TL;DR | Our traffic-to-celebrities ratio was way too high, but we got to see lots of wonderful people, do the most touristy things available, and eat some In-N-Out burgers!
We should preface this entry by saying that we were very close to skipping this stop entirely. Stephen has already been, Carolyn didn't care, and while Emily had never been, she felt pretty confident it would not be her scene. What made the decision was really the fact that Carolyn would have had to fly out of Vegas if not LA, and what was an under-21-year-old going to do in Vegas?
So we went. We waded through traffic to an apartment we rented in West Hollywood. It was a nice enough apartment, and the shower was especially appreciated. That first night we decided to take a friend of Carolyn's recommendation and headed to a restaurant in Korea-town, which ended up being one of the best meals we had. It was traditional barbecue style where you simply order a combo and have to guess what food is brought to the table. Everything is cooked on a fire pit in the middle of the table surrounded by a bunch of sides. One of these sides we were curious about was yellow, liquidy, and tasted vaguely sweet. We found out later it was raw egg, and we were supposed to wait until it had been cooked to eat. Oh well: the ribeye, kimchee, short ribs, and plethora of other items made for a fun experience.
Our meal made the first night in LA a success, but the following day felt like one traffic jam after another (which it was). Because it is LA, we had to drive everywhere, so even though we saw the Walk of Fame, the Hollywood Sign, the downtown area, and USC, it felt like we had seen nothing but the inside of the car. With the California Coast recent in our rear view mirrors, the difference was stark and frustrating…even to people who have spent the last two months driving.
The awesome people we visited mediated the grotesque traffic. We had breakfast with Stephen and Carolyn's Aunt Esther on Venice beach, a meal filled with hilarious stories of Esther's exploits and travels. At 93 her favorite song is She’s Got a Way with Words – and she works out way more frequently than either of us do. We did the most classically California tourist thing we could do and rented rollerblades to navigate the Venice Beach boardwalk. Sure it was cliché, but also a ton of fun which culminated in some overpriced soft-serve (they were out of chocolate!). We also met up with Emily's cousin Annie, who is attending USC, over Mexican food by the campus, and got dinner with Rhonda, Fred, Kate, and AJ – family friends of Stephen and Carolyn. We were generously treated to a wonderful Italian meal and enjoyed the chance to catch up and relax before heading back into traffic.
Suffice it to say we loved seeing old friends and family, but we were not sad to bid farewell to LA. While Carolyn flew out of LAX (took us 15 minutes to travel the last ½ mile), we made our way to Joshua Tree National Park for one night of camping before hitting Las Vegas. While Joshua Tree is brutally hot during the day in the summer, we arrived in the late afternoon and enjoyed an almost empty campground and a cool breeze (most people go there in the fall or early spring to avoid the heat). We spent the evening playing cards and watching the stars grow brighter, illuminating the strange Joshua Trees that are everywhere. We grabbed coffee in the town the next morning before hitting road to Vegas, leaving one natural wonder for another, wholly unnatural one.