Category Archives: Photo Expeditions

Terror of Cecil B. deMille

My latest voyage into the unknown wastes of the Guadalupe pseudo-desert got off to a bit of a rocky start. Even when you’ve gone out of your way to prepare for everything that can possibly go wrong, it seems there’s always the possibility of something going wrong that you hadn’t prepared for. Having previously discovered and subsequently named the (alleged) Curse of Cecil B. DeMille, I probably should’ve taken this a some sort of bad omen, but in the great horror movie of life, I’m that arrogant intellectual guy who balks at the suggestion that vampires might be real even as the blood is being messily drained from his neck by some impossibly old European creep in a costume-shop opera cape, so I didn’t.

One of the things I’ve noticed on my various excursions is that Santa Maria, the closest real (but still rather small) city to my destination, has a ton of motels. I imagine serving as a stopover for people from Southern California taking road trips up north, or vice versa, must be one of the major industries here, because nearly every major motel chain seems to have a branch in town, and there are entire streets worth of little local places. There are even a few real hotels. There’s a FedEx airstrip just outside of town, of course, but there’s only really three planes there at a time, tops, and FedEx planes don’t exactly carry passengers so I don’t think that alone really justifies the disproportionate amount of accommodation available for out of towners. There’s really an awful lot of places to rent a room for the night, is what I’m saying.

Why do I bring this up? Because every single one of them was sold out. I went to the Best Western, and they sent me to the Travel Lodge. I couldn’t find the Travel Lodge, so I went to the Holiday Inn, and they sent me away as well, assuring me that there were no rooms available anywhere in town. Supposedly there was a wedding, a softball match, and a soccer match. There must’ve also been some sort of biker meetup rolling through town, because traffic both in town and on the journey back home was repeatedly held up by enormous hordes of bikers zipping past along the dividing line.

As it turns out, my stubbornness paid off, relatively speaking anyway. Despite the assurances of the guy at the front desk of the Holiday Inn, I was able to nab what was apparently the last room in town: a smoking room in the Motel 6 right next to the freeway (though to be fair, around 75% of the town is right next to the freeway), which from the way the lady at the desk described it, had apparently been rejected by other prospective guests earlier that day. But it didn’t appear to be haunted, the air freshener they used to drown out the tobacco stench of the previous tenants was subtle enough to not totally overwhelm my sensitive olfactory cells, and it was far too late in the day to turn back around and start the 3-hour trek back home, so I took what I could get.

Upon settling into my room, I decided to give myself a quick refresher on the use of my borrowed Garmin GPS, only to discover that the batteries had died and had to locate and download a copy of the user manual just to figure out where the battery compartment was even located, no less how to open it. This was, however, easily resolved the next morning (a curse cast in the age of silent film really can’t be expected to account for the ease with which a 21st century man can obtain AA batteries) and the GPS proved fairly intuitive to use, so I gassed up the car and set out.

A cool wind was blowing off the lake when I arrived at Oso Flaco, and with the Garmin telling me exactly where the fabled lost city I sought was located—less than a miles hike away from the trail—I was feeling quite optimistic about my chances of finding it.

That didn’t last.

It seems that with all the time and effort I’ve spent on the intellectual challenge of finding deMille’s Lost City, I’d neglected to put any thought into the physical challenge of actually reaching it. As a born city-dweller who has always seen nature as something to be admired from afar, I have almost no experience with wilderness hiking. Because of this, I made the rookie mistake of assuming that hiking is just like walking in that a short hike automatically means an easy hike. This is not the case. Between the steeply angled dunes, the treacherously shifting sand, the thick-growing desert scrubs and my own moderately sub-par physical condition, it rapidly dawned on me that this hike was one I simply wasn’t adequately equipped to make, and I was forced once again to turn back.

On the road out of Santa Maria, a large convoy of assorted fire department vehicles passed me going the other way. Their sirens were off, so I didn’t think much of it. But as I approached the twisting mountain road that joined the two highways along my route, that now all-too-familiar acrophobia was suddenly joined by a dread of something much more terrible as I past a sign warning me in big red letters that today’s forest fire risk level was “EXTREME” and I remembered the news reports on the spate of record-shattering wilderness fires that had been plaguing Southern California most of this season, and the small amount of gasoline that had spilled on the outside of my car when I removed the slightly defective gas pump filling up this morning.

When I stopped in Santa Barbara for a rest, a snack, and a chapter of Machen’s The Great God Pan, my fears seemed to be confirmed as I found the entire town cloaked in a cloud of what appeared to be smoke, so thick that it turned the ocean to the west all but invisible and called to mind my brief experience with the Silent Hill franchise. I didn’t smell smoke, but then again, my own home town of Pasadena has allegedly had a smoke problem for the past week, and I never smelled that, so I wasn’t sure.

As I continued south, my journey was punctuated by alternating bouts of apprehension and reassurance as I mentally debated whether the cloud that still covering me was really smoke, or just whatever the hell weird-ass low-hanging cloud phenomenon I’d encountered during my last excursion. Much of the vegetation to my left appeared to have been recently burned, and I thought I felt the air heat up and my eyes start to burn a few times, but that might’ve just been my imagination. The cloud kept up all the way  past Ojai, and I told myself that it must be fog, because even the largest blaze wasn’t that big. Still, every time the traffic slowed to a crawl, I held my breath, nervous that it might be due to some sort of road closure caused by the fire.

It wasn’t. I never saw any fire, and none of the roads were closed. In fact, most of the times the traffic slowed, it was caused by the entire left lane having to move over to let all those bikers I mentioned earlier pass, or everyone rubbernecking at one of the minor accidents they’d left in their wake. Not that seeing a ten thousand maniacs on motor bikes zip past at the speed of sound, so close that they’d have hit me if one of them so much as sneezed wasn’t alarming in its own right. Still, by the time I reached Thousand Oaks and the cloud finally started to let up, I still hadn’t found out for sure whether it really was smoke or not.

As much as I hate to leave the story that has become the Cecil B. deMille Saga without a satisfying conclusion, I don’t think I’m going to be doing this again in the near future. I’m not exactly going up to Santa Maria just for the local color (you can get that anywhere), and my true destination is blocked by a hike that is, for me, currently impossible. I don’t see much point in traveling three hours, two days, and three tanks of gas just to stop within a mile of somewhere I can’t reach. For the time being, it seems best to demote visiting the Lost City from an active goal for the immediate future to the proverbial “one that got away”. Perhaps some day I’ll be ready to go back and try again, but I’m sad to say that it’s time for this particular chapter of the deMille Saga to come to an end.

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The Westin

At long last, some more pictures.

This one’s a bit closer to home, so there’s not really much of a story behind it. The Westin is this mall… like… thing… of some sort just off Colorado Blvd in Pasadena, conveniently located just across the street from City Hall. It’s not really a mall, so much as it is sort of a place with some stores. There’s a gym there and a CPK, and a very nice looking hotel, along with some pretty interesting architecture, and that’s what this is all about.

Oh, oh yeah, the parking lot stair well has some pretty unusual and dramatically industrial-looking utility equipment.

Pipe Junction

Pipes

Alright, I’ve a confession to make. This was actually two photo expeditions. See, I went in the evening, and intended to get both the above and below photos in one go. Problem is, by the time I finished the below shots (most of which I have not published as I took them solely for own visual reference and not for art and aren’t really that high quality shots anyway), it was dark.

Meant to finish a few times since on the way home from work, but weather, poor planning, and a dead camera battery put the nix on most of those so I wasn’t able to get the shots from up top done until the other day. So here they are.

Dragonfly

Dragonflies

An interesting water feature/sculpture thing they have there. That’s city hall in the background.

Lanternway

Lanternway

Stream

Stream

Westin Hotel

Westin Hotel

Westin Lobby

Westin Lobby

Stair Rods

Stair Rods

Weeping Wall

Weeping Wall

All Saints Episcopal Church

All Saints Episcopal Church

Now, this Church isn’t technically part of the Westin, but I’ve always thought of it as if it were. The Westin is a sort of a ‘U’-shape, and the Church is located in the area between the two… top parts of the ‘U’. Prongs? Risers? Whatever. Anyway, pretty cool old looking Church. It was supposedly open when I was there, but the big oak doors in front were locked up tight, which is a shame because I really wanted to take a look inside.

And no, I am not going to break into a church. An abandoned church, maybe, but not a regular one. Ooh, I wonder if there are any abandoned churches near me. I’ll be those would be pretty cool. I should look into that.

All Saints Tower

All Saints Tower

All Saints Front

All Saints Front

The Way to Below

The Way to Below

Overlooking Apartments

Overlooking Appartments

Hotel Deco

Hotel Deco

The Westin

The Westin

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Oceano Dunes

This was my second attempt to locate DeMille’s Lost City. I got to the visitor’s center, and they were able to point me in roughly the right direction. Unfortunately the desert in which it’s located, the Oceano Dunes State Recreation Area (actually an extremely large beach, but if you’re facing away from the ocean you’d never guess that), is fucking enormous, and completely lacking in trails or paths of any kind, so finding the City itself was a bit more challenging than I anticipated. I parked and headed off on foot in the direction that looked the most like Egypt. An hour later my car had vanished over the horizon, I was completely worn out from hiking up and down giant piles of sand, it was starting to get pretty cold and looking like it might rain, the Recreation Area was coming up on closing time and I hadn’t found the Lost City, so I decided to turn back and try again another weekend.

Luckily, I thought to look up the geographical coördinates for the Lost City when I got home so I might have an easier time knowing where to stop and in which direction to walk next time, although I’m thinking I might want to hold off until I can get one of those little off-roady things.

MkIII ECTR

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Just a cool construction vehicle of unclear purpose I encountered on my way through Guadalupe. Seems to have something to do with the railroad.

 

Little Sahara I

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See what I mean about it looking just like a desert? The ocean is even actually in this picture (towards the right side of the horizon there) and it still looks more like a desert than a beach.

 

Marshland

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I think it was pretty obvious that the Lost City wasn’t in this direction. Oceano Dunes had some pretty varied terrain.

 

Little Sahara II

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Highway Overcast

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To be continued. . . .

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Mountain Road

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The only relic of a failed expedition to DeMille’s Lost City, a full scale replica of an ancient Egyptian city commissioned by Cecil B. DeMille out in the California desert near the sleepy little town of Guadeloupe (which I’ll explain in greater details when I post the photos from a successful expedition). I read about DeMille’s Lost City several months back and took an interest. It was only recently that I decided to look into where exactly it was located and was pleased to discover that it was a mere 3 hours’ drive from my home (in theory, but more on that in a bit) and decided that if I got a free day, I should go out there and see what’s what, take a look around, take some pictures. You know, the usual. Well, today I had a free day, so I went.

I set out at 10am, or thereabouts, and decided to avoid freeways, due to fear of driving at such high speeds. I ended up driving a lot of remote mountain roads through the woodlands, which were absolutely gorgeous, but also full of switchbacks and dangerous curves bordered by sheer drops and knuckle-bleachingly narrow. With a somewhat insane average speed limit of 55mph .There were other vehicles behind my own, (including a large number of speed-junkies on donorcycles, who I was absolutely convinced that I would have to call an ambulance for at some point to scrape their broken forms off the canyon floor, but luckily it never came to that), so I couldn’t go slower than the limit.

Despite a noticeable lack of cross-streets, this route was a lot more roundabout then it could have been, mostly due to all the curves. It was around my third time crossing through the Los Padres National Forest (on a different road each time, mind you) that I began to wonder if perhaps there was a more direct route. Unfortunately, there was no way to figure that out until I reached my destination.
Just to give you an idea how far this was, Guadalupe is one hundred and seventy-odd miles from my hometown. Had I still been living in New England and gone the same distance, I’d have ended up two states over. The clerk at the gas station had never heard of Pasadena. I should have brought an oar along to see if anyone would think it was a winnowing fan (obscure mythological joke. Sorry).

I didn’t reach Guadeloupe until 6pm, and by then the visitor’s center that I was heading for had closed (the Lost City itself did not have a street address, so I’d need to go to the visitor’s center in town to find out how to get there). Unable to continue, I stopped to refill my gas tank and headed back home to return to find the Lost City another day.
I took the freeway home. I found that it wasn’t as bad as I’d previously experienced. After spending most of a day driving 55mph on treacherous mountain roads, going 75 on a wide, flat straightaway suddenly didn’t seem so frightening, and was in fact a welcome relief. I guess this means I’m cured of that particular fear. I was also pleased to discover that while the trek up to Guadalupe through the mountains took 8 hours and most of a tank of gas, the journey back used up less than a quarter of a tank of gas and was completed in exactly the projected 3 hours.

Next time I get another free weekend, I’m heading back up there to try again. I’ll definitely be sure to take the freeway out next time, but probably bring a change of clothes just in case I end up having to spend the night in town.

To be continued…

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Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office

So I’ve started doing this new sort of thing where I get in the car, and then pick a road and drive without turning (unless that road ends, in which case I have to turn) until I find something interesting.

The first time I did this, I found this cool old building that was also the office of the LA County Coroner and a lot of things on the premises that I wanted to take pictures of. Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera with me at the time, so I came back on a later date with it.

I’ve since started bringing my camera along on such expeditions.

Here’s what I found.

LA County Coroner

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Old Brick

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When I got close enough to take a picture of the County Coroner’s office, I discovered that there were other buildings behind it, apparently on the same property, but many of these buildings were abandoned. The purpose of this particular building was unclear, but their was an above-ground tunnel, apparently for those little motorized carts that you sometimes see in parking lots, starting at the building’s base that lead to the basement level (and employees-only parking lot) of a nearby hospital.

 

Yellow Carts

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A photo from another abandoned structure I found. In this case, a parking structure. Though the structure, and its various trappings—including this small motor pool of yellow motorized carts of unclear purpose—had very clearly not been maintained in quite a while, I discovered some time after taking this picture that the structure was only partially abandoned. It turns out that some of the people working on the grounds actually still parked their cars there, because hey, why let all those free parking spaces go to waste?

 

Bioworks

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Between the various abandoned buildings on the County Coroner grounds was a small industrial area that was either itself abandoned or otherwise very old and poorly maintained. I wasn’t able to discern the purposes of any of the equipment, as my knowledge on the subject is someone limited, but I discovered a large number of metal drums labeled as containing bio-hazards, so I reached the conclusion that the whole operation had something to do with disposing of medical waste from the Coroner’s office and the nearby hospital (visible on the hill behind the trees in the background). There was an awful lot of old furniture that had also been disposed of in the area, which I don’t think would have been allowed if the area were not abandoned, but I’m not entirely sure.

 

Biostorage

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Another picture from the possibly-abandoned industrial area. The old brick building in my second picture can be seen on the right, and that odd-looking beige-colored wall in the middle-background (connected to the aforementioned building) contains the above-ground tunnel I mentioned in the description for that photo.

 

Cathedral of Medicine I

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A nice picture of the USC Residency hospital.

There’s a very good chance that I might actually go there to take pictures at some point as well. Nice building.

 

Biodump

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Remember those bio-hazard barrels I mentioned that I found? Well, this is where I found them.

In the background, you can see a stairway that I believe leads to the USC Residency hospital up on the hill.

 

Biofurnace

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This is one of the machines in the industrial area that I actually was able to identify. It is, quite clearly, a furnace. I believe that it may have once been used to incinerate medical waste. Maybe it’s still used for that. I don’t know.

 

Biowaste

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Remember those bio-hazard barrels that I’ve mentioned twice now? Well, these are them.

 

Bioelectric

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I believe this machine is a generator of some sort, although I’m not entirely sure about that. It was one of the few items in the industrial area that appeared to be in working condition, and indeed quite new. Judging by it’s location, I’m guessing it supplies power to the nearby USC residency hospital and not to the County Coroner’s office, but I might be wrong.

 

Hospital Utility

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A small utility area connected to yet another abandoned structure, which is easily the crown jewel of the bunch: an honest-to-goodness abandoned hospital. How exciting! I really wanted to explore inside the building, but there were “No Trespassing” signs on every door, and I’m generally a law-abiding sort of person. There was a number on the signs that I could call to ask for permission, but when I tried, it rang for a full hour without anybody picking up and there was no answering machine, so I was unsure how to proceed. I suppose it’s probably for the best, because I didn’t have any safety gear or any of those other bits of equipment that urban exploration generally requires.

If any more experienced urban explorers can offer advice on how to handle situations like that, I’d greatly appreciate that. I figure it’s probably alright if I’m not hurting or upsetting anyone and the restriction isn’t being enforced, but I don’t really know if that’s the case.

 

The Other Building

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Another building on the grounds. I’ll admit that at this point, I don’t remember much about this particular building, up to including where on the property it was located, but it sure looks interesting.

 

Ad-Hoc Security

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This is the other reason I couldn’t enter the abandoned hospital. There was very likely a pretty easy low-tech bypass of some sort I could use to get past it, but I didn’t want to risk it.

 

Cathedral of Medicine II

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Another picture of the USC Residency Hospital

 

Hospital Facade

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Another picture of the abandoned hospital. It would be so much more exciting if I could have gotten inside the place.

 

Cathedral of Medicine III

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Old Brick Sunset

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The old brick building again. I was in the grounds of the County Coroner’s office for quite a while… mostly because I was trying to find someone to ask for permission to enter the abandoned hospital.

I wanted to take a picture from the fire escape, but it was very rickety and I didn’t feel safe climbing it.

 

People Crossing

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Remember that above-ground tunnel I mentioned? This picture was taken inside it. It’s surprisingly long, and not at all abandoned. There were people at the other end, and they didn’t know who to ask about the abandoned hospital either. I don’t think people really expect to ever be asked that kind of question.

 

Night Ward

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Here’s that abandoned hospital again, now shown in full.

And no, those windows aren’t lit. They’re just reflecting the sunset, which is located directly behind me. Most of the windows are just too grubby to reflect it.

 

Window Box

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Some sort of… uh… thing on the other side of the compound, towards the front, between the old brick building and some of the still-active buildings.

 

Old Brick Alley

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Another picture taken of the abandoned old brick building, in the little alleyway-like area right by the building (it wasn’t really an alleyway, since it wasn’t connected to the road) near the fire escape, immediately before trying to climb it and giving up because it didn’t feel safe.

 

Flower Shop

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It was getting pretty dark and a bit chilly at this point, so I decided to leave and start heading home. Then I noticed this building across the street from the Coroner’s, near where I parked my car and figured one last picture couldn’t hurt. Not sure if it was abandoned as well, or just a complete shithole.

 

Flatbed

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Some sort of shipping-related vaguely industrial site that I passed on the way home. I just can’t help myself.

 

L’Arc de Defaite

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A cool decorative feature on a bridge I crossed on the way home.

It’s really hard to properly focus a camera in the dark.

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Los Angeles Metro Gold Line: Maravilla

I take the Los Angeles Metro a lot to get to and from appointments on the other side of town. Whenever I take the Gold Line, the main above ground branch of the Metro and the closest to my house, I tend to look out the window a lot, and when I do I tend to notice a lot of stuff that I’d like to go take pictures of. Unfortunately, I can’t stop and get out for fear of missing said appointments, so in September of 2012 I began an ongoing expedition to get off at every stop on the Gold Line and take pictures, which extended into the new year due to delays. Many of the stops ended up not having anything interesting, but those that did more than made up for the difference.

These are from the fifth and final stop, Maravilla Station

Out 637

Out 637

 

Reception and Supply

Reception and Supply

 

An Unusual Pairing

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A funeral home right next to a leather tanner. Tell me that’s not the suspicious sharing of the property since the murderous barber upstairs from the meat pie shop.

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Los Angeles Metro Gold Line: Union Station

I take the Los Angeles Metro a lot to get to and from appointments on the other side of town. Whenever I take the Gold Line, the main above ground branch of the Metro and the closest to my house, I tend to look out the window a lot, and when I do I tend to notice a lot of stuff that I’d like to go take pictures of. Unfortunately, I can’t stop and get out for fear of missing said appointments, so in September of 2012 I began an ongoing expedition to get off at every stop on the Gold Line and take pictures, which extended into the new year due to delays. Many of the stops ended up not having anything interesting, but those that did more than made up for the difference.

These are from the third stop, Union Station

Warehouse Line

Warehouse Line

 

Window Washer

Window Washer

Taken outside Union Station

 

Light at the End

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Taken inside Union Station

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Los Angeles Metro Gold Line: Highland Park

I take the Los Angeles Metro a lot to get to and from appointments on the other side of town. Whenever I take the Gold Line, the main above ground branch of the Metro and the closest to my house, I tend to look out the window a lot, and when I do I tend to notice a lot of stuff that I’d like to go take pictures of. Unfortunately, I can’t stop and get out for fear of missing said appointments, so in September of 2012 I began an ongoing expedition to get off at every stop on the Gold Line and take pictures, which extended into the new year due to delays. Many of the stops ended up not having anything interesting, but those that did more than made up for the difference.

These are from the second stop, Highland Park Station

Scraps

Scraps

A truck full of random bits and bobs. Also, check out that tree branch in the top right corner with a perfect right angle in it. That’s pretty weird, huh?

 

Barring the Doors

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Something I found in a parking lot

 

Van Invasion

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A street view

 

Typewriter Repair

Typewriter Repair

A typewriter repair shop. When was the last time you saw one of those, eh?

 

Highland Theatre

Highland Theatre

A view of the Highland Theatre sign

 

Chicken Man

Chicken Man

He’s everywhere! He’s everywhere!

 

Anonymous?

Anonymous?

An interesting graffito I found

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Los Angeles Metro Gold Line: South Pasadena

I take the Los Angeles Metro a lot to get to and from appointments on the other side of town. Whenever I take the Gold Line, the main above ground branch of the Metro and the closest to my house, I tend to look out the window a lot, and when I do I tend to notice a lot of stuff that I’d like to go take pictures of. Unfortunately, I can’t stop and get out for fear of missing said appointments, so in September of 2012 I began an ongoing expedition to get off at every stop on the Gold Line and take pictures, which extended into the new year due to delays. Many of the stops ended up not having anything interesting, but those that did more than made up for the difference.

These are from the first stop, Mission St. South Pasadena Station

Stripe

Stripe

A rock I found that struck me as peculiar. I’m not sure why it had a white stripe painted on it. It appeared to be curved, perhaps as part of the perimeter of a circle, although this path is not continued elsewhere in the area.

 

Warehouse Parking

Warehouse Parking

A nice street-view from what, if I recall correctly, was a warehouse district

 

Dish

Dish

A courtyard of some sort

 

Redstone

Redstone

Another street view. Completely unrelated to Minecraft.

 

Le Car

Le Car

An auto-repair lot of some sort

 

Around Back

Around Back

 

Rail Power

Rail Power

Some portion of the electrical infrastructure for the Metro tracks

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Los Angeles Metro Gold Line: Little Tokyo Arts District

I take the Los Angeles Metro a lot to get to and from appointments on the other side of town. Whenever I take the Gold Line, the main above ground branch of the Metro and the closest to my house, I tend to look out the window a lot, and when I do I tend to notice a lot of stuff that I’d like to go take pictures of. Unfortunately, I can’t stop and get out for fear of missing said appointments, so in September of 2012 I began an ongoing expedition to get off at every stop on the Gold Line and take pictures, which extended into the new year due to delays. Many of the stops ended up not having anything interesting, but those that did more than made up for the difference.

These are from the fourth stop, Little Tokyo Arts District Station

Roket Lens

Roket Lens

An oddly labeled wall

 

14 Yellow Squares

14 Yellow Squares

 

Mega Toys

Mega Toys

An abandoned toy warehouse near Little Tokyo Arts District Station on the Los Angeles Metro Gold Line. I just missed Scooby-Doo and the gang. Adjusted to provide appropriate spooky ambiance, because the real deal didn’t have the common decency to be haunted (as is required by law of all abandoned entertainment, industrial, medical, scientific, educational and military establishments and at least 50% of all abandoned castles, graveyards and miscellaneous ruins).

 

The Eye

The Eye

So yeah, I basically ignored the arts district and went instead for the warehouse district. I like industrial stuff.

 

Oil Well

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All the Little Metal Boxes

All the Little Metal Boxes

A warehouse lot full of salvaged serving area interface boxes. I swear, sometimes it feels like someone set these places up specifically for me to take a picture of.

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