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The time I went to Los Angeles (and ignored my website for a week)

As devoted readers of this website, you've obviously noticed the lack of posts for roughly the past week. Hopefully you weren't too worried, as I was completely safe but just happened to be on the other side of the country in Los Angeles.

Up until this trip, I had never been to the West Coast. My vacations and trips have usually kept me along the East Coast — Virginia Beach, Florida, places like that. The farthest west I had been before this past week was St. Louis, and that was a work trip. About three weeks ago, I got an email from Team Coco, informing me that I had been selected through their ticket lottery to see a taping of Conan. These tickets set into motion the very quick planning of a trip to Los Angeles. While the planning happening about three weeks ago, the trip itself was either pieced together within the first few days after getting notified about the tickets or on the fly while we were actually in California.

So, now that I'm back and updating my website, I'd like to share with you a rundown of my inaugural trip to California.

This trip began very early Friday morning, with my alarm going off at 5. As someone who normally doesn't go to sleep until 2 a.m., there was no way I was going to get any real sleep Thursday night.* I'm pretty sure I wound up getting (maybe) three hours of sleep. The flights from Baltimore to Dallas to Los Angeles were uneventful with the exception of being stuck next to a guy who basically chose the window seat just so he could close the window the entire duration of the Dallas-Los Angeles flight. Hey, not like I wanted to see what Los Angeles looked like as we flew in or anything (or that I'm not a vampire and enjoy the ability to experience sunlight).

The two highlights of Friday evening were dinner at In-N-Out Burger and the Griffith Observatory. My friend Anton travels a lot for work, so he and In-N-Out Burger are quite familiar with each other. For years, I've also heard guests on the West Coast talk shows rave about In-N-Out Burger. My verdict? Meh. Honestly, I thought it was just OK. If given the chance, I'll take Sonic over In-N-Out any day. I mean, Sonic has tots.

After dinner, we drove up to Griffith Observatory to take in the widescreen view of Los Angeles. As advertised, Los Angeles can be very smoggy. I couldn't imagine living there and breathing that crap in every day.

Oh! I forgot to include a third highlight when I was counting highlights a few paragraphs ago. While driving back to the Beverly Hills hotel, we passed by the Chateau Marmont just in time to see Christopher Walken getting out of a car and making his way into the hotel. This launched several Christopher Walken impressions. Mine was awful. I can't do impressions.


We started Saturday off with a trip to the Hollywood and Highland Center, home to the (still named) Kodak Theatre. Luckily, we got there just in time for the last Kodak Theatre tour of the day. Due to the Oscars being a National Security Event, no one is allowed to take pictures in the Kodak Theatre. They don't even have their own shots up from this past February's ceremony yet, as the photos haven't been cleared. Despite not being able to take pictures, the tour was very cool. The tour guide took the group along the same path that celebs take to get into the theater and into their seats. In person, the Kodak Theatre itself seems much smaller yet taller than it does on TV. I'm not sure how the tour will help me in my Oscar Pool next year, but I'm going to hope it adds to my fake film critic credentials.

In addition to the Kodak Theatre, we swung by Grauman's Chinese Theater, saw a bunch of Walk of Fame stars and walked by the Jimmy Kimmel Live! studio.

It's been a goal of mine to not miss an opportunity to see a Major League Baseball game if I'm in a city with a team, so we knew that a baseball game had to be a part of this trip. The Dodgers were my first choice, but they were out of town this past weekend. Not like the Angels and Albert Pujols are a poor consolation prize though. We also got lucky and picked a game that Jered Weaver, the Angels' ace, was pitching. I hate finally making it to a game only to see a fifth starter pitch. Weaver didn't disappoint, tossing a complete-game win. Pujols, on the other hand, remained homerless since joining the Angels. Overall, great game. I now have six of the current MLB stadiums crossed off my list** (if we're counting closed parks, I can add the old Yankee Stadium to the list). I'll definitely have to get back out west again to visit the other parks the West Coast has to offer.

The bulk of Sunday was taken up by our visit to Universal Studios. As a movie buff (and pretend film critic), the studio tour was a must. Over the course of an hour, the tram ride took us through Universal Studios, showing us iconic sets like the Bates Motel (complete with Norman Bates himself), the crashed airliner from War of the Worlds and Amity Island (complete with Bruce the Shark himself). Jimmy Fallon was our remote-and-recorded co-tour guide, so we took the chance to get a picture with him before heading into the park itself.

I found the park to be an interesting experience. The rides are basically all created through 3D experiences, smoke machines and ride simulators. It's not like going to a Six Flags park and riding actual roller coasters that physically take you somewhere. The Universal Studios rides tended to be confined to smaller spaces, but relied on the previously mentioned tricks to create the illusion of a full-scale ride. While it's not officially open yet, we were able to ride Transformers: The Ride thanks to the park doing pre-opening runs on it. Transformers is worth the wait if you happen to be there.

After Universal Studios, we made our way to the Santa Monica Pier, assuming we would be able to get dinner there. We wound up discovering that the Santa Monica Pier closes up shop at about 8:30 on a Sunday night, no matter how many tourists are there ready to spend money. Our $8 parking spot gave us the chance to check out the Pacific Ocean, use the bathroom and get back into the car.

With some help from Yelp, we did learn that the Santa Monica Promenade is where you should go though. Once there, we had our pick of restaurants and went with Barney's Beanery. They claim that Marilyn Monroe used to go there for their chili, so there's that.


Monday was Conan day. As obsessive people (or, as a group that included myself, an obsessive person), we got to Warner Bros. Studios three and a half hours before the suggested time. Front row was at stake here, people. Our earliness paid off, as we were the among the first ten people in line. We had to wait for about an hour and half, after which they signed us in, gave us our official tickets and wrist bands and set us free until 3 p.m.

As a television viewer of Conan, I never realized the level of orchestration that goes into an episode of the show. We were lined up by our arrival groups, brought from studio point to studio point, corralled in a holding area, and then finally led across the studio lot, into Stage 15 and into our seats. Our early timing got us front row (and non-end) seats. We honestly couldn't have asked for better seats. It was always our plan to wind up in the front row, but making that plan and having it actually happen are two different things.

Prior to the show, there were the standard safety and legal announcements. Jimmy Pardo, the Conan warm-up comedian, came out to fill in the time before the show was ready to tape. Once the show got rolling, it all flew by. Anton managed to get the final "CONAN!" in before the monologue, something that Conan O'Brien actually acknowledged. If you listen closely enough to the show, you can hear him. Kathy Griffin, Morgan Spurlock and Erin Foley were the guests on Monday. Not really an A-list bunch, but they were all excellent guests. It was interesting how much more staged and blocked out everything (even the guest chatter) feels in person than it comes across on TV.

While we weren't allowed to take pictures in the studio or anywhere on the Warner Bros. lot, my brother Tim did grab a screenshot of the show and send it to me. Those super pixelated people are myself, Anton and Sam. I have proof that I was at Conan (which was good, because I forgot to buy one of the "I was there" T-shirts). All in all, a fantastic experience. I'm a huge Conan fan, so to see a taping of his show was awesome. A completely different animal than the time we saw him in Boston during his Legally Prohibited from Being Funny on Television Tour.

After the Conan taping, we planned on driving back toward the airport so we could check into the hotel we were staying at our final night, but the GPS had different plans. Due to a Googling error (you gotta be careful with the Googling), our GPS took us to Venice Beach. Upon realizing that we were in Venice Beach, I remembered that the fish taco restaurant that Jason Segel's character took Paul Rudd's character to in I Love You, Man was in Venice Beach. Just as I confirmed that fact on Google, we drove by James' Beach, that very restaurant.

After grabbing a few beers at the bar (I think we drank local), we moved over to the inside patio (the spot where they shot the I Love You, Man scenes) and ordered dinner. I obviously had no other choice but to get the fish tacos that Segel's character raved about. They were awesome. In the movie, they order a couple rounds of the fish tacos, and I definitely could've gone a few more rounds. Thanks, Jason Segel.

Aside from spending all of Tuesday on planes or in an airport, that pretty much wraps up the Los Angeles trip. It was an awesome trip, and I'm amazed at how much we did, especially looking back at it all as I wrote up this post. I don't have a "when," but I know that I'll have to go back west again someday.

*Speaking of sleep, this trip proved one benefit of my bizarre sleep habits — no jet lag. Honestly, besides gaining the bonus hours when I went out to California and then losing them coming back east on Tuesday, my sleep habits never got confused.

**The six parks: Yankee Stadium, Rogers Centre, Camden Yards, Nationals Park (numerous times), Tropicana Field (twice) and now Angels Stadium.
The time I went to Los Angeles (and ignored my website for a week) Reviewed by Bill Kuchman on 4/25/2012 Rating: 5

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