My 12-year-old Olivia wanted to take a road trip to Los Angeles to see Hollywood, window shop on Rodeo Drive and go to Disneyland. Since her older sister is in Europe and her dad was busy at work, what excuse did I have? It was our turn to bond at amusement parks, while shopping without money, during miles and miles of driving in traffic.
We began the trip on the 4th of July weekend in Napa Valley with our good friends from college, Jim Hall and Anne Moses, co-owners and winemakers at Patz and Hall. Jim and Anne host a rocking good 4th, complete with a roasted pig, fireworks, great friends and of course, fabulous wine.
Our next stop was Santa Cruz to visit another college friend, Denise, and hit the Boardwalk and downtown mall. After a terrifying ride on the Big Dipper, I realized Olivia was going to need to bring a friend with her to ride the attractions at Disneyland. Liv and I took the coast route down to Santa Barbara, which she couldn’t handle due to carsickness, and spent the time lying down staring at the blue, panoramic sky.
We spent the night with my friend Karen Gibbs who is my merchandise consultant for 12 Small Things. I met Karen in New York three years ago at the Aid to Artisans Market Readiness Program, held at the gift show each year. Karen was their marketing director at the time and totally impressed me with her knowledge of fair trade products and artisan communities in need around the world. Karen and I kept in touch over the years and now are working together on my website.
Olivia and I headed to Los Angeles the next morning and hit our first shopping destination, The Grove, in time for lunch at the Farmer’s Market. While the Grove itself was full of air-conditioned chain stores and restaurants, the farmers market, established during the depression in 1934, is a charming outdoor collection of food, vendors and shops with great, old-town, mom and pop charm.
Fortified with food, we ventured to Hollywood Boulevard to join the fans visiting Michael Jackson’s star on the day of his memorial service. It was quite a well-behaved scene of adoring fans, opportunistic street vendors, including film characters that pose for tips, along with television cameras and curious tourists. We made friends with the two young women on either side of us in line to see Michael’s star, who had traveled many miles to be in attendance. They had both signed Michael’s wall at the Staple’s Center the night before. Olivia bought a commemorative Michael Jackson t-shirt and posed with Jack Sparrow and Willy Wonka for $1 each. There were also programs from the memorial service for $50 that one lucky attendee managed to grab for resale, plus Michael ribbons for a $1 that one could wear on their lapel, like the breast cancer and AIDS ribbons. What a business dying can be.
The next day our destination was the shopping mecca for the stars, Rodeo Drive. The Jackson family had been there after the service for lunch at one of the hotel restaurants. Usher, who had also attended the service, apparently had the Louis Vuitton store shut down for a little private shopping, according to a local source. Many of the salespeople we encountered didn’t speak to us at all, even though we were the only visitors in their store during this economic downturn. I guess that’s the difference, we were visitors, not customers. Was it that obvious?
While most of the staff and the stores themselves were cold and imposing, the designer clothing we saw was amazingly inspiring, from the fabrics and color to the design and concept. My favorite experience was to watch the designer’s runway shows, “store TV”, and then find the garments on the display mannequins. This was not mass-produced-stuff; these were elevated works, almost like art at a museum.
These clothes shouldn’t even be for sale, as who can afford them? Can you imagine what that same money could do for some of the artisan communities I’m working with? And when these same inspirational garments are copied by inexpensive imitators, selling for mere dollars each at the discount chain stores that most Americans can afford, what are the workers who are making them getting paid? My head and feet ached equally. It was time to move on.
We’re going to Disneyland! Thank goodness Olivia had a friend in town visiting his grandparents, who was ready and willing to accompany Liv on the roller-coaster rides at Anaheim’s finest. After navigating the crazy maze of freeways to pick-up Stephen and cross over to the 101 and then 10 and then 5 South, we were finally on our way, with the rest of Southern California. I must say, for an entertainment giant like Disney, they have a few things down. Signage and parking and trams to the parks, no problem. Tickets for entry, smooth. Food, marginal and over-priced. Rides, fabulous and fun and crowd-thoughtful. I revisited my childhood on Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Peter Pan and It’s a Small World while the kids were off at Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Indiana Jones and The Matterhorn. They joined me for the Haunted House and Pirates of the Caribbean. You’d think from my website that “It’s A Small World” would have been my favorite, but the sight of a perfectly cloned Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, peering out from behind women’s mannequins and beer kegs, left me breathless.
Satisfied overall with our LA experience, we couldn’t resist a little shopping in the Disney Arcade for souvenirs from our journey. Stephen bought Olivia an OLIVIA beaded bracelet. They’re just friends. Olivia and I on the other hand, are family, bonded by pedicures, window-shopping, Michael, Mickey and miles.