Famous alum offers guide to L.A. during Rose Bowl from a local's view

December 15, 2008

Penn State alumnus Paul Levine, a novelist and television writer, provides this personal guide to Southern California.  His next book, “Illegal,” will be published in March. For more information about Levine and his work, visit http://www.paul-levine.com.

To Live And Drive In L.A. — Surviving Your Trip To The Rose Bowl
By Paul Levine

If you’ve been seized by the notion to see the Rose Bowl in person, rather than watch from the comfort of your BarcaLounger, here are 10 indispensable travel tips and assorted Southern California trivia.

1. TRAFFIC RULE NUMBER ONE: Walk. Just kidding! Ninety-seven languages are spoken in Los Angeles, which means drivers follow the traffic laws of 97 different homelands. So drive carefully and avoid rush hour, roughly 5 a.m. to midnight.

2. ACTUAL TRAFFIC LAW: It is illegal in California to talk on a cellphone while driving (unless you have a hands-free device). It’s perfectly legal, however, for a motorcycle to blast past your gridlocked S.U.V. on the center line of the freeway and startle you into spilling your double-mocha soy latte.

WE INTERRUPT THIS TRAVEL GUIDE FOR AN IMPORTANT MESSAGE FROM GOV. ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER: “Velcome to Caleefoina and pleeze spend a lot of money to help balance my budget. Now, go keek a touchdown!”

3. SEE THE LAST GREAT RAILWAY STATION: If you’re at Universal City — and what tourist isn’t? — take the subway. (Yes, there’s a subway, and it’s safe and clean.) Go to the last stop downtown, Union Station. If the ornate waiting room looks familiar, you’ve seen it in lots of movies, from “Blade Runner” to “Speed.”  Nearby, about the distance of a Daryll Clark-to-Derrick Williams deep post, is Olvera Street, where you’ll find El Pueblo, a marketplace and cluster of landmark buildings dating from 1818 (http://www.cityofla.org/elp/).

As long as you’re in the neighborhood...

4. VISIT DOWNTOWN: The Jewelry District, Chinatown (http://www.chinatownla.com), Little Tokyo (http://www.visitlittletokyo.com), the Fashion District (http://www.fashiondistrict.org), the Frank Gehry designed Disney Concert Hall, the Museum of Contemporary Art (http://www.moca.org) and the stunning Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels (http://www.olacathedral.org/).

5. HISTORICAL FOOTNOTE: USC defeated Penn State 14-3 in the first Rose Bowl Game in 1923. Contrary to popular belief, Joe Paterno was not the Nittany Lions’ head coach. Rather, as quarterbacks coach, young Joe invented the shotgun formation for the game, though at the time it was called the “flint musket.” True story: The Penn State team arrived 45 minutes late because the bus was STUCK IN TRAFFIC!

6. ON A CLEAR DAY, YOU CAN SEE THE 405: Get some culture and visit the spectacular Getty Museum. Lots of paintings, photographs, sculptures and other cultural stuff you learned in college but quickly forgot (http://www.getty.edu/). The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is displaying “Hearst the Collector,” 150 artworks from William Randolph Hearst’s collection (http://www.lacma.org/). In Pasadena, visit the Norton Simon Museum, which currently features a Vermeer collection (http://www.nortonsimon.org/). My favorite place in Pasadena is the Huntington, which contains a vast botanical garden, impressive art collection and stunning library (http://www.huntington.org/).

Heisman Trophies: USC 7, Penn State 1;
Heismans sold at auction: USC 2 (O.J. Simpson and Charles White), Penn State 0;
Heisman winners currently in prison: USC 1, Penn State 0. (Oh, you know who!)

NEWS BULLETIN: As part of the festivities, Joe Paterno will deliver the game ball by parachute, landing at mid-field, then yelling at the officials.

8. ROSE BOWL REGULATIONS: No in-and-out of the stadium. Also, “no backpacks, handbags larger than 14 inches x 14 inches, banners, signs, cans, glass bottles, thermoses, coolers, alcoholic beverages, large still cameras, video cameras, noisemakers of any kind, umbrellas, beach balls, soccer balls, footballs, frisbees, narcotics, firearms or explosives.” Cheering will be closely regulated. Okay, I made that last one up. The others are real.  (http://www.tournamentofroses.com/rosebowlgame/)

9. BEST LAW IN CALIFORNIA: Every public toilet must have a little paper doily to place on the seat. The second-best law involves restaurant ratings. We’re not talking about the Michelin Guide. We’re talking about vermin, or the lack therof. You’ll see a sign in every restaurant window with an “A,” “B” or “C.”  “A” means the restaurant passed inspection; “B” means minor violations; and if there’s a “C,” proceed to the nearest hospital for a hepatitis shot.

Now that your appetite is whetted:

10. GOOD SEATS, CHEAP EATS: Sure, you could gorge on the 20-course sushi for $390 at Urasawa in Beverly Hills. But instead, here are my favorite casual eateries in and around Pasadena: 

Pie ’n Burger, 913 E. California Blvd. If the burgers are good enough for the geniuses at Cal Tech down the street, they’re good enough for me. Great Dutch apple, coconut cream and pecan pie, too.
Señor Fish, 618 Mission St., South Pasadena. Shrimp tacos, scallop burritos, and seafood quesadilla. 
Gus’s Barbecue, 808 Fair Oaks Ave., South Pasadena. Brisket, pulled pork, sweet potato fries, and red velvet cake.
Casa Bianca Pizza Pie, 1650 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock (just west of Pasadena). Neighborhood joint, best pizza in L.A. And they make their own sausage. 

So, that’s it. Drive carefully. Enjoy the culture. Eat some pecan pie. And ... beat Southern Cal.


  • Paul Levine

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated November 18, 2010