I used to think that L.A. is a far and distant land. A visit to this enchanted place of swanky, buzzed-about eateries, and age old landmarks required a lot of effort, particularly with the driving. First, there's the 5 freeway to contend with, especially that section around La Mirada, which always moves slower than molasses. Second is trying to find parking in L.A. without paying a fortune. And third, the gas, which now tops out $3.50 per gallon in my 'hood.
But a few Saturdays ago (May 12th, to be exact) we discovered that there's a solution. We didn't have to gas-up, drive to or park in L.A. to enjoy it! And the answer was right here under our noses all along: The Metrolink
It has a convenient route that zips from Tustin to L.A. and back, and as an added bonus, weekend tickets are discounted by half.
Using their handy-dandy schedule
, we planned our outing and lunch at one of our favorite L.A. haunts: Philippe the Original
for French Dipped Sandwiches
What follows is a detailed account of our escape from Orange County via the Metrolink
We drive from our home in Irvine
to the Tustin Metrolink Station
. It takes all of five minutes.9:20
We buy two roundtrip tickets from the automated kiosk. Total for us: $15.50.9:41
The train arrives and glides to a stop to the smell of grinding brakes.9:50
We take seats in a car that is virtually empty.10:00
After making stops at Santa Ana
, Old Towne Orange
, the train stops in Anaheim Stadium
, where I see a large wave of red-t-shirt-wearing marchers descending upon the parking lot for AIDS Walk Orange County
We take a nap as the train leaves the Fullerton
station and speeds by office parks, warehouses, walls scribbled with graffiti, en route to L.A.10:45
The train arrives at L.A. Union Station
We stop for a minute to marvel at the beauty of its cavernous waiting room. Then, it's a short walk to Philippe
We arrive at Philippe
and find that there's hardly a line. Since it's only two persons deep, we get our food immediately. We pat ourselves on the back for beating the rush and also, since we brought our own soda, we save a few bucks.11:00
We take our food, which weighed heavily on the well-worn tray, to one of the many open booths. The floor, by the way, is covered in sawdust and a bit slippery, but this is just the way it has been for decades.
My lamb sandwich is just as good as I remember: thick hunks of slightly gamy meat inside a roll soaked in jus. But no Philippe French Dip
is complete without a few drips of that incendiary hot mustard, which sit idle inside plastic containers and waiting on every table until you decide to empower it. This is the stuff of legend, and in other incarnations, conceivable as a chemical weapon.
We finish off the meal with a classic banana cream pie, which true to its name, consists of only banana, whipped cream, and pie crust.11:25
Stuffed, we set out to walk off our lunch around Chinatown
, which starts literally two steps from Philippe's
Just as we walk by a shop that butchers live chickens to order, my camera battery dies. But no camera can capture the stench, which is detectable within a few hundred yards of the place. It is an unmistakable barnyard smell of feathers and chicken poop -- something that is foreign to someone like me who lives in an Orange County masterplanned community.
Once we get closer, we hear the clucking and a few stray feathers that float by, suspended in the air. I take a peek inside and see that there's a concrete floor that has a drain in the middle. There's also a marquee with prices for all kinds of poultry. I consider bringing back a freshly-killed chicken with me on the Metrolink
. But ultimately, I decide against it.11:30
We continue our stroll through Chinatown
and walk into the labyrinth that is Dynasty Plaza
. Quickly we realize, we're lost -- lost in a maze of fabric, garments, and other oddities. Trapped inside this firetrap are hundreds of vendors, all selling what seems to be the same items. There's skirts, suits, blouses, t-shirts, pants, jeans and Chinese dresses. It's mind-boggling how much merchandise can be crammed inside a space no larger than a single car garage.
I notice that most of the shop owners are Vietnamese since they speak with that distinctive staccato accent. But whether Vietnamese or Cantonese, all seem to pronounce "dollar" as "dah-lah," and all are masters of negotiation. We manage to haggle a skirt down from $12 to $10 (but not $9), and were ready to buy, but had to walk away when we couldn't find one that didn't already have a stain on it.11:45
We finally manage to find ourselves an exit and get back onto the street. 12:40
After a good hour of walking, our legs crap out -- a result of years from atrophy and door-to-door commuting.12:50
We decide to head back to catch the 1:30 train. But first, a restroom stop at Philippe
. Once inside, we see that the line to get food is now all the way to the back wall. Insane! Thank goodness we got here early, we thought.1:00
On the way to the station, we stop by Olvera Street
. We are somewhat disappointed to discover that there are more white tourists than there are Mexicans. They pack the restaurant patios, sipping margaritas and munching on chips.
One thing this area has going for it is a more photogenic atmosphere. But the stuff sold in the equally cramped shops are a little more frivolous. There are maracas, ponchos, oversized sombreros and toys that I guess are all made in China. Ah the irony!1:21
We make it back to the train station with plenty of time to spare.1:30
I start this journal as the train leaves southbound to Orange County.
To read Kirk of Mmm-yoso's post on his trip to Philippe:Philippe the Original
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