December 30, 1997
La Brea(in the city of Los Angeles), California, USA
Riley took me to La Brea tar pits, a city park, and the location of the worlds richest treasure trove of fossils. After bidding farewell to Riley, I toured the George C. Page Museum - stationed in the park to display the many La Brea discoveries and to educate visitors.
Admission to the museum cost $6 for adults and $3 for students. When the cashier asked to see my student identification card to verify that I was actually a student, I told her that the school Im attending does not issue ID cards. "What school is that?" she asked.
"Ill receive my degree through the University of Diversity..." I replied in a matter-of -fact manner, "But at this time I am studying at La Brea tar pits."
"Im sorry," she responded, "You will need an ID card to get the student rate."
"May I speak to your supervisor?" I requested. She directed me to a man standing a few feet away.
I explained to the man that I was on an educational quest, recording my experiences in a journal format on a website to be accessed by hundreds of thousands of people around the world, and I felt it would be beneficial to his museum. The man then turned to the cashier and instructed her to charge me the student rate as I had requested.
Other than realizing I wouldnt have the patience to be a paleontologist, here is what I have learned from touring the exhibits at La Brea:
So far, almost 4 million fossils have been recovered, and in all, some 140 species of plants and more than 420 species of animals are now known because of these discoveries.
The fossils had been preserved by a unique combination of rapid sedimentation and asphalt impregnation. Asphalt, also known as tar, seeped to the surface primarily during warm summer weather. The resulting shallow puddles were often concealed by a coating of wind-blown leaves and dust.
Occasionally, an unwary animal such as a Giant Ground Sloth, or an Imperial Mammoth, became trapped by glue-like asphalt and fell prey to carnivores such as Saber-tooth Tigers and Dire Wolves. Then, amidst the struggle they too would become trapped and ultimately die. The corpses would then lure scavengers such as condors to their fate.
The bodies soon decayed, and over time the bones became saturated with asphalt as they settled into the mire. During the winter, cool temperatures solidified the asphalt, and rainwater-choked streams deposited a layer of sediment over the exposed bones. The warm weather of summer then dried the streams and liquefied the asphalt, resetting the trap.
After leaving the museum I visited an area such as that described in the above paragraphs. Although the climate here in southern California feels like summer to a northerner like myself, it is currently the winter season, and there was a layer of water covering the tar pit. It wasnt much to look at, but I was impressed to find there were still large bubbles of Methane gas being belched from deep within the earth after thousands and thousands of years, and if there werent fences closing-off the area, maybe the cycle would continue. I remember thinking, "It would be cool watching folks getten stuck in that goo...!"
Before moving on to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, I stopped by a lamp post speckled with admission stickers. Admission cost $6. The stickers were placed there by persons who had previously visited the art museum. The stickers came in many colors. The correct sticker color of the day was navy blue. I peeled off a navy blue sticker, stuck it to my chest, and proceed into the museum. Anyone who thinks a person needs to spend a lot of money to get a good education is wrong.
The feature exhibit on display was a collection of Mexican Masterpieces. The paintings I found most impressive were the creations of the highly acclaimed muralist Diego Rivera. Riveras murals often had political undertones, making poor laborers look like the good guys, and rich business owners to appear to be bad. Such was the case in a mural Rockefeller had Rivera create in the lobby of one of his large buildings. When Rockefeller saw the finished work, he got upset - feeling that the mural might offend his wealthy clients. Adding to his anxiety, the painting also displayed a figure who had the appearance of the Soviet Communist, Lenin, in a time that communism was very unpopular in the United States. Rockefeller decided he would keep the mural only if Rivera would change the "Lenin face". Rivera refused, and Rockefeller had the enormous mural busted into little pieces with sledgehammers.
Rivera was also the husband of Frida Kahlo, another celebrated Mexican artist, and one of my personal favorites. Many of Frida Kahlos paintings involved surrealism, very similar to that of Salvador Dali -- a man I consider a genius, and without a doubt, my favorite artist of all time. Kahlo portrayed herself in many of her own paintings, emphasizing the single thick black eye-brow traversing across her forehead which was her trade mark. Unfortunately the Museum only had one Kahlo painting, and it wasnt even a good one at that.
The museum was enormous, and filled with all styles, ages, and forms of static art. I saw works by Picasso, Monet, and Rembrandt. There was even a piece by my friend Sandys late Husband, Bob Arneson, whose studio I had visited in Benica - near San Francisco.
I remember feeling delightfully surprised to see a painting by Rene Magritte, one that had been shown to me by my grade ten art teacher, Mr. Davidson, as an example of surrealism. The painting displayed a detailed and very real looking pipe, the type that a person would smoke tobacco from, and under the pipe where the words "Cest ne pas un pipe."
I liked Mr. Davidson. I have liked all my art teachers. They are different from other teachers. Ive liked teachers that have taught me other subjects as well, such as my Physical Geography teacher Mr. Hodgins, but I always liked art teachers best. They never made me follow a curriculum. They always let me do what I wanted. Even when the rest of the class was doing an assigned project, Mr. Gray, Mr. Davidson, and Mrs. Underwood, would always let me do my own thing.
I spent all afternoon at the Museum of Art. At 7pm I rode the bus back to Northridge. I wasnt sure how to get back to Lens house exactly - all I knew was that he lived on Texhoma Avenue, which was near the college. I got off the bus in the vicinity of where I thought his home was located, then called him on a pay phone, but I only got an answering machine.
There was a man in his early thirties using the phone next to me. When he finished I asked him if he knew where Texhoma Avenue was located. "No," he shook his head, "Ive never heard of it."
"Ok... well, thanks anyway." I replied. "I know its close. Ill just have to walk around and find it."
"Jump in the truck... Ill help ya." He had a brand new Dodge, and a good-looking woman sitting in the passenger side. She made room for me, and I got in.
"Take me to the CSUN sign." I requested. "Thats a familiar landmark. I should be able to find the way to my friends house from there."
We drove around for fifteen minutes before arriving at my destination. During that time, Rony and Linda introduced themselves, as did I to them. They are a dating couple. Linda is divorced with two kids and Rony is a Guatemalan, living in the United Stated seeking political asylum. They were very nice people. When I left them, it seemed as though I had known them for much longer than fifteen minutes.
I sat on Lens front steps reading a book, waiting for him to come home. After half an hour, Rony pulled up in front of Lens house again. "You can stay at my place tonight if you want..." he said as he walked toward me over the lawn.
"Yeah..." I replied. "That would be cool."
On the way to his place we stopped at a Jack in the Box. He told me I could order whatever I wanted - his treat. I got a Spicy Chicken Burger and a bottle of juice.
Rony lives in a small apartment. He was in the process of moving out and there was no furniture. We sat on the floor for two hours chatting about the meaning of life, before crashing close to midnight. I slept on the floor.