Long Day In LA

Amtrak Adventure 16/31 (about October 15th, 2021)

This is coming out a bit late—apologies! I fell asleep early by accident.

I didn’t know this before yesterday, but LAX is right next to the water! For some reason, I had thought it was more inland, near to the mountains. But it was—so when we flew in at 8a, the first thing we did was head to the nearby Dockweiler State Beach on the recommendation of my coworker Rebekah.

The Uber ride there was funny—our driver did not share Rebekah’s opinion of the beach. “Hi! You’re going to… Dockweiler??” was her first greeting—after which she asked skeptically if we had been to LA before (yes), had been to that beach before (no, but we had a trusted recommendation), knew that it was a [hushed whisper tone] state beach (yes) and that there was an RV park (no), and after a few-minute pause told us dramatically about how she used to work in the area, had to bike past the beach sometimes, would not recommend it, and made us promise to walk south towards some Better Beaches if we (inevitably) found it unsatisfactory.

So, we were a little hesitant getting out of the car. But… it was great?

Perfect temperature, beautiful waves, warm soft sand, not a soul in sight (except for some friendly surfers). It’s probably the best beach I’ve ever been to. Who knew—judgmental people can be wrong sometimes! 😳

We were there for 3 hours. We touched the ocean, I did some work (quite a great environment for catching up on Slack), and we finished it out with a 90-minute nap in the sun (duly covered with sunscreen, clothes, and blankets).

As we ran across the sand yelling “hot” with every step on our way out, we glanced back and saw some fins cresting a few hundred feet away! Mattea excitedly peered out to identify them, and concluded it was a pod of dolphins (either that or orcas, but they were quite small with no white; definitely some kind of “large delphinids”).

And with that, we were off again—riding to downtown! On the way, we took the highway through Hawthorne and I got a picture of the first ever landed orbital rocket booster, a trophy that’s mounted outside SpaceX’s headquarters there.

Pop quiz: what was our first stop downtown?

Y’all know the drill by now: it was the main branch of the LA Public Library, where we sat and worked for ~5 hours (until it was about to close)!

Unfortunately, this one doesn’t have a majestic vaulted reading room; there’s a gorgeous atrium on one side of the building, which leads down to successive levels of pretty-standard library (stacks, computers, the occasional table).

Each of the four underground levels (where said stacks/workspaces are) is associated with a Dewey topic or two; we set up in the Science, Patents & Technology level. There were a few dozen architectural models of famous buildings around, which were fun to try identifying when we needed a break!

Interestingly, some of the escalators were the width of one person; I’ve never seen anything like that before! It obviously makes sense that escalators can have different widths, but it still feels very strange to ride ones that aren’t the standard ~3 feet wide.

We wrapped up and walked out just before the library closed.

Suddenly, we found ourselves in the middle of downtown LA, which is not at all what either of us expected it to be. I picked up the notion somewhere that LA is basically a bunch of suburbs wrapped together pretending to be a city; that there isn’t really a downtown; and that it’s essentially a giant parking lot, covered completely in concrete and asphalt with sparsely a tree around. This is not the case.

Instead, it’s a lot like a combination of SF, Seattle, and Chicago: hilly and warm, with lots of skyscrapers and trees lining the streets. That norm is interspersed with cutting highways, which are in turn lined with homeless encampments. All throughout, every few blocks, are small and lovely parks.

Most of the restaurants are grouped in a few dense locations, though—so it took us a good half hour of wandering in the vague direction of the train station to give up and use the phone GPS to backtrack find one.

It was Italian, very delicious—I’m omitting pictures though, because this update is already way too big and most people have finite email storage. I had gnocchi with an umami-heavy stew-like meat and mushroom sauce, and Mattea got a distinctly unique macaroni & cheese (textured noodles, rich cheeses… it’s hard to describe).

And then we continued on our way, eventually finding LA’s Union Station!

(Almost all train stations in big American cities are either called “Union Station” or “Penn Station.” I haven’t checked, but my working hypothesis is that these names come from being built by the Union Pacific or Pennsylvania railroads, respectively.)

We mainly used the waiting time (most of the evening) to decompress; I caught up on YouTube, Mattea took a nap, we tried to watch Foundation only to be stymied by a screaming four-year-old whose adult didn’t even try to quiet them… and so on.

And then we boarded the Texas Eagle, our longest train yet! It’s scheduled to take 63 hours, so we’re due into Chicago on Monday afternoon (pending any delays).

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