California Here We Come for $15 Asian Massage

28 Dec

If this post title doesn’t get me a bunch of hits from Google search, I don’t know what will.

We committed the blasphemy of going to bed before midnight and then rising before dawn in Vegas to get an early start toward L.A. and the final leg of Route 66, leaving the glitter and grime of Sin City behind us. Little did we know how much the view out the window was going to change.

For the first several hours it was unrelenting nothingness as far as the eye could see. Craggy peaks in the distance with nothing but flat, dry, brown dirt leading up to them. We did not see a single living thing and only a few cars for at least the first 3 hours. This leg of the route its desolation personified. Because of the monotony of the scenery, soon any little variation became a cause for excitement. I yelped for joy when I saw a “cattle crossing” sign in hopes of seeing some other living creature, but alas, no cows. Route 66 markers painted into the road were the only photogenic thing for miles and miles.

After a while we began noticing odd piles of rocks here and there, and before long we came to a stretch of road that had a natural bluff on the side of it that went on for miles and miles. People gather rocks from the area and spell out their names on the bluff. This probably went on for over 15 miles. We found one display of a 66 made out of the ceramic bumps that are often imbedded in the road as lane markers. We saw that names written in white showed up the best, so we have decided the next time we make the trip we’ll  need to bring a bag of white gravel and spell something out on the side. Nearby was an enormous pile of the ceramic reflectors, so I grabbed enough to recreate this “66” at home (below).

Before long we encountered an abandoned structure completely covered in graffiti. Since it just so happened that we were carrying spray paint from our failed attempt to tag Cadillac Ranch, we couldn’t resist putting a little promo up on the wall.

Several more miles down the road brought us to Roy’s in Amboy, which still has a functioning gas station. The more interesting aspect was the abandoned motel next door with a great Googie-style lobby building that I wish I could pick up and move home with me. It’s a little difficult to tell in the photo, but the roof slants up at about a 30 degree angle and the columns get taller as they go along. The inside still featured some great 60s era furnishings, and I swear I could move right in other than the fact of it being so far in the middle of nothingness I would surely lose my mind within the first week. The little bungalows that served as hotel rooms provided some Hopper-esque photos that I’m fairly sure will end up in a painting.

Next, more nothingness, and then – lava! Did you know there is a volcano out in the Mojave desert? Me neither, but here’s the proof.

After what seemed like forever we finally approached the beginnings of “civilization” which quickly turned into a never-ending parade of restaurants and strip malls marching ever westward into Los Angeles. All of a sudden the landscape changed from brown and dry to exactly what you picture when you think of sunny California – palm trees of every variety, bouganvillia blooming everywhere, and exotic flowers like bird of paradise.

By the time we reached Pasadena the sun was going down, ending our photography opportunities for the day. We headed straight to JJ’s cousin Abby’s house  (she is kindly hosting us for our three day stay in the area). She took us to a great restaurant famous for Vietnamese comfort food, where I awkwardly tried to figure out how to eat vegetarian butternut squash Pho using chopsticks without covering myself in broth. I was partially successful, and what did manage to get into my mouth was delicious. Then we headed off to the best and weirdest part of the evening.

I wish I could show you a photo of what I’m about to describe because I fear you won’t believe me, but for reasons that will become clear, photography would not have been appropriate at this location. I swiped the above photo off the internet, just to prove I’m not making this up – these places exist. During dinner Abby tells us about about Beauty Foot Massage, an Asian place she loves where you get an hour long full body massage for $15. That is not a typo. “But,” she cautions,” they also pretty much expect a $5 tip.” So, $20 for a massage. We of course express disbelief at the price, since it’s late we assume they’re closed, and we say “maybe tomorrow we’ll check it out.”  But this is L.A., so of course they’re open at 10 pm on a Wednesday. Abby convinces us we must go now so we head over. To her credit, Abby did her best to prepare us on the way over so we wouldn’t be completely taken aback (you keep your clothes on except for your shoes & socks, they soak your feet while massaging your neck & head, then rub your feet, then flip you over and work on your back). Ok, sounds like any other massage to me other than being dressed, and hey – $20. This won’t be weird at all.

But, what she didn’t tell us, and what would probably be impossible to prepare someone for, is that your massage takes place in a large, open room while 14 other people are being simultaneously massaged all around you. When you walk into the place there is no lobby or waiting area to ease the shock – you simply walk into this huge, dark room where 15 people are sprawled out on red velvet massage chair/bed things and 15 Chinese people are climbing all over them, and there’s a tiny desk at the front with a sour-looking Asian woman who immediately tells you to shush. This trippy scene – which looks very nearly like every opium den in every movie you’ve ever watched except for the addition of a flat-screen tv on the wall showing Benjamin Button with the sound turned off – is scored by a soundtrack of whispered Chinese conversation, loud smacking/slapping noises that remind you of the sound of meat being tenderized, and an occasional enthusiastic belch from the gassy massage therapist in the corner. It’s kind of weird (ok, more than kind of). But the signs ask you to maintain “absolute silence, please” and the receptionist lady is glaring at you with a pinched, disapproving expression, and somehow this stops you from running screaming from the building because with her looking at you all accusingly like that you just wouldn’t dare. So you just stand there trying not to gawk, unsuccessfully, of course.

Before long you are taken to your very own red velvet massage table/chair thingy, where you will receive one off the best massages of your life. I would rank it #1 in fully-clothed massages I have experienced, and pretty high in the running of massages overall. If they had one of these places at home I would seriously go there 3 times a week, but I have a feeling the Asian massage places by us are different – more…..stereotypical, if you will. Abby is practically addicted and has a frequent customer card; after 9 massages she gets the 10th one free. After we were done she told she was sorry for taking us there on the first night because she’ll never be able to show us anything else in L.A. that will top it. We’re already making plans to go back at least once more before we leave. I have a whole new mental picture when I hear the words “Asian Massage” now.

Thursday we’re going to drive the rest of the route to the end in Santa Monica. I’ll be posting updates later tonight.


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