Along the Freeway
Before we hit the road this morning, I thought I’d share last night’s TV viewing: The Great American Baking Show (apparently someone else owns the right to the “bake off” name). Right from the start, it was uncannily familiar and yet, not the same at all. The title sequence with the raspberries was almost but not quite identical and the set was very familiar indeed. My Hero decided to google it, to find out if they’d cloned the tent and all the trimmings but discovered that it had been filmed in the same location as the original British show. It made for interesting viewing and led us to think that Love Productions are indeed making a fortune from that show. Nevertheless, it really was nothing without Mel and Sue, even though Mary Berry was doing her best to keep it together.
Still on the topic of TV, we always enjoy the huge billboards around LA and along the perimeter of Fox studios, adjacent to our hotel there’s a series including this one, definitely new to me!
We were heading out to meet Mary at her new apartment before going out for breakfast. The 405 freeway was pretty busy at this time of the day so we lost no time in getting across four or five lanes of traffic to reach the HOV lane.
European friends will love this facility as much as we do – if there are just 2 or more people in the vehicle, then you’re allowed to sweep past all the traffic by driving in the dedicated lane. What’s more shocking: the fact that this lane is almost empty or the fact that all those lanes of slow moving vehicles contain only one person each?! Anyway, we were soon past the Getty Museum high on the rocky outcrop and in no time at all, were turning into the San Fernando Valley and Mary’s parking garage.
Her new place is simply lovely but delighted as we were to take a look around, we were ravenous. Thankfully it’s only a step to one of the best breakfast cafes in the area: The Blu Jam cafe whose speciality is my favourite breakfast, french toast! Yes, it was as delicious as it appears – and the portion size was as huge. So, could I manage all of that? You bet!
Suitably fortified, we jumped in our car and headed along Ventura, making a couple of short stops before driving towards our destination for today.
Regular blog readers will know that we love to visit such places. Politics aside, we find we learn an immense amount of American history, get an inside view of events of which we have only the sketchiest knowledge and of course, learn a little about the man himself. Previous Presidential Libraries have been variable in quality: the best have offered an objective view, warts and all. The least successful was superficial and lacked rigour and objectivity. How would we feel about this one, we wondered?
There’s a striking image in the foyer; that familiar portrait and an absolutely enormous Presidential seal set in the floor. We went straight inside and watched the video presentation as an introduction, being plunged straight away into the Watergate scandal – this was going to pull no punches, it seemed.
The docent who had barked at us to “use our swivel heads” was there in the replica Oval Office, inviting us to sit at the desk and have photographs taken. Declining politely (I always feel that an Englishwoman has no place in that seat!) I nevertheless appreciated a view of the contents of the President’s desk drawer, contrasting it with that of another Oval Office desks I’d seen recently. This was definitely that of a more serious, thoughtful man.
The reason we’d been told to “swivel our heads” was that there was a helicopter in the next display, telling the story of Vietnam. It took over where we’d left off on our visit to LBJ’s library and was well explained and the information was effectively presented.
The interpretation seemed fair to me, a foreigner with no underpinning knowledge of the circumstances. I found the detail interesting, especially the piles and piles of letters sent to the President following his invitation to “the silent majority”.
I recalled the hundreds of index cards on which Ronald Reagan had written notes when viewing the hundreds of yellow lined notepads on which Richard Nixon scribbled his thoughts. Being a scribbler of thoughts myself, I found these intriguing if somewhat illegible.
I also found it interesting that the President’s meeting with Elvis was given a fairly prominent place in the story when, according to the daily record of activity, the meeting lasted no more than 30 minutes at the most.
And of course, the section on Nixon in China was fascinating.
But of course, there had been an elephant in the room all along. The story we’d all heard of and yet about which I knew very little.
I think the details were well displayed – a timeline on one side, with accurate records of what happened when and actual artefacts and photographs opposite. The “missing five minutes” of tape recording was an important part of the story and seeing two telephones with an invitation to listen into “those missing minutes”, Mary and I picked up the receivers and put them to our ears. What did we hear? Well not much at all, of course! How silly we were…what did we think we’d hear?! Actually, there were nine clicks and pops, each one registered and heavily investigated – but otherwise, no secrets to hear.
Reaching the end of the Watergate story, we seemed to be at the end of the President’s story too, but actually it went a little further. A couple more rooms gave details of his childhood and of his romance with his wife, Pat. Another outlined the challenges he faced having stepped down from the Presidency.
Sorry, a bit blurry, but “no reason to live, no cause to fight for” sums it up well. What does a man who had spent almost his entire adult life in public office do? Well, it appears to have not been easy at all for the Nixons and it took a decade or more for him to begin to find his niche again.
A display of popular culture prompted Mary to recall how she’d enjoyed the movie Elvis and Nixon and my hero to remember that he had enjoyed Frost and Nixon as well. We made mental notes to seek them out and watch once again, with the added knowledge gained from our visit here.
We ended our visit with a quick look at Richard Nixon’s boyhood home. A small, simple wooden house which still stands in the original location in the garden of the library.
Just to the side of the small house are the graves of the former President and his wife who died within a year of one another. It seemed a good place to finish our visit.
As we left, we walked through the well tended gardens, one of which was planted with winter cabbages. Each one had a single drop of water in the centre, glistening like a diamond in the sunshine.
Of course, we each had our own opinions on what we’d learned and we shared them as we walked. How different those times were, though, with cassette tapes and a paper trail of notes to follow. It all seemed so unsophisticated and at times, rather amateurish. Surely it couldn’t happen again today with more effective security controls in place?