Dedicated to my friend Jodie for giving me the book on which to consolidate my memories, and my sister Lorna for giving me another kind of book to help me on my travels.
L.A.: big, brash and my no.1 stopover choice whilst pulling the strings for my travels down under. Los Angeles looked particularly starry whilst flying in on my eleven hour flight from Heathrow (pretentious notes I made at the time stated: the view at just 6pm is quite breathtaking, neon flights litter the skylines whilst small white lights from the never-ending traffic jams give the city a pulsating kick… to take a photo wouldn’t even do it justice – a true feast for the eyes. You get the picture). L.A., as I discovered was hardly subtle at all, in fact it alternates perfectly between a flashy sort of expensive lifestyle and an unbelievably tacky plastic facade, complimented by several out-of-work actors completing the mix. I was staying in north Hollywood for my whole time there which was was frankly unbelievable luck. This meant I was just ten minutes away from Hollywood itself, exactly what I desired. Finally settling on the strip the first day I couldn’t believe how bizarre it appeared; the pavement is of a asphalt coloured marble designed – of course – to tie in with the Hollywood walk of fame blocks littered around the street, however the effect is decidely more tacky, with the sun illuminating the street and making it more look like a children’s toy town. On top of this, Marilyn Monroe wax figures and impersonators appear out of every nook and cranny. Considering next year will be the fifty anniversary of her untimely death, I discovered that a golden rule of Hollywood is to keep alive the legacies of the stars from the forties, fifties and sixities so that the tourists keep the town’s own legacy alive and kicking.
On that first day I was at such a loss on what to do, the only thing I knew for sure was that I was staying in a porn palace (see below for more information). Being by myself I wandered aimlessly settling on the Sunset Strip, known for the famous film noir, Sunset Blvd, and more sordidly as the place Hugh Grant shacked up with a prostitute wearing a bad weave. With my kindle for company, I was having several ‘what am I doing here’ moments because these famous areas had nothing interesting. Of sure, there was Cedars-Sinai and the Scientology centre where John Travolta regularly pays some big bucks for spirtual salvation…but very little else. Many had recommended Universal Studios theme park or Disneyland, however, unless I had someone other than Mickey Mouse (who was being paid anyway) accompanying me, I wasn’t particularly bothered about riding solo on a tea cup. The first day wasn’t a success, in fact I left off thinking that Hollywood was a place where people needed a buck to have a billboard time. It was also a little depressing seeing the Latino community – a large population of LA’s community – being so obviously at the problem of the pile, riding the subway with a collection of coupon books in hand desperate to save a dollar. Luckily, that Monday evening was far better. With my couchsurfer host in Hollywood, I also met another couchsurfer en-route from Chicago to Arizona, stopping off for a game show. Our host, keen to show us a good time, took us to a nightclub. This clubbing experience was an actual smash, a huge success! I could count the number of amazing times I’ve had at a nightclub on one finger but this club had plush, elaborate red velvet curtains and furniture everywhere, as well as games consoles from the nineteen eighties making a match for the dynamic soundtrack of eighties alternative music. Crudely, it also had a video of a topless dancer in a field on loop but anything goes I guess in Hollywood…
Awaking several vodkas later, I awoke early for the taping of the game show I was given the opportunity to attend. I still can’t work out whether this was a mistake or not. To describe the show is to ask whether you have seen the movie They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? . This film was based on the great depression when money was tighter to come by than water in the desert, and the sorry ensemble of characters competed in a dance-off (the rules of which are where couples would dance until their competitors – other desperate dancers – collapsed, quit or died) to claim a mediocre winner’s prize. This game show felt like a marginally less crazy version of that. The Price Is Right has actually been shown in the UK, luckily people didn’t seem to care about it that much in England because the people that attended the taping in America were frankly obsessed. The couple I spoke at great lengths to came from Tennessee, no less, and queued, like we did, for five hours purely to get a shot at being cherrypicked from the audience to guess the prize of household appliances, for a chance at winning a car. To my shock, if you won a prize this was classed as taxable earnings for which (surprise surprise) you had to pay taxes on. Could you imagine the taxman taking a chunk out of winnings for shows such as Deal or No Deal in the UK, frankly unthinkable in my eyes! Anyway, some of the audience that came on the show couldn’t have been any less annoying if they tried. Seating on these metallic seats outside the studio for x amount of hours for no apparent reason, fellow audience members thought it would be a laugh-a-minute to run down the aisles trying to high five all the fellow audience members hands as if they were rock stars greeting their fans: it was annoying. The show itself (I know I’m spending an age discussing this…but it really was so bizarre) haven’t renovated its set since it begun filming in 1971. People seemed pretty delighted with this decision when I asked them why it looked so kitsch: “my grandmother says it hasn’t changed in all those years, she can still remember watching it forty years ago, so it’s something families talk about when watching it”. I disagreed, I thought it was a cynical way to garner more dollar for CBS to keep this ridiculous show on the road. The presenter, Drew Carey, was about as funny as a dole queue and the show’s format was as tired and stale as a Chinese buffet towards the latter half of the evening. Yet the audience loved it. Now that was genuinely fascinating to see! The audience were hanging on to the presenter’s every word, even sporting Drew Carey tees like he was the new Jerry Springer. With my newly acquired friend and I a tad bemused by the whole event, we headed for the nearby Farmer’s Market which was meant to be a real gem according to the Lonely Planet guide. In all honesty however, it felt a little bizarre. For starters, it wasn’t a farmer’s market whatsoever, it was just a place with a few different stalls of different food types. Still, it was my first experience of soul food and at least it allowed me the opportunity to get to know Jake’s story. With a fleeting visit to the Holocaust museum (always important that I tick every Jewish museum in the world) I rounded off Tuesday with a brief social at a Chinese takeaway with several actor friends of my host.
By Wednesday I was still a little unsure of what to do, so I spent the morning visiting the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on a tour (it was potentially the most over-rated VIP tour, but I’d do it again purely because it was THE Grauman’s Chinese Theatre) and then, rather late in the day, headed to Santa Monica. Santa Monica is America to a tee. Everything, from clothing (Hollister) to buildings (identical looking restaurants desperate to match the style of the pier) screams light beige and dusty white ‘beach’ colours, effortlessly practical and neat… yet a little too tidy and, dare I say it almost dull. This is a place for residents, families and honeymooning couples (my own parents included), but arriving at sunset was truly a sight for sore eyes, and the busker was an almost cinematic addition to my California dreamin’. So whilst my experience of Santa Monica was brief, it seemed to be just enough to embrace the natural beauty of the beach, whilst accepting that the place was a little sedate for my liking.
Maybe though I spoke too soon. Arriving the next day to Venice Beach on an overcast day unlike no other (the great myth about LA is that it is all great skies and sunshine, a great mist hovers incessantly over the city) and being offered drugs by several dirty drug dealers, I could see why Lindsay Lohan was a resident. Venice is known for having a hippie presence, juxtaposed with several expensive suburbs dotted around the area. I just didn’t understand why Venice beach looked so bleak. My timing was obviously terrible, for the day I picked was dire and maybe there I just missed the normal people hanging around Venice who could have showed me its merits. Or just maybe I should have just picked Malibu and gone for a more cliched image of Californian sunshine instead.
Having got to my final day in L.A., I was ready to leave. L.A. is great but not a place to overstay your welcome, plus I had stayed with one host the whole time I was there, which was taking the biscuit rather, even if he was happy for me to stay. I kept this final day Hollywood-ised, visiting the famous Hollywood bowl and later on, the Museum. Both were interesting but still focused on Hollywood from about fifty years ago. I would have been more impressed if they could dig out some cracking celeb stories, especially considering the National Enquirer has done so much for unveiling salacious stories over the last thirty years. Hanging with my host, I was ready to get my transfer to the airport and hit San Francisco. To discuss L.A as a place of natural, endearing beauty is probably false, but I will say I had a great time being in a place that will be making headlines for years to come. Plus I aim to return when I’m a big cheese and take a larger chunk out of that American dream. 3/5