Road Trip Stop 2: Coco's Variety, Los Angeles, California


I'm taking a road trip to points of interest in Southern California! The trip is being underwritten by Buick LaCrosse, which has also kindly provided me with the use of a Buick LaCrosse to drive during the tour. My first stop was the Griffith Observatory, in the Hollywood Hills of Los Angeles. My second stop is to Coco's Variety.

In an otherwise nondescript industrial street in Los Angeles' Silver Lake district there's a store called Coco's and it's quite unlike any other retail establishment I've ever seen. The storefront's facade is a brightly colored Trompe l'Oeil depicting a tropical paradise, complete with palm trees, a lagoon, and a jug of "agua pura" floating in the sky. There's also a painting of a red Kit-Cat Klock, with a notice that Coco's is the headquarters for the venerable timepieces.

When you walk into Coco's, the multifarious array of products on the shelves, the counters, the floor, and the ceiling is dizzying. As Mister Jalopy, Coco's proprietor, writes on the store's "Coco's Variety sells flyswatters, glass five-gallon water bottles, headache remedies, oil cloth by the yard, used bicycles, California souvenir tablecloths, Kit-Cat Klocks, gumballs, Mexican Cokes in glass bottles, squirt guns, tote bags adorned with hula girls, Lodge cast iron frying pans, old American-made tools, baskets for your bicycle, wood matches, reverse osmosis purified drinking water by the gallon and fancy Jadeite cake plates for fancy cakes on fancy occasions."

Note that even though Mister Jalopy is my friend, he is also a shrewd businessman. Some weeks prior to my visit to Coco's, I had him over to my place for supper. Apropos of nothing, he began soliloquizing on the almost magically qualities of cast-iron cookware. If treated properly, he said, the cooking surface of a cast iron skillet take on a glass-like quality that possesses non-stick properties exceeding that of modern non-stick cookware, with none of the noxious chemicals present in non-stick coatings. He also mentioned that he was carrying Lodge cast iron cookware at Coco's. Now that I think about it, I realize that he must have peeked in my kitchen cabinets while I wasn't looking and spotted my Cuisinart pots and pans, which I believe to be the most tenacious hangers-onto of burned food residue ever made — resistant to scrub brushes, and steel wool loaded with Bon Ami. When barnacles die, they are reborn as Cuisinart skillets.

From time to time over the next several weeks, my mind conjured up the image of a frying pan coated with a well-seasoned layer that handily resisted the most stubborn efforts by carbonized bacon and eggs to gain a purchase on its obsidian surface. The vision became more intense as the days went on. By the time I arrived at Coco's, I could think of nothing else but the cast iron cookware. Blind to the lovingly-restored used bicycles on the sidewalk, the baskets of colorful trinkets my children made me promise to buy for them, and the multitude of Mexican nostrums, such as Tio Nacho's pine tar and sulphur dandruff soap, I had eyes only for the shelves of cast iron skillets. Unfortunately, I missed out on the special 20% sale on the skillets (the secret words were "grilled cheese") but no matter — I am delighted with my purchase and eagerly await the glass-like patina to accrete on their interior surfaces.