Spring Break: Hollywood!

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During my time in the US a few weeks ago, I took a road trip from Berkeley down to sunny Los Angeles to attend the annual meeting of the  Western Political Science Association (WPSA). WPSA is one several political science professional association in the US (along with APSA, MPSA, SPSA, etc.), each of which has a conference every year. This year’s WPSA meeting was held at the Loews Hollywood Hotel, right next to some of LA’s most iconic attractions.

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This year’s overall conference theme was “The Empire Strikes Back,” which, despite the fact that themes are never really closely adhered to, produced a number of funny paper titles. Anyway, I was lucky enough to be able to stay with some friends just down the road, but we had plenty of time to explore the sights after attending the conference during the day.

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Although I’d been to LA before, I’d never really done a lot of the super touristy things in Hollywood–nor had I ever laid eyes on the iconic Hollywood sign, which was clearly visible from the conference hotel. It really looks just like it does in the movies!

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The ostentation of the area immediately around the Loews Hotel was pretty amazing–it was like what I imagine Las Vegas looks like. It was a bit funny to be having an academic conference amid such decor. But we made it work. Here’s part of my department’s graduate student contingent enjoying the WPSA poolside reception (apparently, we’re bad at mingling with others):

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Anyway, there always seemed to be something going on over on Hollywood Boulevard, which made for some interesting milling around.

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There was some kind of movie premiere happening at one point. Also, there was a seemingly never-ending supply of people dressed up like famous movie characters–Spiderman, Captain Jack, Batman and the Joker (who we later saw getting drinks together, amusingly)… The basic deal seemed to be that you paid to have your photo taken with them, which seemed to be working out pretty well as a business model. I didn’t pay to have my photo taken, but I managed to snap this one of Spiderman working his mojo with a random stranger:

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The TCL Chinese Theatre (formerly Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and Mann’s Chinese Theatre) was on the same block as our conference venue, the famous site of three Academy Awards ceremonies and the premieres of movies such as  The King of Kings and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope

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The theater is probably best known for its courtyard, which contains a number of concrete blocks bearing the signatures, footprints, and handprints of popular movie stars.

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The Chinese Theatre is right along the famous Hollywood Walk of Fame, which consists of more than 2,400 five-pointed stars embedded in the sidewalks of 15 blocks of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street (thanks, Wikipedia!). The stars are permanent public monuments to achievement in the entertainment industry, bearing the names of a mix of actors, musicians, directors, producers, musical and theatrical groups, fictional characters, and others.

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My friend and I are avid fans of jazz, so we felt the need to get our picture with famous pianist and band leader Duke Ellington. And I had to get my picture with the Simpsons’ star above, of course.

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We also tried to explore some of the local restaurants, though our time was somewhat limited. One real find was a place called Grub, where I had literally the best french toast of my life (aptly named the “friggin’ amazing french toast). It took me a few minutes to realize that my “toast” was actually three croissants which had been dipped and fried. So, I basically ate all of the calories. But it was amazing.

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And of course, no California road trip is complete without a trip to In-N-Out Burger, a branch of which is conveniently located approximately halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles in Kettleman City. All in all, it was a really great trip, a good mix of work and play. I can’t wait to go back again!

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