Tag Archives: Los Angeles

Baby you can park my car

I don’t think it’s unfair to say that Americans are obsessed with their cars. Having recently flown cross-country to Los Angeles, it’s not hard to see why. Popping next door for a cup of sugar must be a whole different kettle of fish when your closest neighbour lives thirty miles away. Of course, abject fear of walking doesn’t help either. After all, most LA residents think that legs were made for making sure that your torso doesn’t drag on the floor.

When you admit in public that you haven’t driven for fourteen years, you get the kind of look reserved for hired cat assassins. And that’s just from The Special One, I can tell you. People who don’t know me attempt to get words out of their mouths but eventually just give up and walkdrive off.

The problem is that I was never the world’s greatest driver in the first place. As I’ve said before, I spectacularly failed my driving test first time out. What I neglected to mention was that even the second time I took it, I was lucky to get away with a pass. After all, a three foot skid on your emergency stop is never designed to impress the examiners.

Anyway, I’ve come to terms with being a social leper now. And to be fair, New York is probably the one city in the States where you can definitely get away without a car. It’s clearly disappointing that I’m excluded from the merry-go-round fun when everybody has to move their cars at certain points in the week to allow the roads to be cleaned (and to avoid getting fined in the process). But it’s a disappointment I’m prepared to endure for the sake of my own sanity, and for the security of drivers and pedestrians across the city.

Outside New York, dealing with drivers is a vital task for businesses that rely on a high turnover of customers, but which don’t have access to huge on-site car parksparking lots. In high traffic areas, certain places know that their patrons won’t bother turning up if they find it impossible to park. So they make the problem disappear by offering to park the car for them – for a small fee, of course.

Valet parking is an essential part of restaurant life, and most swanky hotels offer the service too. In Los Angeles, it seems that every second place offers you the chance to put your keys into the hands of somebody you’ve never met and watch them drive off with your pride and joy. In New York they call that process a mugging.

That said, the further away from Manhattan you get, the more likely you are to find valet parking an option. Here in Bay Ridge, plenty of restaurants will happily park your car for you, and I’ve even seen the option at babywear shops.

It’s all about competitive advantage I guess. And maybe with the current recession, we’ll see even more businesses begin to offer to park your car, if only to make their service stand out from the crowd. Infact, I think that process has already begun. Last night on my walk home, I saw a man step out of his car and hand his keys over to a smartly dressed young man who immediately took his place and drove the car around the corner to join another thirty or so crammed into a small space at the side of the premises. But what was the place, I wondered as I looked for a sign? A new restaurant, or a bed and breakfast inn maybe?

No, it was the local funeral parlour, welcoming friends and family to a viewing.

Next it’ll be drive-thru weddings, mark my words.

The big breakfast. Or lunch.

I’ve never really got the point of brunch, to be honest. For a start, I’m no fan of breakfast, despite the impassioned pleas of around three quarters of the people I’ve ever met who insist that it’s the most important meal of the day and I might die at the age of 54 if I don’t start eating it immediately. The idea of getting up and stuffing my face full of processed grain products or ill-disguised cake with syrup doesn’t fill me with joy, and it’s generally about 10am before I remember that I should probably at least have a cup of tea or coffee.

Long-term readers will rightly point out that I love a bacon buttysandwich, but given that I would eat bacon every hour of the day if given half a chance (and a spare heart), I think we can simply regard it as the exception that proves the rule.

The corollary to my dislike of breakfast though is that by the middle of the day I’m starving, and duly lunch is probably my favourite meal of the day. Whether it’s sandwiches at my desk, or a lazy weekend meal with friends, I love taking stock of the day so far over some good food. Especially if it involves bacon, obviously.

To me therefore, brunch is a meal that looks like breakfast, contains far too many eggs for its own good, and robs me of the opportunity to have lunch. It is literally the worst of both worlds. Admittedly the bloody mary or the bucks fizzmimosa can occasionally take my mind off my internal anguish, but it’s still a meal I could do without.

The exception is ‘the hotel brunch’ – a weird and extravagantly (some would say obnoxiously) lavish buffet-based meal on a Sunday that can draw people from miles around if it gains a good reputation. The one essential rule about the hotel brunch is that it is legally required to include every single foodstuff ever grown or invented. A guest finding any category of food missing is entitled to eat free of charge in the hotel for the next year, and can take home as many tiny bottles of hotel shampoo and body wash as they can fit into their oversized pockets.

At a Los Angeles brunch yesterday, I could take my choice from the usual breakfast choices of (made to order) eggs and omelettes, breakfast meats, eight different cheeses, sushi, dumplings, roast lamb, roast beef, ham, fruits, chocolate desserts pizza, chicken nuggetstenders, sliced vegetables, pork buns, waffles, ham and cheese sandwiches, peach crumblecrisp, stir fried chicken with cashew nuts, numerous breads, and many other things that I couldn’t quite see because of the dozens of people surrounding the tables as chefs prepped, sliced, cooked and served.

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve never eaten eel sushi and stilton on the same plate, and certainly not at 11 in the morning, but somehow it seemed to work. I was so mesmerised that I walked out without my coat and only remembered about it this morning as I was en route to the airport.

It’s no exaggeration to say that a few thousand people could have eaten from all the food on display, which was being constantly replenished. As it was, there were probably around 400 people in attendance, and hopefully they found some good homeless shelter for the rest of it. I’m not sure whether ‘potstickers with sweet chili sauce’ is necessarily the food of choice for the down-and-out, but then again I’m not sure that the Beverly Hills authorities don’t chase the homeless out of the area with pitchforks each morning, so maybe it’s not an issue…