California

Fifteen days ago, I had never been west of Austin, Texas.

Still, I had my preconceived notions of this California.

Doesn’t everyone?

It’s impossible to listen to music or watch movies/TV without forming some sort of impression. I think the music is what really does it. People are less trusting of the film business but music subtly changes your perspective, often without you realizing it. On the flight out to Cali, I thought of all the songs I liked through the years with a connection to the Golden State.

Made up my mind, make a new start,  going to California with an aching in my heart,  Someone one told me there’s a girl out there,  with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair – Led Zep, Going to California

California’s been good to me, I hope it don’t fall into the sea, sometimes you gotta trust yourself, it ain’t like anywhere else. – Tom Petty, California

California, Californiaaa… – Phantom Planet, California

I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A, California dreamin on such a winter’s day… – The Mamas and the Papas, California Dreamin’

California, California
You’re such a wonder that I think I’ll stay in bed
Big time rollers, part-time models
So much to plunder
That I think I’ll sleep instead – Rufus Wainwright, California.( This is a great song about this place because it doesn’t glorify it as much)


If I ever want to fly
Mulholland Drive
I am alive
Hollywood is under me
I’m Martin Sheen
I’m Steve McQueen
I’m Jimmy Dean – R.E.M, Electrolite, a favorite because it ties together Los Angeles, classic movies and the hollywood hills. Amazing imagery in the lyrics.

If you’re going to San Francisco be sure to wear flowers in your hair. L.A Woman sunday afternoon. Wish they all could be California girls. Beverly Hills…that’s where I want to be! Going Going back back to Cali Cali. Californication. I left my wallet in El Segundo…

Caaaaaaaalifornia Love.

And thousands more.

I suppose it would have been hard to come out here without expectations. I arrived and spent my first couple of days in Little Tokyo. Having been in the Big Tokyo two months ago, the little one sucked by comparison. Basically, it seems to be nothing more than a place that Japanese people stay in when they visit L.A. Also, I didn’t get a chance to do any sightseeing the first couple of days so I was turning pretty sour on Cali. The first place I visited was Santa Monica pier and lo and behold my first celebrity spotting. I was sitting on the beach listening to my headphones when I noticed a crowd of about fifty people walking behind me. I turned around and took my headphones off just in time to hear the hipster next to me say “Oh my God, it’s Chloe Kardashian! She’s so hot, I think she’s hotter than Kim. Kim’s always got that face on.” He looked like that gay dude who Cher fell for in Clueless. Right down to the 50s wardrobe including a Fedora. For better or worse, a lot of people in L.A are fearless when it comes to clothes.

Santa Monica Pier didn’t do it for me.

The next night I went to Hollywood Boulevard. It has a palpable feeling of desperation. I got the sense that of the hundreds of people on the street at that moment, maybe three-quarters of them wanted to be famous while the other quarter seemed to be tourists from the mid-west. There were a couple of blonde girls with implants and tats dressed in leather and filming shows for Playboy TV. That had drawn a big crowd. I walked past and began my search for the funniest star on the walk of fame. I came across some good ones like Keanu Reeves, Bob Barker and  Scatman Crothers but I decided to award the funniest star to Kenny Loggins. I imagined Tom Cruise and Kenny Loggins coming down together and putting their handprints in the cement in the summer of ’85… and Cruise proceeding to never take his phone call in the next 25 years…

I walked down another block and a girl came up to me.

Girl: “Hey, want to be in the audience for Jimmy Kimmel Live?”

Me: “Who is the guest?”

Girl “I can’t tell you.”

Me: “Just tell me.”

Girl: (pause) “Martin Lawrence.”

Me: “Oh! Wow! It’s free, right?”

Girl: (pause) “Yes.”

Me: “How long will it take? AND IT’S COMPLETELY FREE, RIGHT? No strings attached…”

Girl: (getting visibly annoyed) “Sir, yes, it is FREE. It will take about an hour.”

Me: “I don’t know. Do you think it will be fun? Who are the other guests?”

Girl: “It’s a LOT OF FUN. There are no other guests today. You’ll be in and out.”

Me: “Nah. Forget it. Thanks. Maybe I’ll come back later.”

Out of my love for Martin Lawrence, I went back twenty minutes later and soon I was sitting right in the middle of the audience. Now, when I got there, there were definitely strings attached. First of all, you have to applaud every time they signal you to applaud. Then, they harass you and tell you things like “Hey, you’re a terrible audience – we’ll get a new one if we have to!” Please. First of all, this is all said by some stand-up comic from Detroit who coordinates everything. Then they tell you that you cannot get up and go the bathroom while taping. That annoyed me because like clockwork, as soon as they said I couldn’t use the bathroom, I had to go. So I sat there trapped in the middle of my row on the Jimmy Kimmel show.  His majesty Kimmel came out at the very last second after we had been trained and instructed to give him a lengthy standing O. To his credit, he was very cut and dry. He came out, did his monologue which was funny and we applauded when we were supposed to. Now, Detroit stand-up guy had bribed us all by promising a $150 gift certificate to Outback Steakhouse to the “best audience member”. Wouldn’t you think that a nationally televised nightly show would have a few gift certificates? Nope, just one.  Why not hand out 3 for $50 each? Anyway, we proceeded to go bananas trying to ensure some bloomin’ onion for ourselves. Martin Lawrence came out and I have to say he was very funny. I was sitting in the 3rd row and I was struck by how animated he is. He seems almost like a cartoon character, I imagine that he is a great guy to work with, not just in movies but I suspect he would be the ideal guy to have in your office or staff room. However, I watched his bit online a week later and it didn’t seem as funny.

That got me thinking that maybe TV and movies don’t do entertainers justice? That would be insane! Are you telling me that my favorite comedians are even funnier in person than on the silver screen!? Does it work like sports where you can’t tell how fast someone is until you see them in person? As Jigga says “Fuck HD nigga, see how clear my view is…”  Another cool thing about the show was Evan Turner and Wesley Johnson, both top 5 NBA prospects, were seated in the row in front of me. Wes was real friendly while Turner was a little more reserved. Anyway, the cool part was they got up during taping and I was about to throw a fit but the producers made them sit back down – If I can’t take a whiz, then you can’t either Evan Turner! What- You think you’re better than me??? The funniest part of the evening was when Detroit StandUp Guy awarded the Outback gift card to a black woman wearing a nightgown who had cut her hair real short and dyed it fuchsia. He gave it to her and then asked for her name, she spoke into the mic and said:

“Moon River.”

“Your name is Moon River?”

“Yes.”

“Yeaaa…Bullshit.”,  said Detroit guy securing his biggest laugh of the night.

Moon was not amused.

I got out and drove around L.A for a while before going home. I love driving here at night, when the traffic dissipates.  It’s oddly quiet and there’s a slight glow, and as the car follows the curves and contours on the freeway, I feel like Robert De Niro cruising Michael Mann’s Los Angeles in Heat.

The next afternoon, I cruised down to Venice Beach. Now, White Men Can’t Jump is one of my favorite movies and I am happy to report that Venice Beach actually has as much character as it did in the movie . I got there and guys were playing ball with a huge boombox at midcourt blasting 2pac songs. These guys weren’t as  good as Billy Hoyle and Sidney Dean but they were fun to watch with their alley-oop dunks and constant shit-talking. People were blazing in the rafters and old dudes were yelling and heckling “you shoot the ball like it’s a damn shot put.” Next thing I know, Until The End of Time is playing and I am in love with California.

I left Venice Beach that night and drove 5 hours north, straight to San Francisco.

I visited friends there, visited Berkeley and by the time I drove back down to the City of Angels, I was on a high, rolling through the backroads and farmlands of Cali, some with thousands of cows and sheep at the fences, blasting pop perfection with the windows down as the sights and smells flew by…

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