Cars ‘n Stars
Los Angeles is hot. Like, really hot. Like, so hot and so overwhelmingly sweltering that the word ‘like’ has to be incorporated to express how truly warm it is here. While my mom and I lament our limited options for outfits in order to fight the heat, locals are strutting down boulevards in long sleeves and far too many layers, albeit fashionably. It is LA, after all.
As part of our effort to escape the sun’s rays, on Wednesday we visited the very air-conditioned and very crowded Griffith Observatory. If you saw the Academy Award-winning film La La Land a few years ago, you’ll remember the scene where the two lovebirds visit an observatory by night and dance among the stars. This was filmed at the Griffith, though I had a hard time understanding how the film crew secured time there, as the museum was packed with eager learners of all ages and has programming at all hours throughout the week. Interspersed between different displays were panels with astronomical and astrological information and samples of rare artifacts, including meteorite fragments. They even had a Tesla Coil with scheduled demonstrations.
My mom and I saw 3 different films in their observatory, and I’d like to tell you what they were about, but we may have nodded off, missed the movies entirely, and squandered 30 minutes of edification for the sake of a cat nap. Maybe. What’s truly impressive is that we did this not once, but twice. The third film kept our attention longest thanks to the format of the showings; while parts of the film had an accompanying score, all of the spoken narration was done by an observatory employee in real time. Our narrator seemed to digress from the intended script, evidenced by her opening monologue pulled directly from The Lord of the Rings on what was intended to be a film about the Northern Lights. She certainly held our attention there.
Outside the Griffith Observatory is a gorgeous view of the surrounding landscape with the Hollywood sign nestled in the hills beyond the haze.
After feeling dwarfed by the cosmos at the Griffith, on Thursday we visited the Nethercutt Museum and collection in Sylmar, California, which is one of the largest and most valuable car collections in the world. The Nethercutt family became unspeakably rich after founding Merle Normal Cosmetics, which is still open today, and Mr. Nethercutt and his wife started collecting a fantastic array of luxury cars. We were guided through a massive building housing the Nethercutt legacy by a very eager tour guide who turned out to be the head of restoration at the property. Many of the cars we saw were discovered as rusted out hunks of mental in abandoned barns, fields, or junkyards, devoid of all the glamour and luxury that once defined them. In contrast, the cars we saw were beautifully restored and, much to our surprise, fully functional. Each car is driven at least once a year, often on the freeway alongside modern cars, and they’re often showcased in car shows.
After our first stop in the main showroom downstairs, we scaled a beautiful spiral staircase to view the Nethercutt’s other eclectic belongings. Upstairs was an entire wall devoted to increasingly odd hood ornaments.
On the next floor was a massive space devoted exclusively to a collection of rare or one-of-a-kind musical instruments. The majority of the space was taken up by orchestrions, which are cabinet-shaped machines that play music and are designed to sound like an orchestra. After we and the other 80 guests on the tour had milled around and heard all the orchestrions, our tour guide drew our attention to an unassuming organ in the middle of the room, which he explained was a theater organ, hence the pipes being hidden from view, and that it could be played hands-free. Right on cue, curtains on either side lifted to show thousands of rainbow-illuminated organ pipes, and the organ started playing the theme from Phantom of the Opera, all without ever being touched. Unnerving? Yes. Interesting nonetheless? Definitely.
After the tour when we returned to the parking lot and the subsequent heat, I spotted our tour guide’s equally disconcerting license plate.
Eccentric tour guides aside, both of these visits were enlightening glimpses of things that were largely unfamiliar before. Before our summer travels, I knew next to nothing about cars, and my astronomical awareness was limited to a PowerPoint I made on satellites in sixth grade and my weekly Gemini horoscope. My mom’s next post will catch you up to the last few exciting days as we near the end of our cross country adventure. As always, thanks for reading!