“Stop and smell the roses,” they say. Well, you know what? I did, I do, and will continue to bow down and inhale their sweet, delicate fragrance because it is one of the simplest, most beautiful pleasures in life.
Hardly a day goes by that I don’t think about New York. I miss it. I long for it. It was the first city I truly fell in love with. Looking through my photos brings back so many memories; I’m so glad I was given a camera to capture the city’s moments. New York always looks beautiful; never dull or boring. I looked over at the island Manhattan so many times from Williamsburg, and felt nostalgic for the New York I dreamt about at home in Sydney. It’s Williamsburg that I really miss the most. I wonder if I will recognize it when I return.
Echo Park: You could say it echoes Brooklyn’s Bushwick; it might even be compared to nearby Silver Lake (a less developed version of it , anyway). This neighbourhood, located 10 minutes from downtown LA, has that energetic feel so prominent of communities that attract a newly-moved-in younger demographic of artists, foodies, and entrepreneurs.
Take Brite Spot, for example. I’ll admit to having passed it a few time, only to dismiss it as just another old-school American diner. Hey, it’s painted bright blue, it’s on busy Sunset Boulevard, and claims to be Echo Park’s original diner since 1949. Ever since I tasted “the best margarita” in New York, I have avoided places making grand statements. However, my husband was convinced is was going to be a find based on many favourable Yelp reviews, so with a twist of the arm, my tummy gave in. We hopped in the car on one very warm Sunday in May and drove inland for brunch.
I have to say that when I entered the diner, I was quite taken with its cosy interior. Even more promising was that the place was buzzing with all sorts: yuppies huddled in a booth discussing last night’s drinking antics, grandparents feeding grandkids; a lone brunette in the corner reading the paper and eating eggs over easy. The space looks like a 1970s ski chalet crossed with grandma-chic — bronze vinyl booths and large windows that let in the gorgeous L.A. light line one side; perpendicular to it is a wall of mirrors, interspersed with retro-looking black-and-white light sconces. Wooden swivel pub chairs surround the central coffee bar, mood lit by an overhanging orbital chandelier. On the menu: on-trend items like egg-topped kale salad, vegan Garden Burger, as well as modern twists of the usual diner fare: 2 eggs any style with sausage and bacon (note: substitutes include egg whites, tofu, or veggie bacon). But it’s the dessert display case that was the apple of my husband’s eye — I immediately knew that our meal would end with a piece of the sinful-looking Chocolate Caramel Banana Creme Pie, piled high with lashings of freshly-whipped cream. I have to admit that our meal was good. Really good, and fairly priced.
Served by a tattooed, plaid-shirt-wearing waitress and surrounded by patrons of all ages — yuppies discussing last night’s drinking antics, grandparents feeding grandkids; a bookish young lady reading the paper over eggs in a corner — Brite Spot Diner feels like a microcosm of what’s happening in Echo Park today.
So, what is going on in this ‘hood? Here’s what Eric Brightwell wrote in the Los Angeles Times back in late 2011:
All you hipster-haters need to check yourself. Yes, hipsters are offensive to the eyes, ears and nose and yes, they provoke violent urges in me but remember, the Echo Park you grew up in wasn’t always that way either. Echo Park began as a wealthy, white, Victorian neighborhood. Places change for the better and for the worse. I remember El Prado when it was a dive (I liked it then) and like it as a posh wine bar too (certainly there are more women in there now).
I miss some of the old Echo Park but it’s still got the Film Center, Pizza Buona, Echo Park lake, the Baxter Stairs, the memory of Room 8 the Cat, Jensen’s Rec Center (with its cool sign).
My advice? Ignore the haters, the hipsters and (most importantly) the hype. It’s not the Williamsburg of LA, it’s Echo Park… oh, and lying WEST of the LA River, don’t be an idiot and call it the EASTside.*
Today, the facades that stretch along this part of Sunset Blvd look relatively unchanged; the burrito joints, liquor store, and tobacconist have probably been here since the 1960s. It’s easier to make out progress by the new condo developments that have been fitted in between many Craftsman-style homes, standing since the early 1900s. If you take a drive down the quieter Echo Park Ave, you’ll pass newly sprouted coffee shops selling $5 coffee pour overs to a WiFi-dependent clientele, as well as a yoga studio, a quirky boutique, hair salon, a bodega, and a real estate agent.
Based on some research I had done earlier, we scouted a beautiful home on Valentine Street. Designed by architect Raphael Sorriano and built in 1938, it is a salute to Modernism – sleek , simple, and lots of windows. Because the neighbourhood is so hilly, many homes have great views towards the Hollywood sign, Griffith Observatory, downtown LA, the Valley and the 5 Freeway. Some downhill descents are so steep that with the gradual build up of momentum, and a subsequent “woosh,” you feel like you’re riding a rollercoaster.
Echo Park is certainly an area to watch and has the familiar feeling of a community on the verge… It’ll take some time to get there but I am happy about that as things seem to happen way too fast in this technology driven world.
Sometimes being prepared is not preparation enough.
It just so happens that our long distance move took place today, the day before we’re to set off on a grand cross country road trip. We did actually schedule it this way, but a little bit of extra pre planning wouldn’t have gone astray. Read: packing a couple of days earlier so we could have anticipated that another pod was required in addition to the 2 we had ordered weeks ago.
My husband, who celebrated his birthday taping boxes, hardly slept a wink last night, and proclaimed today, at 6am, that we’d need an extra pod to fit all of our possessions. He had calculated this by measuring various bits of furniture and visualizing how the boxes would need to be stacked, in a Tetris like order. He’d concluded that another 5 x 7 x 8 ft container was essential so as to leave no piece of furniture behind.
Choosing portable storage – versus a moving company, or self-driving a truck – was my idea. We’d experienced the delayed arrival, damaged furniture, and overcharges of a van line company years ago. We’d driven a truck across the country, filled to the brim with our possessions, and understand how tackling such a lengthy trip in a span of 3 days can leave you unbelievably tired… especially the driver, who has to maneuver his body in exaggerated ways at the wheel of a heavy truck, navigating it down steep hills hills, and around sharp corners.
I will never forget the vibration of what sounded like faulty breaks as we drove downhill from Mt Rushmore. My face was as stony as those of the Presidents carved into the rock face; my knuckles were white from their fearful clench.
Moving with pods was something I’d never considered until this time around. I wanted to experience the beauty of the southernmost cities in the US on this trip sans the extra baggage, and I wanted to test out a 3rd method of moving/relocation in hopes of smooth sailing.
Luckily, ordering a 3rd pod this morning wasn’t a problem but it did highlight the importance of planning ahead of time, keeping a well calculated track of inventory, and budgeting accordingly. Math and volume equations do come in handy, after all!
The best thing about this experience was noticing my husband destress immediately as we heard the truck pull away from out apartment building, 3 ‘full’ pods in tow.
Crisis averted – not a bad start to the moving process. But let this be a lesson to all: have your husband do the bulk of the packing early! Just not on his birthday.
Written in the Spring of 2012
Looking down upon 79th Street Transverse from Central Park, the ubiquitous yellow cabs passing underway feel as natural as the cherry blossoms that surround me. Juxtaposed against an oasis of calm, Fifth Avenue bustles at the Park’s perimeter with a constant stream of boot-to-pavement. To my left, a scene just as frenetic is playing out in the Met Museum; stoic, its interior is overrun by tourists trying to navigate its expanse.
This is New York – a city of dichotomies. Home to millions of people, and a holiday destination for millions more, it is the most bustling metropolis in the United States. New York City is where I, an expat based in a city charged with an unstoppable energy, found my peace.
I had been caught in New York’s embrace from the onset. Whisked into its whirlwind, the city subsequently unraveled a series of monumental moments along the way. Meeting him was the most definitive – it sparked a new beginning.
I’d fallen in love with him with the same ease I’d fallen for New York. Just as I’d experienced the spark of the city whilst standing in Times Square as a twenty-something year old thinking, this feels so right; years later I felt a similar sentiment as we dined together at my favourite restaurant on Park Avenue.
Ever since that first date, we’ve been walking the same path.
Now, standing in Central Park, newly married, I realise that my love for New York has taken on a deeper meaning. This is a city that can so easily seduce, enthrall, and enchant. But it’s when you stay a while that you really feel the beat of its strong, passionate, and loving heart.
Half the fun of the travel is the esthetic of lostness. ~Ray Bradbury
Thank you so much readers, for the suggestions of where to visit as part of a cross country road trip from NYC to LA. In my last post, many seasoned travelers highly recommended Utah as a place to see. As much as I’d love to stop here, I know spending 1-2 days wouldn’t do the state justice; it’s worthy of a lengthy trip in the near future.
I am in unison with Bradbury in the sentiment that there’s beauty in venturing, uninhibited, into the unknown. But just as his words read, that’s half the fun. The other half, in my opinion, is influenced by the trip’s framework; there’s comfort in setting (loose) parameters. Wandering about aimlessly under time restrictions – a little over a week across 3,500 miles – promises a whole other set of challenges.
THE (loose) PARAMETERS
Keeping in mind that visiting New Orleans is a must, I’ve drafted an itinerary that traces a southerly route of the US. The list includes cities that I have never been to before (the Washington DC and Sedona drive-thrus don’t count). If you can advise, I’d love your thoughts on what to see/do, and where to eat/play.
I’ve done some preliminary research but am also looking for the not-so-seen, and hungry for local knowledge. I want to know what lies under the skin of place; I want to take in the smells of fresh produce markets, bite into a deep fried beignet, feast my eyes on centuries old architecture and innovative design, be immersed in nature’s stillness. Most importantly, I want to see how people live.
While I’ll certainly be documenting the details, a head start never hurts.
PROPOSED ITINERARY: NEW YORK TO LOS ANGELES
Brooklyn, New York > Washington, DC > Charleston, South Carolina > Savannah, Georgia (brief stop) > Tallahassee, Florida > New Orleans, Louisiana > San Antonio, Texas > El Paso, Texas > Sedona, Arizona (2 days) > Los Angeles, California
*Thinking of adding in Raleigh, NC between DC and Charleston as a stop. Not only will it give us more time, but I am reading wonderful things about this city.
ADVICE NEEDED ON MUST SEES
What are your favourite DC monuments? Can you recommend a noteworthy restaurant or bar in this great city?
Any recommendations re: where to feast on good Creole cuisine while in New Orleans? What about jazz clubs?
What are the Charleston essentials – sights, shops, cafes, neighbourhoods?
Know of a part of Savannah where one can linger for a couple of hours?
What do you love about Sedona?
What’s hot in Raleigh? The City of Oaks has me intrigued.
What about El Paso and Tallahassee; have you been to these cities? I’ve read that Tallahassee has an abundance of seafood – know of an oyster shack?
Look forward to tips, thoughts, and suggestions on anything, or all, of the above.
Greenpoint is located minutes away from Williamsburg. By day, it is a bustling neighbourhood with a distinct Polish influence. You’ll see the young and old; generations live alongside families, newly moved in.
Bakeries, cafes, delicatessens, butcher shops, and apparel stores line its main street, which leads to a waterfront with direct views overlooking the Empire State, and the United Nations buildings.
By night, its streets are quiet, for the crowds have migrated into its many restaurants and bars to partake in some late night eating and drinking.
It’s an added bonus to listen to live music played by passionate musicians. Pictured in this series, the Cereal Hero Killers performing at Matchless. Think Nirvana, crossed with Motley Crue, with a bit of Guns n Roses. These tunes brought back memories of when I played music on tape.
PS This was a good time to practice on my 35mm in low light situations. While I wasn’t expecting amazing results on my first go, I think the lens proves how able it is in the dark!