So Brian has this innate ability to find really cool things to do around Southern California: call it his sixth sense. He came across an event called "Race/L.A.". It was described in the Los Angeles Times as, "A race amid L.A. treasures.... An elaborate citywide scavenger hunt loosely based on 'The Amazing Race' reality show [and] a fun way to discover the city's wide variety of culture and history." Can I get a "Hell yeah!" from the congregation?

There were only 18 spots available so Brian constantly checked the website, waiting with bated breath for registration to open. After we were in Brian received the first clue (above) in the mail.

So at 7:30 in the morning, a bit unsure of how to find the place, off we went.

10 East towards Santa Monica.

On the way to the starting point we were already lost. Not a good omen.

We found street parking on PCH and I threw on my running shoes. (You can tell by this picture why Brian is not in charge of the camera.)

While we were amused at the stretching position of this woman, we should have been doing a little bit ourselves.

There's the beacon and Brian ready to go.

Why the look of disgust? I had my hand on a cereal box at 7 a.m. when Brian called and suggested we get some food once we found the starting point. Well, we found the starting point but no food. We eventually went into the Fairmont Miramar Hotel thinking we could get breakfast from its restaurant; the menu featuring a $17 omelet sent us the hell out of there. I guess I should have known that couldn't afford to eat at a place where the rooms start at $450 a night.

We kept walking until I found a place that returned the smile to my face.

Lo and behold, we walked right into the Third Street Promenade farmers' market.

Since it was early and many vendors were still setting up, we tried a quaint little breakfast place. We both ordered the #9.

What is the #9?

That would strawberry and banana crepes covered with chocolate and whipped cream. Suddenly I was pleased that I had removed my hand from the raisin bran at home.

With happy stomachs we headed back to the starting point and waited for the arrival of our worthy competitors.

Team Molar on the left showed up at the same time as us. We met two of the race monitors, Irving Last (with hat) and Kelley Coco, both of whom were very cool people.

I took a peek at some of the other team names: they included Team Tiger, Londoners, Team H, Pura Vida, Mahogany & Ivory, and the one on the left, also known as Team Talking-With-My-Mouth-Full.

A wide shot of the beacon with Brian standing in front.

Meet Team Jedi.

Team Jedi, meet Team Extreme.

Most of the teams showed up ready for the challenge.

It was shaping up to be a beautiful Southern California day.

We were competing against the gay, Asian version of Eric and Brian (the buff model is me, while Kim Jong Il is Brian, just in case you weren't sure).

The first clue was handed out by Gale, one of the monitors.

We were to stand in line and reveal our answer when it was our turn. If we were incorrect we had to go to the end of the line.

We guessed Santa Catalina. We were wrong. Our second guess was Santa Cruz. Yes! We were handed the next clue.

This was right down the street.

Off we went.

The patron saint of Santa Monica. We grabbed the next clue.

We lucked out because the Lighthouse Restaurant was right next to where we had our crepes.

It turned out that the vendor that was "buzzing" with activity was a honey stand. For a buck I got six honey sticks and our next clue. Before moving on though, I need to direct your attention to the dude with the sign....

C'mon dude, arthritis?

This is what I look like after sprinting three blocks to the car.

The first clue that forced us to drive somewhere is also the first one that left us befuddled. Brian's wild guess was Marina Del Rey but we did not want to take the chance on a guess.

So we made the call. According to the race rules we could call "Roadside Assistance" for a generous clue but would incur a 10-minute penalty. Better late than never, we figured.

Knowing we were now down at least 10 minutes I put the pedal to the hybrid metal and hauled ass... only to get stuck behind a Corvette doing 20 miles per hour. Ah, the stress.

We finally arrived at Brian's wild guess, Marina Del Rey.

We had to choose between bikes and boats. With all the bikes in use....

...we chose boats. Irving was there to assist us... we climbed into a kayak.

Did I mention that the moment we sat down our asses became instant sponges soaking up half the marina?

After trying to synchronize our paddling (with Brian getting the worst of it since he was behind my flailing), nearly capsizing a couple of times, and actually ramming our out-of-control kayak into a docked boat, we finally made it to the other side. While Brian climbed out and sprinted barefoot to get the next clue, I climbed out to take a picture. Remember the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark when Indiana Jones is running from the poison dart-spitting natives that golden statue-stealing Belloq sent after him, and our intrepid hero makes it to the river where his escape plane is waiting, but the pilot is busy fishing, and Indy is yelling at him to start the plane, and the pilot is panicking as he jumps into the cockpit? Well, then you know what's happening here.

The next clue sent us to the Redondo Beach Pier.

This meant a mad race that included the breaking of several traffic laws, especially since there was another team hot on our tail. But the Prius performed admirably and, a few gutter snipes later...

...we were there.

Once Brian put a lei on the bust of George Freeth...

...we got out next clue. Brian was to count the number of dolphin medallions on the railing and I was to count the scuba divers on the ground and report back to a monitor for the next clue. As you can see Brian did his part but, for the life of me, I could not get the correct number. It turned out that some of the scuba dudes were mostly covered by giant planters on the pier, with only a small portion of the flippers showing.

The kite store was easy to find.

First, the good news: we were in second place, trailing only Team Mahogany & Ivory.

This was a "One Way" clue that called for us to choose who would complete the challenge without knowing what it was. The only question we were given was, "Which one of you is a good sleeper?" Sistah, please, I fall asleep the minute I become prone, so naturally I was the one. Then we opened up the clue and saw it had to do with freakin' yo-yos. I've never used a yo-yo in my life. Fack.

I guess the box of yo-yos next to the monitor should have been a hint. Yes, folks, this is your second place team.

Oh, and the bad news? The yo-yo challenge wouldn't begin until noon. We were forced to wait 45 minutes. This meant that we went from second place to a virtual tie with everyone else. Double fack.

On the positive side it gave us an opportunity to enjoy the moment.

And get some lunch.

With sweet seats.

Two teenage yo-yo champions, Sam Gommel and McLeod Benson, showed us the art of the Long Sleeper.

Yes, I struggled.

The string got tangled, adding to my frustration.

With all my freakin' education I needed a teenage geek to show me how to freakin' wind a freakin' yo-yo. Argghhh!

Brian, naturally, did not get my successful Long Sleeper on video. But we got our next clue, to find Neptune here, which would take us to the halfway point, and a mandatory twenty-minute break.

And again, when we reached this point, we were in second place, still behind Team Mahogany & Ivory. The problem was that we now had to pay the piper. Remember the Roadside Assistance phone call we made at the beginning? We had ten minutes added to our departure time. On the plus side, Mahogany & Ivory were given a "Gridlock" by another team. This was an option that was found in random clues, which meant the finder could slow down any team of their choosing by ten minutes who was either even or behind them. Apparently another team wanted to Gridlock us, but since we were the only team that made a phone call (thus already slowed down), they gave it to someone else. Small blessings indeed.

Brian enjoyed the lactating fountain nipples.

After 30 minutes (20+10) we were given a clue that called for us to choose between "Brains" and "Beach". We chose Beach because...

...Brains asked us to decode these nautical flags, then unscramble the word. It turned out, we discovered later, that there was a library around the corner that had a nautical flag book on display. Oh, and the unscrambled word spelled out "lighthouse".

On the way to Abalone Cove Beach we passed another team of teachers named Locas Hermanas (I think). It was Cinco de Mayo, remember.

We were told that parking would cost $5 but I was driving so fast I missed the parking lot. No problem, we whipped into a viewing spot and headed for the beach (saving a five spot at the same time). While we weren't in first place...

...we weren't in last either. (Bonus points to Brian for his post-marathon form.)

We had to make our way down a steep, twisting dirt path for a quarter mile, run over to the lifeguard post on the far of the photo, and literally dig through the sand for the next clue. While that was easy, we still had to go back up the aforementioned steep, twisting dirt path for a quarter mile. Ay, there's the rub.

With clue in hand we headed to the Point Fermin Lighthouse.

Our next job was to put five lighthouses in geographical order. Unfortunately I left my camera in the car so I didn't get a picture of the lady Brian found who works for the Lighthouse Historical Society, and put them in order for us. I couldn't make this up if I tried.

Another One Way. Because I had done the yo-yo, it was Brian's turn to... tie a Fisherman's Knot! Ha ha, suckah! Seriously, this one was a bitch. All Brian had to work from was the picture and an 18-inch piece of rope (and Brian's never worked with anything 18 inches long before). But the dude pulled it off, much to the shock of both of us.

Then we got this clue. Look up "WTF?" in the dictionary and you'll find this.

We had absolutely no idea where to go, and even considered making another Roadside Assistance call. We also thought about heading over to Chinatown.

We were walking around the park when we saw an Asian lady and her mom. The conversation went as follows:
Me: "Excuse me, I don't want to appear racist, but can you read this?"
Asian Lady: (After looking at it for a moment) "Yes, this is Korean."
Brian: "You wouldn't by any chance be able to read Korean?"
Asian Lady: "Oh yes, do you want me to tell you where this is?"
Us: (In unison) "Yes!"
Asian Lady: (pointing behind us) "This is the Friendship Bell that's on top of that hill."

We almost headed to Chinatown with the bell literally 30 seconds away.

Thank you, Asian lady.

A view of the beautiful Pacific from the bell.

And another.

The Korean Friendship Bell Museum.

In this envelope was yet another One Way, and a small bell. Brian and I both agreed that since he had been reading the clues while I was driving, he had probably been paying better attention. But we had to again wait, this time until 2:20, when the bell rang. We got here at 1:45.

So he played Jeopardy: Korean Friendship Bell Style. The team members that were not playing had to stand far away. With every correct answer the contestants got to take one step down.

Once on the ground they were handed the next clue and took off running. (Here's one of the Mahogany & Ivory sonuvabitches, again ahead of us.)

Because of the rush I did not take any pictures, but the place we had to go was like a labyrinth. We were all running through dark tunnels ringing bells like madmen. I found my guy and off we went.

This was the turning point in the race. Not only was I lucky to find the bell guy, but also Brian interpreted two parts of the above clue correctly, while many apparently did not. He noticed that Signal had a capital S, thus it must have been a street name, and the 2.2 Street was not distance but 22nd Street. We were the first to find the next clue, though another team saw me find it and drove up to collect it while Brian and I had to run across the wharf back to the car. Thus, they were actually in the lead. Bastards.

To Cabrillo Beach and the "Whale Graveyard". With the lead team finding parking first and unsuccessfully asking everyone where the whale graveyard was, Brian asked some guy who likewise could not help us. But his young daughter chirped in, "Isn't that the whale bones in front of the aquarium?" Cha-ching! So Brian hauled ass in that direction while I retrieved the car. But the other team overheard this conversation and followed Brian. Told you they were bastards. Somehow Brian lost the guy and made his way back with a little whale picture.

So we drove down to the end of the lot, illegally parked the car, and hopped out. This is where we almost screwed up. The picture of the lighthouse confused us because there is no way to it from where we were. While we were frantically trying to figure out what to do we saw a team we hadn't seen since the halfway point casually walk past us onto the pier. Brian started to follow them when Mahogany & Ivory showed up, asked a lifeguard a couple of questions and sprint away in the opposite direction. Since they had been in first place the entire day I naturally thought they knew something we didn't. I called Brian back and told him who I just saw. Still torn between which direction to go I asked the same lifeguard if we were indeed on the Cabrillo Pier and if this was way to the lighthouse. He said yes and no, respectively. Then we realized the clue did not ask us to go to the lighthouse but only to the end of the pier.

So clearly unable to catch the team that Brian had originally been following we made the loooong walk down the pier.

A walk made longer knowing it was for second place.

Make that FIRST PLACE, BIYATCHES! It turned out that the reason the other team was walking so casually was that they had dropped out a few hours earlier when they had gotten lost. And they walked past us without saying a word.

While waiting for the rest of the teams to show up we went back to park the car correctly and returned with cloaks and lightsabers. Team Jedi representin'.

"The winner's circle pictures from the Race/L.A. website."

While we were hanging out the wind blew the hat off one of the monitor's heads, depositing it into the ocean. So one of the fishermen on the pier actually tried to reel it in from about 40 yards out.

Did I say "try"?

As Yoda said, "There is no try. There is either do or do not."

Well, this guy do.

Alex threw that bad boy right back on his head.

Everyone was invited to have dinner together after the race.

When we arrived we were presented with our prizes: Season One of The Amazing Race on DVD, tickets to the Pasadena Playhouse, two 25 minutes massages, two $20 Borders gift cards, and a Los Angeles: Now and Then picture book.

The restaurant turned out to be a bit pricy, especially on a teacher's salary. Brian tried to order something from the bar but was ignored for about five minutes, so we split.

Heading home was a madhouse. The 10 West was shut down at one point.

Or cars were disabled, creating traffic jams.

We finally made it back to good old Arcadia.

Brian bought me dinner at the Cheesecake Factory...

...where were seated by Kathy and served by Sandy, both former Rosemead High School students.

Oh, and remember that $5 we saved on parking at Abalone Cove Beach because I overshot the lot?

Valet, baby!