Some Hours in L.A.
It’s my twenty-first summer in Los Angeles, and I’m spending it working in the heart of Hollywood. Every morning, June gloom renders the skies a dull grey. By afternoon, the sun will break through the haze and hang peerless above us.
My walk to the office down Sunset is a meditative one. My sneaker grazes a torn In-n-Out bag on the sidewalk. Within just a few blocks, I pass the Sunset Sound Recording Studio, the Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, Ultimate Hollywood Tours, the Citizens Commission on Human Rights, and the Psychiatry: An Industry of Death Museum.
To get to work, I drive to the train, then walk to the office. This morning, my GPS routed me from the 405 to the 5 to the 118 to the 170. I hope no one asks me how I got to work today; I’ll sound like I’m making fun of the way we talk here. My drive is good, peaceful. It’s like Joan Didion said — driving down the 405 to the 5 to the 118 to the 170 afforded me a rare moment of “concentration so intense as to seem a kind of narcosis, a rapture-of-the-freeway.”
I’m taking the Metro as a commuter for the first time, which is a new way to experience the city. Half of the signs inside the train are in Spanish, something I rarely see in Northern California, where I go to school. Paying for parking at the North Hollywood station, the machine gives me the option for the transaction to be in either English or Spanish. Next to English, a little American flag icon; next to Spanish, the flag of Spain. The iconography leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
In the station, they’re playing Selena’s “Dreaming of You.” The train arrives. A man boards in a Lady Gaga shirt; I tell him I love it. He thanks me and follows up, “Who doesn’t love Gaga?” He spends the next ten minutes with his headphones on, dancing — not for money, for himself.
After we, the contents of the train car, explode out onto Hollywood and Highland, I pass the usual characters. Superman with salt and pepper hair, Chewbacca with matted fur, Spiderman in desperate need of underwear. Edward Sissorhands scares the shit out of a young woman in line outside the El Capitan Theater.
The Missing Persons song is mostly true — almost nobody walks in LA. But I walk ten minutes from the train station to the office. Most of the walkers are tourists. This morning, I pass by an Italian family who stop by a buxom figurine outside Mel’s Drive in to take a picture. The parents giggle as their young son gropes the ceramic woman’s breast.
Right now, it’s my favorite time of year in LA. Not summer, but Emmy season. It’s marked by the proliferation of For Your Consideration posters all across the city, from the Valley to West Hollywood. Each poster more or less follows the same formula: an image of the show’s star(s), a glowing blurb from a reputable source, and the abbreviation FYC in bold, sans serif font. Everybody knows what that means. When I first moved to Berkeley, one of the things I missed most was the annual flood of FYC posters.
I also missed the language of the city, the in-phrases papered all around. Once, driving down Ventura Blvd, I passed a billboard for Coors with big text that named an achievement that warrants cracking open a cold one: “Someone’s script got greenly today.” Another, during the marketing campaign for 2018’s The Grinch: “Of course you’ll make it as an actor,” printed besides the grinning green menace. On my walk home, I spy a massive ad for Highland 2, a screenwriting software: “A better way to write.” That seems to be why a lot of people come here — to find a better way to write.
Hollywood Blvd is completely stopped. Each car holds a small symphony. A teal pickup truck blares heavy metal. A silver Prius blasts hip-hop; a black Corolla, banda music. Halfway down the block, a white Bronco is stalled in traffic. They stopped making those in ‘96, two years after the O.J. chase over on the 405. I sneak a picture — the sun is out now, and the lighting is good.