OK, I realize this is a little off-topic but because my roots are in bodybuilding this was an exciting trip that I have to share so that it will stay fresh in my memory.
I was invited out to California this past July by Doc Ajay Johnson to appear in the upcoming documentary on legendary professional bodybuilder, Lee Priest. To give this story some context, Lee won Mr. Australia at ages 17, 18 and 19 and then turned professional at age 21. Arnold Schwarzenegger is such a big fan of Lee’s that Arnold featured Lee in his best selling “The New Encylopedia of Modern Bodybuilding”. Lee and I met in 2005 and began working on my BodyBuildersReality project in 2006. We became good friends worked closely together for 2 years. We traveled to Columbus, Ohio for the annual Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic where 125,000 fans come to see the spectacle, we traveled to Alaska, and to Brazil. There’s much more to that story but I’ll keep this version short.
I was excited to bring my 14-year-old son, Vaughn with me so that we could share this adventure together. I knew it would be the trip of a lifetime and I wanted to share it with him. We arrived in Los Angeles late at night, Wednesday, July 3rd. We waded through the airport crowd to find our hotel shuttle and relaxed during the 15-minute drive arriving at the Hilton around 11 pm (1 am Texas time). The next morning we hit the hotel buffet and then took an Uber to the Muscle Beach area arriving around 10:30 am.
We walked out on the Venice Beach pier to get a better view of the ocean and saw lots of fishermen trying to catch different types of fish including perch, mackerel, white sea bass, leopard shark, tiger shark, and stingrays. A couple of fishermen landed sting rays which caused a commotion as they reeled them out of the ocean and onto the pier. Next, we walked a few hundred yards to Muscle Beach where we met up with Lee. It was fantastic catching up with him and introducing him to Vaughn. Vaughn has heard most of the stories but actually meeting Lee was the icing on the cake.
We hung out at Muscle Beach and enjoyed the ocean breeze. The smell of the boardwalk food, the music, the relaxing vibe of the beach made for a wonderful way to just watch the world go by. There was basketball, volleyball, weightlifting, surfers, and the bodybuilding contest all going on at the same time. Eventually, the smell of lunch caused us to get up from our shady bench and head over to the boardwalk. Lee and his group had eaten at Jody Maronis so we figured we try it too. Vaughn had a Cheeseburger (dry), fries and a Coke and I had an Avocado Bacon burger and water. It was so good.
We headed back over to Muscle Beach, talked with Lee and Doc some more. We watched the action all around us and enjoyed the afternoon. Around 4 pm, we decided to head back to the hotel but promised that we’d be back to Muscle Beach the next day. Here are some random shots from that day.
We took an Uber back to the hotel, cleaned up and rested. A couple of hours later, our friend Doc, sent a car to come to pick us up and drive us over to his house in Hollywood. Doc is a photographer, videographer, director and editor who works primarily in the fitness industry. As mentioned, he and I are working on a new Lee Priest documentary. Doc has shot personalities such as Robert Downey, Jr, Sugar Ray Leonard, Richard Gant, Loni Anderson and many more. Doc was our host for the trip and took great care of us. Once we arrived in Hollywood we visited for a while and then set up to shoot my part in the documentary. It was nice for a change to be on the other side of the camera and to watch Doc work. Lighting, sound, background, framing, positioning, technical and dialogue are just some of the things being juggled by the videographer. Doc had Vaughn help him out with a lot of the little things that all go into video production. I’m glad Vaughn got to participate and to help a top-notch videographer.
After the video shoot, Doc offered to take us on a trip through Hollywood using the rail system. By now, it was 930pm so Hollyweird was in full effect. Questionable characters hanging out underground near the rail stations, messed up and drunk partiers, so much so that Doc brought along his taser. After taking 3 different trains, we exited the train and climbed the flight of stairs to ground level, out the doors, and onto Hollywood Blvd. We walked along the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Doc took us to the exact spot where the paparazzi go to shoot the celebrities when they come out for events. I got a Starbucks and then we went to the old Mann’s Chinese Theatre where we had a midnight showing of the new Spiderman movie on IMAX. Armed with popcorn and soda, Vaughn followed me to our seats. We basically had the whole theatre to ourselves. The movie came on and we watched and laughed for the next 2 1/2 hours. By now it was 3 am and time to head back to the hotel.
The next morning we walked to Denny’s a few blocks down the street from our hotel. Over breakfast, we planned our day. Vaughn noticed that there was an LA Dodgers baseball game later in the day. One of his favorite players, Ian Kinsler and the Padres would be playing! As we ate, we checked tickets to the game on our phones and snagged them. Gotta love technology. We decided we would go back to Venice Beach and track down the original Gold’s Gym. You know the original! Founded in 1965 by Joe Gold. (Side story: My friend Lee Priest was great friends with Joe. Joe had a nickname for everyone and called Lee “Fatboy”. When Joe died in 2004 he left his dog “Lance” to Lee.)
After the Gold’s gym mission, we decided we would go to one of the highest points in Los Angeles and visit Griffiths Observatory. If we had time, we would go to the LA Zoo and then to the baseball game. We finished eating and headed back to the hotel.
Our Uber dropped us off near Pacific Avenue in Venice. I began to grow more and more excited. This is a big moment. This, for me, is like finding a dinosaur bone, like holding Jimmy Page’s Gibson Les Paul guitar, like smoking a cigar with Arnold Schwarzenegger. This is Mecca.
Going off my memory of the YouTube video that I had watched, I knew what to look for. I just couldn’t find it.
I checked my phone, watched the video again and remembered that there are these little alleys that weave and wind their way through the area. Bingo. I looked to my left and there was 1006 Pacific Avenue. The original Gold’s Gym building. I felt like the wind had been knocked out of me and just stood quietly while Vaughn grew restless. But Vaughn understood. In 1985, I walked into my first Gold’s Gym in Waco, Texas while attending Baylor and I found my passion. The gym. Building my mind and my body. Being inspired. Overcoming a lack of direction, a lack of purpose, and low self-esteem. Finding something that was healthy and something that I enjoyed.
I could have hung out here for the afternoon just taking it in, thinking about what it must have been like in the ’60s and ’70s here. I had read that there was a park nearby that the bodybuilders would hang out at after their workout and on the way to the beach. It was a grassy tree-shaded area. I had seen the pictures of the park. But as Vaughn and I made our way down the walkways towards the beach, the only thing we could find was now a dog park with lots of dirt instead of grass.
As we walked from the original Gold’s Gym building to the beach, the ocean breeze grew stronger. Not too little, not too much but just right. There’s nothing like a cool rush of ocean air on a hot Summer California day. It was like having your own portable air conditioner blowing on you at just the right strength. Once we crossed the boardwalk, we found a grassy palm tree-shaded area where we could just lie down and take in all of the sights and sounds. We spent most of the day here yesterday but we just had to visit one last time before we caught an Uber to Griffith’s Observatory.
We said goodbye to Venice and headed to Griffiths Observatory high above the Hollywood hills. I thought of the Tom Petty song as we drove past the Ventura Boulevard sign and went up, up, up to the Observatory. Since it was a holiday weekend (July 4th) there were more people than normal visiting. Rather than making our Uber driver wait in line in bumper to bumper traffic for the 1/2 mile up the hill, we asked him to let us out and we would just walk the rest of the way. Once we reached the top, we saw the James Dean bust (he made a movie here), peered through the telescope to see what we could see and took a picture of the Hollywood Hills sign.
Once inside we made our way through the displays and presentations. The most interesting item to me was the original handwritten letter by Galileo regarding his initial observations on astronomy.
We walked around the outskirts of the Observatory and took in the sights of the Hollywood Hills. Once we were ready to go, rather than have an Uber fight through the traffic, we decided to walk back down the mile or so to the bottom of the neighborhood. I told Vaughn to use his phone and find us a place to eat before the baseball game. He chose Cheech’s Pizza at 2116 Hillhurst Ave.
CHEECH’S PIZZA has been serving the community since 1993. We are a family owned traditional style pizzeria known for our delicious light and airy, with a bit of sweet, pizza crust.
Vaughn ordered a small cheese and I ordered a medium deluxe pizza. We had the place to ourselves on this Friday afternoon. We ate, we watched the world go by on the sidewalk outside our window and looked ahead to the Dodger baseball game.
Baseball Game And An Earthquake
The Dodgers vs the Padres.
An earthquake rattled Dodger Stadium in the fourth inning of the team’s game against the San Diego Padres. The quake on Friday night happened when Dodgers second baseman Enrique Hernandez was batting. It didn’t appear to affect him or Padres pitcher Eric Lauer. However, it was obvious to viewers of the SportsNet LA broadcast when the TV picture bounced up and down.
The quake registered an initial magnitude of 7.1, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. There was no announcement by the stadium’s public address announcer. Some fans in the upper deck appeared to leave their seats and move to a concourse at the top of the stadium.
The press box lurched for about 20 seconds.
The quake occurred a day after a magnitude 6.4 quake hit in the Mojave Desert about 150 miles from Los Angeles.
The Padres won 3-1, Kinsler had a quiet night and we didn’t have any more earthquakes. It was now around 11:30 pm and we made our way out of the stadium and walked a mile or so to escape the crowd.
We were ready to eat and wanted to find something memorable for our last night in Los Angeles. We had heard from some of our Uber drivers that we should try “The Pantry” for a classic, iconic Los Angeles dining experience so off we went. Located in downtown not far from the Staples Center, we were dropped off and stood in line for about 20 minutes before getting a table inside. By now it was 12:30 am (2:30 am Texas time). We ordered eggs, bacon, sourdough toast, and chocolate cake. It had the feel of a greasy spoon and although the food was good, it’s the atmosphere and history that keeps this place chugging along. They only take cash – luckily I was prepared.
The Original Pantry Cafe is a coffee shop and restaurant in Los Angeles, California. Located at the corner of 9th and Figueroa in Downtown L.A.’s South Park district, The Pantry (as it is known by locals) claims to never have closed or been without a customer since it opened including when it changed locations in 1950 to make room for a freeway off-ramp; it served lunch in the original location and served dinner at the new location the same day. This claim is also attributed to the fact that Dewey Logan never refused a customer even if he or she was short on money. It was, however, closed briefly at the order of health inspectors on November 26, 1997, and reopened the next day. The restaurant is currently owned by former Los Angeles mayor Richard Riordan and has served many celebrities and politicians.
The next morning, we got to the airport early, passed through security and then conked out at our gate until it was time to board. Our flight back to Texas was smooth and uneventful. My wife picked us up at Austin Bergstrom around 12:30 pm on Saturday. Sporting our newly acquired California tans, we hugged, and then headed home to The Mighty Northshore.
Thanks for being my co-pilot on this trip, Vaughn. We packed a ton of activity into a 2 day period. It is a lifetime memory between father and son.