LA Tourists

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Now that Labor Day is gone, the foreign visitors who add some extra summer flavor to the city will be heading home. That's too bad. I'll miss them.

Like the jacarandas blooming their purple haze in June, the infusion of new tongues at The Grove, on the subway and clogging the tram up to the Getty announces summer in LA.

This year the weak dollar seems to have attracted more than the usual hordes. I kept hearing someone try to order a meal or grab a latte in English accented with German or Japanese or a dozen other languages.

This summer for some reason I detected a lot of Euro-Spanish, the classic Castilian enunciation jumping out from the background Spanglish you hear around L.A.

One afternoon I observed a couple of dozen teenagers trudge across UCLA, their shorts and sandals and haircuts looking just vaguely off what the typical L.A. kid wears. My suspicion that they weren't from around here was confirmed when I saw they all were carrying bags from shops like Tiffany and Barney's.

When our paths intersected I realized they were mostly speaking French, with maybe some Portuguese mixed in. They were probably on some exchange program and were migrating back to the dorms after an afternoon on the loose in Beverly Hills.

I know a lot of Angelenos sneer at the annual invasion – they complain about Euro trash, longer lines, bad drivers. Not me.

The tourists make welcome economic contributions. Somebody has to stay in those $500-a-night hotel rooms on the beach in Santa Monica. Or patronize the souvenir shops at Hollywood and Highland.

At some level, I admire them for even trying. Los Angeles makes it so hard to arrive here that it's kind of amazing anyone foreign comes for fun.

It's not just that you need a car to go most places, though that's still true.

I was struck, again, by how unwelcoming a destination Los Angeles can be when I picked up some friends at LAX. They had flown all day from Paris, and were dumped into Terminal 2 at the same time as a packed jumbo jet from Beijing and a flight from Montreal.

If you don't know Terminal 2, let's just say it's nothing at all like the Tom Bradley International terminal – which itself is due for a big remodeling job, but at least makes a pretense of resembling an airport. With signs and everything.

At terminal 2, foreigners are really on their own. Once the unfortunates get cleared by customs, they walk around a corner into what looks like a basement. No 'Welcome to LA' signs -- in any language. No visitor help desk or ticket counters – they're upstairs.

If you haven't done your research or speak English, you don't even know there is an upstairs.

The only kiosk I could find with tourist information made a show of providing hotel and restaurant options – but the only restaurant listed was the Hard Rock Café at Universal City. What is that, 25 miles away?

Jet-lagged international travelers at Terminal 2 are kicked right out onto the sidewalk of the lower traffic loop at LAX, unaware that there's no mass transit out of the airport, not even city buses to catch.

Hard-to-see overhead arrows point one way to taxis, the other way to shuttles. They should say “good luck.”

Where is this “Los Angeles” they have heard about?

For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.