Hiking to the Hollywood Sign


It’s become a thing with me to not make a big deal about my birthday – I just don’t. In fact up until a few years ago, I worked on my birthday because I felt like it.

But with this job giving me Personal Days and whatnot, I decided last year to take the day off and hit all the local eateries that were offering free birthday foods (I started signing up in November 2016 for every one I could find). It was fun but still just…meh.

So about a month before The Big 49, I had decided to do something different and something I had always wanted to do: hike to the Hollywood sign. It used to be pretty easy to access but over the years, the locals got tired of tourists and adventurers parking on the street and the sign was an easy target for vandals as well.

That’s no longer the case. It’s clean, guarded 24/7, and there is no longer parking on Beechwood Drive. Things have definitely changed.

Knowing this, I had to figure out a few things before I made my way up there, like parking and, you know, which trails to take. But once I did I was pretty excited to start my local adventure.

It took about an hour – typical drive time – to get to Canyon Drive, the place where the trails begin. And because it was the middle of the week I had no trouble finding a parking spot. On the weekend? Forget it.

So with my backpack strapped on my back, GoPro* mounted to a stick in hand, I locked up the car and made my way.

Before you venture in, there’s a map of all of the trails you can take in the area. It’s hard to believe this is in Los Angeles, right?

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The fire danger is always high around here

As part of my pre-hike preparation I had already looked up all the trails and marked my intended route on my Endomondo fitness tracking app so I wouldn’t get lost. Naturally, I took the longest route which is a little over 5k (3.22 miles). Because I’m a fool.

Need proof? Look at the picture below. This is near the start of the trail and you can barely see the sign or the radio/TV towers on top of Mt. Lee.

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I would get there eventually but oh, there are hills to climb. This was maybe just under a mile into the hike.

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It was about here when I learned something: hiking is not walking. I normally walk at a brisk pace and I started out that way but it sure didn’t last. I toned it down a bit for the rest of my trek.

The trails are clearly marked and that’s a good thing. A bunch of hills and valleys later, I came across this sign and took a little break for air and water. Just under a mile to go!

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While on the way up, I passed a few groups of tourists riding horseback on the trail. From what I could gather, they only stay on the dirt trails and don’t ride up to the sign – it’s much to steep for them. But wow, they are such majestic creatures, aren’t they?

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Here’s a little something you may not know. From a distance, the Hollywood sign looks all nice and straight but if you look closer at the image below, you’ll see just how misaligned it really it. In fact, the first O looks to be the farthest out of them all.

And hey, I’m getting closer!

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This is the final trail: Mt. Lee Drive. This wraps around and ends at the Hollywood sign.

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If you look to the right, you get a spectacular view of the valley. In the dead center of this image are a few studios including Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Animation, Warner Bros. Studios, etc.

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This plaque is sitting just before you turn the corner and reach the sign. The donor list includes Hugh Hefner and a handful of studios.

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Finally, just over an hour from when I started, I had reached my destination. And was it ever worth it.

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And did you know there was a lake up here? That would be Lake Hollywood (duh) and the Hollywood Reservoir.

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Here’s what all those towers look like up close.

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Life’s little moments are worth celebrating.

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Just after this picture was taken, I decided to have a seat and snack on the banana and protein bar I had packed. That’s when my phone rang. It was Mom calling to wish me a happy birthday.

“Are you at work?”

“Um. No. But you’ll never guess where I am,” I told her.

“Oh no. Where are you,” she asked, slightly concerned.

“I’m on top of Mt. Lee. I just hiked up to the Hollywood sign.” There was a moment of silence.

“Oh my…the Hollywood sign?” Her concern turned into a little bit of excitement once she realized I had made it and everything was fine. We talked for a little bit – definitely a surreal moment – before she let me go so that she could tell my brother to call me.

I finished my conversations and noshing on whatever snacks I had and made my way back down the trail. But if you think that’s it, you’re wrong! There was one more stop: to the Batcave (aka Bronson Canyon)!

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This is it, the one that Batmobile drove out of in the original Batman TV series. You can see a then-and-now on this Instagram post. The cave is manmade and aside from Batman, has been used in a slew of TV shows and movies.

Me, unkempt, in a cave. Because why not.

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But just because it’s manmade doesn’t mean you won’t find anything interesting in there. While I was walking through, a couple was pointing a flashlight into a small hole – there was a baby bat inside.

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The video I shot gives you a better idea of what we were looking at. I maxed out my zoom since I didn’t want to frighten the little guy.

So with that being my final stop, I was done. And in case you’re wondering what all the meandering looks like, here you go:

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The green line is speed; the gray line indicates elevation which started out at 646 ft. and ended at 1,696 ft. for a gain of 1,050 ft.

Here are the stats Apple Health gave me for the entire day:

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94 floors? Holy moly. No wonder I was sore the rest of the week.

If you’re ever in the area, by all means take some time and do this. The trails to the sign aren’t terribly rugged but I wouldn’t recommend wearing flimsy shoes, either. A good pair of running shoes ought to do the trick as would a few bottles of water and some snacks.

Oh, and definitely bring your phone for pictures (and a portable charger). The view from the top is worth every step you take.

All in all, it was a good time and something I would definitely do again. Next time I’d like to take a trail in to Griffith Park or Griffith Observatory, one of my favorite places in L.A.

The question is: what will I do next year for my 50th?

I have no idea, but there’s time to start planning.

—-

*I’m still in the process of editing the video on my phone. Steven Spielberg I ain’t.

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Track Time


Today was Anthony’s 12th birthday and despite Mom and Dad asking him repeatedly for weeks what he might want as a gift, his reply was a consistent “I don’t know!” (He really wanted a camera but I’m still pricing them — and he’s not getting one better than mine.)

I had some suggestions for places to go and things to eat, all of which were met with opposition or just not logistically feasible for our back-up plans. I even threw out the idea of going to the local go-kart track to see if he would bite.

He was skeptical. But Ann, tired of his indecisiveness, made up his mind while he was taking a shower: we were going go-karting and he was going to like it. After all, I took the day off from work to spend it with him.

Go Kart World sits off the 405 in Carson and if you didn’t know any better, you’d think it was no longer in business or even abandoned by its owners who were suddenly in the midst of some kind of legal trouble. You’d think that — until you see the number of celebrities who have spent the day there: Cindy Crawford, Quentin Tarantino and yes, even David Beckham. The last one makes sense since he played for the L.A. Galaxy whose home is just a few blocks away. The arcade walls are covered with even more celebrity pictures than what’s on their website.

I guess if you want to have some fun on the down-low, this is the place to be.

Anyway, there are a ton of options for racing from a single ticket to an all-day pass. We opted for the all-day pass since it didn’t make any sense to spend $30 for two hours when the day pass was $37.50. It also gives you in-and-out privileges if you decide to go for a bite to eat and come back (which is what we did).

There are five tracks to choose from but really, for bigger kids and adults, there’s only three to be concerned with. And even then, you could break it down to just two since the Turbo Track isn’t all that exciting and very narrow which doesn’t allow for passing. Fun, but the competitive spirit is all but extinguished.

Anthony and I found ourselves on the Slick Track first. It’s nothing more than an oval with slippery curves that are perfect for drifting. Having played my share of driving video games in the past, I had this track figured out by my second go-around.

And while helmets are not necessary when driving, we brought ours anyway so that we could record some GoPro footage to share with everybody. Here’s our first time on the Slick Track. If you’re a fan of the old Daytona USA arcade game then you’ll dig the background music.

You might have noticed I had two GoPro mounts on my helmet. You’re right. That’s because I didn’t want to keep one in my pocket in such a cramped little car — more on that later — or keep removing it. I figured I might as well leave it and just switch positions as I needed to.

Also, at about 3:00 you’ll see Car #10 enter from the left side. The guy was a real bag of dicks and kept bumping Anthony on this track and the larger Super Track. His kids were also a couple of ill-mannered dillweeds who did the same thing but my boy got even with them by pushing them into the wall on the Super Track. As for the dad, I bumped him a few times at about 3:12 just to distance him from Anthony. This kind of stuff isn’t encouraged since it’s a family amusement center but hey, if dude’s going to be an asshole and take out my kid, I’m going Tony Stewart on his ass.

With that out of the way, we headed over to the Super Track which, as its name implies, is  the largest track at the facility. Here’s how that went (with music from Daytona USA once again).

Anthony and I mix it up a little at about 1:30 of this video and he later bumps me toward the Start line (you can hear me laughing about it later). As for that stupid yellow car in front of me? There was just no getting past them no matter how hard I tried. I wish I had a banana peel or turtle shell convenient.

So while the overall experience is indeed fun, especially for a first-timer, there’s plenty of other little things that I didn’t prepare for.

The stench/emissions produced by those tiny little lawnmower engines that power the go-karts can nearly gag you, especially when you’re directed to use a car under the overpass where it kind of collects. I had to throw the faceshield down on my helmet a few times as I was waiting just to cut back on the cloud of black smoke that was enveloping me.

At 5’10” and 200-something pounds, the size of the cars leaves something to be desired. For me, they required contortionist entry and exit as well as adjusting the seat belt before sitting down since most drivers are kids and they use a smaller size. It’s pretty cramped inside and by the time we were done, my elbows were sore from having them rest against the inner wall of the cars. But while I don’t like small, confined spaces these didn’t bother me much — except for getting in and out, which was no small task. I felt like I had done some core workouts by the end of our visit.

The arcade is less than impressive with games that someone like me, who grew up in the ’80 arcade era, would never bother to play. There’s also a fair share of claw and skill games to choose from. The only money I spent in there was for a can of Hawaiian Punch: driving these things can make you thirsty real fast.

Even with those few little things, it’s safe to say that we both had a great time and are looking forward to returning for whatever special occasion happens to be next on our calendar or any other day that finds us struggling with ways to spend it.

But I’ll leave my banana peels at home no matter how badly I’ll want to bring them.

Decade


It was the first week in September 2003 when I got the news. Ann, having been suffering from what she thought was a bout with the stomach flu, called me at work once she returned from the doctor. And I’ll never forget it.

“I’m pregnant,” she said, voice quivering. Barely being able to hold onto my oh-so-chic Nokia 8210, I was ecstatic, scared, nervous, and freaked out.

Us, with a child. Us, parents. Wow.

I told her to meet me for lunch at the office. When she arrived, I ran outside and greeted her with a big hug and the two of us shared a moment we would never forget. It was the first time that we had officially held each other as parents.

From there, it everything went so fast. Our schedules revolved around doctor’s appointments and every little thing a nervous Ann thought didn’t feel right required a call to her OB/GYN who was outstanding throughout the entire pregnancy. She also performed the C-Section.

Nothing really hit us until we saw the first ultrasound.

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That little peanut was our baby although at this point its sex could not be determined.

It didn’t matter. We were ready for little Girl or Boy to arrive. I printed out this ultrasound and stuck it to the side of my work computer and as I got updated ones, printed those out and replaced the last one. Coworkers would come into the office to get an update on things and see the latest ultrasound and, of course, ask how we were both doing.

And being it was a small business, they got together and had a Baby Shower which was just the beginning since one coworker decided she would throw us one herself…

…as did Ann’s parents.

A total of three Baby Showers. Don’t ask. I guess people like us. By the way, that Picasso print over my left shoulder is still hanging in the den.

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Then, after all the showers had come and gone, The Big Day arrived — March 30, 2004. I was on my way to work when Ann called me on my cell phone which at the time I never had on while driving. But something told me to turn it on this time.

I was a block away when I got the call to come back home because her water had broke. I turned around, called the office to let them know my vacation had officially begun and, much to Ann’s chagrin, started the video camera.

We arrived at the hospital and Ann was still doing okay. After filling out some forms, she was taken into a room for observation. Her OB/GYN showed up for the delivery and gave us a rundown of how things would happen — and reminded us of the complications we could encounter as well. Ann was then wheeled out to the OR for the delivery as I donned my sterile outfit.

Here’s a selfie of me in said outfit as I ready to enter the OR. And as is evident by this photo, I was shooting what are known at this particular moment in 2014 as “selfies” long before it was chic. And I was doing it with film cameras in the 90s, you hipster twits.

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The boy we came to name Anthony entered this world at 10:47 am. I sat by Ann’s side the entire time, only leaving her to take photos with two of the three cameras I took with me: two still (film and digital) and one video camera. On said video, I am filled with absolute euphoria as the doctor held up Anthony for the first time. I was crying more than he was and repeatedly saying, “Oh my God! Oh my God! I can’t believe it!”

Ann, pretty drugged up, just smiled at me.

Once Anthony was cleaned up and I had taken umpteen photos, the nurse handed him over to me to hold for the first time. I’ve never had such a feeling of love in my life. Here, in my arms, was our little creation tightly wrapped in blankets and whose newborn eyes were seeing light for the first time. It’s absolutely mind-blowing.

I wouldn’t let him go. I held him so close to me as I looked into his big, blue eyes* with absolute wonder, cherishing a moment we may not ever see again. I cried again just staring at him and could almost hear Dad laughing and carrying on behind me, beaming with as much pride as myself and handing out bubble-gum cigars.

Before we knew it, Anthony was off to the Postnatal Ward for more measurements and monitoring. That’s when the grandparents saw him for the first time.

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I was also able to spend a little more time with him later that day as well as change a diaper or two.

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From the time we found out, I’ve always been proud to be this boy’s father. Nothing makes me happier than to see him smile and over these last 10 years, I’ve seen him change so much but remain the sweet little boy I’ve always known.

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May he never lose his sense of wonder. May he always be curious of things as simple as the spots on ladybugs or as complex as the galaxies that swirl above us.

May his compassion continue to flourish whether it’s helping the homeless or playing with the Special Ed kids at his school, both of which he does frequently (despite being ridiculed by some who aren’t as mature as he).

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It doesn’t matter if he follows in my footsteps or decide to take his own path. The only thing I can ask him to do is to be a person of integrity and honesty, and as of right now I think he’s well on his way to making that a reality.

His heart will be broken by his first love. He will lose golf tournaments. He will fail his driving exam. He will make bad decisions.

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But if he is anything like me, he will learn and move on. Whatever the case may be, we will always be there to love him and support him, just as we promised we would the moment we found out he was on the way.

Happy 10th Birthday, Anthony. You mean the world to us.

*Most newborn eyes have a blue tint to them. Their natural color eventually breaks through.

Blogging 365, Day 45: 44


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Courtesy Flickr user RosterBoard

How’s that for a confusing post title?

It’s the best I could come up with, what with this being the beginning of my 44th year on this often cruel material sphere.

And it’s getting kind of scary now. I work with a girl who was born the same year I was at the Depeche Mode 101 concert at the Rose Bowl (1988). I’m a year younger than How Wheels, I was around to “see” the Apollo 11 mission, and I’ve outlived more musicians and celebrities than I can think of.

But in any case, it’s been a fantastic 43 years and I’m hoping that #44 keeps going down the same path. Ann’s been by my side through thick and thin for 20 years come June and Anthony still thinks I’m the cat’s pajamas (a phrase that will definitely raise a red flag as to the time I grew up).

And being that the results of my recent health screening were pure gold, suffice it to say that I plan on being around for many, many more years to annoy both my family and you, my readers – one in the same at times.

As for the whole birthday celebration thing, well, I don’t really care. I’m working on today (much to Mom’s chagrin) because what else would I do? I’m 44 not 8. It’s not that big of a deal. The only thing that matters is that I feel great both mentally and physically, that I’m in good health, and my family is beside me. I can check off all of those things because they are all true which is why I plan on – get ready for it – possibly running my first half-marathon next year at age 45. With the distances I’m running now, doubling it wouldn’t be that much of a stretch. I just need to build up my endurance and not worry much about time. But I will do it.

Anyway, there you go. Even on my birthday, I’m blogging in order to stick to my year-round blogging theme. Just think: next year I will turn 45 on the 45th day of the year.

Amazing!

Or not.

And oh, before I forget. Happy Valentine’s Day! And before you ask, yes, I’ve seen my share of heart-shaped cakes in my lifetime…

Blogging 365, Day 31: Free Birthday Crap, Part I


With the Big 44 a mere two weeks away, my inbox is starting to get inundated with all kids of worthless free birthday offers that I may or may not use. As was the case last year, I will share them with you to see how cheap retailers and restaurateurs have gotten. I will post them as I get them so in today’s case, you get two.

First up is Best Buy with this offer:

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Not only is this a step down from their former offers of a $10 store certificate, it’s also a cheap step back from last year. You see, that’s when they offered 4x bonus points with no strings attached. This year I have to use the Reward Zone credit card – I don’t have a single credit card to my name, let alone theirs – to earn 4x the points. But as you can see by my point total at the top, I haven’t been using my rewards lately. Frankly, I don’t really care since I’m no longer shopping there anyway.

Now this one I may actually use:

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As overpriced as they may be, I do like perusing the used game selection at Gamestop because chances are if I don’t find anything, Anthony will. And it’s not like I’m looking to get something new like Halo Whatever or some other well-known franchise. I don’t do those games. I prefer mine with a gas pedal or a Mario character or a combination of both. And a 20% discount isn’t all that bad of a deal when the games I usually buy are less than $20.

So there we go. Another two weeks of inbox offers to go! What’ll I get next?