Monday, February 1, 2010

Sidetracked in L.A.

Second of three parts

One of the glories of Los Angeles Union Station, where I enjoyed a ten-hour layover last Wednesday between the incoming Texas Eagle and outgoing Southwest Chief during my writing trip West, is its location hard by Chinatown and the historic Olvera Street Mexican neighborhood. Both are a short walk from the station, and there the rail photographer and writer Carl Morrison took me on a photographic safari after meeting my train.

Following are some of my images (and Carl's; he is the better photographer) from our stroll:

The campanile of Los Angeles Union Station.

The waiting room of LAUS. Those leather benches are extraordinarily comfortable for the traveler waiting much of the day for a train, and there is free wi-fi at the Union Bagel Company at the other end of the hall.

Iglesia Nuestra Senora Reina de Los Angeles (Our Lady Queen of Angels Church), built in 1822 and L.A.'s oldest structure. It anchors the head of Olvera Street, Los Angeles' historic Mexican district.

Near the church lies the Plaza Firehouse, an 1884 structure that is now a museum. The turntable enabled firemen to roll the pumper wagon back to front after unharnessing the horses into stalls in the rear.

Detail of the horse-drawn fire wagon in the preceding photograph.

La Plaza and its gazebo at one end of Olvera Street.

The main drag of Olvera Street, lined with restaurants and tourist shops.

God help me, I love tourist kitsch -- gaudy sights and glitzy merchandise for Middle American travelers. (Wall Drug in South Dakota captured my heart forever.) Mine is not elitist amazement that common folks would pay good money for "souvenirs" that betray ignorance and unsophistication -- this stuff is often very photographable in a documentary sense.

There was lots of cheap costume jewelry and, of course, cheeky T-shirts. I nearly bought one emblazoned "WHO WOULD JESUS DEPORT?" for my elder son, a federal attorney specializing in immigration litigation. But he'd never wear it.

In this charming little cantina Carl and I shared coffee and churros, deep-fried Mexican pastry coated with cinnamon and sugar. That's not terribly good for the arteries, but one cannot live on the straight and narrow forever.

Carl captured this detail of the famous arch at the entrance to Chinatown.

The street abounds in open-air fruit stands.

My new Sigma super-wide 10-20mm lens sometimes gave interestingly distorted vistas.

Maybe I need some of those healthy negative ions in my tighty whities.

I wondered how this shop owner pronounces its name.

The tourist accustomed to sterile supermarkets, where meat is shrinkwrapped without evid
ence of how it is slaughtered, can be taken aback by Chinatown shops selling live poultry and other animals. At least one also offers bunnies. Carl captured these ingredients for rabbit stew as they were unloaded from a delivery truck.

Philippe's, famous among both tourists and Angelenos for its French-dipped sandwiches and sawdusted floors, where Carl treated me to lunch.

The interior of Philippe's smacks of a modernized Old West trackside hostelry. In one back room lies a little railroad museum.

The writer from Chicago and the photographer from L.A. in Philippe's.

There was time before departure of the Southwest Chief to do a little trainspotting on the LAUS platforms. These are Metrolink commuter trains.

A Metrolink departs for the north and northeast suburbs.

The Metro system's light-rail trains run under catenary; there is also a subway beneath LAUS.

Fruit from an Olvera Street stand in hand, this well-equipped tourist/traveler is ready to board the Southwest Chief for Chicago. Thanks, Carl.

If you'd like to see a portfolio of Carl's photographs of our time together, you'll find it here.

NEXT: Returning to Chicago on the Southwest Chief.


  1. Thanks, Henry, really enjoyed both your and Carl's photos - cheered me up on a grey and cloudy Norfolk day with an East Coast haar on the horizon! Look forward to the book when it's out over here.

  2. Haar? Hadda look that up. It's a Scottish word meaning "icy sea fog."

    I don't have an OED in my house, but wonder if "haar" and "hoar" (as in "hoarfrost") have the same root.

    Thanks for extending my vocabulary, Stephen.

  3. Move over Rick Stevens,fantastico. Do one down the Hudson and a piece on New Paltz. my goodness you are good 4am wake up call. "Bill" D

  4. Hi Henry,

    Yes, you're absolutely correct - the roots of both haar and hoar are the same. Haar is a phrase particularly beloved of our BBC weather presenters, at least those of the "old school". Hope you've got over your sniffles and snuffles.

  5. no OED in your house? What's with that?

  6. I'm delighted (and not surprised) to know you also are a Wall Drug fan. I stopped by there about 8 years ago and was entranced and charmed. I think the juxtaposition of the venue with the region is a huge part of the experience. Glad the trip was so fruitful!