(Ethan Gates)– Recently, I took my first ever trip to Los Angeles to visit my girlfriend. Pretty exciting stuff for a film buff, right? For years I’ve watched movies about the glorious City of Angels, that sprawling urban wasteland where everyone’s on cocaine, there’s never any water and Ludacris might jack your car.

Yes, Hollywood has sent out some pretty mixed messages about its hometown over the years. Now at last I had the opportunity to see LA for myself – so which is it? A festering hotbed of decadence and crime? An energetic metropolis of lights, cameras and action? The apathetic center of America’s existential malaise? A great place to check out hot people? I recorded some of my impressions – you be the judge.

  • First off, I have never been so terrifyingly aware of the sheer number of people living on this planet until I flew into LAX. I’ve been to plenty of big cities before, but unlike, say, New York City, which takes a massive amount of people and simply piles them all on top of each other in a limited space, Los Angeles seems to have gone with the “40 acres and a mule” method of city planning. Holy moly, it just goes on and on and on and on, confronting you every moment with the fact that yes, nearly 4 million people live here…
  • …and literally EVERY ONE OF THEM DRIVES. The term “rush hour” is meaningless. Everyone is driving. All the time. As we were getting into the car once, my girlfriend confirmed to me that no one walks anywhere in LA. Within minutes, as she struggled to find the space to make a left turn, she objected to the massive number of cars on Hollywood Boulevard. I think the connection between these two statements went unnoticed.
  • There are far too many freeways in LA. I have always lived somewhere along the I-90 corridor, so I never really needed to know how to navigate more than two or three highways on any one trip. We had to look up directions every day before going to lunch. My usual ability to quickly orient myself in a new city was completely foiled by “the” 101.
  • That’s the other thing: all freeways are referred to by Southern Californians with “the” in front of the number. The 101, the 65, the 70953-J, whatever. Every time they said that, it struck me as vaguely conspiratorial, as if there were another 101 they weren’t telling me about; a 101 that had its own secret name, like one of T.S. Eliot’s cats.
  • Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character in “(500) Days of Summer” picked literally the worst spot possible for his romantic bench sessions. There’s nothing to look at except a parking lot.
  • That said, visiting the “(500) Days of Summer” bench did give rise to one of my favorite moments of the trip, when we arrived and discovered that THE bench was occupied by two burly, tattooed Hispanic men eating fast food on opposite side of the bench while three hipster couples apprehensively circled around them, clearly terrified to ask these guys to move.
  • By the way, playing “L.A. Noire” is a fantastic way to prepare yourself for downtown Los Angeles. I knew where things were better than my girlfriend because I could remember exactly where I had tracked down clues to the Black Dahlia murder.
  • Summer is not the best time to visit a film studio, unless you’re a fan of the Disney Channel or ABC Family. We took a tour of Warner Bros., and I now know waaaaaay more about the set of “Pretty Little Liars” than I ever had any desire to learn.
  • By the way, approximately 80% of the movies and TV shows you love were all filmed on the same 5 or 6 sets, just dressed slightly differently. Everything you thought you knew is a lie.
Case in point: no Animaniacs in sight.
  • Frank Gehry is the least inspired architect in the world.
Is this the Frank Gehry building I saw in downtown Los Angeles? Who the fuck can tell?
  • Having spent a lot of time in New England, I don’t understand why a single city needs so many different donut store chains. Dunkin’ Donuts, where are you???
  • On the subject of food, I have absolutely no jokes to make about In-N-Out. That place is pure deliciousness and I demand that they expand to Amherst right now. I will resort to making my own animal style fries if I have to.
  • I will, however, mercilessly make fun of frozen yogurt joints. Why are there so many different franchises if they’re all set up exactly the same way? And what does LA have against  ice cream, anyway?
  • In Newport Beach, there are not one, but two different frozen banana stands claiming to be the “original” frozen banana stand. We couldn’t solve this perplexing mystery, but it’s clearly true that THERE IS ALWAYS MONEY IN THE BANANA STAND.
  • There’s a statue of Beethoven in downtown LA’s Pershing Square. It seems to have been a gift to the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra, which the orchestra apparently thought would best be served by sticking in a park a couple miles away from their building where they would never have to look at it.
It’s just so…moody.
  • Speaking of downtown LA, no one could actually agree on where exactly that was. I use it to refer to what I guess is the financial district, the historical center of the city. My girlfriend, for her part, seems to consider downtown Los Angeles to be the Costco in Chino Hills.
  • We stopped by Sid Grauman’s Chinese Theater, one of the most recognizable spots in Hollywood and the place where many stars have had their handprints and footprints preserved. The most popular footprints, at least judging by the crowd of teeming fangirls when we were there? The “Twilight” stars. (My favorite discovery, for contrast, was Mary Pickford, a 1920’s silent film icon and one of the founding members of United Artists. I really am a snob sometimes)
Does anyone else understand the awesomeness of this photo?
  • We randomly stumbled into Amoeba, a giant used movies and music store in Hollywood, when Glen Hansard (of The Frames, The Swell Season and the movie “Once”) was starting to play a set. I admit that nothing like this would ever, ever happen to me in Cleveland.