It was Thursday morning, and my first day overseas in 18 years, one of those spur of the moment trips when you’ve turned 40 a few months ago and you realise you have a spare four-and-a-half grand because you’ve just paid off your student loan to the government and you decide to travel from Australia to Mexico via Los Angeles for a few days . I’d say it could be a mid-life crisis, but due to a rather Laissez–faire attitude to inhaling smoke of tobacco, and the fragrant Mary Jane, in my 20s I fear I have no guarantee of doubling that figure.
I’d written a film script some years earlier, and had worked as a kitchen hand at a Planet Hollywood restaurant in Melbourne, so I figured Hollywood would be the place to be, what with the chance of bumping into a writer or director who might offer an escape from the dreary office job that was slowly but surely draining my remaining, fading youthful dreams while promising to take any that might crop up in the future, just like the relentless flow of water that carved the Grand Canyon, only not likely to leave as grand, or lasting, legacy.
I had arranged for a car and driver to pick us up from the airport but the driver got into an accident on the way so we had to cab it, with the driving company reimbursing me the $100 for the trip. I arrived around midday after dropping my niece off at some hostel in the LA suburbs. I’d accompanied her over to LA as she was heading to Nashville to study Italian and her flight attendant aunt, my sister, had mentioned that if I travelled with her she would be eligible for a discounted airfare, which apart from the above mentioned realisation that my days on this earth were numbered, was as good as an excuse as any for being there.
My student days over, I had decided to splash out and stay at the Standard of West Hollywood, marketed as a trendy – hipster place to be, including having a girl stuck in a glass display case behind reception doing artistic things, like reading a book and waving her hands in the air, in the evening and blue astro turf around the pool. The Standard was a short distance from a gay taco shop I had planned to get a gay taco and margarita from, and not far from the La Brea Tar Pits where I wanted to pick up a mouse pad for my computer.
When my room was ready I got into my Billabong shorts and rash vest and went straight down to the pool. There were a few hairy men with handle bar moustaches lounging out on the banana lounges, my gay friend Kurt had told me that West Hollywood was very gay, and these guys were very gay indeed. I paddled about a bit and then hit the Hollywood streets.
Up the road a bit I bumped into Mike Tyson and his crew buying cigars at some Cuban cigar shop. I took a photo of him but didn’t stop to chat as we don’t really know each other that well, so I moved on to sample some Shaq soda at the 7-11, take photos of Beverly Hills water covers and admire the melodic sounds of the street crossing buttons.
After all that excitement, and with only a few hours sleep under my belt, I didn’t have enough energy to find the gay taco shop so I left it for tomorrow and just had some colourful corn chips and guacamole at one of the booths at the Standard’s restaurant, where I got to chatting with a fella who was a script writer or editor or assistant script editor or something on Hawaii Five-O or some other show with Hawaii in it.
He was there for a short film screening that the Standard was hosting that night by the pool where a bunch of not very well know Hollywood types were attending. The films were decent and a I had a lime mojito for the first time in my life. They were having an after party at the hotel, and since I was a guest I got automatically invited. After getting checked for I.D. I stood around at the exclusive back room, which you had to get through a shiny red velour rope and the kitchen to get to, thinking ‘Jesus Christ I am rooted’. So I bailed after the band had finished playing and popped back to the Standard’s restaurant with the idea of getting a regular soda, until I spotted something called a ‘root beer bomb’ on the menu. I’m here to tell you that this is just the drink you want to be drinking when you are absolutely rooted after a long-haul flight between Melbourne and LA. I savoured every sip as the ice-cream melted and blended with the root beer – definitely the highlight of my first day in Hollywood.
I was only in Hollywood for a few days, so next morning I had to get on task and make sure that I got down to the La Brea tar pits to get my mouse pad, as they didn’t sell them at the museums online gift shop, and a sabre-toothed tiger replica skull for my daughter. There was some fancy restaurant the Lonely Planet recommended for breakfast but I went for the Standard’s restaurant’s cushioned booths, where they made a cappuccino that was drinkable with the addition of a couple of spoons of sugar – heck they try and make coffee in America, god bless them, but they just can’t make them like Australians can. They had a cute bear-shaped honey which I drizzled over my yoghurt and fruit.
Isn’t he cute?Just casual like with his arms behind his head, quietly confident, I reckon he might be able to take on Mike, if he was full sized and real.
I ran down Fairfax Avenue, past the Jewish quarter and the CBS television city to the La Brea Tar pits, taking some time, but not much, to look at the stuff that got stuck in the tar. Like this mammoth:
I figured if I took lots of photos I could always take a good look at them when I got back home when I had more time, and if I didn’t get quickly to the gift shop they may have sold out of mouse pads and I would have gone halfway around the world for nothing. Plus I had other things to achieve that day: I wanted to get a proper Hollywood haircut and I was taking my niece to a Dodgers match in the evening, plus I was still hoping to get a gay taco.
Sabre-toothed tiger replica skull and my La Brea Tar Pit mouse pad in hand, I power walked to a hairdresser on Melrose Avenue, with a buffalo, or bison’s, head on the wall. My hair was going crazy from the LA water, so after the cut I ended up with an almost identical version of the boofiness which the bison head had, where I had originally hoped for something in the Brad Pitt vein.
It was hot and I needed a taco, gay or otherwise, so I went back to the hotel, dumped my stuff and went across the road to what I presumed to be a heterosexual taco shop where I ate tacos and drank coke as I watched hollywood tour vehicles , in search of stars, streaming past, before heading back to my room and grabbing my speedos and going down to the hotel pool.
With the weekend approaching the hotel numbers swelled. There were plenty of six-packed clad, muscly males in their twenties in their board shorts drinking beers and mojitos by the pool. I dangled my white legs, and speedos, into the pool. A British woman, who made sure I heard her, remarked to her friend that she was ‘getting too much information’ from my skimpy costume, also made a point of bomb diving me. ‘Hey girl’, I thought, you wouldn’t be bomb diving me if I was LMFAO, but made a mental note to get the Billabong shorts out next time I went for a dip and started to think of how unstylish I was in the Hollywood context. I had just scraped together the money to get over here, so had skimped on new clothes, shoes, and haircuts in the months leading up to the trip so I was decidedly bummish looking. I decided next day would be ‘Hollywood style day’ and went off to collect my niece, who had ended up staying downtown LA after being told by her original hostel that they could only offer her a space on the floor, to go to the Dodgers game (see You Gotta try a Dodger Dog).
My niece ended up staying on the floor of my hotel. She thought downtown LA was like a ghetto, and indeed on the way to picking her up I passed some dodgy looking characters, one of whom was getting arrested just up the road from her hostel, so she begged to stay with me. After the Dodgers had beaten Cincinnati 2-1, we ended up wheeling her luggage downtown and onto the Metro rail system at around 11.45 p.m. Just after midnight we were back at the hotel and I went down to the Standard’s restaurant for another well deserved root beer bomb, which was even better than the first.
I didn’t get much sleep as it was freezing and I gave my niece most of the blankets off of the bed leaving me with just a few sheets and shivering even when I resorted to putting multiple layers of clothes on. We also had a domestic dispute going on in the next room from around 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. It seemed to involve two women and one man, with one of the women leaving on several occasions but returning again, and again, to resume the drunken and incoherent argument, timing things precisely to the moment where I was starting to nod off.
I had to wait around a bit to get ‘Hollwyood style day’ started as I my niece was organising a bus down to San Diego, which she managed to get her mum in Melbourne to do via the magic of the Internet. I left her in the room as I went downstairs for more cappuccino, fruit, yoghurt and honey – knowing this was the last chance I would have to say goodbye to the bear as I was heading off early for a flight to Mexico the next morning. Returning I found things were organised and we had only minutes to run down to Melrose Avenue to get my niece on a bus that would get her downtown again to connect with her bus to San Diego. As we ran down I noticed some tomatoes, and maybe an eggplant, in someone’s front yard. As my niece streaked ahead I quickly whipped out my camera and took a photo. If these are you tomatoes, I’d love to meet up for a coffee one day and discuss them as I thought it was something very real in an otherwise very superficial and image conscious area which gave me a renewed hope in humanity after suffering the intolerance of the skinny-white-guy-Speedo-hating woman.
Having said that, I was still on a mission to get me some shoes and new clothes and soon after waving goodbye to my niece I hit one of the Melrose Avenue retro shops which looked like it was stocked with stuff that people wore once and decided was out of fashion, where I got a shirt with a picture of a pizza on it, to add to my new Dodgers shirt I’d bought at Dodgers’ stadium the night before, and some more fashionable shorts. In the fitting room it was plain to see that my buffalo style hairdo wasn’t getting better by itself so I made a quick detour to the buffalo hair salon and after consulting with a nice deadlocked haired young lady, and grabbing a photo of the buffalo head, I got some Malin and Goetz sage hair conditioner which I was able to apply to tame my hair as I headed to the shoe shop. I asked a guy, who looked like he might be the lead in a hip TV series, where I might find some shoes and he pointed me in the right direction. I remarked to the guy that here in Hollywood, even the homeless people seemed to have an obsession with getting new shoes, and he smiled knowingly.
The shoe mission took longer than expected as there are more varieties of shoe than one could poke a stick it, eventually I chose some cream and white coloured, flat soled Nikes. I knew I hadn’t made such a bad choice when a black dude sauntered past and, while looking down, said to me, ‘I like those’. Tired and hot I headed back up the hill through the Californian bungalows and had more tacos at the hetro taco shop, recognising that I wouldn’t have time to go the gay taco shop this visit. I listened to a comedian chatting to her manager, obviously preparing for a performance that night, in the booth next to me, before heading back poolside with my Billabongs and Dodgers’ shirt, which both happened to be blue. The pool was pumping and there was hardly a space to swim around, even with most of the six-pack posers propping themselves up at the edge of the pool rather than getting their hair wet (obviously more conversant with the potentially image wrecking boofy properties it contained).
It was my last night in LA and I had booked a tour of Hollywood bars. I chucked my white Nikes, Jeans and pizza shirt on and jumped on the bus down Hollywood Boulevard. We were meeting our tour guide outside the Gap store and while I was waiting I witnessed my second arrest in as many days.
“Fuck Hollywood, fuck Hollywood, fuck Hollywood…” the man with the skateboard under his arm continually muttered as he walked past the store. Two bicycle cops in tight shorts, who probably had ‘information’ more to the taste of the the British woman, walked up casually and plucked him from the crowd of tourists taking photos of the stars on the pavement and before he knew it he had the cuffs on and his face pressed coldly against the wall of the Gap shop. He’d obviously had enough of getting new shoes all the time and just snapped. I looked down and must admit that I still kind of liked how they were so white and shiny, but I could see how the whole thing might piss you off after a while and drive you to madly ranting in public spaces.
When the other six people arrived we started the tour, drinking at a few dingy pubs, including one which the writers and artists who worked on Snow White used to hang out at – which, despite being historical, was one of the most absolutely butt ugly establishments I have ever had a drink at. I got to talking to a guy from LA who was there with his wife, who were both as nice as anyone you’d meet and absolutely gorgeous to boot – both of them! I tried some top shelf tequila at the next bar, which had light levels so low that anyone who got together there would run a real risk of having very ugly children, and chatted about the Dodgers and LA housing prices. I thought that you could pick up a house for like $4 after the Fannie Mae and all that GFC crap, but apparently not in LA. Like many Americans, they seemed to just be struggling by, their superpower image a little bit tainted by the recent economic catastrophe. I felt lucky to have my modest house back home and some new shoes.
We toured some more of ‘old Hollywood’ bits of film sets and shit, seeing the stars on the pavement, which is perhaps the most unimpressive famous site I had ever seen in person. Apparently they pay for the stars themselves, so I have no idea how Kermit the Frog came up with the dough needed to be immortalised in the pavement.
The place was also overrun by tourists (hey – you never like to see your own when your overseas!) and people selling cheap, and expensive, crap. Still, the alcohol was making it much more bareable, and the woman, who made up half of the LA couple I had been talking to along the way, was very easy on the eye, and as she drank more she encroached welcomely into my personal space. The guy wasn’t bad either! To be honest I would have ditched my trendy West Hollywood hotel room in an instance if they invited me back to their humble LA home for a sleepover.
The tour guide kept telling us stuff about the places we visited but I didn’t hear most of it except for the bit about the Snow White crowd. At the last bar on tour, an Italian place, I grabbed some spaghetti and meatballs and conveyed my view of Hollywood style, and Standard hotel, to the LA couple.
“They are, um, image conscious in Hollywood”, said the woman politely as the effects of the four or six cocktails she had consumed became evident and she again swayed generously into my personal space, and touched me on the forearm, making my hairs stand on end.
The tour guy had one last place to take us to. The, apparently, famous Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel where he showed us a pool.
“This is a famous pool where celebrities come to for pool parities after the Oscars”, he said, “It was designed by Andy Warhol”.
My ears perked up for the first time since the Snow White bar, “Andy Warhol?”, I asked, just to make sure I heard it right.
“Yes”, he said.
“The Andy Warhol”, I continued.
“Yes”, he said, “why would I say it if it wasn’t true”.
“Oh, no I’m sure you’re right, I’m just really impressed to be standing here in front of an authentic Andy Warhol pool.” And I took a photo.
I wanted to hang out with the LA couple longer, and maybe go live with them for a few months and watch baseball and drink cocktails, and have a hot dinner waiting for them when they got back from work, but I had to get up at 5 a.m. to head out to LAX for a flight to Mexico City, so with a heavy heart, and a tear in my eye, I left them with a hug, and a handshake, on Hollywood Boulevard and walked back to the Standard, taking a short movie of an ambulance and fire engine along the way.
I had one last root beer bomb on a stool at the Standard’s cafe-style restaurant, looking forward to having all my blankets back. After spending a few hours with a real and genuine LA couple, I looked down at my cream and white nikes and I thought, the guy with the skateboard is right, fuck Hollywood, I’m putting my old comfortable and crappy looking walking shoes on and heading down to Mexico where I’m guessing they won’t care what I wear.
As a post script, and maybe befitting of Hollywood, the pool at the Roosevelt is not designed by Andy Warhol, it’s by a guy called David Hockney who did it in 1988, the year after Andy died – though there have been many rumours of celebrity ghosts at the hotel over the years I have never heard of any painting pool bottoms…