I’ve been blessed to cover sports all over America. Professional venues by the number, college campuses by the score.
But until Friday, never had I graced the UCLA campus. The University of California-Los Angeles. The Thunder practiced in UCLA’s Student Activities Center, so we made the trek to Westwood.
All I can say is impressive. Very impressive. Gorgeous architecture. Beautiful setting. Embedded within West Los Angeles, its own little enclave. As impressive a campus as I’ve ever seen.
As you’d expect, the buildings are fairly close together. This is prime real estate. The massive parking garage sits underground, below the football practice field. Much of the surface between buildings is bricked or concreted, which is great for pedestrians, cutting down on maintenance and making lots of room for the 39,000 students (27,000 undergrads) to stroll the campus.
We walked through Pauley Pavilion, the famed fieldhouse where John Wooden coached the Bruins en route to 10 NCAA basketball titles in 12 seasons (1964-75). Pauley is a cool place. Not Allen Fieldhouse cool, but oh-my-Lew-Alcindor-played-here cool. Clean. Functional. Blue. Very blue. A solitary UCLA women’s player was on the court, with a big knee brace, working on her shot. You can see how the Bruins could recruit to this.
Football is a tougher sell. No on-campus stadium, as you know. The Bruins play up in the Rose Bowl, which can be a killer commute. It’s about a 40-minute drive with no traffic, but LA with no traffic is like Oklahoma with no wind. Not bloody likely. On Saturdays, it’s probably not so bad, but still. A football stadium 45 minutes from campus is no way to build a fan base. Even if UCLA had the money and the land to put up a 50,000-seat stadium, it has no place to park all the cars. It’s a mess of a situation. The UCLA football job is not as easy as it sounds.
But man, what a campus. Alive and vibrant and gorgeous.
YE OLDE PUBLIC HOUSE
When I was a kid, we spent many a Sunday afternoon at Shakey’s Pizza on Main Street in Norman. After church, we’d go to Shakey’s, which had a buffet of pizza (think Domino’s quality), broasted chicken, broasted potatoes and basic salad. I ate an ocean of pizza and a river of chicken at Shakey’s.
Shakey’s went out of business in Norman sometime in the ’70s, and the OKC locations went out soon thereafter. Seems like maybe I saw a Shakey’s in Tulsa or somewhere over the years, but I figured the chain had died out.
Then Friday, I saw a Shakey’s Pizza, complete with the old slogan — “Ye Olde Public House” — on the marquee, just like the old days. And I petitioned the guys to go to Shakey’s for lunch. Do the old man a favor. They complied.
We walked in, and the LA Shakey’s wasn’t like the old Norman Shakey’s. In the old days, the pizza parlor was dimly-lit, with long tables and benches. The LA Shakey’s was bright and cheery, with tables and booths. And the new Shakey’s buffet had mushroomed. Still broasted chicken, still pizza, still broasted potatoes. But the basic salad had become a full salad bar. Corn and mashed potatoes, with gravy, had been added. Grilled chicken sat next to the fried chicken. Spaghetti and sauce was on the buffet, too.
I cheated a little and had some spaghetti. But no salad bar. No corn and mashed potatoes. Not even any gravy, even though I love gravy and fried chicken. I ate some potatoes. A few pieces of pizza. And a ton of fried chicken. Shakey’s only broasts up dark meat, which is fine by me. I had one drumstick and I think six thighs. Not small thighs. I ate so much chicken, the National Cow Association made me an honorary member.
I walked out of Shakey’s early afternoon and was so stuffed, I didn’t need to eat all day.
But I didn’t care. I had Johnny Damon shoot an iPhone photo of me out front of Shakey’s with the sign in the background, and I texted it to my brother, for old times sake.
Sorry, Los Angeles. But the traffic is just too much. Just too much.
Traffic everywhere. All the time. Took us an hour to go from our airport hotel to the Staples Center, which is 16.5 miles. And that’s without fighting the freeway. We drove up the San Diego Freeway, the 405, north until the traffic backed up. Then I got off. I won’t sit in freeway traffic. So we weaved our way around, and if I had to recreate my route, I couldn’t do it. I just know we got on Slauson and La Cienga and Adams and La Brea and who knows what else. Finally got in the general vicinity of downtown in about 55 minutes, found our parking garage, paid $15 and was glad to get out of the car.
Made me think of Memphis last week, when we could leave our hotel and walk to the FedEx Forum and be on the court for practice in less than 15 minutes.
Los Angeles has a lot to do and see. But it comes at a cost. Your day is eaten up by traffic. Want to go to the beach. OK. But don’t try to go to the beach and then go somewhere else, because you can’t. Remember how in New York you can see something new every hour or two? Not in LA. The place is too spread out, too many people, not enough public transportation. I don’t blame LA for lack of public transportation. Manhattan Island is 12 miles by three miles. LA proper is 500 square miles. That’s not counting Pasadena or Santa Monica or Hollywood or Inglewood or Long Beach or Orange County. Think about how crowded is the Dallas Metroplex. Greater LA has TEN MILLION MORE PEOPLE than does Dallas-Fort Worth. Ten million more.
I’ve said it many times. Los Angeles is a wonderful place. So long as it’s 1952.