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Travel log Southern California

Current location: LA

MyFriendsInChile were spending a bit of their winter/summer vacation in San Diego this year, to meet with G's family, and I figured this was actually doable for a carless nebbish, compared to their annual stay in Malibu, and flew out to meet them. My figuring was technically correct: it was indeed more doable, though still not trivially easy, with a nearby busline that runs every 30 minutes at best, and not too late. I ended up splurging on an apartment a mile away so I could walk, and that was my only walkable option out of what had looked like multiple Airbnb rooms. And then it turned out I was paying a price discounted for construction work later into my stay.



But I did visit, and I had fun. Meeting G's family was neat, and I kind of see more of where he and his gregarious friendliness come from. I ended up not acting on any of my plans to see much of San Diego, nor even take public transit. Not to my surprise, I fell into my "hungry for friendship" mode and spent my time with what felt like an expanded virtual family. It was, after all, only for four days (or so I thought!) As for transit, I took Lyft from the airport, and got a friendly ride to a train station on the way out.

Firsts

The cheap flight would have been a $500+ round trip on United. I decided though that I might try going further up the coast to see other friends while I'm here, amortizing the travel time. And I'd never flown JetBlue before and wanted to try it, so ended up spending about $500 on a one-way with "Even More Room". Which is true, the leg room was pretty decent. I didn't appreciate their charging for headphones, pillow, or blankets, though... Despite the higher prices, the plane was completely full, too.

Security was odd. Seemed like every other person in line was getting their hands swabbed (not me), but we didn't have to take off our shoes or laptops out of bags. And the scanner looked like an old fashioned metal detector.

As for getting from the airport, in the college days I'd have looked up SuperShuttle or something. My hostess suggested Uber, as half the price ($18-24) of taxis ($35-40.) I've heard of Uber and Lyft, and Lyft has a friendlier reputation, so having downloaded apps for both, I decided to try that. $18, and a very friendly Samantha driver. So that was good, and I also have yet another reason to appreciate having abandoned my N900 for a modern Android phone.

Quirks and serendipity

So my place was actually a one bedroom house all to myself. My hostess had provided a bottle of wine, but not soap, kleenex, or paper towels. Her agent had forgotten the Paper with the Wifi code and restaurant recommendations, maybe those got forgotten too, I dunno. The house also came with two coaster bikes and some boggier boards. I ended up not entering the water, but the bike turned out to be nice, turning a 20 minute walk in the sun into a 10 minute ride along the beach. Coaster brakes are pretty freaky when your whole adult life is used to handlebar brakes; I'm quite glad I was near a beach walk straight to G&S's place, as that avoided cars and slopes. My braking instincts were all wrong, and the brakes didn't seem all that powerful in the face of gravity, when I biked back one night along the sidewalks and down a small incline.

My first night I wandered out for food, thinking I might make Trader Joe's before it closed. Turned out that San Diego confused my phone's GPS until I rebooted it and I was going in the opposite direction. Which meant I hit the shore right at 9:50pm, to fireworks. Why fireworks on Monday July 7th? Turns out SeaWorld shoots them off *every single night* for the summer, for closing time or something, as a couple on a bench told me. I got to watch those, then more for the rest of the week, while informing my friends due to my superior contact with the natives. Woo!

Even better, when I finally did hit Garnet -- the local restaurant and shops strip -- well past 10, i found that TJ there closes at 9. So instead of a hard-pressed walk ending in disappointment, I got fireworks. Woo!

Garnet had a 24 hour taco+ stand, which had some tasty tacos and less tasty burrito. I forget the names; the taco was closely related to al pastor, while the burrito was new. Machada? Beef and egg and stuff, not to my taste. Garnet also had a drive-thru Starbucks. o_O

Catalyst

One of my unexpected talents seems to be catalyzing group dinners among college friends who usually don't see each other, when I visit a place. This turned out to be another instance.

G: Are you going to see anyone else while you're here?
Me: I don't think I know anyone here.
G: What about S&K? I think they're still in La Jolla. We'll be busy with family but you could go see them.
M: Oh right, them! *contacts K on Facebook, which G couldn't do due to avoiding it*
K: I have the week off and could do lunch! And we have a minivan plus a car! And R&L are visiting too! Group dinner?
G&S: Hmm actually...
M: *spends an afternoon on Facebook as go-between, setting things up*
Everyone: *awesome dinner and night back at S&K's, and resumed contact with R, and exchanged phone numbers and updated e-mails*

And Saturday plans involving G&S going to Legoland by commuter train and me going to LA by noon Amtrak turned into a S-mediated aquarium trip, with a later ride to the station for me and a full ride to Legoland for the Chileans. S was kind enough to return the rental housekey I'd forgetfully walked away with, too.

Amtrak

So, how to actually leave San Diego? Flying from SF to LA always seemed silly: you go up, you go down. And this is half the distance! You'd spend more time going to the airports... Buses kind of suck, though. Amtrak? Quite tempting: $37 on the Pacific Surfliner, multiple trains, and an Amtrak app made it easy to buy tickets. Even better, the app made it easy to change the ticket (for free!) when the aquarium plans intervened, and moderately easy to find that the trains wouldn't stop at the nearest station to S's.

The train itself? Way more comfortable then the bus, yeah. With power, though I guess Megabus had power too (unlike my Jetblue seat.) Probably a much better view too, at least for the first bit. And some really amazing geology just south of San Clemente Pier, which stop itself is a small town right on the beach; I was tempted to hop off right there. View got more boring and inland north of there.

I chatted a bit with a Mexican couple in front of me, after the woman asked where people were getting drinks from. Then I scouted out the train, checking all the cars until I found the business class. No lounge car, but a cafe car (so I could finally tell her whence the drinks.) I also discovered the forward coach cars were much less populated than my initial one, and I relocated to avoid headphone leakage and get what would have been an oceanside seat had we not thoroughly moved inland by then.

So, good experience. I've got a Coast Starlight ticket later to go to Oakland, though that's wonkier; only one a day, I think -- if you want frequency you have to take a bus to Bakersfield first, eww, for the San Joaquin. 11 hours on the Starlight (or Starlate as some call it) which has always seemed ridiculous to me since Eugene drove me the distance in 4.5 or maybe even 4 hours once. Going quite fast, yes. I guess even the bus normally does 8, and the Starlight takes a more sinuous route.

Tempted to train up to Washington in a couple of weeks, though that'd mean catching the one Starlight at a supposed time of 9:45pm and actual time of who knows.

Also tempted to take a train back to Boston. I do have the time...

LA

Union Station: has parts much nicer looking than Penn Station, which is a total dump.
Home: further from the train that I thought; Google Maps directions on my phone says a 27 minute walk, though Google Maps on the web says 22, and likewise a shorter walk to the Chinatown Gold Line station.
It's 12:20 on a Friday night and noise isn't bad, especially with my earplugs in, so that's good.

Outside: there was some Chinatown Summer Festival going on. Not that exciting for me: food trucks with very longs line, a couple of not at all Chinese bands. At 7 one of them was catchy and cute, with lots of children on the dance area playing with shiny paper. When I came back at 10 it had gone to pounding rave.
Ate at Golden Dragon Seafood. "pork and shrimp dumplings" turned out to be a double order of siu mai. Baked scallops with pepper and garlic sauce were decent.

Wandering around I stumbled on the Ernie Wolfe Gallery which was showing lots of hand-painted movie posters for Chinese action films... painted in Ghana by Ghanaian artists. #ghanapop Nothing was obviously for sale, making it an odd gallery, but I know little about the gallery world.

Smelled pot from the sidewalk a couple of times. Saw lone cops or security guards standing outside a couple of buildings. One of which was also a pot smell area.

Stupid tickets

K, back in San Diego, got dinged for a rolling stop in her car. Said the ticket itself might be $50 but "fees" could bring it up to $300. (Drivers and rolling stops). My host here in LA said he got a $300 fine for some left hand turn that went awry due to a pedestrian running out in front of him. This reminded me that I'd heard of LA cracking down on jaywalking and he said $300 for that too. The article says $197 for starting walking during a Don't Walk countdown. Yeesh.



Plans

I dunno. Hopefully I can see a few friends though nothing's arranged yet. The Getty would be nice. LA Zoo? I'd meant to explore LA more by the modern train system, though right now I'm grumpy at being not as close to it as I'd expected.

More on the awesomephone

In 2010 I got the N900 a bit before my Europe trip, and really appreciated the GPS, checking e-mail or even doing AIM chat (I IMed from a Paris restaurant), and reading ebooks. Now I've got Android and can appreciate a web browser that really works, apps, and tethering... actually that's a mixed bag; the N900 tethered fine, and Samsung Android did, but Cyanogen didn't. It can set up a wifi hotspot, though, and my host's internet is out so I'm using that wifi right now. I'm still missing the ability to easily copy files to and from the phone, though, stupid Google and MTP. But Google's "find directions" plus all the transport apps (transit, Uber, Lyft, Amtrak) are pretty awesome. I've also used Google Play to suck down a bunch of free ebooks; there's other ways of doing that, but hey. The way it can switch between "original pages" and flowing (OCRed) text is neat.

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