City of 43 Angels

Facebook prompts memories of ‘this time last year’ or ‘this time five years ago’ and sometimes you get a sense of ‘shit, I forgot about that whole thing’ or ‘shit, I forgot I was once married’ and even sometimes, ‘shit, I forgot I was friends with them’. Recent pics of two of my travel buddies and I visiting LA in 2015 on a famil (free taster trip for travel agents) kept popping up this month and I couldn’t stop thinking about our hike up Runyon Canyon. I was sure I had written something about it but couldn’t find it until I found the article ‘City of 43 Angels’ on TAT magazine via google search – ‘shit, I forgot I used to write for them’. Anyway, here it is.

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City of 43 Angels

In March, I took my first trip to the United States, visiting Los Angeles and Santa Barbara on a work excursion with new and known colleagues.

In LA, we ticked the tourist boxes furiously: at Universal Studios we took a back lot tour and were chased by Norman Bates at ‘Bates Motel’, splashed by Jaws and entwined in the drive-by secrets of Wisteria Lane. We took a walking tour of Hollywood Boulevard and said cheers to Hemingway at his old drinking hole and ate pasta at Micelli’s, LA’s oldest Italian Restaurant. We watched the Lakers bounce around Staples and ate hotdogs and drank beer – we were even lucky enough to witness a proposal at the stadium with the couple sitting behind us!

Feeling full of tourist bliss and a VIP status we partied on one night at the Roosevelt Hotel around fire buckets by the pool. An American lady overheard our Aussie accents and introduced us to smores while we introduced ourselves to Grey Goose Vodka. We enjoyed the typical American hotel pool party right in to the early hours.

It was on dawn and three of us girls decided that instead of sleeping and having to wake up to meet everyone at our hotel breakfast, we thought it best to run up Runyon Canyon and see the sun pinch its cheeks over the City of Angels before meeting everyone for breakfast.

We had no idea where we were going and everything was hilarious to us Aussie girls by this stage so we laughed hysterically and out of breath as we jogged, still drunk on Grey Goose, up Runyon Canyon, hoping to run in to some fitness freak super stars along the way.

We came to the first landing and practiced our selfie skills against the sunrise over the city, it was awesome, in the true meaning of the word awe. The sun broke over the city, outlining the buildings in the distance with a yellow smog of light building right up in to reds and oranges against the new blue sky, it was truly spectacular.

Upon our ascent, we noticed something gold and sparkly in the sandy grass of Runyon Canyon. The number 43, had been laid out in gold sparkly shoes, each pair with a little tag. We joked nervously, “oh they are definitely drag queen’s shoes with matching toe tags”. “They probably have names on them like ‘Lady LA’, ‘Greywhore Goose’ and ‘Madame Molly’”.

Suddenly everything wasn’t funny any more. Upon closer inspection came the realisation that these were literal toe tags. And not the costume labeling of a pride of drag queens.

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In fact, these shoes had been lain this very morning and a request had been made to honour the 43 Mexican student protestors who had gone missing in September 2014. A note was left stating that after 4:00pm on the 8th of March, each pair of shoes was to be removed and placed around the city to remind the people of Los Angeles of the missing students. It was called the #goldenshoesproject

The tags had on them, information about each Mexican student: their name, age and day of death were listed as well as something interesting and funny about their character. One read, for example, “Made perfect impression of Spongebob laugh”.

I’ll be frank, the three of us girls balled our eyes out. The sun spiked our eyes and skin and we hugged and sat there staring at the shoes. We felt a harsh graze as our rose-coloured tourist glasses were whipped from our heads, and felt a softening of our hearts as we saw this part of the world through clearer but still-teary lenses.

Talk then started about maybe taking the shoes before 4:03pm that day and making sure that they were dispersed as the ghost writer had requested. We thought about taking a pair then and there and placing them on the Laker’s court that night to maximise full broadcast of this issue. We were the first to see these shoes this morning, it was breaking news at breaking dawn and far away from our home in Australia was such a big issue that we had just become part of, we couldn’t decipher the heat of the sun let alone the heat of this event. Should we take a pair back to Australia and place it on the Mexican consulate’s doorstep? Should we fly them to the White House that day? What was Oprah’s phone number?

Drunk and overwhelmed, sweaty and stinking of vodka, it was decided that we leave the shoes as it would be going against the request that they be removed at 4:03pm that day. We hoped that other people would come back later on and get the shoes and place them around the city.

We eventually hauled our behinds up the rest of Runyon Canyon, leaving the 43 pairs of gold sparkly shoes behind. Leaving 43 student protestors wasting away somewhere in a ditch in Mexico. I could hear Spongebob laughing in the background somewhere and singing: ‘who lives in a pineapple under the sea?’ The whole situation seemed more absurd than these lyrics.

Later in Santa Barbara, we cycled along the beach after having ticked a few more of the tourist attraction boxes: whale watching, the salt caves, the zoo. Every now and then, like a tortured person, an image of the gold sparkly shoes would enter my mind with the sound effects of Spongebob’s laugh and I would ask the world again, ‘who lives in a pineapple under the sea?’

I finally have found an answer: tourists do. Students do. Governments do. Cities do. Tourists live in pineapples, and big bananas, and the big prawn and all of these big things. Students live in big ideas and big essays and big groups. Governments live in big houses and drive big cars. Cities build big important buildings and hold big events like football and basketball games. Why? Because the world is absurd. It is hard to interpret. People build places to hide in, to distract themselves, to become absorbed in and to become entertained by. To avoid reality.

People joke when they get back from holidays: ‘oh well, back to reality, back to the real world.’ Have people forgotten that travel is the real world? Travel exposes real things? Real truths about real people.

For everyday that that beautiful sunset casts itself over LA, the moon sets in on the other side of the world. For 365 days a year. For every high tide on one side of the ocean there is a low tide it its reflection. There are people ruling the world with hate. And now 43 angels are hanging out in a pineapple under the sea.

And we’ve all gone ‘back to reality’.

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