Land of bacon wrapped hot dogs, the glamor of Hollywood, Latino markets, , Rodeo Drive and Beverly Hills, ocean, smog, traffic, palm trees, commerce, and sunshine.
Living within 1-3 hours of Los Angeles (depending on traffic and where in the city I’m going), I’ve spent many day trips in the Los Angeles area. Parts of Los Angeles are beautiful and stunning, the architecture harkening back to the Art Deco era, with small nods to its Hollywood history, the ocean and sunshine clear and bright. Turn the corner, and you’re crowded in smog and heavy traffic as boot-leg DVD’s are hawked on the sidewalk until a police car cruises by.
Near the center of this metroplithic web of freeways stands the Los Angeles Convention Center, the Staples Center, and the Nokia Theater all in one large block.
In June every year, nerds, geeks, and industry insiders gather together for E3 (Electronic Entertainment Exposition). This is where Microsoft, Sony, Nintendo, and other major players in the gaming industry usually announce the Next Big Thing.
Every few years, E3 brings Video Games Live to the Nokia Theater. This is arguably the nerdiest classical music concert on Earth. At the 2012 concert, I saw these in person:
Yes, there is a PBS special, which means it must be legitimately classical.
In 2010, several siblings, friends, and I went to Video Games Live. We thought we were wise by parking near the Metro Station at Universal City and taking the Metro to the LA Convention Center, thus eliminating the need to pay for parking, or fight traffic to get to the center. My brother and I were recently returned from our trip to San Francisco, where we had safely transversed their public transportation system. This seemed a simple and well-laid plan.
However, Los Angeles is not San Francisco.
While L.A. has invested a lot of money over the last several years to improve public transportation, there are still improvements to be made. and a reason the streets are clogged with vehicles.
The night that follows is another reason.
After a few traffic delays, my group joined with the other half that had spent the day in L.A. We arrived on the Metro, and relaxed against our plastic seats. Two stops away from our exit, the P.A. system came on and this garbled, nearly indecipherable announcement came on:
“The Pico station near the Convention Center is closed due to police activity.”
We got off on the station before hand and stood like the lost tourists we were, without a map, and without a plan.
However, much as in San Francisco, one of my brother’s friends, this one named Katie, rescued us. She had the one thing the rest of us lacked: An iphone with Google Maps.
It was roughly two miles between our stop and the theater. Our options were to turn around and go home, or participate in the only activity that nobody does: walking in L.A.
We journeyed deeper into the city, beginning in a worn section with shops carved into the corner of walls, all beginning to close as the afternoon sky turned to dusk. Staying together, we walked quickly, knowing we were running later by the minute for the concert. We turned down Figueroa St, and saw this:
In the heart of Los Angeles, a major street with no pedestrians, no vehicles, everything empty, except for two helicopters circling far off skyscrapers with their lights shining on the ground. It was a scene out of a post-apocalypse movie, the mad city quiet for a moment just before the sky goes dark and the zombies come out.
In a few minutes, we reached the first police barricade.
A squad stood together in full riot gear: shields, helmets, batons. We had to show our tickets to the show in order to pass through. We were waved on as we asked what was going on.
Unknown to my group of video game nerds, that night was another important night in the epic rivalry between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers. Not only was that night a game between the two historically successful teams, but it was also that years NBA final. In video game terms, that’s as if there were a real showdown between Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario. This is the final battle of the Super Smashbrothers Brawl of the NBA, with real stakes, and deeply passionate fans.
To prevent a riot in either case of defeat or winning, the LAPD had thought it wise to cut off the Metro line leading closest to Staples Center, where this historic game was being played out. In addition to the two helicopters in the sky, several hundred LAPD officers surrounded the Staples Center.
We passed through several more barricades, the crowd of police becoming more dense. Nearing the Nokia Theater, we passed sports bars jammed with Lakers fan cheering on their home team. We couldn’t see the crowd, but could hear the united cries and shouts of excitement as the game’s clock winded down and the Lakers moved closer to winning the title. It was as if hearing the zombie horde just before the attack.
Upon reaching the last barrier, half-a-block from the theater, the security guard said, “You’d better run. There’s only 2 minutes left in the game.”
We sprinted the last section, somehow, miraculously, only 20 minutes late to the concert. As we ran through security and were escorted to our seats, the Laker Fans rose together in jubilation and filled the streets.
Ignorant of burning cars and screaming fans, we reveled in the nerdtastic glow of classic video game music. Zelda themes melded with Mario medleys, Assassin’s Creed led into an epic, guitar-laden version of the Halo theme. After epic orchestrations and awesome guitar, the evening ended with a fist-pumping version of One Winged Angel, the greatest of great songs from the Final Fantasy series. This was complete with heavy metal guitar, a choir, and a live orchestra. It was epic and awesome.
However, as we left the theater, we had the same dilemma as getting there: The Pico station was closed.
And this time, after several hours of celebration, the streets of L.A. were filled with Laker Zombies.
Not to disparage any basketball fans out there, these were the hard-core fans that are cruising the streets hours after the game, honking their horns, launching illegal fireworks, and running through the streets baring their panted chest shouting, “Yeah Lakers!”
Dashing and dodging these enthusiastic people, trying to ignore the line of thirty police cars passing by, we tried to form a plan. Did we see if we could call a taxi back to our cars and split the cost? Did we call any of our friends in the area for assistance?
Finally, using Katie’s iphone, we looked up the next closest station. We didn’t want to go back the way we came after 11 PM in L.A. after a Laker victory. It was in the finance district, in a quieter part of the city.
With iphone as our guide, we used our RPG skills to navigate the dark streets and walk as quickly as possible. The last train left at 12:15, and time was running short. We had wasted precious time hemming and hawing our decision. As we walked, the celebrations of the Laker fans grew quieter, and instead we passed businessmen having a cool drink in a quiet bar. Other than this, the streets were quiet and dark. Staying together, we hurried. Every step brought us closer to the station, while every second made us closer to missing the train.
At last, we reached the Metro station.
As we entered the stairway, one of the facilities workers said, “Better hurry. Last train’s almost here.”
We ran down the escalator, and reached the waiting station moments before the whoosh of wind announced the last train’s arrival. As it pulled up to its stopped, we raised our hands in jubilation and together sang the Final Fantasy Victory theme. We slumped into the empty, hard plastic seats, relieved to know we were on our way back to Universal City, our cars, and our way home.
This past summer, we were able to apply our leveled up skills as we once again went to Video Games Live.
However, as I was driving home from work and listening to a Los Angeles NPR station’s traffic report, I began to be worried. First, it was the night of one of the final Kings games at the Staples Center. If the Kings won that night, they would win the Stanley Cup. Second, President Obama was in town, making the rounds for campaign donations. While Los Angeles is a highly Democratic city, the locals don’t appreciate the barricades and increased traffic due to the President’s visit.
Concerned over this, I drove our group down to Los Angeles, taking the PCH through Malibu, into Santa Monica, and onto the 10. However, the Kings fans were in the middle of their game and off the road, and the President was in the midst of one of his meetings, clearing the streets for a little longer.
We arrived on Figueroa St. once again, but this time in our car, before the show, and without any police barricades. We parked at a low price, which is miraculous, and walked to the theater. The Kings fans were exiting as we entered the concert right on time. Judging by their faces, the Kings lost.
Moral of the Story: Jubilant Laker Zombies are more dangerous than The President and disappointed Kings fans combined.
*Though, fortunately for Kings fans, the Kings did win the Stanley Cup
**Special shout out to my cousin Krista, the nerdiest Security Guard in the Air Force, who came this last summer while visiting after her overseas deployment.
***Disclaimer: Obviously, I am not a sports fan. If I got any terms or team names wrong, please let me know.
Have you had any adventures in Los Angeles? Have sports teams interrupted your nerdtastic plans? How far would you go for a video game concert?
And, as a bonus (because everything’s better with a bonus), here’s a picture from another adventure in L.A.:
UPDATE: I corrected an error pointed out by Brian Bixby, and wrote “Boston Clippers” instead of “Boston Celtics.” I think since my brain was focused on Los Angeles, I wrote the wrong team name. The Clippers, for you non Basketball-Fans out there, is the other Los Angeles NBA team.