Sunday, August 26, 2012

California College Safari

My daughter Lily is a rising senior in high school. She's trying to select a college and one of her criteria is that it be far from home.  Last Spring we drove from DC to Auburn, Alabama to check out a bunch of colleges down south.  This week we flew to Los Angeles to tour colleges in the L. A. area.

The flight out via Phoenix was uneventful except for the fantastic views of the high mountains of the desert southwest.  We landed in LAX which is one gawdawful mess of an airport.  We jumped into the rental car van and arrived at the rental car place expecting, at most, a 20 minute process. We were in line to talk to a rental car clerk for 45 minutes.  After several more minutes during which time a clerk tried to upsell me the sun the moon and the stars, I finally got the paperwork that should have been ready when I walked in the door. We were sent into a garage to get our car. Except there weren't any cars there. We waited another 30 minutes to get our metallic lime green Kia Soul.  After 90 minutes, we were finally on the road. If you have a choice I highly recommend staying the hell away from Dollar Rental Car. I will never use them again.

We drove north to see some sights on a pleasant Sunday afternoon. After some time meandering in various towns (I can't quite figure out where Los Angeles city is and where the county is.  It's all just one urban mess.)  We ended up with Lily's helpful navigation on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. This famous retail strip is like Bethesda on steroids. The only people walking were tourists which makes me wonder if the stars don't shop at TJ Maxx in Encino. 

After cruising around we started heading east (Directions here are difficult. My mental map had east being toward the ocean; west coasters have it the opposite way.)  We decided to track down an In and Out Burger joint after being told by my friend Erika that it had the best burgers in the universe. In the process we stumbled on Hollywood and Vine, Graumann's and the Pantages theaters, and other Hollywood landmarks that were positively swarming with tourists. It was like Manhattan for three blocks. Crazy.

The In and Out Burger was across the street from Hollywood High which sounded impressive, even if it looked mundane. The restaurant was a madhouse with lots of yelling (Number 23!!!! Number 22!!!!) It was a little too noisy and the food was nothing special. (I'd take BGR or Ray's Hell Burger over this any day.)

We hopped on the highway and promptly missed a turn, sending us north when we needed to go east. I do believe the highway sign was missing.  In any case we recovered and spent the next hour crawling toward Eagle Rock which is close to Pasadena.  The next day we toured Occidental College.  Unfortunately, my back decided to go out sometime during the day and the trip was off to wonderful start. Oxy was where Barack Obama went to school before transferring to Columbia.  It's also where Jack Kemp went to school.  I was impressed with the political range of its alumni. My back was unhappy that Oxy is on a hill.

From Oxy we drove to USC for an afternoon tour. Here we saw our only semi-famous person of the day, Gary Tuckman, a CNN reporter who was moving his kid  into school.  (I see more famous type people at a high school sporting event in DC so I refrained from pointing and saying, "Look a famousy type person.") 

USC has a lot to brag about.  It has a marching band with a a gold record (Tusk by Fleetwood Mac), the George Lucas film school which includes the Hugh Hefner exhibition hall, a boatload of olympic athletes, and a professional football team.  On display in their sports hall of fame, with four other winners, was OJ Simpson's Heisman trophy. If you got it, flaunt it.

After seeing the new light rail station (it's about time LA), we drove in rush hour traffic to Claremont California to get ready for the next day's adventures at Pitzer and Claremont McKenna colleges.  The drive took forever.  Ugh.

The Kia Soul was a nice little car to drive. We felt every bump in the road, though. I think the highways are hurting. They are very bumpy and strewn with litter, perhaps a result of California's financial mess.

We checked into a hotel and ate at Denny's because it was the closest food and we were starving.

The next day we toured the two colleges, which despite being part of an Oxford-like consortium of schools on a common campus, had remarkably different feels to them. Between tours we hit King Taco for lunch. I wanted to try fish tacos since so many of my DC biking friends seem to like them. Meh.

After the tour we drove further east to Redlands for the University thereof.  The drive was not so bad since Redlands is over 60 miles east of LA.  A friend from Santa Monica says that it is where smog goes to die. What a shame because the mountains just outside of town are amazing to look at.

Our tour of U of Redlands was fine, but by this time my back problem had turned into a full blown muscle spasm and I was looking like Quasimodo in shorts.  It was painful.  Another loverly campus. Our tour guide who swims on the Redlands swim team reminded me of Olympic swimmer Summer Sanders.

Finished with Redlands at noon, we drove to Chapman College in Orange California, about 40 or 50 miles to the southwest.  The highways were dusty, terrain marked by unsightly industrial buildings and sketchy retail places.  We couldn't park anywhere near campus because it was freshman move in day.  So we gave up on Chapman and drove ever so slowly to Whittier. The next day we toured Whittier College. Like USC, Whittier has an infamous alumnus, Richard Nixon.  The tour guide did not point out the modest memorial to him. Quakers don't do bling.

Before the tour I experimented with chorizos, a Mexican breakfast dish of eggs and Mexican sausage, for breakfast. One plate of this stuff and I could ride a bike to the moon.  And it was tasty, too.

We left Whittier and sat in traffic for an hour so that we could drive Mulholland Drive in the Santa Monica Mountains. It was curvy and had cool views of the city. The whole time I was driving all I could think of was an episode of the old Superman TV show in which Jimmy Olsen drives with Lois Lane on a scary, windy mountainous road without any brakes (the bad guys sabotaged their car). At one point the steering wheel comes off in Jimmy's hands.  I wouldn't be surprised if it was filmed on Mulholland.    
After Mulholland we drove into Santa Monica via Brentwood, We promptly got lost and ended up on the Pacific Coast Highway headed for Malibu. We stopped and had a bite to eat then returned to Santa Monica. We checked into a hotel and crashed for the night.  The next day we played tourists.  We people watched on the Santa Monica pedestrian mall then headed for the beach.  The beach was massive and stretched as far as the eye could see.  Not being big fans of deep sand we spend most of our time on the Santa Monica pier, at the western end of fabled Route 66.  We read in the sun, had a very casual lunch, and rode the Ferris wheel.
Then we jumped in the car and drove to a hotel near the airport.  The traffic was so bad that we were repeatedly passed by skate boarders.  After about an hour we made it the 15 or so miles to LAX.  We woke up early, not trusting Dollar Rental Car to take forever to process our car return.  We were stunned when it was the normal three minute process.

Waiting for the plane to board, I discussed politics with a 70 year old Christian tea bagger. He calmly explained to me how everything is Obama's fault. I calmly disabused him of his simplistic understanding of economics and politics.(You voted for Congresses and presidents that neglected to fund social security, medicare, two wars, and public infrastructure. And don't forget the positively scary economic mess that Obama inherited, dude. Do you think that John McCain, who was admittedly clueless about economics,  would have done better?)  I doubt that I had any long term effect on his thinking. Any thought that he didn't agree with was explained away by God and the bible. Thankfully, he didn't sit next to me on the plane.

The plane home was a 737 packed with more rows than I would have thought possible. We made it home without incident mostly because we were stuffed in our seats like proverbial sardines.

Captain America costume at USC film school

The tour guide at Redlands reminded me of Summer Sanders
The pedestrian mall at Santa Monica

Waay too much food for lunch. (She didn't come close to finishing it.)

If you have to do summer reading, do it on the pier at Santa Monica

We didn't stay here. A little out of our budget

We was hungry

OJ's Heisman 

Bike coop at Pitzer College

Serious grub for serious safaris

Whittier College

Jimmy and Lois crashed here

Not me. No way.

No more college tours!

At the airport

We're going home!
After a week of misery sitting in traffic and looking at smog and an astonishing amount of litter on the roads, I can only shake my head. How do people live like this? Why do people live like this? When we drove home I could not have been happier to feel humidity in the air and see green leaves and grass everywhere I looked.    


  1. If your daughter chooses to go there, that would seem to be the perfect excuse (not that you need one) to do a trans-America tour. You have a destination.

  2. 1) Your daughter is adorable.

    2) ...the Hugh Hefner exhibition hall... You're pulling our legs, right?

    1. 1. Thank you. We think so.
      2. Nope. USC is shameless