Charmed by Southern Africa - United Hub
Amazing destination

Charmed by Southern Africa

By The Hub team , July 19, 2019

Each week we profile one of our employee's adventures across the globe, featuring a new location for every employee's story. Follow along every week to learn more about their travel experiences.

By San Franciso Customer Service Representative, Leonida Esquieres

Two years of preparation for this adventure brought my family and close friends to southern Africa. Since this is the farthest destination we've ever planned, we decided to cover at least three neighboring countries — South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana — to save on travel. We weren't sure what to expect from these places, but surprisingly, it turned out to be the most amazing adventure. Our long journey from the U.S. (33 hours) brought us first to Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe. To get there, you could fly to many of United's European destinations and then take Star Alliance partner airlines to get to Africa. (Later this year you'll be able to fly nonstop from Newark to Cape Town)

Victoria Falls

Zimbabwe

Our first stop was the city of Victoria Falls, home to the famous, spectacular and most beautiful waterfall also called Victoria Falls. It is referred to as "The Smoke that Thunders" and is one of Earth's greatest spectacles, one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the world as well as UNESCO World Heritage Site. Made up of a series of gorges and falls, the size and power of this massive body of water is awe-inspiring. As we planned to witness the "lunar rainbow," which only happens during a full moon, we scheduled to go at that time. The lunar rainbow can be seen for three nights of each lunar cycle during the full moon. The moon bow is created by the mist of the falls as light from the moon is refracted by water particles, creating a rainbow effect. Although it is something extraordinary, I must say that it was more fun to see the falls at day time while getting drenched from the thick mist.

The next day's highlight was the much-anticipated Zambezi River sunset cruise. What could be better than an open bar sunset cruise while soaking up the beauty of Africa? As we drifted along the river we admired the splashes of color that the setting sun painted in the sky as well as watched the wildlife in the serenity of this place. At the end of the cruise we tasted unique cuisines such as impala meat, buffalo meat and worms (yes, worms) at Boma restaurant.

Botswana

A short and easy trip from Zimbabwe, Botswana makes for a great trip to this and a wonderful safari destination. It's an astonishing place and home to amazing wildlife. We did both a Thebe River boat safari and a mobile safari through Chobe National Park. The river safari was entertaining and is an authentic Botswanan experience. Chobe is famous for its large population of elephants and one of the best wildlife destinations in the world, which overwhelmed us as we tried to capture photos of all of the amazing animals in sight. The baby animals were so cute, glued close to their mothers or underneath them. What a sheer display of wildlife in their natural habitat. A herd of buffalos swimming across mini islands, sunbathing crocodiles, hippos in the bank, a herd of kudus under the trees, families of monkeys with babies hanging underneath mothers along our relaxing river cruise — we saw it all. The baby elephants were so adorable you'd want to take them home.

From Zimbabwe we flew on our Star Alliance partner South African Airways (SA) to Johannesburg, our point of entry into South Africa.

South Africa, the rainbow nation

I have put off South Africa for too long, to my regret now. Admittedly, I was worried by its reputation for crime and discouraged by the distance. But my experience proved otherwise — the people were very nice, it was peaceful everywhere we went and the scenery is so beautiful it makes the long distance worth it.

After a night's rest in Johannesburg, we headed to Cradle of Humankind, renowned as the birthplace of humanity. The Sterkfontein Caves in the Cradle of Humankind put the origins of humans into perspective and gave an intriguing look into our collective past. It is here that some of the most important fossils were found. The network of limestone caves and old mines at Sterkfontein today hold one of the most renowned paleontological sites in the world, made famous by a breakthrough in 1947 when an almost perfect adult skull nicknamed "Mrs. Ples" was found. The skull dates back 2 million years, providing valuable evidence for the origins of human evolution in Africa.

A monkey at Kruger National Park
A kudos at Kruger National Park

Our next stop was Kruger National Park for more wilderness sightings during a safari on a jeep. There, we witnessed a hyena family, leopards, lions, zebras, giraffes, kudus, buffalos, monkeys roaming on the streets stealing fruits or chasing us, and more elephants. What's more interesting is where we stayed for a couple of nights, called Hippo Hollow Country Estate, which offers cute chalet bungalows and a resident hippo roaming in the backyard. I swear it was near our chalet one night making loud noises.

On our third day we went to a place called God's Window on the Drakensberg escarpment in Mpumalanga, which is known as Paradise Country. God's Window is so called gets its name because of the panoramic view that it offers of the Lowveld, located more than 900 meters below with lush forest clad ravine. Despite the fog during our early morning visit, the incredible view was still marvelous and so enigmatic.

View overlooking Cape Town

By the time we reached our main destination of Cape Town, we were hooked. South Africa's beauty is incomparable with any other countries we've seen. We filled our five days here (not enough) climbing Table Mountain with an incredible sweeping view of the city. Flanked by Devil's Peak and Lion's Head, Table Mountain makes up the northern end of the Cape Fold Mountain range. Legend has it that the tablecloth of clouds that pours over the mountain when the southeaster blows is the result of a smoking contest between the devil and a retired sea captain, Jan van Hunks. Blessed with crisp blue skies, we rode in a cable car and enjoyed the spectacular view from the peak.

The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront in Cape Town is situated on the Atlantic shore and offers a breathtaking view of Table Mountain and the ocean, making it a relaxing place to chill. We took a ferry to Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned. The legacy of apartheid is still very clearly visible and it was touching. Robben Island, the unique symbol of "the triumph of the human spirit over adversity, suffering and injustice" with a rich 500-year-old multi-layered history, represents an important aspect of South Africa's history.

The colorful homes in Cape Town

Bo-Kaap is one of the most photographed places in Cape Town so we weren't going to miss it. This place was formerly called the Malay Quarter when the colorful houses called "huurhuisjes" were built and rented to slaves from Malaysia, Indonesia and other African countries. It was told that while leased these houses were white and when that law was lifted — and they were allowed to buy the houses — they painted them bright colors as an expression of their freedom. They are indeed very attractive and unique.

Ready for some African wine? Western Cape is your spot. The Cape Winelands is a region of the Western Cape Province and is home to world-class vineyards of South Africa. We had a wonderful wine tasting experience with views of the mountains surrounding the vineyards. We also stopped at Cape of Good Hope, where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans meet offering stunning views of the sea, flora and fauna. It was a dream come true to reach the most south-western point of the African Continent. Along our way on each stop were smaller charming Victorian villages, which were adorable and gave us a different perspective on South Africa that you wouldn't feel anywhere else in the world. A visit to Seal Island and Boulders Beach, where you can spot African penguins, were an added bonus.

Finding splendid beauty and wilderness in South Africa, Zimbabwe and Botswana changed our perspective. Southern Africa offers dramatic mountain ranges, golden coast lines, wildlife, vibrant cities and centuries of history. It's amazing and worth traveling 30-plus hours to. I'm really looking forward to our Cape Town service starting in December.

A message from our CEO Oscar Munoz on the anniversary of September 11, 2001

By Oscar Munoz, CEO, United Airlines , September 11, 2019

Today, we remember the colleagues, customers and every single victim of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

I know each of us in the United family marks this difficult moment in our own way. Still, we all share a common commitment to honor how our brothers and sisters left us and also celebrate what they gave to us during their lives. We remember their professionalism and heroism. We cherish their camaraderie and friendship. We carry with us the examples they set forth, especially in the heroism and bravery displayed by so many on that terrible day. Above all, we understand a simple truth: While thousands of our fellow human beings lost their lives in New York City, Arlington and Shanksville, the attacks of September 11th were aimed at all people of peace and good will, everywhere. They were attacks on the values that make life worth living, as well as the shared purpose that make us proud of what we do as members of the United family: connecting people and uniting the world.

We may live in times scarred by discord and disagreement, and we know there are those around the world who seek to divide us against one another. But, on this day – above all – we come together, as one. We affirm our core belief that far, far more unites us as citizens and fellow human beings than can ever divide us.

Let us embody that belief as we go about serving our customers and one another – on this day and every day – as we continue to help building a world that's more united. Let that be our memorial to the sisters and brothers we lost, eighteen Septembers ago.

Humbly,
Oscar

Hemispheres

Three Perfect Days: Los Angeles

By The Hub team

Story by Justin Goldman | Photography by Tanveer Badal | Hemispheres September 2019

No one comes to Los Angeles without having at least a little foreknowledge. If you're a film geek (like me), you know where the heist crew had breakfast in Reservoir Dogs and which building was Nakatomi Plaza in Die Hard. If you're a music geek (like me) you can name the clubs Guns N' Roses welcomed to the jungle and the streets Dr. Dre went rollin' in his '64. If you're from New York or San Francisco (like me), you probably hate LA on principle—for the smog, the Lakers fans, the fame-seeking ethos of Hollywood. And yet, no matter how much you think you know the City of Angels, there's always something more to learn, something real to find. LA County, after all, comprises more than 4,000 square miles and 10 million people (including the largest Mexican and Asian immigrant communities in the U.S.), with a GDP of $700 billion. It's impossible to make an LA guide for everyone, but if you (like me) are a fan of Chinatown and Charles Bukowski, beaches and bowling alleys, Michelin stars and micheladas, here's one for you.

Day 1

Beaches and speakeasies on the Westside

I'm in Los Angeles, so of course I'm eating breakfast by the pool. More specifically, I'm in the lovely atrium at FIG, the poolside restaurant at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica. In the water, a couple of kids are splashing around in unicorn floaties. On the wall above, Muscle Beach's best-known lifter, Arnold Schwarzenegger, flexes in a mural. On my plate is a scramble chock-full of fresh produce—tomatoes, asparagus, peppers, spinach—from Santa Monica's famed farmers market.

The pool may be Hockney-worthy, but these flip-flops were made for walking. Five minutes down Ocean Avenue, I cross a bridge over the Pacific Coast Highway and onto the Santa Monica Pier, passing the Route 66 sign, caricature artists, funnel cake stands, and carnival rides on my way to the end of the pier, where fishermen toss their lines in the water and tourists snap photos of a sea lion barking for scraps. The sharp salt smell of the ocean beckons, so I backtrack to the sand, where I roll up my jeans and watch the surf slide over my feet. I lose my thoughts in the rhythm of the waves, until a big one crashes in. Reverie over.

A prideful lifeguard tower on Venice Beach

A prideful lifeguard tower on Venice Beach

Going wheels-up at the Venice Skatepark

Going wheels-up at the Venice Skatepark


I watch the surf slide over my feet, losing my thoughts in the rhythm of the waves, until a big one crashes in.

I keep flippin' and floppin' my way south toward Venice Beach, the epicenter of Southern California's grungy, punky beach culture. Snatches of the Doors leak from surf shops and sunglass stands on the very strip where Jim Morrison and Ray Manzarek formed the band. Are you a lucky little lady in the City of Light? Or just another lost angel… I kill a few minutes watching skaters ollie along the undulating walls of the Venice Skatepark, and then I exit the beach, going a few blocks inland to the Venice Canals. Developer Abbot Kinney built these narrow waterways in 1905 to evoke some other Venice, and while I don't see any gondoliers, the homes lining the canals make for a fun self-guided architecture tour, veering from glass-walled Modernist structures to mosaic-tiled hippie bungalows.

A few more blocks up Venice Boulevard, I reach the town's main drag, Abbot Kinney Boulevard. I'm having lunch at Gjelina, which for more than a decade has offered the sort of farm-fresh cuisine and casual-yet-sceney vibe that the rest of the world thinks is LA. I sit at a distressed-wood table and chow down on California king salmon tataki; grilled peaches with burrata, prosciutto, and chicory greens; and a perfectly cooked black bass with olives and heirloom tomatoes. If this is what people associate with LA, I can see why everyone wants to move here.

My feet are flip-flopped out, so it's a good thing my college buddy Matt, who lives in Hermosa Beach, has loaned me his car—a cobalt Chevy Volt we call the Blue Dragon—to help me navigate this unending city. Fortunately, you don't need to be a Targaryen to ride this dragon, so after retrieving the car from the Fairmont valet, I fly up the 405 to the J. Paul Getty Museum, which stands on a hill above the most heavily trafficked freeway in the U.S. I park and take the tram up, then meander through the Robert Irwin–designed Central Garden, following a trickling waterfall to a reflecting pool and an X-Files-esque azalea labyrinth. The scene is so transporting that it's easy to pass a couple of hours without even entering the galleries. Oops.

No time for regrets, though. The afternoon has begun to wane, so I drive back to the Fairmont and take a seat on my balcony to watch the curtain fall on another day in America. Once night has settled and the lights have come up on the pier, I walk over to the Third Street Promenade, an outdoor mallwhere fairy lights twinkle and purple jacarandas bloom above shoppers and buskers singing Justin Timberlake. At the food court, I go up an escalator and tap a code into a black door marked "private." When it opens, I enter Dialogue, an 18-seat tasting-menu hideaway that was one of just 24 restaurants in LA to receive a Michelin star this June. As he passes me the gorgeous plates (21 of them!), chef Dave Beran explains how the Roots' album …And Then You Shoot Your Cousin inspired his menu.

"I reached out to Questlove, and he told me they wrote that album over the course of the last year of their manager's life," Beran says. "It's essentially their progression emotionally. You had to experience that album the way they intended it, and that led us to the idea of writing a tasting menu that had to be experienced the way we intended. Just as the seasons look forward and backward, the dishes do as well. Every dish has something in it from the last one and something to look forward to in the next. Your snapper had a ginger mist on it, which went into the ginger-rhubarb foam, which leads to a rhubarb chip with matcha and lilac pudding, followed by a cucumber-lilac soda. None of our dishes are intended to be complete thoughts as much as completing each other's thoughts." Food for thought, indeed.

The landmark Venice Sign at sunset The landmark Venice Sign at sunset

After dinner, I'm buying Matt a drink as a thanks for lending me the Blue Dragon. I take a cab to Abbot Kinney and meet him at the restaurant Scopa Italian Roots, where we tell the maître d' we have a reservation at Old Lightning. He promptly confiscates our phones and leads us around to the side of the building, through an unmarked door, and into LA's premier bourbon bar. The glass case along the wall taunts us with shelf after shelf of nigh-impossible-to-find vintage bottles. Matt leers covetously at a collection of limited-edition Willett, while I pine for the Pappy. I tell the bartender, Jesús, that I love the wheated flavor profile of the Van Winkles but can't shell out $3,000 for a flight. He brings me a more affordable sampler: a delectably corn-sweet Old Taylor 6-year from 1980; an Old Fitzgerald made by a legendary Kentucky warehouse manager who stole from his stores to create his own sought-after blends; and a 101-proof Evan Williams 12-year that's normally available only in the Bluegrass State. "I hope you didn't drive," Matt deadpans, although I think he's just trying to confiscate my Old Fitzgerald. Not a chance, pal.

Day 2

Artful architecture and swinging nightlife in DTLA

Los Angeles may have an underrated metro system, but the city's true essence is found where the Blue Dragon and I now sit: in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the 10. I pull up my rush-hour playlist, and Guy Clark sings, If I can just get off of this LA freeway, without getting killed or caught…

Eventually, I reach the center of the city, which the Spanish founded in 1781 as El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Ángeles but has in recent years been rebranded simply as DTLA. I'm starting the morning with a bite at Grand Central Market, a 1917 building that's home to all sorts of hip food stalls. I stop at the G&B Coffee counter and get an almond macadamia latte to sip while I wriggle to the Clark Street Bread stand, where I order avocado toast. It tastes like California.

On the other side of the market, I spot one of LA's signature architectural sights, the Bradbury Building. The interior of this National Historic Landmark, which was built in 1893 and features five floors of ornate iron railings and elevator shafts climbing toward an expansive skylight, looks both stunningly vintage and eerily futuristic. It's little wonder Ridley Scott chose it as the setting for the climactic scene of Blade Runner.

I exit through the side door and gawp at the Pope of Broadway, a soaring mural of Anthony Quinn on the former Victor Clothing Company building across the way, before continuing on through DTLA. This area was once so rundown that it wasn't much of a leap for Scott to imagine that by 2019 it would look like a post-apocalyptic dystopia, but over the last decade it has become the reenergized hub of the city, thanks to places like The Last Bookstore. This temple to the written word is probably best known for its second-floor book tunnel, which tourists and wannabe influencers line up to snap selfies in. I ask a clerk what he thinks is the definitive LA novel, and he points me to John Fante's Ask the Dust, which local literary god Charles Bukowski called "a wild and enormous miracle."

It's a good thing I picked up the reading material, because I'm going to have a wait at my next stop. One of the wonderful, contradictory things about this wonderful, contradictory city is that some of its best restaurants are in run-of-the-mill strip malls. One of these is Sushi Gen, in DTLA's Little Tokyo, where a long line has formed before the doors even open. I take my spot and read for a few minutes—Los Angeles, come to me the way I came to you, my feet over your streets … you sad flower in the sand—before I'm seated at the sushi bar, where a chef slings slices of Tsukiji Market–quality fish (buttery tuna, briney sea bream, sweet shrimp, creamy uni) at me until I wave my napkin in the air like a white flag.

The Pacific Seas bar at Clifton's The Pacific Seas bar at Clifton's

The afternoon sun is beating down and bouncing up off the pavement, so I elect to walk off my meal indoors, at The Broad Museum. The four-year-old building, which entrepreneur Eli Broad and his wife, Edythe, created to house their 2,000-piece collection, stands like a square of honeycomb next to the flamboyantly curvaceous Walt Disney Concert Hall next door—a contrast that associate curator Sarah Loyer tells me was very much intentional.

Jeff Koon's "Tulips" at the Broad Museum Jeff Koon's "Tulips" at the Broad Museum

"Where the Disney Concert Hall reflects light, our building draws light in," she explains. "The ceiling has 318 individual skylights that light the collection gallery. At peak sun hours we have all natural light." We ride the escalator up to the third-floor gallery, an acre of column-free space where pieces by Jeff Koons, Takashi Murakami, Yayoi Kusama, and Kara Walker are on display. I'm particularly struck by Deep Blue, an expansive mixed-media canvas by Los Angeles artist Mark Bradford. "It's inspired by the 1965 Watts Rebellion," Loyer notes. "You can see the map of the city grid, and the different dots and colors represent historic losses from that event."

We ride the Broad's escalator up to an acre of column-free space to see pieces by Jeff Koons and Yayoi Kusama

I thank Loyer for enlightening me and then zip over to the recently restored Hotel Figueroa, which features works from a new artist—often a Southern California woman—every quarter. I valet the Blue Dragon and take a few minutes to peruse Topanga-based painter Sophie Kipner's blind-contour portraits before stretching out on a poolside lounge chair with a Bohemia beer. When I mention to the waitress that something about the pool seems odd, she tells me it's shaped like a coffin. That seems like a bad omen for tonight…

But hey, if I gotta go, there are worse places to have my last meal than Nightshade, Top Chef winner Mei Lin's much-hyped new restaurant in the up-and-coming Arts District. A taxi drops me at a converted warehouse space that's an Instagrammer's dream—blond wood, white brick, mint and emerald green upholstery, and hanging plants—surpassed only by the presentation of the dishes: Hokkaido scallops in a coconut vinaigrette, chicharrón chunks with a bright green coconut and trout roe dipping sauce, prawn toast that tastes like Vietnamese spring rolls, Szechuan hot quail served atop Japanese milk bread (à la Nashville hot chicken). If the atmosphere is heavenly, that last plate is hellish; my eyes start burning upon its arrival, and it takes an extra glass of grüner to cool my mouth after its departure.

Let's keep turning up the heat! Clifton's is a DTLA institution, a Depression-era cafeteria that fed 10,000 people a day, eventually fell into disrepair, and was ultimately reborn as a four-story nightlife bazaar following a 2015 renovation. I climb past the giant trunk of an (admittedly fake) redwood tree to the top-floor Pacific Seas tiki bar, where I sit in a wicker chair under a mermaid statue and sip a Scorpion Bowl (rum, gin, cognac, orgeat, and god knows what else) that is, yes, set on fire by my waitress. Before I get stung, I descend one floor to the Brookdale Ballroom, where dancers in Gatsby-esque getups swing to a New Orleans jazz band. A woman sashays by me in a peacock-feather outfit, but she's gone before I can ask her if this is real or if I've been consumed by the flames of Szechuan pepper and Polynesian mixology.

Day 3

Hollywood history and Eastside eats

It was all real, and I'm paying for it now. Good thing I know the perfect place for a clean-living kind of breakfast. Sqirl is on the edge of East Hollywood, in an area that's still dotted with 99-cent stores, but the line of part-time models waiting outside betrays its hip quotient. I make my way to the counter, order an Horchoffee (vegan horchata shaken with a double espresso) and a Crispy Disco (brown rice with mint, cilantro, cucumber, scallion, avocado, fried egg, and sausage), and grab a seat at the sideboard. The restaurant's sprightly owner, Jessica Koslow, brings over my food and gives me a playful punch on the knee as she takes the stool next to mine.

"It was a lot of pressure to be this funky place and be like, 'Here's what's happening in Los Angeles,'" the Long Beach native says, recalling the rapturous reviews she received after opening in 2012. However, she does take pride in being an evangelist for SoCal cooking. "There are so many different pockets of LA that [its cuisine] is hard to describe, but if you want a neighborhood restaurant for LA, you're here."

The Angel of Breakfast gives me a hug and waves me back to my food. After devouring the Crispy Disco, I head to The Hollywood Roosevelt hotel. Upon checking in, I rendezvous with Tours by Locals guide Jasmine Jia, who takes me on a winding drive through Griffith Park to the Griffith Observatory. The triple-domed Greek Revival building is one of LA's most recognizable—it can be seen in Rebel Without a Cause and La La Land—but Jia tells me it almost didn't get built. The city turned down funding from tycoon Griffith J. Griffith in 1912 because he had infamously shot his wife (who survived) a decade earlier. "There was a sensational trial," Jia says. Griffith re-donated the money when he died in 1919, and the Observatory was completed by the WPA in 1935. Today it's both an interactive astronomy museum and a spot from which you can see the Pacific Ocean, DTLA, Dodger Stadium, and the Hollywood sign.

The soup bowl–size chalices of salty, limey beer are garnished with shrimp, and the straws are even crusted with tamarind candy.

Now, the question every tourist in LA inevitably faces: Should I take a picture with the sign? As we drive over, Jia tells me it was erected as a real estate advertisement in 1923, when it originally read "Hollywoodland." "The land was sold, and the sign should have been taken down," she says, "but it became associated with the movie industry and LA and became a landmark." It was later shortened to Hollywood—better to fit the photo Jia snaps of me from the vista point in Lake Hollywood Park below.

Jia drops me back at the Blue Dragon, and I head to a far less touristed part of the city. Another college buddy of mine, Rob, was born and raised in Cypress Park, his parents among the tens of thousands of Mexican immigrants who settled on the east side of the Los Angeles River, and I've asked him to show me a couple of off-the-radar spots. I cross the concrete riverbed into Boyle Heights and meet him at El Tepeyac Café, an institution that serves old-school Mexican food. Rob points me toward the gargantuan chile verde–slathered Original Hollenbeck burrito, which is stuffed with rice and beans and guacamole and pork and comfort. Next, we zip over to La Chupería, in neighboring Lincoln Heights, where the bartender brings us two micheladas, soup bowl–size chalices of salty, limey beer (a Modelo bottle floats mouth-down in each cup) rimmed with chili sauce and garnished with cucumber, celery, and shrimp. The straws are even crusted with tamarind candy. As we slurp our drinks and watch a replay of the previous night's Dodgers game on the TV, I ask Rob what places like this mean to LA, and if he's worried about them disappearing as the city changes.

The busy lanes at Highland Park Bowl The busy lanes at Highland Park Bowl

"Gentrification brings restaurants and nightlife to areas that were overlooked, but now you have these immigrant-run mom-and-pop businesses, which have contributed so much to LA's cultural identity, operating under the threat of extinction," he tells me. "Without culture, LA risks losing its home too."

I thank the homie for the knowledge, and we split up with plans to meet later. I really need to stretch my legs, so I head to Echo Park. A popular walking path circles the lake where Jack Nicholson's J.J. Gittes snapped compromising photos of Hollis Mulwray in Chinatown, but today it's strangely calm: just a couple of teenagers lazily peddling swan boats and a few kids quacking at the ducks near the shore.

Feeling a little lighter, I get back in the car and cruise up Sunset Boulevard, shopping my way through LA's hippest 'hood, Silver Lake. I browse kid-centric bios of Prince and Bowie at MRKT, whip-stitched watchbands at Dean, and vintage rock 'n' roll tees at Sick City Records. Past the junction with Hollywood Boulevard, I make a pilgrimage to the swirling mural that appeared on the cover of Elliott Smith's Figure 8 album. The storefront has changed tenants several times—it's now a well-regarded Filipino restaurant—but most of the artwork remains, serving as a shrine where fans of the deceased songwriter still leave remembrances.

Echo Park Lake Echo Park Lake

We order frozen White Russians and 'Dead Flowers' comes on. I'm pretty sure we're in a Big Lebowski dream sequence.

Nostalgia makes me hungry. Dinner is at Majordomo, superstar chef David Chang's first California restaurant. I'm joined by Rob and Matt (who has come to reclaim the Blue Dragon) at a table beneath a skylit warehouse ceiling, and we go in on silky tofu topped with uni and avocado, dungeness crab mafaldine pasta, and a pot of boneless chuck short rib onto which our waiter slices a hunk of raclette. "Has anyone ever asked you to carve it straight into their mouth?" Matt asks. "All the time," the waiter replies.

We continue the impromptu reunion at another one of Rob's favorite spots, Highland Park Bowl. A diverse young crowd rolls strikes inside the 92-year-old bowling alley, LA's oldest, which is decorated with league championship banners from decades gone by. We order a round of frozen White Russians, a cocktail the bar calls The Dude Abides, and as we lace up our shoes, the Rolling Stones' "Dead Flowers" comes on. I'm pretty sure we're in a Big Lebowski dream sequence, but I don't see any purple jumpsuits, and the only thing that's nihilistic is the score of our game.

I hug my friends goodbye and hail a ride back to the Roosevelt, where I slip into a robe and look out the window of my suite. Hollywood Boulevard is asleep; the only stars sparkling are the ones embedded in the sidewalk. Good night, stars. Good night, moon. Good night, Los Angeles. I'll see you soon.

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