“Nerd,” “geek” and “fangirl” have been insults thrown at me in the past. Now, I wear the words as badges of honor.
These monikers have a variety of definitions and connotations, but generally, they’re used to refer to someone with interests outside of mainstream culture. As someone who has crafted a “Moana” costume from scratch, waited in line for 12 hours for Disney’s live-action film panel at the D23 Expo and written a 30-page fan fiction to win tickets to “The Lord of the Rings in Concert,” it’s safe to say I fit squarely within the nerd-geek-fangirl triumvirate.
Los Angeles has a ridiculously spread-out geography, so finding geeky locales and figuring out if they’re worth the commute has been a constant challenge for me. I still have a sticky note that I wrote my first year of college, listing different spots I had read about, cataloging how many minutes away they were.
I decided to check out a variety of geeky activities that spanned the city to introduce people to geek culture and new spots in this sprawling city we call home. These locations range in interest, skill level and location, but all touch on different aspects of the diverse community of which I am a proud, card-carrying member – well, I may not have an actual card, but I do have a Time Travel Passport. That’s got to count for something.
Downtown Los Angeles
400 W Pico Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90015
Gym culture is not exactly my cup of tea, but I managed to find one location that brings a geeky element to working out – laser tag.
LazRfit combines exercise with laser tag – once you’re shot, you have to do enough cardio to reactivate the gear. The gear tracks how many calories you’ve burned as well as your accuracy, making for an exhausting, but supremely entertaining, competitive workout. I signed up for a single 50-minute class for $29, which included a warmup and two separate games.
One of the most striking things about lazRfit is the game course. Gone are the neon lights and goofy-looking obstacles that characterized most of the laser tag venues from my childhood. Instead, smooth wooden ramps populate the interior of lazRfit’s lofted brick building, creating a hipster vibe. You’re also encouraged to climb and jump over the ramps, which led to some pretty impressive vaulting (and falling) on my part.
Turning a workout into a game made exercising much more palatable. Although I had the lowest score and accuracy of everyone in my class, I burned the most calories.
LazRfit, while expensive, provided a class that was the most fun I’ve had while burning calories, apart from the time I stayed on the elliptical for three hours watching the Jeff Sessions testimony on C-SPAN.
Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Museum and Galleries
Downtown Los Angeles
919 S Grand Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90015
I haven’t actually seen “The Handmaid’s Tale,” even though I love the book, which is why I was so surprised when I walked into the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising Museum & Galleries. In the midst of dozens of costumes, the iconic blood red handmaiden’s dress captured my attention.
The gallery features a rotating selection of fashion and costumes. Winter’s exhibit is the Annual Art of Motion Picture Costume Design. I went to the Annual Outstanding Art of Television Costume Design in the fall a few days before the Emmys to check out costumes from nominated TV shows.
The exhibit included items including Queen Elizabeth’s regal wedding dress from “The Crown,” as well as Mindy Kaling’s “The Mindy Project” wardrobe, filled with bright jewel-tone and floral pieces. But they paled in comparison to the handmaiden’s dress.
“The Handmaid’s Tale” follows the story of Offred (Elisabeth Moss), a woman struggling to survive in an oppressive, dystopian patriarchy in which women are designated in different social classes delineated by the colors and dresses they wear. Moss’ dress has taken on new power off screen because it's been co-opted by women’s movements. Political protesters wear it to bring attention to the inequalities that women face in American society, drawing parallels between President Donald Trump's administration and the oppressive regime of the show.
As I stood there, I couldn’t help but feel the immense weight of the costume, the suffocation, the implications – a piece of fabric gave me chills.
The FIDM Museum & Galleries serves as an emotional stop for any film-and-television buff, offering a taste of the Hollywood magic we see on screen.
Time Travel Mart
1714 Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026
The Echo Park Time Travel Mart sits nestled between a vegan ice cream spot and an independent bookstore-coffee shop, almost blending in with its hipster surroundings.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that the trendy (read: gentrified) neighborhood has actually perfected time travel and set up a shop for those giving the technology a whirl.
Stepping inside is indeed like stepping into a time machine that takes you straight to a 1970s convenience store – with a twist.
The Time Travel Mart doubles as the storefront for 826LA, a local branch of a national nonprofit that supports Los Angeles students by teaching them writing skills. All proceeds from the mart go toward the organization. I also had the chance to go to the store front for 826 Valencia in San Francisco, which masquerades as San Francisco’s Only Independent Pirate Supply Store. Look up the other branches of the charity around the U.S.
LA hosts two locations: an 1870s style general store in Mar Vista and this Echo Park store.
The shelves feature anthologies of students’ writing in addition to an assortment of random curios and fun souvenirs, from jars of Time Travel Sickness Pills (they’re actually mints) to candles dedicated to the so-called patron saints of time travel, such as Albert Einstein and Stephen Hawking.
However, it’s the store’s immersive nature that’s most fun – the walls are covered with witty fliers, and two adjacent news tickers share “Tomorrow’s Headlines” and “Yesterday’s News.”
But if you want to try the Time-Freezy Hyper Slush, you’re out of luck. As the sign taped to the front of the machine states, it’s “Out of Order, Come Back Yesterday.”
2120 W Magnolia Blvd, Burbank, CA 91506
Geeky Teas feels like the inside of a fangirl’s head.
The entryway features a life-sized Dalek, directly next to a recreation of Sherlock’s living room, complete with its flowery wallpaper and spray-painted smiley face. Although Geeky Teas also houses the GeeKitties Cat Rescue, giving the store a bit of a random feel, the main draw is the assortment of teas.
I don’t have a particularly discerning taste in tea, but as an amateur enthusiast and full-time fangirl, I was excited to check it out. The blends take on creative names chock full of puns, such as “The Brew is Out There” and “Groot Root Tea.” Even the ingredients of the teas are creative – the “Bad Wolf Tea” features a rose petal infusion.
Unfortunately, when I went, they were out of most of their flavors, most likely because it was the same day as one of their craft fairs, but I managed to snag a bag of their most popular tea, “Green Potion Tea,” a reference to “The Legend of Zelda.” The fruitier green tea wasn’t that different from other teas I’ve tried, but the pop culture aspect makes it a worthy novelty, perfect for any nerdy Brew-in.
Geeky Teas can be overwhelming and definitely won’t be for everyone, but if you’re looking for the metaphorical version of a fandom dunk tank, this is it.
The One Up
13625 Ventura Blvd, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423
Part bar, part gastrolounge and part arcade, The One Up offers patrons a chance to eat, drink and play video games – provided they’re of age. The bar stops admitting anyone under 21 at 6 p.m., which meant I had to go around lunchtime, when it was almost empty. While this made for a more subdued atmosphere, it made it easier to try out the games.
The bar and eating area have ample seating, with a space in the back for the games, which are free for all customers. Most machines have a selection of classic games to play, from Space Invaders to Donkey Kong, unlike a classic arcade where separate consoles house each individual game.
I’m no expert, so I tried my hand at the few games I recognized, like Pac-Man and Galaga, losing almost instantly at both. Although I didn’t have a chance to try all 440 games in the extensive catalogue, of the games I did play, I ended up loving a decidedly ’90s shooter game called CarnEvil that allowed me to fire a shotgun as I enjoyed the campy scariness and jump scares.
Revamped comfort foods like the Cap’n Crunch Fried Chicken & Waffles – chicken coated in the crushed-up sugary cereal – and herbed parmesan fries were satisfying, if slightly overpriced. My age prevented me from trying the fun beverages offered at the bar, like the Grown-up Chocolate Milk and the Brown Sugar Black Magic.
I’m pretty sure I’m one of the few people that wants to turn 21 just so I can properly experience The One Up.
The Museum of Jurassic Technology
9341 Venice Blvd, Culver City, CA 90232
The Museum of Jurassic Technology may be one of the weirdest, most incredible places I’ve ever been.
It’s an innocuous-looking building on Venice Boulevard, with a plain stucco exterior and a small sign advertising the museum. The door opens into a tiny, brightly lit gift shop. I bought my $5 student ticket and stepped through the door to the left. I was not prepared for what I found.
The museum contains a collection of seemingly random exhibits, and it’s up to visitors to find their own meaning in it all – it’s almost like the museum form of a Rorschach test.
Part of what’s so dizzying about the museum is its TARDIS-like effect – it truly does seem bigger on the inside, with rooms upon rooms full of bizarre collections of artifacts, photos, films and audio tracks. Exhibits range from a portrait series of Soviet dogs sent into space to a photographic timeline of the life of a Romanian opera singer.
Making sense of it all makes for a psychological and intellectual challenge.
The Perky Nerd
1606 W Magnolia Blvd, Burbank, CA 91506
I’m all too familiar with the pervasive negativity that characterizes the geek experience for many women. I have been subjected to rigorous questioning about lightsaber specifications or been met with disdain about my superhero preferences, all to discern if I’m a “real fan.” The Perky Nerd constitutes the antithesis of that culture.
The shop is billed as a female-oriented comic book shop, focusing on inclusivity. I’m a relative newcomer to the world of comics, so I’ve always been too intimidated to go to an actual shop, usually buying my comics online or at Barnes & Noble.
Artwork adorns the walls, showcasing a variety of superheroines. I smiled as I took in the entire room, from the prominent Wonder Woman display to the various pieces of artwork featuring Star Wars heroines.
I gathered up the courage to ask if they had the installment after “Thor Volume 1: The Goddess of Thunder.” I felt embarrassed for not knowing the proper terminology or exactly what I was looking for and apologized profusely to the woman behind the counter. She smiled reassuringly and told me it was fine, informing me that they were out of the volume, but would have a new shipment back next week.
It’s a trek to get out to Burbank, but I’ll be heading back to The Perky Nerd, both to pick up my copy of “Thor” and to experience the cozy, welcoming atmosphere of the store all over again.
There is something magical about feeling like you belong, and that’s The Perky Nerd’s true superpower.