Virtual reality has begun to slowly descend, or infect depending on your point of view, our everyday lives. Mostly it’s a crude attempt, much like a baby tumbling and staggering about. But just wait: this baby will one day grow up and trample over us.
But rather go into a diatribe about technology, let’s talk about an interesting tool that the behemoth corporate giant Google offers through their Google Earth app: Street View. By dragging a human icon onto the satellite view, much like God plucking his servant Moses and placing him atop Mount Sinai to view his surroundings, it gives you a 360 degree view of anyplace that the ubiquitous surveillance vans have trans versed. And if you click on the road ahead, Google Earth will “drive” you to that destination. If you plan a route, you could theoretically do a virtual tour without leaving the comfort of your home.
Having never been to LA, I thought it was an opportune adventure to map out a route and drive throughout LA and its environs. I also confess to being very ignorant of the various regions and neighborhoods. Ask me about lower Manhattan and I can guide you in a circuitous way. Ask me about LA and you’ll get a blank look. So, I did what I thought was my best to take in a random sampling of what LA would have to offer by road for someone exploring by way of the internet. And this is my log and what I discovered.
6:58am – “Arrived” at LAX. Surprisingly the flight was like a second. I found myself outside the terminal at ground level and began my tour of the city. The air is climate controlled at 74 degrees inside my house and I have a steaming cup of coffee by my right side. The adventure begins.
7:25am – Taking the San Diego freeway to Hollywood. As I “drive”, I seem to be constantly following the same yellow school bus until north of E. Arbor Vitae Street, whereupon a 76 gas truck takes it place.
7:48am – Just south of the Santa Monica Freeway, the cars turn into some bizarre shapes. Have I had too much coffee, or not enough? Despite Google’s efforts to portray a realistic 360-degree view, sometimes images seem to twist and bend like some sci-fi scene.
8:20am – I turn onto Wilshire Blvd. By the US federal building, by a simple maneuver of the mouse I can almost experience many seasons in 1 click. Apparently the various images taken were at all different times and weather conditions. Reminds me of the Crowded House song “Four Seasons in One Day”.
8:50am – You can tell a lot by just the stores and area you’re in. Along Santa Monica Blvd you can’t throw a wireless computer mouse without hitting either a Starbucks or Fitness Gym. Must be a safe area.
9:15am – After driving along the Santa Monica Blvd I finally get to Hollywood and Vine, the epicenter of the tourist trap. I stop for a coffee at Starbucks (actually re-fill my own coffee from my machine, get back to my MacBook), and begin more exploring.
9:20am – Are we there yet?
9:42am – Taking the Ventura Blvd just north of the Laurel Canyon.
9:58am – Van Nuys seems to be an endless array of car dealerships and anything to do with the sacred vehicle of this city. The car is worshipped, praised, damned and abandoned when it runs it course. Until the electric car becomes mandatory, I feel this city would cease to exist if for some reason the rivers of gasoline dried up.
10:30am – In San Fernando I take the Golden State Freeway past Burbank back into LA. It flies back to me that a highway is a highway is a highway. I’ve driven across the many majestic highways of this great nation, and usually in rural areas you have such sights as the rolling hills of Tennessee, the pines of New England, the endless “South of the Border” billboards along 95, and other landmarks to keep you amused as the car speeds along. But on highways within major cities, except for the billboards for local TV stations or car dealerships, the scene is typically the same whether in LA or on the NJ Turnpike by exit 13: cars and trucks ensconced in a sea of concrete with no discernable features. I could take the San Fernando or Glen Oaks Blvd for a more scenic view, but the expeditious route of the highways is too tempting. Time. We race against time to save time and by doing so avoid the local scenery. With speed we lose flavor.
11:15am – The cat is gnawing at my foot, playing with the laces of my Converses. A small distraction while I take care of this passenger.
11:50am – I take Alameda Street to cut through the congested center of LA, not knowing that this is an industrial megalopolis. Every city has its share of warehouses and truck depots. They are the kidneys of any city, moving wastes and by-products about for the function of a greater good. They’re not pretty, except maybe to the locals or in some Zen-like reflection.
12:15pm – I’m discovering a unique feature about Street View. Sometimes, just sometimes, the visual is distorted and buildings appear as if melting on the digital screen. I’m reminded of the police building in Flann O’Brien’s “The Third Policeman” in which structures give a bizarre optical illusion: “It looked as if it were painted like an advertisement on a board on the roadside and indeed very poorly painted. It looked completely false and unconvincing.”
12:30 – Taking Imperial Highway as far east as I can in order to snake through the Brea Canyon. Like Grant’s Army slogging through the bayous of Louisiana for the Battle of Vicksburg, I plod along this endless road of strip malls, box stores, discount houses and such.
1:30pm – I take Valley Blvd to Fairplex Drive. I am now noticing the scenery of the San Jose Hills. Quite beautiful.
2:15pm – At La Verne I take the Foothill Blvd to what Google Earth says is East Route 66. Having never set foot (or digital view) of this road, I only recall images and folklore of this famous stretch of highway that connected the realm of LA with the multitudes of those crossing America in search of the splendor of Hollywood and the charm of the Pacific Beaches. “Driving” along, I am saddened. This is not some unique folksy California charm but another endless stream of shopping malls and discount stores, connected along this path like some consumerist vinca vine. I know no one should wax poetic about the NJ Turnpike, but the Turnpike was never some glamorous girl that men turned heads to see. The Turnpike is the ironclad bureaucrat with the illusion of efficiency. Route 66 was the perky girl in high school you admired but then saw her at the 30-year reunion and breathed a sigh of relief you didn’t hitch your wagon to that road.
3:55pm – Taking Route 605 to Lower Azusa Road. Another highway. ‘nuf said.
4:15pm – Decided to take Peck Road south through El Monte. Norwalk Blvd trying to get as fast as possible to Huntington Beach and the ocean. Throughout this trip I’ve noticed a preponderance of 7-11 convenience stores. These creatures have become almost extinct in the northeast, having lost to the fierceness of the mighty Wa-Wa, much like the Neanderthals being pushed out of Europe 40,000 years ago. Also Jack-in-the-Boxes. They’re still around?
5:05pm – Finally on Highway 1 – Pacific Coast Highway. Another road with a glorious tag which it wears around its neck. I’m sure the climate controlled air conditioning of my house does in no way supplant to warm breezes and the radiance of the “actual” sun.
5:40pm – On my way to Redondo Beach up to Santa Monica. Google will not allow me to “drive” onto the Santa Monica pier, so I’m left observing on the road. What a splendid place to spend the day it must seem.
5:55pm – Are we there yet?
6:00pm – Taking Sunset Blvd through the hills. A very nice area. The road is walled in by a series of hedges and palm tress. I can’t for a second believe that locals stick to the 35mph speed limit.
6:40pm – On the San Diego Freeway. Developing less of road rage and more of Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
7:20pm – Finally “arrived” back at LAX. The flight back east was amazingly easy – no body searches, no shoe-less shuffle through TSA checkpoints. Just memories and time to walk away from this computer and call it a day.