stopped for dinner at Mercado, an upscale Mexican restaurant. I ordered a beer. Across the street was a Trader Joe’s. Security guards escorted a man from TJs. He was screaming. He marched across Third Avenue, entered Mercado, brandishing a bible.
“If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person?” he declaimed.
Restaurant staff emerged from the kitchen, sheathed in dirty aprons. They took him by the arms, tried to walk him back outside. “Wait!” He pointed at a table–a father, mother, and two young children. “All I ever wanted was to be on ESPN. It didn’t happen. We’ve got to love one another.” He bowed his head. The line cooks and sous-chefs trundled him out of the dining room. I drained my beer. Our tacos arrived.
We awoke early to visit the University of Southern California. The campus is an island of affluence in a working class neighborhood. Our tour guide was a chemical engineering major from Chicago–earnest, wholesome, ambitious. I wanted to restart my life. Here.
We got up, coffee-ed, and walked to a gym on Beverly Avenue. Old School, a weight room with a few treadmills packed in the corner. Two incredibly fit trainers, men in their 20s, worked with middle-aged women. The young guns cajoled, complimented, and coached their clients through reps with light dumb bells.
We showered, changed, and motored out to Pasadena for a business meeting. The town is upscale–exclusive restaurants and boutiques, a Scientology synagogue half a block from Colorado Avenue, and battalions of activists collecting signatures for petitions against human trafficking and animal rights.
We returned to the hotel, napped. We drove to Bel Air for a late dinner at Vibrato, a jazz club owned by Herb Alpert. On our way back to the hotel, we took Mulholland Drive. Los Angeles glittered below.
We drove to Malibu, California as we see it in our dreams. We hiked past mansions into Escondido Canyon Park.
“How much do you think these houses cost?”
“I would guess at least $20 million.”
We marveled at the real estate of the 1% of the 1%. We drained our water bottles.
After our hike, we drove to Santa Monica, rented bikes, and pedaled along the Pacific. We rode through the bohemian and slightly carney spectacle of Venice to Marina Del Rey, a collection of nondescript condos that could have been transplanted from San Diego, Miami, or anywhere senior citizens congregate to collect sun and Social Security.
At midnight, we drove to LAX for the journey back east.