Earlier in December I visited friends out in sunny and warm California, and got to celebrate my birthday with them while I was there. This was the first time since college that I've celebrated my birthday away from home.
I've gone out to LA to visit friends at least once a year for the last four years, but this was my first at Christmas-time (usually it's been over Halloween) - I had no idea how beautifully decorated parts of the city would be! This trip also, I decided that rather than trying to see *everyone*, I'd focus on spending quantity time with my inner circle of friends, thus relieving a lot of stress I otherwise would have felt trying to schedule coffee and lunch dates with a dozen+ people.
During my trip, I had many great dinners with my close friends, many great conversations (me being me, we talked about God and theology a lot, of course!), saw some live music at the Republic of Pie coffeehouse, walked around the Santa Monica Pier and Third Street Promenade, went to two church services and an international prayer service, hiked at two parks (Griffith and Millard Canyon), sat in the audience for a taping of Tim Allen's new show, "Last Man Standing", got a massage, went to the LA Zoo (twice - once in daylight, once for their Christmas lights show at night), went on the Paramount Studios backlot tour, saw part of Huntington Gardens, and meandered the Universal Studios CityWalk (sadly, my favorite street musician who plays Taylor Swift songs wasn't performing this year). Oh, and also spent one day on the couch with food poisoning. That sucked. But everything else was awesome!
A couple funny stories from my trip:
My first day, I landed early afternoon, grabbed my rental car, and found my friends Anne, Laura, and Brandon's new apartment. Anne was working that afternoon at Godiva, but Laura and Brandon were there to meet me. They showed me to my "room," a corner of the living room sectioned off by large foam panels and a bookcase. Inside was just enough room for a mattress and lamp, and then, of course, the shelves of the bookcase. It was pretty cool, actually. What made it awesome, though, were the decorations Brandon put up. Oh, sure, there was a nice photo of my friend Anne and myself from my first LA trip, but that couldn't possibly compete with these:
"Where is the tiger?"
After unpacking and grocery shopping, I left the apartment to meet everyone for dinner at the mall where Anne was working at Godiva. Bear in mind that made this my third-ever time driving this rental car, on basically unfamiliar roads (yes, I've driven them before, but that was over a year ago), and in rush-hour. While on I-5, barely a few minutes into my drive, my phone rings - it's my friend Janelle, who I would be hanging out with that weekend, and we needed to talk about plans. Now I knew that in California it's illegal to hold your phone while driving, so while going 60 miles an hour in traffic, I fought with my handsfree earbuds trying to untangle them and get them plugged into my phone, meanwhile I slided-to-answer and yelled at the phone, "hang on Janelle, I can't hear you yet", and also needed to take the exit to highway 134. Well, whew, I finally got the handsfree plugged in and got the phone switched back to maps so I knew where I needed to go.
It's been years since I visited the Glendale Galleria, and I don't think I drove last time, so everything was unfamiliar. I took the first parking ramp I could find, since I was still on the phone and traffic was heavy and I thought I was in the right place. Janelle and I finished our phone call, and I get out onto the sidewalk. Huh. I don't really see the mall. Checking my GPS, I see it should be a block away, so I start walking... then walk the other way because I was all turned around. I only vaguely remembered where I parked (a detail that will come into play later).
After a few minutes, I determine that the mall entrance must be behind the buildings I'm walking next to, and up ahead there's a street that goes between them. Aha! turns out that street is the Grove, an outdoor mall I remember from a previous trip, and I know it's right next to the indoor mall I'm looking for. I walk through it, admiring all the beautiful Christmas lights and water fountain synced with Christmas music:
Finally, I make it into the Galleria. At this point, I realize I don't know where Godiva is within the mall. No problem, I'll just find a directory.
After wandering back and forth over the entire first floor, I determine that Glendale Galleria has absolutely no mall directories anywhere. Dictating to Siri, I texted Anne:
ahhhhh I can't find a mall directory. Where is the tiger?
sigh. Thanks Siri. Where's Godiva not the tiger.
"Where is the tiger?" instantly became a running joke, to this day. Eventually I did find a directory (apparently there are only two in the whole mall), to discover I was, of course, on the opposite side of the mall, and the wrong floor, from Godiva. Upon arriving at the store, I meet up with Anne and Laura, and recount my adventure to them, wildly gesticulating as I demonstrate trying to untangle my earbud cable. At some point here, Anne had to grab something from the back room, and while she was gone, I became distracted by an ADORABLE teddy bear that Godiva sells, holding a bag of chocolates. You will see said bear in a later photo, because after the "incident of the grown man cuddling a Godiva plush toy," Anne bought him for me as a birthday present :)
"Where's my car?"
Our story continues. Anne and Laura and I leave Godiva, stop by a Lego store (oh my goodness there are SO many awesome Star Wars lego kits now!! Kids these days have it so good.), and I make a request that we go move my car, because I'm pretty sure the ramp I'm in is only free if you eat at one of the restaurants in the building it's attached to. Which ramp did I park in? Um. The one, you know, off the street, and there was a cross-walk by it.
We eventually found the right ramp, stopping at a nearby restaurant to validate my parking ticket, where the hostess didn't even bat an eye at my [factually true] story about being out of town and parking in the wrong ramp. In the right ramp finally, I tell Anne and Laura "I know I parked on the second level, but other than that, just keep an eye out for a white car." Immediately after saying this, I click my car remote, and a car not more than 10 or 15 feet away beeps at me. Oh. I guess we were standing practically right next to it. On the plus side, we found my car!
(side-note: I realized, driving the rental car, how much I miss my back-up camera in my car).
A tale in which everything is closed in honor of Jeremy's birthday
On my birthday (December 8), I met up with Bernadett and we got massages near her apartment, then grabbed lunch at this awesome build-your-own-pizza place (after returning to Minnesota, I learned from Joe that PizzaRev is a chain with locations in Minneapolis, but it was new to me at the time and I was giddy). Post-lunch everything became comically tragic. I drove us to the Getty Center (about a 40 minute trek), whereupon our arrival we learned they are closed on Mondays. I should have checked their website first, it just didn't occur to me. So we drove back to Burbank, and went to a Japanese friendship garden with a large pond of koi fish. The tea house in the middle of the garden, closed. The museum across the street, closed. I suggested, let's check out the zoo. We parked at about 3:30, got to the ticket counter at 3:45, and learned they would be closing at 5, and putting some of the larger animals away starting at 4. Stubbornly, I bought tickets anyway and told Bernadett "we are at least going to see some monkeys or something!" We ended up having a delightful time, got to see a LOT of monkeys (and none of them flung their poo at us!), giraffes, elephants, lions, koalas and wallabies (SO ADORABLE!!), etc. I do want to go back next trip and spend the whole day, but we closed the place down, and I felt vindicated that at least something had been open for my birthday.
Afterward we met up with Anne, Laura, and Melanie for my birthday dinner, where I received a surprise greeting card and gift card from my parents - Mom and Dad nefariously mailed it to Anne before my trip, so she hand-delivered it when we got to the restaurant. And this is also when Anne gave me the Godiva teddy bear, affectionately nicknamed "Tiger" :)
(Yes, my shirt does say "how to pick up chicks")
"Let's go for a hike by a waterfall"
My friend Jordan and I planned to go for a hike in Millard Canyon, where allegedly there is a cool waterfall. Our day started with some miscommunication about which gas station we were meeting at (literally, there were two 76 gas stations within a quarter-mile on the same road; for the record, I showed up at the right one). In retrospect, I should have recognized this ill-omen and suggested we go to Griffith Park instead, because I know the territory. Ignorant of the adventure about to befall us, we pressed on. I drove us to where both Google and Apple Maps said should be the entrance to the park. Except instead of a park entrance, we encountered a NASA guard station, where the kind gentleman informed us this land was now owned by NASA, and to get to the park we had to go a few miles around on a different road. When we got to what we thought was the other entrance, we parked and started walking, and quickly realized the mountain was at least several miles from where we were. Probably not at the right spot after all. Getting back in the car, we found a road that wound up the side of the mountain, in a residential area. Reaching the top, there... wasn't really anywhere to park, so we Googled, and learned that, again allegedly, the waterfall we were looking for was back down the foot of this mountain road, and up another one about 10 minutes drive away. I drove back down, stopped to take a picture (causing confusion for the car that appeared out of nowhere behind us), and we pressed on.
At long last, we found the "right" road, and proceeded up the twisty windy mountainside. Reaching the top, we came upon a small parking area, where we stopped briefly, determined we needed to drive further still to find this mythical waterfall, and so kept going. A very very short distance later, now driving down the backside of the hill, we found a spacious parking lot with less than half a dozen cars in it. We parked, and heard running water. Unfortunately we also spotted a sign that said "permit required" to park there. Seriously? Well, okay, where does one acquire said permit? Pulling up the park website, Jordan called their 800 number, and we learned we should have purchased a permit at a nearby gas station before driving up the hill. Already a little ill from motion sickness driving up the mountain, I was tempted to press our luck and risk a ticket, rather than driving back down and up again. The goodie-two-shoes in me won out, though, and we got back in the car.
When we came upon the first, smaller parking area, though, I suggested we stop and look for signs. Sure enough, there was no sign at all that said permit required. Now I was willing to risk a ticket, because if there's no sign, that to me sounds unenforceable. We were close enough to walk back down to where we'd heard the running water, and followed it for about 5 minutes. As I was saying "it sounds like it goes off to the right," we turned, and blocking our path was a fence, with a sign saying "area closed due to fire damage." But. But. But.
No waterfall for us.
We continued on the path a short distance more, and found, quite to my surprise, a family of deer:
Then, abandoning our original trail, we pursued one that appeared to go up the mountainside. Fortunately we didn't meet any bears, though we did find a couple random pieces of footwear, likely lost by the mountain-bikers whose tire-tread marks were carved deeply in the trail. An hour or more later, we happened upon a paved road. At this point, we had a choice: go back down the mountainside trail we'd hiked up, or take the paved road and see where it lead. I voted for the paved road, thinking we might have climbed high enough to be near where I'd parked. Sure enough, about 30 feet down the road, around a curve, we saw my car, thus creating another "Jeremy doesn't know where he parked and was practically standing right next to his car" moment. As an end to our hike, we found a scenic overlook near the car, so stopped for a while to chat.
After conversing a while, we departed and headed for lunch, where I was excited to be introduced to the Slaters 50/50 restaurant chain, known for their bacon-on-practically-everything menu (including, as I found out, a maple+bacon milkshake, which was DELICIOUS).
Those are the funniest stories from my trip. Here are some other photos:
Janelle and me at Griffith Park
(Hollywood sign visible immediately above my head)
Sunset from Griffith Park
Melanie's "welcome home" party
LA Zoo Light Show
As an aside, I actually went to the light show on my own, as all my friends were busy that evening. One of the life lessons I've learned is not to be afraid or feel shame about doing an activity by yourself.