And so, after many visits and many tries, I finally found the way to really, really *get* L.A.
The secret is this…if ya are gonna go to L.A., then really go to L.A. proper. None of this staying in Burbank or camping out in Pomona. No.
L.A. proper, and more succinctly, Hollywood, is the center of what matters. All the rest of those suburbs just serve to water down that which makes L.A. a goddamn fun place to be.
So you gotta stay in L.A., or to quote Wang Chung perhaps you live and die in L.A., and you only visit all of those other surrounding places if you need to. Mainly, you stay put, because there is plenty to see.
As my amazing cousin lives in West Hollywood, we wanted to stay somewhere nearby. Walking distance, even. The Good Man scored us a room on the Sunset Strip, and that’s where I finally learned to bond with a town that has vexed me for years.
Yes, I know, the Sunset Strip is to local residents what the Vegas Strip is to local residents, a place to go only when company is in town.
But I don’t care.
Our hotel was directly across the street from the famed Rock n Roll Hyatt also known as Riot House. We were also next door to the famed House of Blues.
So here’s my recipe for finding the soul of L.A.:
You get off highway 170 and you roll past the Hollywood Bowl. That street is called Highland. You stay on Highland until you get to the corner of Hollywood and Highland. Is that address familiar? Yes, it’s where the Kodak Theater is located, that place of red carpets and award shows. Be careful to look only at the Kodak, because if you look in the other direction it’s not quite so glamorous.
Turn right on Hollywood and drive slowly (you have to, traffic is a bitch) and let Grauman’s Chinese Theater roll by your car windows. For such a profoundly historic place, it’s so physically tiny.
Keep rolling. No need to stop here. See the stars on the sidewalk whip by as you pick up acceleration and keep rolling down Hollywood Blvd. As you leave the jam packed area, you find yourself among 1960’s era apartment buildings and that uniquely L.A. look of tall palm trees on both sides of the street. You’ve seen this in the movies. It’s as familiar as if you’ve been there before.
Onward to Fairfax where you take a left, then at the next light, turn right.
There you are on Sunset. Beautiful, ugly, magical Sunset Boulevard.
Park your car, check into the hotel, ditch your bags. Get out on the street and walk.
Yes, I said walk. Screw what the Missing Persons said about nobody walking in L.A. In this part of L.A., you do. If you don’t, you’re sorely missing out.
From the Rock n Roll Hyatt, walk west on Sunset past the House of Blues. There’s the Viper Room. There’s the Whiskey a Go Go. There’s the Roxy Theatre. Do you like music? Have you ever listened to Rock and Roll? Well hell, you have got your head and your feet solely in the middle of history, baby.
But there’s other things to see along the way. How about Book Soup, L.A.’s answer to San Francisco’s City Lights? And the Rainbow Bar & Grill. And even a few empty shops and a whole lot of restaurants, new and old along the way.
You note, as you pass each shop door, that everyone has etched into the glass “Established in ____” Yes, everyone has to publicly announce the year they got their start, even if it was only last year.
And when you comment on this to The Good Man, he gives you the quote of the day, perhaps of the whole trip: “In a town with little authenticity, everyone has to manufacture it.”
God he’s a smart man.
But then you take a turn somewhere. Doesn’t matter where, could be Olive or La Cienega, but head south and walk down the hill. Because Santa Monica Boulevard is down there and that’s a whole other place entirely.
Now you are smack dab in the heart of West Hollywood, and yes, the heart of the LGBT part of Los Angeles. There are less historical places to see, and more of just a thriving neighborhood. This place is practically buzzing with life. This is one of those “ain’t got no destination, I think I’ll just walk” kind of places.
Well, ok, I’ll turn off Santa Monica and drop into The Abbey because even though I am straight, I’ve never had a bad time at this place. The drinks are strong and the music is loud and the atmosphere is crazy. And lots of fun.
And it’s on a warm Fall night on the Abbey’s patio, over the top of a vodka tonic with The Good Man and my supremely cool cousin that I think, “you know….this ain’t so bad.”
Shove over, Frank Sinatra. L.A. might be my lady, too.
(No worries, I still hate the Dodgers.)