Monday, March 23, 2009

I Love L.A. Day Two: March 6, 2009

The time change was really messing with our heads. We woke up later than expected, around 9:00. We barely made it to the breakfast bar on time. And, believe me, what a breakfast bar it was. Coffee, bagels, cereal and toast. They were missing the required waffle maker that I thought all breakfast bars were forced to include. I wanted waffles, dammit! I was on vacation!

Our day started with a little walk to the Reseda Post Office so my friend could mail his kids some postcards. I felt some shame, thinking maybe I should do the same for my niece and nephew, but then I realized that a) they probably had no idea I was even in Los Angeles, and b) by the time they would get the postcards I’d be long home. Sorry, kids, just seemed pointless to me.

(Side note: My friend did get the smackdown from a Reseda Post Office employee. Apparently he put the wrong stamps on his postcards, causing all kinds of chaos. I’m surprised she didn’t go…wait for it…postal on him.)

After that we hopped in the car and headed to Hollywood. We started walking down Hollywood Boulevard, staring at our feet the entire time to look at the dumbest tourist attraction known to man: The Hollywood Walk of Fame. It’s a sidewalk. With stars in it. And each star has a name on it. And it goes on forever. And it’s really lame.

(Side note: My friend is a big-time monster fan. It’s an overly-obsessive and embarrassing hobby, but he wears his monster badge with pride. Everytime we saw a star with the name of a person even remotely related to monster-dom, he had to take a picture. Or, worse, he made me take a picture of him kneeling next to the star. Not too many people born after 1940 have their photograph next to Lon Chaney’s star, I’m guessing.)

Our first stop was this awesome bookstore that sold only books related to entertainment. In library speak, it was like being in the world’s largest 790s section. I didn’t even know where to begin. So I began nowhere and bought nothing. Although a book on the making of A Streetcar Named Desire did catch my eye.

After that we went to Grauman’s Chinese Theater. You know, the place with all the famous people’s footprints in the cement outside. What’s with Hollywood and their placement of cheesy shit on the ground?

Imagine my surprise when I saw Chris Walker’s footprints there. Chris Walker? That guy in my high school class? Cool!


Oh, Christopher Walken! My bad. I’ll cut Mr. Walken some slack. I can barely write my name on paper with a pen. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to write in cement with a stick.

(Side note: You’ll notice that my foot is only a bit larger than Christopher Walken’s. I have no idea why that’s cool, but it is.)

A lot of current stars had their handprints and footprints there, along with a lot of legends:


A lot of cool people who happened to be great actors:


A lot of where-are-they-now stars:


And Donald Duck:


For those who have never been to the Chinese Theater, it’s basically the world’s largest tourist trap. And all the crazies know it. There are actually people who make a living by dressing up in costumes and posing for photographs with unsuspecting visitors, then demanding $1 from them after the picture has been taken. It’s kind of creepy and is pretty laughable when you see some of these costumes. I saw the world’s oldest Superman there as well a woman attempting to look like Marilyn Monroe but instead looking more like a train wreck. I also saw Catwoman take a call on her cell, which was kind of awesome. I didn’t take a picture – even though I wanted to – because if they catch you taking a picture from afar they march up and demand a dollar from you. Again, it’s a weird profession.

Our next stop was a thirty minute tour of the Kodak Theatre. You know, the place where they hold the Oscars every year:


It was kind of interesting, this tour, although the information was a bit on the stupid side. (“Brad and Angelina walked right through those doors a few weeks ago. Yes, folks, the same doors you just walked through! Isn’t that amazing?!?!?!?”) Still, it was nice to see the actual theatre where the show is shot, and our tour guide pointed out some cool areas, like where Kate Winslet’s dad was sitting when he whistled to her during the Oscars. We didn’t get to go on the stage or on the main floor of the house because the theatre is currently being converted into yet another home for the Cirque du Solei. I don’t understand that group. Why do people really love to see other people tumble that much?

(Side note: On the tour, our guide asked us to guess how long the Oscars have called the Kodak Theatre their home. Before anyone could venture an answer, she pointed at me and said, “You, sir, how long do you think it’s been?” I had no freaking idea. So I just said the first number that came into my head: “30.” Immediately I saw others in the tour begin to shake their heads in a that-man-is-an-idiot kind of way. Our guide let me know it’s only been eight years. So I was off by 22 years, so what?)

For lunch we ate at Mel’s Diner. My friend thought he was eating at the actual Mel’s Diner, the one featured in American Graffiti. He was crushed when I told him that not only was Mel’s an outside diner in the film but it was located in Marin, CA, not downtown Hollywood.

(Side note: I have watched American Graffiti about 10 times in my life, always hoping to like it, and never succeeding. I’ve given up.)

My friend knows a guy – a fellow monster guy – who runs a poster shop in downtown Hollywood, so we stopped there next. Dusty was in monster heaven. Me, I looked at the guy’s original posters and marveled at how much he was charging for them. $125 for an original Back to the Future poster? Are you serious?

(Side note: The guy did tell me that some of the posters I own are worth at least $100 each, if not more, which was nice. That’s some valuable paper I have.)

After Dusty finished looking at movie stills he’d seen a thousand times before, we got in the car and headed to Warner Brothers Studio for a V.I.P tour I had booked for us. It was easily the highlight of my trip.

First of all, our guide, Alyssa, was awesome. She asked us up front what our favorite Warner Bros. movies and TV shows were – we saw a quick film beforehand that refreshed our memories – and then modified the tour to show us stuff we’d like to see. Sadly, there are no Goodfellas sets in existence since it was shot on location in New York.

(Side note: I forgot to mention National Lampoon’s Vacation and Spies Like Us, both Warner films I adore. I was trying too hard to play Stump the Guide, but even that backfired because I couldn’t think of any obscure Warner movies to trick her with. Now, after some thought, I would have asked her to show me some Fearless and Hot to Trot sets.)

Alyssa drove the six of us all around in her little cart, showing us buildings where they shot famous movies. For example, want to see the orphanage from Annie?


Mayor Shin’s house from The Music Man?


The shack where Clint Eastwood and Hilary Swank got some pie in Million Dollar Baby?


Some gazebo from The Gilmore Girls?


The (drained) pond where some kind of creature swum up Anne Heche’s pants in Six Days Seven Nights?


And on and on. It was pretty impressive. The tour was not without its cheesy moments, though. Witness the car museum, where the General Lee – but from the movie, not the TV show – was on full display:


Or the coffee house set from Friends which was still set up even though the show’s been off the air for 5+ years:


And fun with green screen!:


There was also a museum that housed a lot of costumes and props – the actual Maltese Falcon! – but we couldn’t take pictures in there. The second story of the museum was all Harry Potter stuff. There was a creepy guy in charge of the area putting a sorting hat on people’s heads, but I steered clear of him. My friend was sorted into the evil house, which explains a lot.

Oh, and we saw a bit of the E/R finale being filmed, which was cool. Didn’t see any famous people, though, unless you could some random doctors from E/R as famous.

If you’re in L.A. and are looking for a nice studio tour, Warner Bros. is the place you need to go. It’s 2 ½ hours long, but it’s extremely entertaining.

(Side note: I fell in love with Burbank while I was there. All I’m gonna say is Burbank looks like a very nice place to live.)

Once the tour was finished, we were left with nothing to do. I saw an ad in Santa Monica the night before announcing a double feature of The Man with Two Brains and Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid followed by a discussion with director Carl Reiner afterward, but my friend vetoed it. (I don’t understand that one, either.) Instead, we went to Universal City Walk and had dinner at the Hard Rock CafĂ©. Guitars, guitars, everywhere!

It was still early, so we drove to Griffith Park and headed up a mountain to get to the observatory. And the winner for picture of the day is:


After that, we went back to the hotel and crashed. We had to, because we were getting up early the next day. Why, you ask?

Day Three Preview: Disneyland.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

I Love L.A. Day One: Thursday, March 5, 2009

I was in L.A. for five days last week, so my next five posts are going to be about my vacation. Let’s start with day one, Thursday, March 5, 2009.

This was the first flight I took out of the new Indianapolis airport. That place is pretty spiffy. Bonus points for a) easy parking access and b) absolutely no lines anywhere. I know that flying out of town on a Thursday morning in early March isn’t exactly a peak travel time, but I’ve always encountered lines no matter when I’ve been to the airport. This morning, though, there was nothing. Of course, the country’s economic collapse could have something to do with it.

The flight left Indy on time and took us to Minneapolis for a two hour layover. (Sorry, Andie , Shane and Deanna, not enough time to see you guys.) That flight left on time and we spent four and a half long hours in a plane to get to Los Angeles. Thank God for my iPod.

(Side note: Midway through the flight I had to pee. It was a weird feeling, urinating while moving. I don’t think I’ve ever done that before.)

So we arrived at L.A.X. a bit late because we were flying into the wind or something. It was around 2:00 in the afternoon. My friend Dusty – it was his idea to go on this trip – and I got our luggage and headed out to catch the Avis shuttle. Here was the first thing I saw when I went outside:


That’s right, suckers, palm trees! Eat that! Let me take a special moment to mention what the weather was like the entire time I was there: Sunny. 65 degrees. Yeah, Indiana in March it was not.

Avis loaned us a bitching Ford Focus and we took off towards Reseda, the land of our hotel. Reseda, for those of you who might be Paul Thomas Anderson freaks like me, is where he shot the majority of both Boogie Nights and Magnolia. I don’t have any pictures, but we stayed about three seconds from the disco at the beginning of Boogie Nights. I quoted that film everytime we drove by it. I’m gonna be a star!

Dusty agreed to drive during the entire time we were out there. That was one of the concessions of the trip, that I’d go if he’d drive. This is one of my favorite pictures I took while I was out there:


(Side note: I should have driven. It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, plus I’m a back-seat driver who wants to be in control of the wheel. We had some words.)

Our hotel was a Howard Johnson’s, or HoJo for those of you who love the slang. We went with this hotel because it was cheap, had free parking and provided a continental breakfast. All that was missing was a workout center. The hotel was heartily recommended by pretty much everyone who reviewed it online, so we took a gamble and stayed there. It was a good call; the place was pretty nice. No orange roof or anything, though, dammit.

(Side note: For whatever reason, I seem to remember being about five years old and getting salt water taffy from a Howard Johnson’s. It came in an orange box. I have no idea if this is an actual memory or if I stole it from a movie. Either way, it’s pretty damn bizarre.)

Both of us hadn’t eaten for about twelve hours, so we stopped by a fast food Greek place near our hotel and had some dinner. It was about 4:00 L.A. time. There was nobody there.

(Side note: My friend is, for lack of a better word, sheltered. The guy grew up in Pendle Hill, for crying out loud, the sub-division where all the Pendleton snobs lived. He was pretty terrified of Reseda. For example, this Greek restaurant had bars on the door that they locked at night. Plus, there were Mexicans walking around on the streets all the time! In broad daylight! Oh my God!!!!!)

Now, the big question: What in the hell are we going to do that night? I was pretty wiped – after all, I had been up since 5:00 a.m. Indiana time – and wouldn’t have argued with crashing at the hotel. But even I admit that was a stupid idea, so we went to Santa Monica instead. There’s an outdoor mall there that Dusty had been to before and wanted to check out again. Which we did. And it was a mall.

At least the mall had street performers, including this huge black guy who had painted himself silver and was doing the Robot to inappropriate tunes like “Shop Around” by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles. There were also a lot of Once-like couples, singing love songs on acoustic guitars and harmonizing. It was also the only mall I’ve ever been to that had a high homeless population.

After we spent ten minutes at the mall and saw everything we needed to see, we decided to walk to Santa Monica Pier to see the ocean. It was pitch black by this point, so we more heard the ocean than saw it, but whatever. We did not go down on the sand and stick our feet in the surf. The thought of walking the mile back to the parking garage with sand between my toes didn’t sit well with me.

There’s a mini-amusement park at Santa Monica Pier called Pacific Park:

It was closed due to a private event. Something about kids getting good grades or something. Thank God all their lights were on, because I got this cool picture of a ferris wheel:

We made it back to the car and drove back to the hotel. It was about midnight L.A. time, which meant I was quickly approaching a 24-hour day. I was asleep almost as soon as my head hit the cheap Howard Johnson’s pillow.

Day Two Preview: Hollywood!