5 Things I Learned in Los Angeles and Portland

While most people were either at work, school or in the process of losing their pants (hey Ke$ha!), I was traveling the West Coast of these great United States. It was no ordinary trip; I visited friends in Los Angeles and traveled with (most of) them up to Portland.

I won’t bore you with details; I will DELIGHT you with them. I will also drop off parcels of knowledge in the process. Speaking of which, here are the:

5 Things I Learned in Los Angeles and Portland

1. Dried cranberries are GREAT on a burger.

One of our first stops on the Great Western Voyage of 2010 © was The Counter, a seemingly trendy hamburger restaurant. With a hip-looking staff, modern decor and sports broadcasts in the background, we faced a gargantuan list of options to decorate and/or accessorize our burgers:

There were no bad combos to be had as the options were plentiful. And the combination of flavorful (Tillamook cheddar), beefy (cow flesh), tart (cranberries) and sweet (honey mustard sauce) was amazing in my mouth hole. Definitely a place to hit up if you’re in the L.A. area.

2. Iron Man 2 is not as good as Iron Man (numero uno)

Most movie sequels fail to live up to original; Highlander 2: The Quickening, Scary Movie 2 and Teen Wolf Too manage to overachieve on this hypothesis. And despite the super-duper hype surrounding the follow-up to 2008’s superhero blockbuster Iron Man, it was two hours of celluloid that delighted the eyes and bored my brain.

Perhaps it was fatigue from being up for the midnight showing, the fond memories of the first movie or the expectations of the continuation, but I could not get on-board with the film. Protagonist Tony Stark (played by a dynamic Robert Downey Jr.) was more narcissistic and daring, with his actions and attitudes being more reckless (to civilians, the U.S. government and personal property) and yet he seemed bored — like he, the actor and (subsequently) the audience were going through the motions of the script to get to the equally monotonous action sequences and story beats.

*voice cracks* Pretty LADY!

Also riding the boredom train were: Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts (still radiating rare elegance and energy) with more to do and little to flesh out; Don Cheadle as Lt. Col James “What Happened to My Skin Pigment?” Rhodes servicing his lines in a stoic manner;  and Scarlett Johansson as two-faced sexpot heroine Natalie Rushman/Natasha Romanoff, playing up both roles though not fleshing out her character beyond the tight clothes. Mickey Rourke’s Ivan Vanko is an interesting villain that would have worked better with more subtle convictions and fewer Russian stereotypes, and Samuel L. Jackson plays Samuel L. as Nick Fury like only Samuel L. can. Making the most of his one-note role on paper was Sam Rockwell, playing smarmy, insecure and vindictive Justin Hammer with the skill coming with being one of the best (and underrated) actors of his generation.

My take on the film: louder, bigger, goofier for the wrong reasons, and yet was empty like junk food. While the first movie had a paper-thin story that was filled with mature characters, performances and glimpses into the geeky superhero movie genre, part 2 caved fully into the trappings of the popcorn blockbuster flick. It was a marvel to watch, but the experience dissipated like buttery popcorn aroma after the experience ended.

3. Some Hollywood Actors are Jerks

We visited Warner Bros. Studios on a VIP tour, getting peeks into the operations of one of Hollywood’s most storied organizations.

The Sarcasm Meter exploded in the middle of taking this picture.

Our tour guide Brad (the awesomest tour guide EVER) chauffeured us through studio backlots, onto sound stages of some of the most famous movies and television shows, and let us see and walk around some of the sets recognizable in films and television shows. He also dished on some of the jerkiest celebs to grace the WB grounds — including Lauren Graham of Gilmore Girls and Parenthood (which shocked me), Matthew Perry of (ugh…) Friends and (tee-hee) Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Johnny Galecki of The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men creator/satanic spawn Chuck Lorre — and told stories of corporate cover-up and political intrigue. He also put up with our inappropriate jokes about Charlie Sheen (and his sordid history with women), Harry Potter and my blind Chuck Lorre hate — which he shared, which made me feel vindicated. Definitely ask for Brad if you take a tour.

Brad, the best tour guide ever.

Other actors seemed pretty cool. One of our nights was spent hanging out at Dominick’s restaurant in the geeky hopes of spotting Jason Segel (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, How I Met Your Mother) in one of his favorite spots. We saw David “Bud Bundy/Grandmaster B” Faustino at local restaurant Mel’s Drive-In with two friends that looked straight out of VH1’s Tool Academy, and I swear that I saw Ernest Thomas — Roger “Raj” Thomas of What’s Happening!! at the same place. They weren’t fighting people or leading the police in car chases, so that was a positive.

4. Portland is AMAZING.

My friend Arran commented on the second day of our excursion in Portland that the city was one of the best-kept secrets in the States. I wholeheartedly agree for many reasons.

The culture and the people were very humble, friendly and unique, shepherding a metropolis busting with arts, music, great counterculture, shopping and knowledge. It’s like the exact opposite of the Phoenix area: fun!

The downtown area and outlying areas were stuffed with enough music stores, comic shops, video game arcades, bookstores (including the legendary, elephantine Powell’s Books, a four-story monument of wonderment), theaters, donut shops (with Voodoo Doughnuts — and its chocolate-peanut butter-and-Oreo cookie monstrosity ODB donut — making the biggest impression), retro geek shops, counterculture literature and goods stores and frozen yogurt places to satisfy me for years. We had a fondue dinner and dessert that made me have a mouth orgasm.

The climate was mild despite overcast skies on the first two days and light drizzle, fostering lots of green grass and abundant trees. Coming from the heat of Phoenix, it was a slightly chilly reminder that other areas of the country have more than two seasons (cool and HOT!) and colors.

Oh, and you couldn’t go a mile or two without seeing a strip club — many of them not having cover charges. (One of the venues had a karaoke night, with drunk singers wailing while strippers danced to the songs.) It would be hard (tee-hee!) for sex addicts to get on the straight and narrow (TEE-HEE!) if they lived in Portland.

5. Friends are Awesome.

The one constant between Los Angeles and Portland — and Phoenix and Chicago — was the importance of friends.

(No, not the show title of the same name and dubious ideas on comedy.)

Throughout my trip, I was reminded of how great my friends are. Whether they were playing tour guide around the Los Angeles area, offering us a place to stay in Portland, taking us to their favorite places, putting up with my crawling through Amoeba Records, sitting and chatting with them at the House of Blues over wine and geekery, challenging Arran at NBA Jam, Street Fighter II: Champion Edition and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Arcade Game at Ground Kontrol, delighting and sharing in experiences or showing that they care, I felt fortunate to have people in my life that I was proud and happy to call them my friends, treasuring every minute that I was with them. More than any location visited, food item eaten, movie watched or The Simpsons: Scene It game played (Arran and my friend Raishawn’s husband Scott schooled me on this VERY tough board game), I enjoyed bonding with my friends more than anything else on this trip. And it would not have been a trip or learning experience without any of them.

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