The View From Here: Some Observatory Observations

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Hey, I just realized that the Griffith Observatory’s initials spell GO, which is what my wife and I did Sunday and something you should definitely do someday soon, but not without some sound bits of advice. See, all this pre-opening invite-only coverage we’ve been inundated with is all well and good for showing off how GOrgeous and shiny-spanky new the 70-year-old landmark is, but you can’t really guage from that what it’s going to be like once all the masses start huddling up there. Like yesterday.

So after the jump here are my following helpful hints — mind if I call them “observatoriations?” — that might better allow you to enjoy your visit (should it take place in the near future):

1) The unbearable slowness of busing
2) Straight To Video
3) Tickets Please
4) You Are What You Bring To Eat
5) Grift Shop
6) The Final Frontier

Or just go check out the photoset of the day on Flickr here.

1) The unbearable slowness of busing — I’d like to hope that we boarded the slowest or most worn-out bus of the so-dubbed “Galactic Express” shuttle fleet, but “Glacial” express might be far more appropriate and maybe they all just creep along at less than 10 mph at the slightest hint at of an incline. Seriously our bus was so slow it would’ve taken us two hours to watch “60 Minutes” (rim shot). So if you end up stuck in the same transport hell as we were, bring along for the ride some stoic patience, a couple deep breathing exercises and perhaps Stephen Hawking’s “A Brief History of Time,” which if you’re a quick enough reader you could finish by the time you arrive at the anticipated destination.

2) Straight To Video — On your particular shuttle there might or might not be a monitor displaying a video full of perky people offering various tips. If not, don’t sweat it, although it is worth seeing the loud tie Councilman Tom LaBonge is wearing in his enthusiastic spot. But if your crawling conveyance does come equipped with one, the bus is so noisy you can’t really hear what’s being communicated, so chances are you’re going to return to your deep-breathing techniques or the the intellectual accessibility of Hawking’s work right after Tip No. 1 flashes on-screen, which is catchily phrased “West Is Best!” and attempts to brainwash you and your fellow travelers into believing the the new west entrance to the place is the coolest way to get inside.

This is patently not true. First off, should you proceed down to the west entrance (either via the new stairs or the new elevator) you run the chance of encountering the huge crowd of grumpy and hungry people who’ve been waiting in line for upwards of 40-freaking-minutes to get the only available food at the new Douglas Adams Memorial Eatery By Wolfgang Puck, which is entirely understaffed and underprepared to deal with the throngs of crashing blood-sugar levels that people are trying to stabilize with some moderately expensively and not-really-worth-it food items, such as an anemic $7 “Caesar Chicken Wrap.” No, not a “Chicken Caesar Wrap,” mind you but indeed: a Caesar Chicken Wrap.” That Wolfgang, he is such a card. Secondly, who the hell wants to go into this glorious place through the service entrance? Not me! And it shouldn’t be you either. So you should eschew the “West Is Best” dictate and march defiantly through the thick crowds up the steps past the place where Sal Mineo’s character died in “Rebel Without A Cause,” and head through the doors into the atrium and marvel upon the pendulum pit for the first time in the four long years since you last had the chance to do this.

3) Tickets Please — Once inside, the very very first thing you should do if you’re even remotely interested in seeing the “Centered in the Universe” planetarium show (and you should be because it is awesome!) is get tickets to the next available screening, either by going back outside and standing in the long line to buy tickets at the ticket window, or by going to one of the automated ticket kiosks situated around the place. My vote is for the kiosks, except that you do stand the chance of getting behind someone who is automated-kiosk/touch-screen challenged which can be almost as maddening as the slow bus trip. But not quite. Whatever you do, resist the urge to help.

4) You Are What You Bring To Eat — In all the planning that undoubtedly took place in preparation for all this immediate public inundation and enthusiasm, it would’ve been nice if Wolfgang Puck had stopped selling his signature line of cooking utensils on QVC or HSN or wherever for a half a day and stormed one of the meetings to tell the powers that they damn well better set up a bacon-wrapped hotdog stand — hell maybe even a fresh fruit or churro cart? — out front because there’s no way in the universe his restaurant at the end of it is going to be able to keep up with the demand that will be placed on it these first couple months. Or maybe he did and the Observatory peeps just shrugged him off and said “Oh Wolfie, don’t you know we’re too busy right now figuring out how to make people pay to visit this place by coming up on craptastic squirrel-powered buses that can barely make the uphill climb?”

Whatever the failure to communicate or act or anticipate, the result is that during peak high-density visitation periods you’re gonna go hungry either from an unwillingness to wait in the pathetically slow line, or from a willingness to do so (return to Item No. 2 above for additional details). So the simple solution is this: stuff a backpack with your own grub and grog and set yourself free. Not only will you better enjoy your time, but you’ll be the envy of all the rest of us standing around slowly starving because there’s only one fucking place to eat!

5) Grift Shop — I’m a sucker for souvenirs. Wherever I go I usually bring back something to remind me in my old age that I’ve been there. Be it a shirt, a refrigerator magnet or some other mostly meaningless and overpriced trinket or bauble it’s a given I’ll get it. But not this time — and it’s my fault I guess. Instead of heading right to where the small and easily rationalizably priced stuff was I deviated right to the shirts, which the observatory has the nerve to charge $24.99 for. And I’m not even talking some semi-nice embroidered polo-style shirt. I’m talking a middle-of-the-line Hanes model tee with a one-color screen. Twenty and Four and Ninety and Nine?!? That’s freakin’ astronomical and not in a good observatory way!

So here’s how you avoid that outlay and come away with a custom keepsake. First browse the gift shop then leave and when you get home go do a Google search looking for images of the observatory, preferable illustrations of the iconic structure (but this one will do). Open it up in Photoshop or whatever image manipulation program you have available and goof around with its size and contrast and such until you got a design you’re satisfied with (such as this quick-‘n-dirty one), then go to Cafepress.com and set up an account for free and build your own magnet or sticker, or wall clock or t-shirt for substantially less than this department’s store prices. Then take the money you saved and make the reservations for your next trip back up. Or go and a you see “Borat.” Am I genius not?! High five!

6) The Final Frontier — Even with all these smarmily described drawbacks (and I didn’t even get into the various interactive exhibitry that’s already out of order — or perhaps was never in order to begin with), none of them either singularly or as a sum was enough to destroy the pleasure of seeing the Observatory shining once more or to weaken the wonder for the great beyond that the place provokes. But it’ll certainly help being prepared for the next time — and there will be a next time.

14 Replies to “The View From Here: Some Observatory Observations”

  1. Well the KNX report I heard was:

    1. Very slow bus ride up (as you said)
    2. Over 1 hour food line
    3. Ran out of bottled water and ice
    4. Many exhibits not finished
    5. Bus line to leave was over 60 minutes

    Not worth it IMO, why is it crowded if they have a reservation system? Why did they not get input from the Getty? Oh wait, I see – “Griffith Observatory is owned and operated by the City of Los Angeles” ;)

  2. 1.) The bus ride was the worst part for sure. We spent more time on the bus ride to and back than we did at the GO.

    2.) The most interactive any of the exhibits got was push this button to see more. Not very interactive in my opinion. That was fine back in 1989, but not in 2006. A few exhibits were unfinished.

    3.) The line for planetarium show tickets was too long to want to deal with. Although on our way out, the line was gone. But by then I was tired of dealing with the crowds and just wanted to get home. I never did see any kiosks to get tickets from.

    4.) Bus ride to GO, 30 min. Bus ride back to Hollywood and Highland, 50 min. Ugh. I would either hike from the Greek Theater parking lot or take the bus from the Zoo location.

    5.) The gift shop was obsurd. They were selling plastic jewelery that had nothing to do with the GO. Cheap toys, that were way over priced. Where are the build a rocket sets? The astronaut ice cream and NASA gadgets? It was more of a museum shop and not a gift shop.

    I would definately give it some time, come back when the crowds have died down and the buses are gone. I’m also sad to find out the lasarium shows are gone. I heard they may be moving to the Queen Mary.

  3. Wow Jill, KNX definitely found conditions worse than I did… though I could easily imagine the food line going longer than the 40 minute hell we endured. And thankfully we must have got lucky in leaving because we only had a few minutes’ wait before we boarded the gravity-aided not-quite-as-slow bus back to the zoo.

  4. Tips and tricks:

    1) Don’t take the damn shuttle. Parking at the Greek and walking is free, and the walk itself is a pleasant and non-challenging slope. Better yet, get some exercise and cycle all the way there.

    2) Print out a reservation online. Select Hiker/Biker. It’s free.

    3) Pack a lunch. Show up a half an hour before you wish to go in and have a nice little picnic.

    4) If you want just drinks, like say, coffee from the cafe, don’t wait in line, go in and get it and pay right away.

    5) If wish to see the planetarium show, buy your ticket immediately from one of the four kiosks scattered around. The line out front is long, and shows are routinely sold out for several showings. Buy your ticket as soon as you get in, thereby reducing your wait time.

    6) If you can, don’t go on a weekend.

    7) Bring a sense of Zen, the kids running amok have the ability to severely test your patience.

    Enjoy!

  5. It is interesting that any of these faults could have been predicted and yet so many of you decided to go. I am voting with my wallet and will not attend until it is FREE to go. That means no shuttle, etc.

    The fact is, by showing up and enduring the unsatisfactory experience, you have given the city the right to say, “Well, we must be doing everything right. Look at the crowds!”

    What is so sad is how this same absurd ballet is re-staged whenever anything opens in this city. Charge people for a lousy experience (sometimes when they have already paid for it with their tax dollars) and then congratulate yourself on a job well done…and we help them do it by joining the herd mentality and jumping through whatever hoops they put in our way.

    Don’t we ever learn anything?

    Douglas

  6. Was at the GO on Saturday. Crowded, yes. Artfully restored iconic structure, yes! Well-designed exhibits, yes! Will I go again? Yes!

  7. It was not an unsatisfactory experience at all. I feel they could have planned the cafe better to deal with the initial influx. But with our kiosk dispensed Planatarium tickets in hand we had the time and freedom to wander through the wings and down to its new depths and up on to the rooftop and out on the decks to look at the spectacular view all the way out to the ocean. Even with all the strollers, and that kid standing on the Moon scale as if she owned it, it was really fun. What you do need is patience, and your inner-kid. If you don’t have that, then you won’t enjoy it and should just stay away.

  8. My inner kid thought the non-interactive interactive displays were lame, but that the planetrium show was pretty cool, and the best part, as always, are the grounds and the view.

    It was a blast to go up, but as with any other venue, I’ll only prefer to go when the crowds are light.

    Indeed, not anticipating a rush at the cafe was a major faux paux. But, all the better reason to bring up a picnic!

  9. Went today (Sunday, Nov. 12) and the crowds were very manageable from 10:30am-3pm. I was prepared for the worst (thanks to this helpful blog entry) and was pleasantly surprised. There were even tables and chairs available in the cafe for lunch around 1:30pm. I brought a sandwich from home (as advised by Will), but grabbed a diet Snapple and cookie in the cafe and went straight to the cashier. Even then, the main entree line had about 7-9 people waiting. Maybe a 10-15 minute wait depending on what you were ordering. But there’s plenty of snacks and drinks that you can just grab and pay at the cashier without waiting.

    With a beautfiul haze-free and smog-free day, the views were awesome. The Pacific ocean was glistening in the distance–yes, you could see out to the ocean today…it doesn’t happen too often. And the downstairs expansion was really cool. When you’re outside on the front lawn, you’re actually standing on the “ceiling” of the downstairs hall. It was a great visit and I look forward to going again!

  10. The advice to bring your own is good. As is the advice to hike up if you can. If you can’t, then perhaps avoiding prime time on the weekends for a while is the only way to avoid crushing crowds. Like any other just-opened attraction, there’s gonna be a rush at the beginning.

    We got a lot out of the exhibits — they’re meant to be read, and not just for punching buttons. We ended up discussing them with some nearby kids and had a great conversation with them.

    There are some cute gems in them, and some very thought-provoking things, too. I had a long talk with one of the guides when I was there; she was pretty knowledgeable and answered a lot of questions we had about the galaxy and the big picture of all the galaxies.

    We’ll definitely come back when the crowds die down a bit. It will be great to wander the place for an afternoon and just read and soak in the experience. Sort of like the Getty is. Remember, the Getty had its issues too when it first opened, but now it’s pretty cool to just wander there.

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