I spent last week in California. I was there to do travel stories, but I also came away with bits and pieces of things - impressions, notions, nuggets of fool's gold. Here are a few: Landing in L.A., 7 p.m.: The tips of three mountains gleam above the haze. Swimming in the gray air, they could easily be mistaken for channel islands bobbing in the sea off the California coast.

That's a physical description.Emotionally, these peaks are people paddling hard and fast to stay above the dark haze of depression.

Inspite of that thought, I feel pretty good.

Hanging around L.A. Imagine a swimming pool in the shape of the United States.

Now imagine the drain sits right on Los Angeles.

Eventually everything - money, sludge, lost belongings - collects in Los Angeles. More than New York, L.A. represents the best and worst of America.

Everything eventually ends up here. Look at me.Hanging around L.A. All those people on the sidehills have spent millions of dollars to buy a "view." An odd notion, buying "a view." But then I do it all the time.

When I buy a book or pay tuition for a class, I lay out money for a view, a perspective. I want the same thing the people in these sidehill homes want: an over-arching vision, a look from aloft; I want my own "viewpoint."Hanging around L.A. It will be interesting to see how the L.A. police chief fares. He's been under fire again.

Open letter to Chief Gates: Don't fret, I've found that all of us have feet of clay. With the right attitude, however, having your feet held to the fire makes clay feet sturdier.

Here's some cheap advice: When you lose your job; let it make you better, not bitter. Leaving L.A. by train, 9 a.m.: The old man from Minnesota next to me is pleasant enough. His conversation lacks punch, however.

"Personally," he tells me, "I've found that flying is faster than taking the train. How about for you?"

Me? I've been looking out of the window.

Welcome to the L.A. ghetto; a place with an unknown history. "Outer-history" we read every day in the newspapers. "Inner-history" you have to read written in spray paint on inner-city walls. "Read between the lies!" a red message blares. And in black, "Kwait ain't chicken like America!"

Norman Mailer thought all graffiti should be preserved as a "populist art form." I can't romanticize it like that; but I have to say the graphic talents of some of these inner-city vandals is pretty remarkable.

In 1966, Simon and Garfunkel sang "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls and tenement halls." Now, 25 years later, Simon claims the song wasn't any good at all.

With Paul Simon or without him, though, words keep showing up on tenement walls. In fact, there seem to be more prophets today than ever before.