Monday, May 24, 2010

Train ride to L.A. Union Station and Olvera St.

For as long as I have been here in California I have heard of Olvera St. in Los Angeles. I had mentioned it to the cute fiancee and she said she had been there many times in the past. Not to long ago I thought it would be fun to take the train down. This would cover a few of cute fiancee and I's fetishes of old architecture and historical stuff.
A few weeks ago my daughter and I were driving through the town of Fontana here in So. Cal. on our way to work, and got stuck at the Metrolink train crossing. It spurred me into thinking of the trip and I looked up Olvera St. online that day at lunch time. As usual, the info junkie that I am I jumped into the history of Olvera St. and the beginnings of Los Angeles. You hear this little trivia bit every once in a while, the full name of the City of Los Angeles is, "El Pueblo de la Reyna de Los Angeles" or in English, "The Town of the Queen of Angels". I like the first name ever given the town by the first settlers, It is much easier to say L.A.
Cute fiancee got the next Sunday off from work and I looked up the fares for the train trip from San Bernardino to L.A. , $15 each round trip. Sunday came and we got up early and headed down to the old train station in San Bernardino. We arrived at 6:30AM so we could be early for the 7:10 train.
Normally I like to grab pictures of a place like the Old San Bernardino Station but they had some sort of "to do" going on there. It was National Train Day. Never heard of it but this is what I like about our adventures, something serendipitous seems to happen. The station was blocked off so I couldn't get near it, but I did have a very cool consolation prize.

This old steam locomotive was fired up and was about to be turned around. I'm not a train nut but this was really cool.

I ran across a page on the internet about this Locomotive, a while back, "Santa Fe 3751" It was a cool story how this old work horse was lovingly restored and refitted to running order in Fontana Ca. Follow the link in blue. Here it was all steamed up and ready to go.

I didn't spend much time looking at the old Locomotive because our train was leaving soon.
I had spent to much time taking these pictures while the cute fiancee was waiting on our train.
My phone rang and she requested that I get my butt on the train so I wouldn't miss it.

I boarded and went to the upper part of the car where I had left the cute fiancee. In a few minutes the trains was on it's way. I'm old enough to remember when trains were the way to travel. I traveled on several with my parents when I was very young but I remember a lot of it. The cars with the Plexiglas domes, the dinning cars and most of all the Conductors yelling "ALL ABOARD"
That call was noticeably missing. The Conductor rattled off our destination and some of the stops between here and there, then unceremoniously said "doors are closing".
The first thing the train did was climb up this overpass to cross over the stock yards there in San Bernardino . You could look straight down from up in our seats, Cute fiancee, not being comfortable with heights, looked out and muttered "not cool" as she looked back inside and down at the table we were sitting at.
First stop Rialto Ca. It was hard not to notice as we pulled out of the depot area and into the neighborhoods near by, that a lot of people don't care that other people that ride by can see into the jungle or in most cases, what could have been the back yard set for Sanford and Son.

I'm not sure if many would remember this but there was a famous comedian/actor named Jack Benny He was rather famous when America all sat around the radio in the evening, before TV. One of his most famous comedy bits was about him taking a train to New York to meet with his sponsor, or something. I'm mentioning this here because, I started thinking about it as I heard some of the stops ahead. The bit started when Benny finally reaches Union station and an announcer over the PA says, "Now leaving on Track 5 for Anaheim, Azusa, and Cucamonga." The way that Cucamonga was said was usually strung out real long "Cucaaaaa moonnngggaaa". The voice of the announcer was the voice of Mel Blanc, the voice behind Bugs Bunny, and the gag was used repeatedly in many of his shows. It was so funny do to the cities names that Mel Blanc even used it with his Daffy Duck character in a cartoon I remember from childhood. Well the conductor says the stops and Rancho Cucamonga was named and "Anaheim, Azusa, and Cucamonga" started into my head. I just spent almost 30 min. trying to find the recording of that show to play here but couldn't find

So the cute fiancee and I are siting at our table on the top level of our train car, Anaheim, Azusa , and Cucamonga is going steady in my head, and the back yards start going by. We the unseasoned Metrolink train riders thank those humble people who had nice back yards so that we had little surprises along the way to break up the un-kept disasters that whizzed by our window. I would have liked to have photographic evidence of these to show you but we were going too fast to react and take a picture of any noteworthy ugly back yards.

A popular type of yucky back yard was the dried vegetation jungle. Life once blossomed in these yards but all that was left was tall brown, impassible, areas that you could just see through enough, that a glimpse of a back sliding door might appear. Another was what could be best described as the Micro Wrecking Yard. Wall to wall cars in various states of dis-assembly. The funny part of this is that I'm not sure how those cars made it into the back yards at all with no gate to move them through to be seen. One type that I saw several times was another variant of the jungle, except that it was more of a cacophony of potted and gardened plants hanging or shelved in every possible square foot of the back yard. The one I liked best was something I would like to call the artist. Someone has gone to all the trouble to "Make" something. We saw many nice brick and concrete works that were very tasteful, but....umm when you take bags of concrete and mix them by hand and pile them up, patty cake style, in little spires so it looks not too unlike guano in a bat cave you really shouldn't be allowed to buy concrete. Thankfully there was some basic back yards, green grass and a patio, well kept....kudos to those people.

Pools! Anybody who has flown over Southern California has seen the glimmering back yards of whole neighborhoods with pools at every home. No different when viewed from our train.
Except. More often than not we saw these green bodies of water over the back of these fences and it was pretty disgusting. Sea Monkeys came to mind when I saw these, cute fiancee just turned her head and said "eeuw gross". The variants in this category is, the well kept pool/hot tub/BBQ/Volleyball pit, party paradise, the "what creative color can I keep my pool water condition in", the filled in with dirt or even trash pool, the collapsed doughboy or blow up pool, or the Empty dusty bottomed pool.

Cute fiancee and I were chatting in bed before we dosed off, one night while I was writing this installment, and I was trying to impress here with how funny I am by telling her what I had written about all the back yards. With a "yeah right'' in the tone of her voice she reminded me of the back yard she had pointed out with all the children's toys scattered around amidst a large sea of empty beer cans. Either the kids had gotten into the recyclables or there was one heck of a party the night before. Which brings a vision of drunk adults playing on kids toys...grin

Luckily this was not the only thing to watch as we moved on down the tracks. People watching.
When we pulled up to the San Bernardino station there was a gentleman sitting on a bench near the ticket kiosks. I will be delicate here. It looked like that was his spot and he had slept there. The cat that was roaming around there even liked him. He was dressed in sweat shirt and pants, and a ski cap. At first and second glance he looked like a bum. Well he got on the train with us. He sat across from us and to our rear 2 seats.
One of the new trends, at least here in So. Cal., is people with flip phones having them open and the speaker on and holding a LOUD CONVERSATION ON IT. This gentleman settles in and calls some woman and they go on about life and just random conversation. It is hard not to hear what is going on in this conversation. He and his lady friend come to this part where some other woman's name is dropped and he says " they stalk me because of all my money". Cute fiancee and eye both look at each other, kind of googly eyed. What...? Yeah
The guy that got on in Fontana dressed like Huggie Bear from the 70's show "the Rockford Files" was priceless. He was taking his son to LA I guess. You could tell by the look on the boys face this was his first train ride. I had been watching the "lovely" back yards go by, when cute fiancee leans over and say that Huggie was a player and he was playing his boy right there in front of us. She hoped that the boy could see that.

The ride was nice in many ways. Each stop was at a train station that had probably been around since the 20's or earlier. The stations had been updated and modernized in some areas.
Many of them were still in the "Mission" style architecture.

We finally arrived at Union Station in LA. The walk down the ramp and into the tunnel under the tracks is like walking into a time machine. You walk into something you can feel that people from every era of the 20th century have passed through at one time.

The nice thing about this ride to Olvera St was that it is almost directly across the street from Union Station. This area was the original Los Angeles.
First Fire Station.
Fireman's Hat on Flag pole on top of station.
Olvera St. does show a lot of it's history in it's old buildings, but it all boils down to today that Olvera St is a rather large curios shop. If you ever end up south of the border on vacation you will see much of the same stuff. Running down the center of the street is a line of cart like kiosks selling leather bag, flashy painted guitars, large colorful sombreros, Rosary, and all sorts of stuff that say Olvera St. on it.

The place wasn't hopping when we got there. It was Sunday and rather early at that.
Most of these buildings were built before 1900.

This was the original China Town, due south of Olvera St.

The first major hotel in Los Angeles, built by the Territorial Governor of the time Pio Pico.

These two buildings where had the year of completion at the tops, 1880. Still standing after all those years of shaking. Like most towns in Mexico Los Angeles has it's Plaza.

We walked around the area. Over to the original Catholic Church. That day must have been a big day for Christenings or something tons of people all dressed in there best duds. Ladies in the church parking area selling Rosary.
We walk down the out side of Olvera St. with the cute fiancee pointing at places that use to be restaurants that her family use dine at when they came down here. We made it to the other entrance and went into a few shops. Cute fiancee loved a lot of the dresses she saw. I could have decked myself out in a full Mariachi Band member outfit, silver on everything, for a few hundred buck.
I was thinking of getting a cheap sombrero, but chickened out, feeling not goofy enough to wear it on the train ride back. Can't go to Olvera St. with out getting taquitos. Cute fiancee needed a snack so we availed ourselves to the shop advertising their "world famous" taquitos.
Not bad either.
Since we were down in the neighborhood we decided to walk up a few blocks and go to China Town. China Town had moved or maybe migrated up to a different neighborhood. Having been to Mexico plenty of times, and seeing as Mexican culture is all around us her in So. Cal. Olvera St. was just a little more of the same. China Town, that was culture shock.

The shops were unbelievable. Oriental people holding up things to show you, telling you the price. "any hat (the "t'' almost non existent) 2 dolla, 2 hat 5 dolla". If you stopped to look at something they were on you like hawk to tell you how much it was. The people were all friendly but it was such a different We walked into a shop that sold seafood, fresh seafood, still in the tank seafood. Tanks of every size in this small shop, on the ground, on the walls, with every type of thing from the sea imaginable there for you to pick out and look at. Huge fish in some of the huge tanks on the floor.
We peeked inside a poultry shop. People lined up to a basic, chest high window, and a menu of the bird that were offered. We Americans are so minimalist in our diet. Poultry to me is a chicken, or turkey, or maybe a game hen or something. If it was a bird and you could eat it, it was on that Some shops had cookware, we coveted several nice rice steamers. Some shop had clothing. Some of the small shops had tourist trap stuff. What cracked me up the most was the Chinese sales person smiling at you as you looked at the Japanese Samurai swords they were selling. At one little kiosk I watched as two Chinese gentlemen were studying a sword and chatting to one another in their native tongue. One was older like a dad and maybe the other a son. They were crouched down low, looking at the sheathed sword and trying to wonder what the heck you needed with something like this that was wooden. Then the sword clicks out of the wood sheath. The Chinese equivalent of "oh" came out of their mouths. The son was holding it and he opened his palms when he saw the gleaming metal of the sword exposed, almost dropping it. Now the conversation got very animated. They clicked the sword in and out a couple of times, rotating the sheath and sword to look at the design on it, nodding to each other then finally setting it down back in it's display cradle. They stood up still looking at the sword and talking animatedly, making hand gestures. I found it rather funny. I'm sure if I could have understood what they were saying it probably wouldn't have been so
Cute fiancee bought a nice scarf at one of these kiosks, and we started looking for some sort of blue oriental pajama or something for her granddaughter, but nothing she liked or the right size.
Dried things. There were stores full of dried roots and fungi. I walked through some of them not wanting to touch anything. There was also a Chinese Apothecary, with a doctor there to treat you with the dried stuff he had. Amazing. There was some rather flashy Chinese food eateries there. We walked by one that had Valet Parking. The attendants were Hispanic and speaking Spanish to one another, which I could see would cause some comedy with that small parking lot they had and all the Orientals with there expensive Mercedes Benz in those tight spots. Language barrier, expensive cars, could be some comedy.
We stopped in one market and bought some teas and some rice noodles. They had teas for everything, from weight loss to erectile dysfunction. I have to say the stuff we bought was cheap.
It was around noon so we headed back towards Olvera St. More shops had opened by this time so we looked in a few of those too. Hungry again we sat down at nice Mexican food place right there in Olvera St. The food was good and they had a Mariachi Band that played for the guests.

Something interesting happened after the Mariachis were done playing for our side of the restaurant. As you can see we were outside so we could see what was happening at all the shop there. I noticed two guys sitting at a table together. They are in the picture as a mater of fact.
They sat kitty corner from each other. I'm not saying they were gay, but what happened next had them both shaking there heads and looking at each other as if in disapproval. These two gentlemen where both Hispanic. I didn't pay much notice to them until I heard this lady say something in Spanish that was in a rather harsh tone and the word "joto" was in that sentence.
Time for Spanish 101. In Spanish there are many words for "gay" and one of them is Joto, the "J" sounds like an "H'' the the word sounds like "ho toe".
I look over at these two guys to see if they had started doing something over the top that would cause this lady to act up like that. These two guys were riveted on this couple that was looking at something at the kiosks across from us. I didn't see them at first, but the crowd parted and there was two guys doing a "inconspicuous hand holding". This is California, and has they always said on Seinfeld "not that there is anything wrong with that" I have worked with, and still do work with, many gays and have found them of good character and some I call friend.
The thing that seems to have offended was the large age discrepancy of the couple. This skinny gray haired, pony tailed man around say 60 had this young man more than half his age holding on to his pinky. The kid was Hispanic, probably the other half of the problem, and he was interacting with the man. Hushed talk starts, except the loud lady, and the two gentlemen next to us did not approve at all. Cute fiancee was kind of saddened by it too. The kid did look too young. Well the young and old gentlemen shopped on and things settled down.
We paid our tab and headed back to Union Station.

Inside the station is like a Cathedral. With Mission Style flare this place beats Grand Central Station in New York City by a long shot. There was tons of examples of the bygone era of this place.
This was the main hub at one time to get you North or South, or to all parts East.

The old ticket counters are all still there. You can almost look at this picture and see families and travelers, standing in line with there trunks and leather luggage, dressed in 40's or 50's clothing.
We walked back up the tunnel and waited for the train. I had made the mistake of saying that this ride would be fun because ''nobody" rides the Metrolink. When they let us board the train the car we picked was packed. Cute fiancee jumped on this and gave me a hard time for it.
The ride back was uneventful, we rode on the other side of the train and got to see what it was like on the other side of the tracks. More ugly back yards and green pools, sprinkled with the occasional awesome back yard to keep it interesting.
I would recommend the train trip down to LA to all, and everyone should experience Olvera St. once in their lives. It was a fun adventure

1 comment:

  1. Dude! GREAT blog, I could picture the whole thing, even w/o the pics. And I LOVE trains!! I've got 16 complete model trains, all passengers, in HO scale, from the heavy weight steam era UP Overland, through classic streamlined era and even the current Napa Valley Wine Train and American Orient Express. Did you know that Union Station is original Spanish style Art Deco architecture, built between 1934-1939? Before planes, EVERYbody rode trains, pretty much everyWHERE! And Union Stations meant that all railroads could use it, like, as opposed to using a Southern Pacific station to board a SP line, etc. ...and now that you know how big of a GEEK I am, I'll close w/ I enjoyed your story!