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Postcards from Travel Near and Far by Jia-Rui


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92264, Palm Springs

Robson Chambers house, 1947

Dear ——–,

Bryan signed us up for the Palm Spring Modern Heritage Fund‘s Modern Homes Tour on Saturday, with the caveat that we could take a time-out at any time if the baby was fussing/crying/peeing/pooping. With the baby tucked into a Baby Bjorn, we managed to see all the houses except for the first and the last on the tour, including this house designed by Robson Chambers as his own home. (For those of you who want to own a piece of architecture history, it is for sale — $575,000.) Most of the homes on the tour were vintage, including a house Arthur Elrod designed for himself that seemed frozen in the early 1960s, with a quaint orange-green color scheme in the living room, an enormous King-Arthur-esque round dining table, and a Steinway designed by the architect. The houses we liked best — a Dean Davidson house from 1965 and a Stan Sackley house from 1971 — mixed the indoor-outdoor space, with floor-to-ceiling windows, access to the pool from most rooms and terrazzo floors that allowed for wet feet from the pool. As the setting sun glowed golden-pink on the San Jacinto Mountains, we mused at how fun it was to see private houses in neighborhoods we never would’ve explored as tourists. You could almost hear the clink of cocktail glasses behind us.

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92240, Desert Hot Springs

View from inside the room out to the private patio

Dear ——–,

Bryan was taken with the photographs of Hotel Lautner on the web, but there is nothing like actually staying in one of these perfectly designed mid-century Modern rooms. You almost feel as if you’re living outdoors since windows make up two of the walls. When you lie on the bed, you look directly up through another strip of windows, as if lying in an open field, looking up at the clouds. Instead of curtains, there are various cacti planted around the windows and then a high, wraparound cement wall, which also helps with the wind. The wall was just the right height to allow the morning sun to hit you in the face and rouse you out of bed at around 8:30 a.m. The motel originally opened in 1947, but has just been renovated and stocked with very cool vintage furniture. Because it is newly opened, the room was missing a few things — a pot large enough to boil water for pasta, a chef’s knife, a freezer cold enough to keep gelato solid — but all in all, it was quite comfortable. Bryan especially liked the pod coffeemaker which brewed a perfect cup of coffee each morning. By the end of our stay, we didn’t want to leave.


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92240, Desert Hot Springs

Wind farm at the edge of Desert Hot Springs

Dear ——–,

As our last baby-free getaway, Bryan and I headed to Palm Springs. We had postponed this trip two weeks in the hopes that it would be warmer but this past weekend was still incredibly brisk. The wind was blowing at 30 miles per hour and even the checkout lady at the Walgreens in Desert Hot Springs was complaining about the cold spell. A frosting of snow was sitting atop some of the San Jacinto Mountains, for crying out loud. (What?!) The only people who were happy were probably the folks who run the San Gorgonio Pass Wind Farm, whose turbines were spinning quite vigorously on Friday. We were just going to have to keep our fingers crossed that the temperature would get above 65 degrees. A big part of our vision of this “babymoon” was lounging by a hotel pool and enjoying the indoor-outdoor space at the place Bryan found for us to stay: Hotel Lautner, a beautifully restored mid-century Modern gem.


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20546, Washington

Astronaut suit at NASA Headquarters

Dear ——–,

I made a quickie trip to NASA Headquarters this week to be a kind of showrunner for a press briefing on the science results from a comet flyby. On the Supershuttle to my hotel, I was listening to the radio ads, which were promoting things like Lockheed Martin’s tech support, which was deemed to be innovative and “secure.” There was no way any company like that would ever waste money on a radio ad in L.A.! My hotel was right across the street from NASA Headquarters, in the middle of a neighborhood full of bad Le Corbusier knockoffs. Seriously, it was bureaucracy central. Sewell and I struggled to find a place to get a late dinner, settling for a bar/bistro three blocks away at the Holiday Inn. I put on my wool coat and we walked out into a crisp autumn night that made me miss the East Coast a little bit. The next day’s briefing managed to go off without any blow-ups (whew!) and I headed back to the airport Thursday evening. Through the window of my cab to the airport, I saw gold and orange leaves fluttering in the breeze.


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92264, Palm Springs

Sunset at the Ace Hotel & Swim Club

Dear ——–,

Bryan and I spent our fourth wedding anniversary in Palm Springs. He booked us a room with a patio at the Ace Hotel, which is built on the foundations of an old Howard Johnson and features what I’d call utilitarian chic. It was a little outside of downtown, but that turned out to be a blessing since downtown was swarming with bikers and the snarl of Harleys was hard to take. We were plenty happy hanging around the hotel, going to the spa, eating at the King’s Highway restaurant, listening to the record player in our room. (The Apollonia LP was random, but I actually really liked the Mongo Santamaria.) It was around 90 degrees, so we lounged as much as we could by the pool. That was quite a scene, with a drunken guys playing a drinking game with a plastic pink flamingo. But once those guys left, we could watch the light change on the San Jacinto Mountains in peace. On the drive home, rain fell thickly. I picked up dinner at Pita Pita in shorts and a t-shirt. Everyone else was wearing a jacket and sweatpants. It was then I realized that summer was really over.


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90013, Downtown Los Angeles

Going up on Angel's Flight

Dear ——–,

After spending the morning editing a story in my pajamas, I had a hankering for Mendocino Farms and Bryan and I headed down to meet Kimi and Ron for lunch. Usually, you get a Stairmaster-like work-out on your way up to California Plaza. But this time around, the Angels Flight funicular was open. (The railway was closed after a fatal accident in 2001.) So we rode up with two tourists in a wood-paneled car. Angels Flight is the shortest railway in the world, which, of course, begs the question of why anyone bothered to build it. Still, 25 cents isn’t much for a moment to catch your breath and marvel at how vertical parts of downtown L.A. are. I wonder if the railway architects could have even imagined towering glass skyscrapers when it opened in 1901. At Mendocino Farms, I ordered the Chicken MBT sandwich I was craving. Kimi got the “secret sandwich” — peanut butter, apples, almonds and bacon. I was skeptical, but it actually tasted pretty good, though maybe a bit more like dessert than lunch. “Maybe we should’ve walked up the stairs instead of taking Angels Flight after all,” I said to Kimi.


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20001, Washington

Photo mural of the Capitol, in the Renaissance lobby

Dear ——–,

I loved stepping out of the airport doors into the mugginess Tuesday night. It was a reminder I was back on the East Coast. It’s been about two years since I’ve been back to downtown D.C. and I’ve definitely noticed some changes. Chinatown, for example, has cleaned up a lot and now is home to foodie salad joints like Chop’t. (I totally recommend that place, by the way. I had an amazing steak salad with chimmichuri dressing. They also had a machine with a variety of Boyland sodas on tap.) Even though it was a sultry night, the sidewalk was thick with people. I even passed some teenagers hanging out on a corner, listening to iPods tucked into portable speakers rather than the boom boxes of old. I’m glad that the hotel where I was going to stay — the Residence Inn in the midst of enormous cement bureaucracies — was overbooked and they tranferred me (free!) to the Renaissance instead. There’s a lot more going on in this area, which they call “Penn Quarter.” But what’s with the name? What’s wrong with calling it Chinatown?