My next outing in the US was a week-long trip to Los Angeles and to California, this time only with Vasanthi, as Preethi opted not to travel all that distance and time with Jeevthi.
We went to Los Angeles by train from Phoenix, by the Sunset Express run by Amtrak. Phoenix doesn’t have a railway station, and we had to board the train at the nearest Amtrak station called Maricopa, which was about 50 miles from our place. It was a unique experience for me. I had expected to see a big station with at least a few platforms. I was really surprised when the taxi dropped us at a small building not even half the size of my house in Ambattur. There was a reception hall with a few chairs, and a booking counter on one side where no one was there. There was a bell to call the railway personnel. I found that the station was manned by just one person, who verified the ticket, informed us that the train was on time and asked us to wait. A few more chairs were laid in the open outside the hall. A small platform by the side of the track was there, but it was fenced and closed. We were given a small card bearing the coach number.
When the train arrived, passengers were called by the coach numbers. I observed that the platform was just one coach length, and the train was made to move coach by coach at that station, and at each halt, after the alighting passengers cleared the platform, the boarding passengers were called and escorted in. This was something new and unheard of for me! It took a whole 10 minutes or more for the train to accommodate all the boarding passengers. The cabins on the side of the coach, though compact, are spacious enough to sleep two passengers one above the other. There are five or six such cabins on both sides of the aisle on each coach. Fresh juice and coffee were available at a corner outside the cabins. The toilet is a little cramped, smaller than an aircraft toilet, but neat. Unfortunately, I was not able to take photographs of the train.
We arrived in LA very early – by 4.45 am. I was willing to explore the metro, but Vasanthi was more worried about safety at that hour and so we took a taxi to the hotel. We called the hotel to enquire how much it would cost the taxi and were informed that it would be anywhere between $20 and $30. When the taxi reached the hotel, I was amazed to note the fare - $25, exactly between 20 and 30 as told by the hotel!
Immediately on reaching Quality Inn hotel we went for a nap because it was too early to do anything, but overslept and woke up at 8.30. Our plan of visiting the Universal Studios had to be altered because Pepu had alerted us that we should be there by 8 in the morning if we were to have a good trip. We decided to make it to Disneyland instead and made our way through to the Metro Redline Hollywood Highland station and took train and bus to reach Disneyland by 11. It was an enjoyable trip, but we were left with the feeling that it would have been more enjoyable with our kids around. Vasanthi was happy to see so many families having a jolly time with their children. We made some of the rides and skipped some, aiming to get out by 7 in order to catch the bus back to LA. We even skipped a third of the most entertaining evening parade, but locating the bus-stop ended up a Herculean task, no one helping us there. Finally, we managed to catch the bus and train to reach the Hollywood Highland station at around 10 pm. Once we got to the main road from the station, we found the road busy even at that time and walked all the way to hotel, reaching there by 10.30 pm. The restaurant had closed, so we ordered pizza, but even that was not delivered, so we went without food in America!
The next day we made it quickly on time in the morning and were there at the Universal Studios by 9-9.15, only to be told that we would be let in only at 10am! We enjoyed Studio tour, the House of Horrors, the 4-D show and some of the other rides, but the much hyped WaterWorld turned out to be a bore for us. We managed lunch time with a bowl of salad for me and a fruit cup for Vasanthi. At the end of all this, Vasanthi quickly got bored of the rides and just wished to just see places with adequate rest in between. So we got out of the Universal Studios, did some window shopping on the areas outside the Studios and came back to the hotel rather early that day. We took rest for some time and by the time we got up, we were feeling really hungry. I ordered a medium pizza and it was so hot and juicy and delicious with cheese and veggies and homemade tomato ketchup that we devoured the whole medium pizza in a jiffy before going to bed.
On the third day, we had to catch the flight for San Jose and had to be at the airport by 5.30pm. So we decided to do the half-day sightseeing on open van in the morning. It was an enjoyable trip, taking us round and round in LA down town and then to Hollywood and Beverley Hills drive, showing us the houses of rich and famous film stars. Back at the hotel by 12:30, we took time to walk to the Indian restaurant about half a mile away and had some very tasty and filling Indian food after a long time. We came back to the hotel, took a brief rest at the lobby (we had checked out in the morning itself) and left around 3.30pm, to take the train to the airport. We had to take three trains – the redline, the blue line and the greenline trains to reach the nearest station to the airport, from where airport shuttles took us to our terminals.
Tapping their system
The Metro rail in LA astonished me in its efficiency. Though it looked unfriendly at the beginning – there are only computer terminals at the station and no one to guide you how to use them – with a little time exploring the menus, you get to know what is what.
They have done away with paper tickets and have introduced a plastic card that is called, yes, right, the TAP card, which you need to buy for $1. Once bought, you can keep it and use it again and again by adding value for each travel. Each travel one way in each line (red, green or blue) costs $1.5 and once you know how much travel is involved, you can add value according to that. Day passes and week passes at concessional rates are also available for multi-use on the same day/week.
Within the second day of our arrival in LA, we got the hang of the system and were happily using it until our departure.
Our stay in LA was enjoyable on many counts. We were on our own, giving us the opportunity to explore, exercise choice and learn, as against being escorted and spoonfed. We had time at our disposal. The city was cool and transport systems were very user-friendly. Though some of the guides warned us about the ‘character guys’ on the pedestrian paths – those dressed like spiderman, robots, etc., - we did not encounter any problem or situation anywhere. Flesh trade was very much there for those who seek it – after all, LA is the ‘entertainment capital’ of the world! There were girls on the platform, wearing skimpy dresses with rifles attached to their jackets and jutting straight out of the breasts, and inviting in a husky voice, “care for some adventure?”, but they did not in any way block your way or force you to listen to them.
What made us remember India there while going around LA was probably a much less clean surrounding than in Phoenix (some places were dirty enough) and the presence of beggars (yes, we saw many of them – sitting on benches in the bus-stops, standing on the pedestrian paths at important cross-roads). From her dress and complexion you could never guess she would be a beggar, but we even saw a young girl carrying an infant begging on the train! Beware USA, poverty is catching up even with you, at the very doors of Entertainment Capital!