A Magic Moment on Mount Hollywood
“Yesterday, I met the real Los Angeles…”
I laugh at myself as I thumb through the pages of my travel journal and find this bit of drivel. Penned after I’d spent all of 48 hours in L.A., I find my hubris hilarious. In a mere two days, what could I have known about the real Los Angeles, a city covering an area of roughly 500 square miles, home to nearly 4 million residents from almost countless neighborhoods?
What I really wanted to say was, I suppose, that I learned the truth about L.A.
I made this discovery from the top of Mount Hollywood, an easy and busy mile-long hike from the Griffith Observatory parking lot. The hike to the top seems like a popular weekend activity; the trail was teeming with sweaty, shirtless studs and slender, fit women running or speed-hiking their way to the top. Even the less athletic were in the mix, hard bodies giving way to softer ones huffing and puffing slowly to the mountain’s apex. The weather was hot and before long, a thin layer of dry dust blanketed my boots.
The hike is scenic but not long, the gently climbing trail of tan-colored earth flanked by white, purple, and yellow wildflowers, desert shrubs, and golden grasses snaking slowly around the mountain and beckoning the hiker upwards. It took me roughly three-quarters of an hour to reach the summit. Breathless and hot when I arrived at the overlook, a small, fenced-in area with a few picnic tables, I was the happiest I’d been in days. A woman offered to take my picture, immortalizing the moment.
The 360 degree views of Los Angeles from the vantage point are stunning. For the first few moments I was speechless, struck dumb by the sheer and unexpected beauty around me.
Before I arrived, I thought L.A. was a dirty, smoggy city.
At the top of Mount Hollywood, many of my misconceptions about the city fell away, and I was left with a single truth: L.A. might sometimes be dirty and smoggy, but it’s also much more than that.
The city’s residents are also not as aloof as I’d expected. It was there, at the top of Mount Hollywood, that I met Jonathon, a handsome budding actor from a small town in Arkansas. We chatted for a while and he shared memories of his hometown and its sole movie theater, the only one within a 45-minute radius. I told him that would be a great story when he makes it big. He liked hearing that and gave me a warm, wide smile and a high-five.
Jonathon pointed out L.A.’s cities surrounding us: Beverly Hills and Hollywood ahead. Culver City beyond. Burbank to the rear. I took it all in, still incredulous that I was so, so wrong about Los Angeles.
When it was time for Jonathon to go, he rejoined his friends and they disappeared behind a craggy ridge of the mountain. I remained for a few minutes longer but I shortly began the trek back down the trail, taking my time to take lots of pictures.
The hike downhill was, naturally, much shorter and easier than the trek upward, and I practically skipped down the mountain, returning the smiles of other hikers making the ascent. I felt free and happy and alive and in love…with Los Angeles of all places. Who knew?
It’s easy to buy into all the negative notions about the city, but from the top of Mount Hollywood, I realized that Los Angeles is large, diverse, and full of beauty.