So after our eleventh flight landed in Los Angeles, Sally couldn’t contain her excitement, as her dad had also flown to LA to see us. She moved like a gazelle through the various halls and once she saw his face through the glass door started running towards him. It was all very emotional and so being a gentleman I let Sally and her dad catch up while I collected our bags.
After waiting for an hour for our bags we drove to our hotel in Santa Monica and went for a drink and a very late dinner. It was great being able to relay all our stories to someone after being just the two of us for so long, but I think her dad only heard every other word because we were telling them so quick! We sank a couple of bottles of red wine, some burgers and went to bed for a good night’s sleep before our fun packed weekend began.
The next morning over breakfast we set out a plan of all the things we wanted to do in LA before her dad left on the Monday. This gave us 2 and a half days to pack in Santa Monica, Hollywood, Beverley Hills, Rodeo Drive, Venice Beach, Universal Studios, a baseball game (LA Dodgers vs. San Diego Padres) and most importantly, dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse – the most incredible place you’ll ever eat steak!
We started Saturday morning with a walk down the Santa Monica pier in glorious sunshine and then jumped in the car to take a drive north up Santa Monica Boulevard to see Hollywood and the Walk of Fame, Beverley Hills and Sunset Boulevard. Hollywood isn’t that nice at all. It’s incredibly tacky and touristy and full of ‘actors’ dressed up in ridiculous costumes asking for money to pose for photos with them. The only interesting attraction is the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre where stars are asked to place foot and handprints into cement for people to see. Next door is the Kodak Theatre where the Oscars (and the American Idol Final) are held, and for 3 miles down Hollywood Boulevard is the Walk of Fame, where all kinds of actors, singers, performers and influential people in the arts have their names written on stars (also where Julia Roberts picked up Richard Gere in Pretty Woman – or so I was told by Sally). After 10 cringe inducing minutes and a disappointed look from my face (as I was expecting glitz and glamour with the occasional star walking past) we were off to see the much nicer sites of Beverley Hills. Beverley Hills is the complete opposite. It’s full of lush trees, clean and tidy streets, has hardly any traffic and it’s so posh, they even have their own design of road signs which are far more attractive and go with the whole “I’m rich, you’re not” feel of the place. Beverley Hills almost centres itself around Rodeo Drive which is the equivalent to our Bond Street – you never really feel that comfortable walking down it unless you have a black American Express card or a double barreled surname. But I was in awe and it seemed to repair some of damage that Hollywood did to my thoughts on LA. We had a lovely lunch in the sun and then drove back down towards Santa Monica and stopped off at Venice Beach to take a walk and see the sites.
If you’ve never been to Venice Beach before I’ll explain what it is. Venice Beach is a very long boardwalk (by the beach) where many different ‘people’ come to sell things, buy things or generally walk around showing off their tans, muscles or bodies. It’s full of freaks and weirdoes and there is a constant smell of pot and dirty people – think Camden on the beach! There are lots of people selling art, jewelry, ‘Your name on a grain of rice’ or just sat there waiting for people to ask them to tell them their fortune or read their palms. There are people with street acts like dancing, singing or stupid people who paint themselves in silver and stand still for hours at a time thinking this is a talent and asking for money. It also houses the famous Muscle Beach which actually doesn’t have any muscle builders in it at all. Those people are all obviously training in a proper gym. Instead, at Muscle Beach there are a few show-offs who spend more time standing with their bottles of water talking than actually lifting weights. Venice Beach isn’t somewhere I would go every weekend but it’s an experience and one that cannot be matched!
Now we get to the good part – Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. Sally had been telling me about this place since I met her and so it was necessary for me to try it out for myself. They have restaurants in most US cities and it is quite honestly the best beef you will ever taste in your life.
Apologies to vegetarians out there, but I believe vegetarians aren’t real people and shouldn’t be allowed to eat. I’m a man who needs meat with every meal. I won’t allow someone to cook anything that doesn’t have meat in it and he would never order anything that doesn’t have meat in it. Plus steak is my favourite meat so Sally and her dad knew I was in for a real treat! I ordered a T-Bone (42oz) as well as some creamed spinach and some fries. Ruth’s Chris serve their steaks on a small plate which comes out at 250° with your steak sizzling in butter on top. It really doesn’t need any more explanation; just believe that this is the best steak you will ever eat. Even the smell will make you believe it. Our steaks came out, I took one bite and the first 3 words that come out of my mouth were “wow”. I couldn’t believe what I was tasting, and I sat devouring it in complete silence and adoration. Amazingly, that wasn’t enough and when asked if we wanted anything for dessert we ordered 2 cheesecakes between us. American cheesecake is the best and being from Ruth’s Chris we knew it would be good and it was, although had you eaten the whole serving in one go after a steak covered in butter I think your heart would give up while you slept. (Sally and I finished the uneaten cheesecake the next evening in our room!).
The next day (the Sunday) Sally’s dad had booked tickets for the afternoon Dodgers v Padres baseball game. I was desperate to watch some live American sport while we were here.
A baseball game can last anywhere from a couple of hours to seven or eight hours so you have to take the whole thing seriously and by that I don’t just mean the watching of the game, but the experience that goes with it too. First, you have to wear something with a team name on it, so Sally and I got Dodgers hoodies and T-Shirts. Second, you have to know the various chants and musical interludes as well as the “Take me out to the ballgame” song and third, you have to be prepared to eat and drink your own body weight in popcorn, hotdogs, pretzels, peanuts, nachos and beer. We had all of that except the popcorn.
As soon as we got in Sally’s dad had disappeared to get beer, peanuts and nachos. Half an hour later (and only 1 inning in) he was up again asking us what hotdog we wanted and getting more beer. The third time he asked we both turned around with green faces and bloated stomachs and informed him that we actually couldn’t eat any more! It was a great afternoon though and the end result was great with the Dodgers winning!
As if we hadn’t consumed enough that day, Sally and her dad thought it would be great to take me to my first Benihana experience. Benihana is a famous Japanese restaurant found all over the world (there’s 2 in London) where chefs prepare and cook your food Tepanyaki style on a hotplate in front of you. Eight people can sit around 1 hotplate and the very skilled and quick chefs make it very fun and entertaining.
On our last day with Sally’s dad, we dragged him to Universal Studios. We’re huge fans of these kinds of movie parks as not only are there great rides and attractions but a ‘backlot tour’ as well. The backlot tour is a guided tram ride through the sound studios and exterior lots they use for filming movies and TV shows. For example we drove down Wisteria Lane from Desperate Housewives – although sadly I didn’t get to see Terri Hatcher, saw the Bates Motel from Psycho and drove past a miniature Skull Island they used in filming Peter Jackson’s King Kong. We also saw various cars from movies such as the Delorian from Back to the Future, jeeps and cages from Jurassic Park and cars from the Fast and the Furious.
We also did the new Simpsons ride which was just fantastic, the new The Mummy inside rollercoaster and the Backdraft ‘show’ where they tell you how they filmed the movie using so much fire and then put you in a room they used for a scene to show you how the fire is controlled and used – very hot indeed!
After that it was time for Sally’s dad to leave and go back home to London. Sally said a very teary goodbye and we headed back into the park to do a few more things before we left. Not knowing what it was we got in line for the House of Horrors. Sally was still upset from saying goodbye to her dad so wasn’t really listening to what the person on the intercom was saying – something about “they won’t touch you so don’t touch them”. We were stopped just as we got to the front of the line and told that it would be just a few more minutes before we could go in. Finally we were let in and we started walking through what seemed like a maze, very dark and decorated like a horror house. “Fine”, we thought, “we can cope with that, it’s not that scary”. Boy were we wrong. After a minute or so of walking, suddenly out of nowhere a person, dressed as a mummy, jumped out of a dark place and scared the living crap out of both of us. Sally screamed a blood curdling scream and as she tried to hide behind me smacked her nose on my shoulder and was in a lot of pain. The Mummy then went back to his place to scare the people after us. Basically it’s a scary house that people walk around and various staff members dressed in scary costumes jump out of nowhere or appear in order to scare you. At one point we walked past a Chucky Doll stuck to a wall, and right next to it was a standing Chucky doll, or what we thought was a doll. As we walked past it he jumped out at us and Sally screamed again and just started running. We then had to walk through a corridor of fake hanging bodies in plastic bags and of course you think one of them will be real and scare you so your heart is pounding harder and harder, but thankfully no one does. You see it’s very clever. Nothing happens when you expect it. No one jumps out of strategically placed dark corners, they come alive when you least expect it. The crunch came when towards the end a very tall, big Texas Chainsaw Massacre type character came walking towards us just after Sally had been scared by someone’s arm coming out through a graveyard iron fence. She lost control at that point, screamed and bolted and didn’t look back. Good to know she’s got my back if we are ever in that situation! As she turned to see where this character was she saw it was following her and as she told me she was about to burst into tears and scream at it to stop when she saw a light - it was the end of the house. She told me she’s never been so relieved! When I caught up with her outside she was physically shaking but we both agreed it was the best ride/show/attraction we’ve ever done!!
I’m going to leave you now with those harrowing thoughts, because my next blog will be from when we left LA to where we are now.