Sunday, January 27, 2008

15 Things to Miss about Southern California

In which we wax nostalgic for a barely-explored place

1. Cleavage

Call them materialistic. Call them shallow. Call them what you will. But L.A. girls know how to flaunt it. They have no shame for the simple reason that they don’t know, want to know, nor do they need to know, the meaning the word. Shame’s for chumps.

L.A. girls are also terrific flirts. They understand and appreciate the differences between men and women far better than women in places with allegedly more enlightened outlooks. Most importantly, they understand that their allure, next to their intelligence, is the most vital component of their power.

2. The chirpy, vapid, anchors on Fox11’s Good Day L.A. morning “news” show
They chair dance, they sing, they interrupt each other and play practical jokes and they’re hardly ever serious. They don’t pretend that what they’re offering is anything other than entertainment wrapped around a lightly packed core of
newstrafficweather. And Jillian rules.

3. Hollywood
Everyone pretends to hate Hollywood but for those who seek it out. I grew to love it as a physical place and also as an idea. Living in Hollywood’s greater orbit – the showbiz industry – I learned a whole new appreciation for the movies, how they are made and the extraordinary people who make them happen, from the workaday key grips to the half-sane producers. Hollywood’s funny little secret is that Hollywood is not really run by stars or moguls. It is run by enthusiastic nerds like the master stop-action animator, Ray Harryhausen, who do it solely for the joy of being a part of it and seeing their visions come alive. Let the rest of the world make its films. Hollywood makes pictures and tells stories.

4. Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach

I’ve always loved beach towns and Venice Beach, adjacent to the Santa Monica Pier, is the queen bee of them. A little seedy, a lot showy, the peer and the beach walk offer a human spectacle extraordinaire. One of my favorite things to do was just sit for an hour at an outdoor table at one of the many cafes and watch the endless parade pass me by.

5. Cool, crisp, clear winters
It’s hard to describe what L.A. goes through between December and March “winter” exactly. People from the east always complain about it. But who cares what people from cold places think? It’s a splendid thing.

6. The Mojave
The vastness of the desert stretches away seemingly to infinity, but it is far from empty. Ghost towns, mining camps, off-roaders, prospectors, eccentrics, mad-men – these dot the dusty, windy, dramatically surreal landscape like so many crazy, half-remembered dreams during a hard night’s sleep. You never know quite what you will find in the desert.

7. Hollywood Hills houses
I used to walk in the hills every weekend, exploring new roads and streets each time. The choices seemed endless, as did the architectural styles these hill-dwellers enjoyed. From the crazily modern to the wildly eclectic, the hills offer architectural fantasies from every era as well as from eras yet to be discovered.

A Catalan Castle

A hobbit house

John Lautner's Chemosphere (photo by Julian Shulman)

8. Mountains and canyons
My heart has always been in the highlands and the highlands are surprisingly close to you in L.A. Nine-thousand foot peaks were just a half-hour’s drive from The Grotto. Glorious canyons ripe to explore were even closer, winding up between the craggy peaks. Beware the rattlers, though.
9. The ranch in the sky

At the top of the Hollywood Hills, where Runyun Canyon meets Mulholland Drive, overlooking Sunset Boulevard, is a little ranchette complete with stables, a pair of horses, a goat pen, a charming red farmhouse and, of course, a silver Airstream Trailer parked out back. The owners have thoughtfully provided a dog-watering trough for the many pet owners who hike the canyon on the weekends. The ranchette was always one of the goals in my ramblings about the Hills, as the sight and sound and smell of this little barnyard always made my day.
10. The Arclight Cinema
Nowhere is it more apparent that L.A. is an entertainment industry factory town than at the Arclight Cinemas and Cinerama Dome. The Arclight is the best place in the world – at least in the world that I know – to see a picture. The screens are vast and curved, the chairs are plush and they serve booze. (Check, check, and bingo!) In addition, it’s a great place to people-watch (as well as celeb watch), or get into a heated cocktail conversation about whether Robert Evans really is a genius or just a coke-fueled asshole.

11. Studio City
It’s like a small, leafy town full of character – as well as character actors – in the midst of the big, concrete-and-asphalt city. My neighbors included William Shatner, Ron Glass (Detective Harris from “Barney Miller” and later the Shepherd in “Firefly”), Steve Landsberg (Detective Sargent Detreich on “Barney Miller”), Jon Polito (“Miller’s Crossing”) and Burt Young, of Rocky fame. I first met Burt at the Daily Grill on the corner of Ventura and Laurel Canyon one lunchtime while I was visiting my favorite flame-haired bartendress, the divine Stephanie (who later quit both bartending and acting to start her own doggie daycare service). Burt’s got one of those faces and voices you can’t help remembering (which is no doubt one of the things that has made him a success as an actor). I couldn’t place where I had seen him, but I knew he was in pictures. We were the only two seated at the bar and so we chatted. That was at about the time of the last Democratic convention, and the bar TV was showing a few snatches from Bill Clinton’s speech. We talked for a long time about the relationship politics and personality and I found Burt’s down-to-earth wisdom and clipped east coast brogue utterly charming. I often saw Burt after that, at my local, Maeve’s, or about town. He had a smile for everyone. Still does, I reckon.
12. The Grotto
My little apartment house in Studio City, The Grotto’s real name is “Vineland Villas.” But The Grotto is more apt. Built in the 1940s, it was an old building for L.A. and, unlike most L.A. apartments, is covered in foliage and flora – pine, trees, palms trees, ivy, flowers and a profusion of plants impossible for a lay person to identify. And it was full of delightful eccentrics and cranks, making it a kind of Melrose place for misfits. I’ll especially miss Winter and Karin (who I always describe as “my hot French-canuck neighbor).
13. Maeve’s Residual$
My most local bar, Maeve’s Residual$ is named for its Dubliner owner, Maeve and for residuals – checks actors and writers get when their work is seen in syndication or is otherwise licensed. Bring in a residual check for less than $1 and you get a free drink. It was quite a living room, this place, with an…er… eclectic mix of barflies. I especially enjoyed my long, deep world affairs conversations with Seth, Maeve’s master mixologist, before the evening rush. I’ll also miss adorable Vanessa and the “President Game,” in which we’d pick a president and the one who came back a week later with the most obscure information about him would be declared the winner. Sunday afternoons with Brian, a master of voices and accents and who is gifted with total movie recall, were a hoot. And there’s Justine, of course. Honorable mentions go also to Zane the Insane and Barry, the ribald expat intellectual.
14. World-class museums
The Getty, LACMA, the Huntington Library, the Norton Simon, the Petersen Automotive Museum, the Autry Museum of Western Heritage… Sorry, but San Francisco museums just plain provincial and unworldly by comparison.
15. Sunshine
What more need be said?
Friends have often asked me why I haven’t written more Southern California culture and the differences between it and San Francisco. The answer is that, mostly, I haven’t had anything to say about it that I thought particularly compelling or original. The place is what it is and seems to have few pretensions about being anything else.
But I will relay something someone said to me about the differences between L.A. and S.F. very soon after I moved there. Tim Armitage, a branding expert and a fellow former ‘fish, had this to say (I paraphrase):
San Francisco is the City of the Senses. It’s the kiss of the fog on your cheeks early in the morning. It’s the amazing food, a city with one restaurant for every 40 people. It’s the Folsom Street Fair and concerts in Golden Gate Park. It’s all about texture and taste and sensuality.
L.A. is the City if the Big Idea and the Blind Ambition. It’s the actor who dreams of being discovered; the young director wanting to see his vision made real. And it all runs on ideas backed by an ambition that will stop at nothing. L.A. dreams in a way both ruthless and virile.


Blogger Mike said...

Terrific disection of the City of Angels and suroudning territory!

9:20 PM  
Blogger bubbles said...

Robert Evans is a genius

2:31 AM  

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