Burbank Airport Upgrade

The new Rental Car Center at Bob Hope Airport (BUR).

Shhh! Don’t tell anyone. The easiest way to visit Los Angeles (domestically) is flying into the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank. And now it is easier to rent a car from BUR at the car rental facility. It has been awhile since I’ve needed to attend to business in Los Angeles. Southwest Airlines flies almost every hour directly to Burbank from Sacramento. It is a small airport and easy to access by train or automobile.

For pedestrian safety, they created this second story walkway that leads to the train station or the car rental agencies. It is covered mostly for sun, occasionally for rain.

The car rental agencies used to be located at the end of the United terminal with a small lot for cars. Some of the rental agencies required you take a bus to their lots. Now everything is located together in a new multi-story facility. It is a bit of a hike to the facility, but much easier once you are there.


I once took a human-centered design workshop and they challenged our groups to redesign a process that didn’t work well. We chose the car rental experience. We redesigned it into something that is like the experience today of taking Lyft from the airport (except with ride-sharing you don’t get to keep the car). My experience with Alamo was almost stress free. They no longer print the contract out on an old printer with carbon forms. They sent me off with my contract and I was met by a greeter who directed me to my economy car. It took longer to walk to the office than it did to rent my car and be on my way. One more reason Burbank is the best airport if you are visiting Los Angeles.

I #BrakeForPie in Los Angeles

The Apple Pan’s Banana Cream Pie

It all started with my friend Cameon mailing me the People Magazine article on the 50 best pies in the United States with one pie place listed for each state. She knows I #brakeforpie. I was already going to Los Angeles for work, and for a visit with friends, so I was intrigued that the best pie in California was at The Apple Pan, according to this author.


It turned out that my schedule determined that I’d need to arrive at Burbank airport, pick up my rental car and make a bee line to the Apple Pan for a late lunch. I arrived about 2 p.m., and even after the lunch rush, the counter was almost full. I did score a parking spot in the lot behind (with about 6 spaces).

They only take cash so they invited me to place my order and then go to the ATM 42 steps away. My friend Jen said the steak burger is good, so I ordered one with a side of fries with a diet coke. The sodas come in cans with a paper cone with ice in an old fashioned holder–very odd and I prefer fountain soda. Next time I’ll drink water and order coffee with the pie. The food is very good quality and even though it is a Los Angeles institution, the prices were in line with other diners.

IMG-0318The woman sitting next to me ordered an amazing looking egg salad sandwich. I asked if I could take a picture of it. This led to a lovely conversation. She drops in for lunch whenever she is in this part of West Los Angeles.

IMG_0317 I had dug through my travel files to find my issue of the now defunct Lucky Peach magazine Winter 2016 issue that focuses on Los Angeles. As I read it more carefully on the Southwest flight to Burbank, I kept running across mentions of The Apple Pan. Sammy Harkham calls the Apple Pan his personal favorite. He focuses on the burger: “The burger is, hands down, the best fucking burger in the world.”

Kim Gordon also calls out the pie: “Besides the amazing burgers and hefty tuna sandwiches, the pies at the Apple Pan parade through my mind like old friends: cherry, boysenberry, especially strawberry cream, with that barely sweet whipped-cream top.” The strawberry cream pie is available May-September, the banana cream pie is always on the menu. You’ll have to try it for yourself.

The Apple Pan, 10801 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA



Los Angeles in less than 24 Hours

Southwest Airlines provided props to celebrate 2019.

Most people visit Los Angeles for longer than 24 hours, unless they are going for business. I have flown down and back many times for a business meeting from Sacramento. Southwest Airlines makes it possible to say yes to attending a meeting in person. Southwest Airlines also makes it possible to say yes to welcoming the New Year with a show at Largo.

Sarah Harriet and I flew to LAX on the 11:55 a.m. flight. We had a relaxed morning and good night’s sleep. The flight was full-ish but all of the Rose Bowl fans would have flown the day before or earlier. We grabbed a Lyft to our hotel. While we took surface streets to The Elan, the traffic was light for Los Angeles.

Sarah Harriet gifted the tickets to see Rob Bell and Elizabeth Gilbert at Largo for Christmas, so I gifted the hotel room. On this visit The Elan was a let down. Small room with light pouring in no matter how you close the curtains. It was a great location though. We were able to walk every where until the following morning when we headed back to LAX.

We walked to eat Plancha Tacos. This taco joint in a strip mall (some of the best food in LA is in a strip mall). We tucked in to a yummy Mexican feast. Then we walked past mostly closed shops (good on these merchants for taking a holiday and giving their employees the day off). We checked out a bakery and decided everything looked too sweet. If they had a fruit pie or a bun with a little bit of icing they’d have had a sale.

The view of Los Angeles from the elevator banks in Beverly Center..

We walked on to the Beverly Center. At first we weren’t sure if it was a parking garage or a shopping mall. We rode escalator after escalator and then found the mall. This was unlike any mall in Sacramento as it had all high end designer shops like those on Rodeo Drive. We window shopped and then returned to the hotel.

Although we didn’t feel that hungry we wanted to eat before the 8 p.m. show because neither of us enjoys eating late at night. We used Trip Advisor and Open Table to decide to try Taste on Melrose.

Courtyard tree at Taste on Melrose.

We had the choice of the courtyard (outside with heaters) or inside. Although it was January it was still more than 10 degrees warmer than home, so we said “Courtyard!” The service was slow but the food was really delicious. Just right was the Melrose vibe.

To get to the show at Largo we had to walk just a few blocks back towards our hotel. Largo is a club that seats 300 people and the posters gave us the impression it is where Sarah Silverman and other comics try out material. We asked for our tickets at Will Call and couldn’t believe our luck! We had front row seats!

We  didn’t know what to expect from Rob Bell and Elizabeth Gilbert–two of our favorite authors who are friends–certainly not dancing for more than 5 minutes to Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Can’t Stop (I always thought it was called Shindig). We laughed and laughed because they fully committed. I kept thinking “Don’t they realize how long this song goes on?” It helped to set the tone of vulnerability and fun.

No photos allowed during the performance. 

You can hear the resulting conversation between Bell and Gilbert on The RobCast podcast. There are two episodes. I won’t spoil any of the good stuff, except to say that it was so much fun. One weird part of our experience was the woman sitting next to Sarah Harriet who must suffer from sleep apnea. First she was all into the show, then she got up and sort of tried to sneak out about 15 minutes in. Then 30 minutes later she comes back with coffee and noisily adds cream and sugar and chugs it down. Ten minutes later she is snoring loudly in spite of Bell and Gilbert talking no more than 10 feet in front of us and lots of audience response. The person next to me was frustrated and said, “Nudge her!” Sarah responded that she had several times. Afterward I couldn’t help but laugh out loud when Sarah said that when she elbowed the woman, the woman elbowed her back without a pause in her snore. It takes all kinds of people in the world. We’d go again in a heartbeat to hear Bell and Gilbert (preferably in Sacramento–we have the Crest Theater!)

After a restless nights sleep, which often happens when you are nervous about getting up in time for a 6:50 a.m. flight out of LAX. Southwest delivered again.  This time there were many elated Ohio State and disappointed Washington University fans in the airport. We were home by 9:30 a.m., before we left the house the previous day.  Kind of amazing when you think about it.




24 hours in Los Angeles

Lots of people fly into Los Angeles on their way to somewhere else and perhaps they find they have 12 or 24 hours of time to explore. There is the obvious mouse kingdom, but there is so much more to do and see. Recently my daughter Sarah Harriet and I flew into LAX via Southwest Airlines to spend slightly more than 24 hours in Los Angeles.

Witness the evolution of an architectural boundary jumper.
Frank Gehry special exhibit at LACMA is open until March 20, 2016

We went specifically to see a taping of the Rob Bell presentation of Everything is Spiritual. Plus we had tickets the next day to view the Frank Gehry special exhibit at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA).

Amazing collection of architectural renderings and models.
Frank Gehry’s retrospective illustrates the importance of perseverance and staying true to your vision.

We filled in the blanks with great food and shopping.

We arrived in the late afternoon on a Thursday. After a wild shuttle bus ride, we rented a car from Payless Car Rental. It was fast and easy. I commented on this and the clerk said, “You are just renting the car not buying.” Someone should tell all the other rental companies who still give me a 2 pound agreement in triplicate.

We drove to our Doubletree Hotel in Santa Monica and dropped our bags. We left right away for dinner after a quick search on Yelp. The traffic to Lares was stop and go and parking was a challenge. It was worth the effort. I enjoyed my enchiladas–one with mole and one with red sauce. Sarah and I enjoyed a great conversation and while we were waiting for our check an un-mariachi band played. It was quite lovely.

IMG_7728 (1)
Yummy Mexican food with good service in Lares restaurant in Santa Monica.

The Rob Bell performance was very thought provoking. Read more about it on http:leaderscompass.org.  We had fun.

The next day after breakfast and yarn shopping, we enjoyed the easy parking at LACMA. We bought our tickets to the Frank Gehry exhibit in advance. Our admission also gave us access to most other parts of the vast museum complex. We had time to view one more special exhibit: New Objectivity: Modern German Art in the Weimar Republic, 1919-1933. As soon as I walked into the gallery I knew my friend Jim Adan would love the show catalog. Every decadent piece was something he would love. (I was right. He is thrilled with the catalog.) Go see it before it closes on January 18. (LACMA tickets: $25 per adult for Gehry exhibit/museum admission; $12 for parking)

By this time we were going to be cutting it close to get back to LAX vicinity and return our car, and so on. It was worth the little bit of stress. We had such a memorable time.

Yum, Yum: Huckleberry Cafe

Huckleberry Cafe on Wilshire Boulevard
1014 Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica, CA

I love traveling with my children. Sarah Harriet and I just got back from a 28 hour trip to Los Angeles. We got tickets to see Rob Bell perform Everything is Spiritual; he was taping it in Santa Monica. (The movie will be available in a few months.) So off we went on our adventure.

Coffee and breakfast egg sandwiches.
Sarah Harriet taking a sip of really good coffee at Huckleberry Cafe.

I keep a file on Los Angeles because it is an epicenter for terrific food. On I’ll Have What Phil’s Having (pbs.org) he spotlighted Huckleberry Cafe on his Los Angeles episode. I wrote Huckleberry, Santa Monica on a National Geographic Traveler article from November 2015. We took our time getting up on Friday morning and arrived at Huckleberry about 9:45 a.m.

20151218_095750There was no line when we arrived and a friendly staff person greeted us and helped us figure out where to order. The menu is on a big chalkboard and at first we thought it was too hipster for us. We both landed on the breakfast egg sandwich. I also ordered a maple bacon biscuit.

The plentiful staff works together really well to the benefit of the customer–the mood is light and bubbly.

20151218_095745We sat down with two delicioso cups of coffee–mine decaf, Sarah’s regular. The biscuit arrived first and I dove in. Yum. The bacon enhanced the experience without overwhelming. The maple frosting was just enough to make it sweet, not too sweet.

The real awesomeness was yet to come. As Sarah said after taking her first bite of the breakfast egg sandwich: “This is the best breakfast sandwich I’ve ever eaten.” Super good toasted bread with over easy eggs, gruyere cheese, aioli and arugula. It was a perfect accompaniment to great conversation.

Best Breakfast Egg Sandwich Ever!

We watched the line expand and contract as a regular stream of diners came in, were served, dined and left. (We figured out there is parking behind the building as people came into the back entrance.)

We were reluctant to leave. The chalkboard menu featured Mary’s Fried Chicken–a reason to return soon for lunch.



Travel Theme: Fantastic!

My breath caught for a jagged second as I looked across the street at the Traveler’s Bookcase. Like the revelation of peanut butter and chocolate, my two passions are combined in one shop. Travel and books! Books and travel! Fantastic!

Specialty travel bookshop at 8375 West Third Street (across from Joan's on 3rd), Los Angeles
Specialty travel bookshop at 8375 West Third Street (across from Joan’s on Third), Los Angeles

I love looking at unconventional formats in travel books. Natalie Campagno spent more than 30 minutes searching the shelves for irresistible maps and guides to share with me. I went a little nuts. I do not know when I will be back in Los Angeles so I indulged.This is the kind of tactile experience Amazon cannot replicate!

Most beautiful design goes to Love Goa by Fiona Caulfield. It comes in its own fabric jacket and is a joy to handle. Most clever book award goes to the Wildsam Field Guide, Detroit.  I love my Nashville and this one is just as brilliant.  The best new book imparting important information while feeling nostalgic:  The New York Time 36 Hours USA & Canada Southwest and Rocky Mountains. I have already used this one to help plan an upcoming adventure with UK Sarah. Another trend that I am not wild about is the “curated guide” to shopping that is a snobby version of the Yellow Pages. They inevitably have to be so exclusive that they are not likely to include my passions.  So eat.shop new england and San Francisco the hunt did not float my boat.

I went a little crazy tasting the travel books and maps at Traveler's Bookcase.
I went a little crazy tasting the travel books and maps at Traveler’s Bookcase.

Also trending are stylized maps. These often offer a highly selective view of a city. When we think of Berlin is a guide/map with such a high concept geographic map that you could spend most of your time lost if you depended upon it. I will stick to the Railway City Map series. I love my map of Barcelona. It is practical and beautiful.

If you have ever read 84 Charing Cross Road then you know my fantasy: Natalie Compagno and I will become pen pals and I will ask her to look for original or obscure travel books and she will share things she thinks I will like. Only updated to 2015 I will not send $5 bills through the mail. Or send her eggs from Denmark.

If you are anywhere near Los Angeles you have to check out this bookstore because it is fantastic.

For more Travel Theme Fantastic posts: http://wheresmybackpack.com/2015/03/13/travel-theme-fantastic/.

I Brake for Pi(e) Day!

Today is Pi(e) Day.  More specifically it is a once in a century Pi(e) Day 3-14-15 9:26:53.

Joans on 3rd hand pie for breakfast.
Joans on 3rd hand pie for breakfast.

I am celebrating. Not by doing sums (or even finishing my taxes–one of the few times I use math… or Turbo Tax uses math). I am celebrating by braking for pie as often as possible.

I started the Pi(e) party at breakfast. I met my friend Henry at Joan’s on 3rd in Los Angeles. I ordered a ham and cheese hand pie and a nutella pop tart. The hand pie was excellent and more like a stuffed croissant than a pie. The pop tart was closer to pie and so rich I shared with Henry and still could not finish it.

Murray Farms farmstand: the highway sign said "Pie".
Murray Farms farmstand: the highway sign said “Pie”.

Then it was time to hit the road and drive the 6+ hours to Sacramento. I saw a roadside sign 30 miles north of Gorman on Interstate 5 that advertised a farmstand and said “Pie”. I took the exit and within minutes was walking out with a peach pie “for the kids”.

Another hour or so of driving and I entered Fresno County and the destination that would be sure to have pie and a cup of coffee.

A whole peach pie... can it be good if the peaches are not in season? We will find out.
A whole peach pie… can it be good if the peaches are not in season? We will find out.

I love Harris Ranch. Ever since I was driving to and from University of Southern California, I have stopped at Harris Ranch. The bathrooms are luxurious. The store has interesting things to look at and you can buy a small snack if you are broke. For the longest time the restaurant was only an aspiration. As time passed I had less anxiety about the menu prices.

Alas I sat down to order and the restaurant is only serving boysenberry cobbler and it is long on fruit and maple ice cream and short on the cobbler. Delicious but not pie.

The store bakery had an entire cherry pie, so I bought a second pie for the kids: two pies to thank them for watching my dog Lulu while I was out of town.

Two and a half hours to drive before I am reunited with Lulu. If I had spent the day at home I would surely have baked a pie. I am going to try to push through without stopping again. Unless there is an irresistible sign for pie.

Dare Mighty Things: Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles

A friend who works as an aeronautical engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada, California (just above the Rose Bowl near Pasadena) offered to give us a tour of the campus. We said yes!

Sound Stage? for Mars Production?
Sound Stage? for Mars Production?

There is a considerable amount of security, as there should be for a partnership between CalTech and NASA that does research for space and “security programs”.  We started our tour at a kind of visitor’s center. We walked past a herd of deer placidly lounging on the grass completely unperturbed.

The place is empty on a Saturday. It is easy to imagine what a weekday might be like with every cubicle full, and engineers conducting experiments in the viewing areas. Our host, John Luke, showed us one area that they use to figure out how to get the Mars Rover unstuck. However, it also looks like the perfect sound stage if you wanted to fake a Mars landing!  All the conspiracy theorists who think we have never been to the moon would love it.

JPL Open House traditionally in June, may resume if funding permits
JPL Open House traditionally in June, may resume if funding permits

I found the organization of the place fascinating from the kinetic sculptures to the tennis court sized area for larger drop tests. I love their motto: Dare Mighty Things.  John Luke works on the Mars Landing team. He is very enthusiastic about the designs they are devising to ensure the Rover makes a soft landing.

You do not have to know a rocket scientist to tour JPL.  Public tours are available and if funding approves they will resume their annual open house in June.  (Like Disneyland for aspiring scientists!)