Politics, government and public life for Southern California

A mayoral bus tour: Antonio Villaraigosa's last hurrah

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By 8:30 p.m. Friday when outgoing Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's bus pulled up to the Hollywood and Vine Metro station, he had already visited longshoremen at the Port of Los Angeles; attended a police press conference; visited students on a field trip to Olvera Street; made sandwiches for customers at Philippe the Original downtown; ate a hot dog at Pink’s; stopped in Boyle Heights, where he grew up; and officiated the wedding of two of the lead plaintiffs in the Supreme Court case involving California’s ban on gay marriage.

And that is an abbreviated list.

“You know, I’m not even close to being tired, by the way,” said Villaraigosa, who is 60. "No, my kiddies will get tired before me." 

It was his last weekday as mayor. On Sunday night, Eric Garcetti officially took office as the new mayor after a ceremonial swearing-in party. 

But Friday, Villaraigosa went out in very public fashion, hitting the city's highlights and even making a cameo in the City Hall wedding photos that will be a lasting part of the state's history.

Here's a look at some of the stops rounding out the end of that farewell 24-hour bus ride.

A show-down at Hollywood and Vine

At Hollywood and Vine, Villaraigosa had a showdown of sorts with an old foe.

He was shaking hands and posing for pictures with commuters and tourists as they trickled through the turnstiles at what he said was one of his favorite Metro stations.

"The guys always tell me, ‘I thought you were taller in person,’ and the women say, ‘You look younger in person,’ ” he quipped, drawing laughter from his entourage, which at this point had more cameras aimed at the mayor than the few reporters who were following him around. 

RELATEDAntonio Villaraigosa's legacy in LA

A few feet away was John Walsh, a gadfly known for harsh, even caustic public attacks on politicians. 

"No, no. He's really the mayor, honest to god! Honest to god, my mother should drop dead. Mayor of the city of Los Angeles! Anybody want to shake his hand?" Walsh said to passerby.

Villaraigosa’s staff moved in. They offered, or asked, to take a photo of Walsh and Villaraigosa together, but somehow that turned into something else. Walsh appeared to be recording video with his iPad, and Villaraigosa responded by pulling out his smartphone and aiming it back at Walsh. The two men were circling each other like wrestlers about to attempt a takedown. 

Fortunately, it was all in good humor.

Next stop: Panorama City

On the way to the Summer Night Lights festival in the San Fernando Valley, Villaraigosa talked about visiting residents of Boyle Heights, the heavily Latino and low-income neighborhood where he grew up. He said never dreamed that he would one day walk into City Hall, much less be mayor of Los Angeles.

"I just want to demonstrate my gratitude, and I really am thankful for this,” Villaraigosa said, as the bus rumbled and rattled.

“I’ve loved it. I think it shows, you know,” he said of his 8-years as mayor. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.

“I like being in the ring," he went on. "Sometimes when you're in the ring, you get gored or hit, sometimes you even get knocked down, but I've always gotten up and answered the next bell. And I really am grateful that people gave me a shot.”

A giant handmade banner reading “Welcome Mayor Villaraiogosa” greeted him as his bus pulled into the Sepulveda Recreation Center. So did a line of uniformed LAPD Cadets, standing at attention, members of the department's community youth program. 

Summer Night Lights is run by the mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development.

Families ate nachos at picnic tables. Hot dogs sizzled on a smoky grill. A mariachi band wandered around and serenaded the people. Police officers were present, if out of the way.

Villaraigosa ate a hot dog, posed for more pictures, shook hands, chatted in English and in Spanish.

“Starting at 6 a.m. this morning, I got on a bus, and I’m going all over the city to say thank you,” Villaraigosa told the crowd from a small stage. “Many of you know that I had to climb a mountain to get here. But when I got here I understood that I got here because of the support of many of you. So I wanted to say thanks.”

“I always see him on TV. It was the first time I've seen him" in person, said Nick Villa, who has lived in the valley since 1985. "I got a couple pictures with him, and stuff like that, so that was kind of cool."

Villaraigosa lingered at the recreation center. He met with people inside the gym, then he grabbed a mariachi band member around the shoulder and sang an entire song.

“For him being present today within the community, it definitely speaks about himself and how dedicated he is to the services that he's able to provide for the city,” said Adrian Cuentas, who runs one of the community programs under the mayor's program.  

Pit stop: Jerry’s Famous Deli, Studio City

At Jerry’s Famous Deli in Studio City, the mayor’s staff took some time to eat and recharge. The mayor skipped the food -- not surprising given the number of restaurants on the tour -- and checked email on his smartphone.

Then he headed for Pinz bowling alley in the back.

A self-described bad bowler, Villaraigosa bowled several gutter balls, hit a few pins here and there, and finally sent one straight down the lane in that sweet spot just off of center, heading straight for the pocket. The ball shattered the pins out of formation and all but one went flying. It wobbled, but never fell.

The media wasn't allowed to attend all the stops.

After Jerry's, the bus went to the BET Experience VIP after-party at the Conga Room downtown. It was invitation-only, no press allowed.

Sunrise at Griffith Observatory

Twenty-four hours after Villaraigosa and his staff boarded the bus, they gathered on the east end of the roof of the Griffith observatory, near the Zeiss Telescope dome.  

A security guard stopped anyone who wanted to enter -- it was a closed event, he said.

But their voices drifted across the front lawn, snippets of conversation occasionally clear enough to discern.

“Over there,” Villaraigosa called out, pointing to the mountains in the east. Everyone turned, and silently watched the sunrise.

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