August 6, 2010. Today they’re going to be shooting a scene for “The Closer” on our street. They’ve put up the NO PARKING, 7AM to 11PM signs on both sides of Gramercy Place, and for two blocks on each side of it on Hollywood Boulevard. The notice we got says they will be shooting driving scenes, and that there will be cameras and equipment on property, sidewalk, and curb lane. Interior and exterior dialogue. Occasional traffic and pedestrian control. Surveillance. Running cables. Generators. Picture vehicles. How exciting! I hope we can meet Kyra Sedgewick. That would mean we’re both only one degree of separation from Kevin Bacon. Cool!
But we’ll be gone most of the day. At 11:30 Emma Thompson is getting her star on Hollywood Boulevard, in front of the Pig & Whistle, next door to the Egyptian Theater. Maggie Gyllenhaal will be there, and Hugh Laurie of “House” and the “Blackadder” British television series. What a trio! We’re going to be there.
After that we’re going with our friends Jon and Marion to the Orange County Fair.
So is this a Los Angeles day, or what? Is this a Hollywood day? You bet. So it seems a good time to announce that we will be moving this month, going back to the Pacific Northwest, where Lee was born and bred and where I have spent many years. We’ll be looking for a little house somewhere. Somewhere that I can practically guarantee will be a lot quieter than here.
(UPDATE: August 9, 2010) We didn’t meet Kyra, though we saw the fancy gold sports car she would be driving. By the time we got back they had wrapped it all up, all 6 grip trucks, three StarWagons, and the dozen other trucks lining the streets.
(Emma’s star ceremony was one of the best ever. She was thrilled to have her star right outside a pub.
(As for the Fair … we had a great time. These days a big question is: What insane food will they be selling—and people eating!—this year, in a place that originated the fried Twinkie, fried Snickers, and other delights. Last year the big thing was chocolate-covered bacon. This year it was … fried butter! I kid you not. They stuck a stick in a stick of butter, coated it in batter, and fried it. I thought they missed a trick, this being Southern California, in not offering a healthy alternative for the heart-conscious: fried margarine. I should set up a booth next year. I’d make a fortune!)
We have loved living in Los Angeles, in East Hollywood, in Little Armenia and Thai Town … without ever moving! And I have a feeling that we’ve packed more adventures into our almost 4 years here, seen more of the city and its metro area, than many people who have lived here their whole lives have done. Our travels have taken us as far south as San Diego and the half a dozen Indian casinos south of Lake Elsinore. We’ve gone as far east as Palm Springs, west to Santa Barbara, and north to Red Rock Canyon and China Lake. And we’ve seen most of what there is to see on the way to and from those extremes.
Walked the 52-mile length of the Los Angeles River, from Canoga Park to Long Beach, and then taken the ferry to Catalina. (Yes! There is a Los Angeles River! And recently, in an act of bureaucratic contortionism of epic proportions, it was declared “navigable.” This was done to qualify the whole watershed for environmental protection, so I approve, even though only about 4 miles of it would float a kayak except in the rainy season … but let’s let that be our little secret, okay?)
Walked Route 66 from the sea, backward from the traditional direction to Santa Anita, where we’ve gone to the races, as well as at Hollywood Park.
Walked the whole length of Wilshire and Hollywood Boulevards.
Walked every flat street in Hollywood, and quite a few miles in the hills.
Walked the 26 miles of Sunset Boulevard, from historic Olvera Street (where we have often hung out) to the best-kept secret of Los Angeles: the beautiful, hidden Self-Realization Fellowship gardens a stone’s throw from the ocean.
Walked on Bunker Hill, through Boyle Heights and Chinatown, up and down Rodeo Drive, and on the streets of Compton and Watts. (Best dim sum? Ocean Seafood, upstairs at 747 North Broadway.) Ambled along the sand at Venice Beach, and Muscle Beach. Driven through all the coastal communities from Malibu to San Clemente. We have roamed the streets of the Fashion District, the Toy District, the Warehouse District, the Arts District, the Jewelry District.
We have seen something few Angelenos have ever seen, except from an airplane: Toluca Lake, a small, private body of water entirely surrounded by celebrities. We’ve seen all of the four Frank Lloyd Wright houses in the area, topped by the Ennis-Brown house, a Mayan temple that’s been in a dozen movies. We have managed to find the hexagonal house perched on a pole, the Chemosphere, hidden away on the San Fernando Valley side of the hills. Everywhere we have gone in Los Angeles there was a new architectural wonder to behold.
We have seen classic films in every old, historic movie palace downtown, with the likes of Tony Curtis and Michael York. Gone to concerts at the Greek Theater and the Hollywood Bowl, where we met up with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and Cindy Sheehan backstage. We watched the year’s Oscar-nominated short films at the Motion Picture Academy theater in Beverly Hills. We have listened to a brass ensemble in the fabulous Bradbury Building downtown (featured in Bladerunner). We have attended a performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony at the Disney Concert Hall, one of the best acoustic spaces in the world, and seen The Phantom of the Opera at the fabulous Pantages Theater.
We have watched the Tournament of Roses parade twice, seen them building the floats and seen them on display afterwards, and also the Santa Claus Parade in Hollywood, a neighborhood parade at the Lotus Festival in Echo Park, and a Thai parade and festival two blocks from our apartment. The Los Angeles Marathon came within 100 yards of our apartment this year. We marched down Hollywood Boulevard with Ron Kovic and Martin Sheen against the wars, and with 250,000 mostly Latino protesters down Wilshire Boulevard.
We’ve been to the San Diego, Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Ventura, Orange, and Santa Barbara County Fairs.
We have visited all 21 of the Alta California Missions, many of them more than once.
We went to the Richard M. Nixon Library, museum, and childhood home in Yorba Linda, and boarded the Marine One helicopter there. On President Obama’s inauguration day we celebrated at the Ronald Reagan library in Simi Valley, where they had already hung Obama’s picture in the Presidential Galley, distasteful as it must have been for them. We went aboard Reagan’s Air Force One. (That’s the second Air Force One I’ve been on; the other was LBJ’s, in Seattle.) We toured the ranches and delightful homes of William S. Hart and Will Rogers.
We have visited every major museum and a lot of minor ones, most of them multiple times. The Getty. The Getty Villa. The Norton Simon. The Huntington. The Natural History. The California Science Center. The African American Museum. LACMA. MOCA. Heritage Square. The Peterson Automotive Museum. The Nethercutt Collection. The Grammy Museum. Both locations of the Autry Museum. The Page Museum at the La Brea Tar Pits. The Museum of Jurassic Technology (don’t miss this one!). The Hammer. The USC Fischer Museum. The UCLA Fowler Museum. The Orange Empire Railway Museum. The Japanese American Museum. The Chinese American Museum. Travel Town (railroads). The March Field Air Museum. The Pacific Design Center. The Police Museum. The Fire Department Museum. The Museum of Latin American Art in Long Beach.
About the only museums we haven’t gone to are the tourist traps centering around the Hollywood-Highland Center: Ripley’s, the new Madame Tussauds, the old wax museum, and several movie museums.
We’ve been to the huge Long Beach Aquarium, as well as a tiny one on the end of the pier in Manhattan Beach, and another under the pier in Santa Monica. We’ve been to the Santa Barbara Zoo and the Orange County Zoo and the Santa Ana Zoo and the Los Angeles Zoo, and the Wild Animal Park in Escondido.
We’ve been to Universal City and Knott’s Berry Farm, and bought yearly passes to Disneyland, where we visited a dozen times and got to know every inch of it, and Downtown Disney, and California Adventure. (Tip: Save money, eat at Tiffy’s, at the corner of Katella and Disneyland Drive.)
We’ve been many times to the restored Griffith Observatory, saw the planetarium show there, and watched from Barnsdall Park as fire consumed half of Griffith Park and threatened the Observatory. From the Observatory we watched as the whole Los Angeles Basin lit up with a dozen big fireworks shows and uncountable private pyrotechnics on the Fourth of July. We saw the largest fire in Southern California history burn its way through the hills north of Pasadena.
We were delighted by our tour guide, Syni Patterson, at the Watts Towers. We visited the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the Queen Mary. We have been to the observatories at Mount Wilson and Mount Palomar.
We’ve eaten at the Hollywood institutions of Musso and Frank’s, Canter’s, the Hollywood Farmer’s Market (go there, it’s great!), Mel’s Drive-in, Barney’s Beanery, the Pig & Whistle, and had the world’s best hot dogs at Pink’s.
We have ridden on Angel’s Flight, a whole block up the hill, the shortest railway in the world, and traveled every mile of the Metro train system.
We’ve been through two small earthquakes, one of which we didn’t even feel. (Our Big Quake was when we lived on the Central Coast.)
We have visited the graves of Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, George C. Scott, and many others at the Westwood Cemetery. At Hollywood Forever, the world’s finest graveyard, we have attended the Mexican Day of the Dead ceremonies and seen a performance of Hamlet, along with the ghosts of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. and Jr., Rudolph Valentino, Cecil B. DeMille, Mel Blanc, and Alfalfa, among many others.
I’ve lost track of how many Walk of Fame star ceremonies we’ve attended on Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, but it’s in the dozens. Yeah, they’re corny, and a little bit tacky, but they’re fun, and the best place to see celebrities in Hollywood … and what is Hollywood without celebrities? We’ve been in the famous courtyard at Graumann’s Chinese Theater, fitting our feet in the footprints with all the tourists. But did you know there are other footprint galleries, other Walks of Fame? There is an Athletes Walk of Fame on Sunset down around Echo Park and Silverlake, put there during the ‘84 Olympics. The sidewalks of Studio City commemorate the movies made at the studios there, as the lampposts in Culver City remember the great films of MGM. There is a police hall of fame at Hollywood Station on Wilcox, where stars just like the ones on the Boulevard honor Hollywood officers who died in the line of duty. The courtyard of the little Vista Theater at the intersection of Hollywood and Sunset has the footprints of B-movie stars like Elvira (Mistress of the Night) and people like Ray Harryhausen and Forrest Ackerman. A small theater on Santa Monica and the Hustler store on the Sunset Strip have the footprints of porn actors. The vast Guitar Center on Sunset has the handprints and some busts of a hundred great guitar players. But my favorite is the Burbank Animal Shelter, which has a small patch of concrete with the footprints of animal movie stars like Rin-Tin-Tin, one of the Lassies, Asta, and movie bears and movie eagles. We’ve visited them all.
And we did most of this on the cheap. Most museums have free days; we always looked them up, and went then. The Disneyland passes were special rates for SoCal residents. The restaurants? The “Hollywood institutions?” You’ll notice that Spago, Morton’s, the Polo Lounge, and Katsuya aren’t on the list. The only Wolfgang Puck eatery we patronized was in the basement of the Natural History Museum. (Best museum restaurant? The Café at the Getty Center. Good food, reasonable prices.) No, we tend toward little hamburger stands like Molly’s on Vine (now threatened with demolition), or Irv’s on Santa Monica (also a bit perilous), or taco stands like the Cactus on Vine or Tacos Delta on Sunset, or one of the thousands of taco trucks. When we get tired of that, there are always the Latino street vendors with their tiny grills made from whatever’s handy, serving up sizzling bacon-wrapped hot dogs with grilled onions and peppers for two dollars, or the fruit stands where the operator will peel, slice, and dice watermelon, cantaloupe, mango, pineapple, and papaya, and add a dash of chili powder if you want it. Oh, how we’ll miss those little stands.
Our maximum bets at the track were $5. We had a spending limit at the casinos, too, but I don’t want to talk about that. Those Indians, man, did they ever clean our clocks! (Get back at them! Best Buffet: The Valley View. Lobster and prime rib and much, much more, and your first one’s free, also one on your birthday. Which are the only two times we’ve eaten there!) Much of the rest of all that stuff above was free, or cheap. Walks are the cheapest of all. Los Angeles hasn’t exacted a sidewalk tax. Yet.
Lee has kept an extensive photographic record of all this, which some day would make a great coffee table book. She says Los Angeles is just one big photo-op. We have seen so much, some good, some bad. Endless homeless people, camped out under freeway bridges along the river, pushing shopping carts everywhere you go, shuffling along or passed out on the sidewalks along Skid Row. But also, endless murals; Lee must have taken pictures of a thousand of them.
And you know what? People do walk in Los Angeles. Just not everywhere. And you know something else? They smile and wave and say hello and flash peace signs, and will stop and talk to you. Especially if they have a dog. Compliment anyone on their dog, and they are your instant friend, and will talk about the pooch for a long time. I can’t recall seeing a single threatening person on our walks, and very few surly ones. We met so many interesting people by getting out of the car.
Well. It’s been fun. We’ve loved living here, but it’s time to move on. So hooray for Hollywood! We’ll miss you.
August 9, 2010