Flying South


I happen to be one of those rare Northern California natives that actually likes Los Angeles. (Caveat: Dodgers fans are not included in this fact.) It’s beautiful there, truly. It’s colorful, bright, kitchy, retro, warm and fun. It’s everything inherent in that notion of uncharted American expansion: the promise of the golden west, the edge of the continent, orange groves, palm trees in every backyard, sunshine, beaches, swimming pools, movie stars…The Coast.

This is the proverbial end of the line.

Descending into LAX, the Malibu beach houses start to hug the cliffs, contouring their lots to the jagged coastline. The PCH traffic is light, and I strain to see the fabled spot where Marion Davies’ fabled Ocean House once stood, although I know it’s long gone. The Getty Center comes into view as a shining white legoland at the top of a hill, as does the strange cylinder of the Hotel Angeleno at its base, hugging the 405 freeway. Then come the buildings sprouted along Wilshire – a weirdly arranged line of high towers stretching for miles; a long cut repaired with badly-sewn stitches. The famous Hollywood hills host curving, luscious streets of houses that I’ll never get to see inside of, and I begin to think of songs by Bob Seger and The Eagles. What is it like to live above the lights after all?

The plane floats downward, ever-deeper toward the Inland Empire, over Dodger Stadium, the skyscrapers of downtown, and the famous Dragnet pinnacle of City Hall. Banking right and changing direction, we parallel another plane on its way into landing. The cement-lined Los Angeles river is another scar running north-south this time, as far as can be seen. The perfect oval of Hollywood Park signals final descent. Even the runway seems to be lined with palm trees.

Our hotel, The Chamberlain, is nestled on a quiet street above Wilshire and is designed as a boutique Hollywood Regency-style chic spot. Shiny silver and ice blue are paired with black lacquer, heavy gold trim, and unusually shaped chairs. It is not until I get to my room that I realize the place must have been a former apartment house converted to hotel. Here, the palette is grey on grey, the bathroom is pokey and dark, but there’s a fireplace and a deck, and some of the most luxurious sheets I’ve ever slept on.

The morning comes too quickly (especially where those sheets are concerned,) and the early news features traffic reports that take longer than the weather and camerawork from news helicopters of police actions. As Snoop Dogg says: "Los Angeles...where the helicopters got cameras..." I pull back my curtain to see a streak of orangey-green dawn banding a navy blue night sky, punctuated by the perfect sharp silhouette of a singular palm tree.

Just another perfectly beautiful So-Cal morning.

In fact, the sky remains perfectly blue all day, not a whisper of smog, and the hilltops and snowy peaks are always in view. A walk along Robertson at lunch gets me creating wishlists at Kitson and Madison, so much so that I don’t even notice the paparazzi stalking the curb outside of The Ivy.

My sunglasses get dug out from the bottom of my bag after weeks of rest, and I point my face toward the sun with eyes closed. My bones even begin to feel warmer. Not heated, just caressed by the warm light after so many days of damp. The light is different here – the sun is lower, more golden, bright and permeating.

Perhaps it shows too much, for despite the gleaming towers and sexy billboards along Sunset, there is still that undercurrent of strangeness. There’s something sad about the odd storefronts, dying restaurants, and the harsh flaking-stucco on scary Day of the Locust apartment complexes with aluminum windows. For each pocket of glamour there’s a jar of cold cream.

Flying out is nearly the same as flying in. The PCH and its spindly palms pass under the plane as we leave land and head over the Pacific. Banking right at the Channel Islands, we pick up the coast again just north of Santa Barbara. It’s only a few minutes before the unrolled-cotton clouds of our fog bank begin to appear over the water in an even coastline of its own. San Francisco's light is misty, mysterious, fleeting at this time of year. Our wind is ever-present and chilly; my coat, stripped and forgotten in L.A. is now immediately necessary.

But I felt it – that promise of warmth on my skin, that perfect comfort of a 72-degree day, and my soul and body are somehow refreshed. There is something to be said for flying south…