More Travels With Betty and Sally, Part 6


Driving Through and Around Floods, Fog, Smoke and Sunshine


 June 18 – July 6, 2002


By Lewis Nolan

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Speedy Links to Trip Segments:


            Part 1: Memphis to Dallas; Amarillo; forest fires darken Arizona skies

            Part 2: Sedona and Flagstaff, Arizona; Barstow, California

            Part 3: Santa Barbara, California

            Part 4: Santa Barbara and Ventura, California

            Part 5: Cambria and San Simeon, California; Santa Ynez Valley wine country

            Part 6: L.A.’s Getty Center and Venice Beach

            Part 7: Green Valley and Tubac, Arizona; Nogales, Mexico

            Part 8: Detour around floods; Fort Stockton and Texarkana, Texas

            Photo Album


Quick Jumps to Points of Interest on This Page:

            Venice Beach

            Getty Center


June 29, 2002, Saturday – To Los Angeles


After a breakfast of cereal and toast and what has unfortunately become the first of three daily capsules of prescription, anti-inflammatory medicine for my injured thigh muscle, Casey drove us in Sally to see two LA attractions I’d long wanted to visit. First was, Venice Beach with its subcultish Muscle Beach and unabashed tribute to West Coast tackydom. Second was the Getty Center and Museum with its fabled price-is-no-object architecture and art collection.


We drove south through Malibu and into L.A. proper. Many Hollywood types and other members of L.A.’s elite have beach homes at Malibu that are valued in the millions of dollars. We saw dozens of cyclists pedaling along the broad bike lanes, evidently training for the numerous triathlons and cycling events in Southern California. There were also several hundred surfers bobbing in the smallish waves at the locally popular spot known as “County Line.” Casey pointed out the race route he traversed during the Malibu Triathlon earlier in the year.


We drove past the famous Santa Monica Beach and its celebrated pier. I was surprised to see that the white sand is 200-to-300 yards wide. There are dozens of permanent beach volleyball courts staked out in the sand for both league play and for casual pickup games. The ocean was clear on this beautiful, sunny day. The air temps rose ito the 70s. Despite the comfortable weather, nearly all the surfers were wearing wet suits to protect them from the chilly water and wind. More than 30 years ago, those of us who donned neophrene to enjoy the surf of Northern California to enjoy the surf envied our counterparts to the south for their warm waters. Either we were misinformed or the New Age surfers are softer than the Angelinos of the 1960s. Waves on this day were maybe two feet high, but they afforded the skillful some decent rides.


It was easy to understand why Casey has become so enamored of Southern California and its lifestyle. The temperature permits year-round activities out-of-doors. The beaches – and many of the bodies that adorn them – are gorgeous.


We drove on into Venice, named because of its canals. We paid $11 to park in a huge lot that was one-half mile
Betty & Casey, Venice Beach
Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
from the funky Venice Beach. Venice Beach is one of the oddball capitals of California, much seen on TV and in the movies. But on this morning, it appeared that the rubberneckers like us outnumbered the weirdoes by at least 10-to-1. I don’t think the Hawaiian shirt I wore fooled anybody into thinking that I was a native. It must have been the The Masters golf visor that gave me away.


We walked much of Venice Beach’s wide, concrete “boardwalk.” The bifurcated pathway is bordered by several hundred shops and vendor stands. You can buy anything you want if what you want are tee-shirts, junk food and raunchy souvenirs. One tee that caught this Memphian’s eye was “FedSex. When you absolutely, positively have to get it on.” Also available were trashy personal services like tattoo, henna painting, body piercing, tarot and fortune telling.


 There were a few sidewalk entertainers and artists here and there. There were also a few rollerbladers and cops on bicycles cruising about among the thousands of tourists. But it must have been too early in the day for the extreme weirdoes that pop up for the TV cameras. Nearly everybody we saw looked like fellow tourists or perhaps hip, young people making the beach scene and trying to fit in with a splash of peroxide and perhaps a pump or two of silicone here and there.


It appeared that there was an altogether different crowd perhaps 200 yards to the west of the boardwalk. These must have been the dedicated beach goers as they were set up with their umbrellas, lounging chairs and other equipment hauled across the sand for the day.


We bought tee-shirts and stopped to take photos at the famous Muscle Beach outdoor gym, where anybody can go behind the low, cyclone fence to do some heavy lifting for the daily fee of $5. I wish I had taken the time to pay the fee for the experience since I’ve had a number of questions from fellow members of a health club back home who’ve seen me wearing my souvenir shirt. We watch a couple of heavily muscled body builders, plus one brave, enormously fat guy who was leaning on one of the weight machines.


Nearby was a serious game of team basketball, played on an asphalt court by young adult men, mainly African-Americans. The championship series prize was $25,000, obviously enough to attract a high level of rough play with an appreciative audience.


We decided to have lunch at the Getty Center, an hour or so away in the fairly light traffic of this Saturday. It proved to be a good choice because the Museum’s
Casey, Betty & Lewis, Getty Center
Click Colored Type to Enlarge Photo
café served an excellent meal, with generous portions and reasonable prices. The place was spotlessly clean and had a great view, embellished by friendly and competent service. It is perched atop a high hill overlooking downtown L.A. and the expensive environs to the south. Mansions cap the tops of surrounding hills. Parking is $5 in a seven-level, underground garage. A modern monorail transports visitors from the garage to the Museum proper, a distance of about three-fourths of a mile. Museum admission is free.


The Getty Center’s museum and research institute (800,000 volumes related to art and art history) got underway in 1983. It started with the purchase of 750 acres by the trust funded by J. Paul Getty. The late oil magnate’s trust has become one of the largest foundations in the world. It is known for its lavish spending on the Getty Center and its art collection. The over-the-top spending by trustees is in stark contrast to the oilman’s notorious penny pinching.


It appeared to me (and other museum lovers I’m sure), that the trustees were successful in building an architectural triumph. But they threw an awful lot of money into the stunning project, some of which had to be unnecessary. One of Casey’s co-workers, a young engineer, had worked on the Getty project for several years before joining Clark Construction.  He told Casey about the “cost is no object” philosophy that prevailed in every aspect of design and construction of the Getty Center.


The building is modern in design, with panoramic viewing from cascading porches and walkways. The floors, walkways and much of the structure’s walls are built of white, travertine stone from the same quarry in Italy that provided travertine for Rome’s Coliseum two millennia ago. It also was the source of the stone colonnade of the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica and other historic buildings. In all, one million square feet of rock was transported from Europe to the Getty Center, requiring 100 ocean freighter voyages.


The combination of the classical style imparted by travertine with the modern style suggested by the Center’s rounded corners and aluminum panels makes it one of the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen.


However, despite having what is said to be the biggest museum endowment in the world for art acquisition, the collection is mediocre when compared to others we’ve visited. This includes the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay in Paris, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and several other first-rate museums in New York and also in London. I suppose the comparative weakness of the Getty collection is entirely due to the fact that the L.A. museum got in the art game and its stratospheric prices a century or two late. The very best stuff was already taken and not for sale.


But the Getty does have a fairly representative collection of many of the great artists of the western world, even if limited to their lesser works. I particularly enjoyed seeing Van Gogh’s painting of irises in the hot greens and yellow colors of the South of France; we had visited the town where he did much of his work, Aix-en-Provence, last year. The Getty also has some excellent pieces showing the best in the decorative arts of 18th Century France – those useful objects like the gilded furniture of the time.


The Getty is wonderfully well organized. It offers tasteful signage and comfortable benches and chairs for visitors. Its staff is both friendly and knowledgeable; maybe it’s the laid-back L.A. lifestyle that mellows some people out. There was none of the stuffy, security guard attitude we’ve encountered in government-run museums elsewhere. The complex of buildings and manicured gardens are an absolute marvel. We sampled only a small amount of the total collection, breezing through the galleries to see the choicest pieces suggested in a “what-to-see-when-your-time-is-limited” brochure. I’d like to visit again and spend a full day or two there.


We drove through heavy, but mostly fast-moving traffic back to Santa Barbara after an enriching day. Betty and I cooked Panko-encrusted Chicken Cordon Bleu for dinner, which was the main course of another delightful, family dinner.


June 30, 2002, Sunday – In Santa Barbara


Today was devoted to rest and relaxation. I definitely needed some R&R to ease my aching thigh muscle and to prepare for tomorrow’s long drive to Tucson. Casey was up at 5 a.m. to watch the telecast of the World Cup final, with Brazil beating Germany in a thriller. I opted to sleep in, but did rise in time to watch a tape delayed broadcast of the consolation match between Korea and Japan at 9:30 a.m. I had thoroughly enjoyed watching the World Cup matches on TV the past few weeks.


After lunch, I took a muscle relaxant and went to bed for most of the afternoon in hopes of quieting the discomfort of a pulled muscle worsened by driving. That evening we had  another excellent meal we cooked ourselves. The main dish was Sea Bass, rolled in Panko and sautéed. It was a good day to catch up on e-mail and note observations in my trip diary for later rewriting into this travel account.


While I napped and vegged out, Betty and Casey shopped for some groceries and a pillow. I had hoped that I could prop up my aching leg with the pillow during the long drive back to Memphis (it really did help, as did frequent stops to walk around a bit). I enjoyed watching a re-run of the World Cup final, as broadcast on the Hispanic Univision channel and took delight in the inimitable announcer shouting “GOALLLLLLLLLLLLL! whenever a team scored.


It’s a pity that Americans turn a cold shoulder to soccer unless they have young children who play the game. None of the major U.S. networks televised the World Cup this year. Some of the games were broadcast on cable only because the professional American soccer league paid for the time as a promotion. With the World Cup venues in Korea and Japan, the time differences meant that live matches were broadcast about 1 a.m. in Memphis and tape delayed matches about 6 a.m. Back home, I frequently watched the later broadcast and taped the early morning match for viewing that evening.


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