Note: I started writing this a week ago on a business trip. Revisiting now. We’ll see how it goes.
I’ve never understood the artistic fascination with Los Angeles. Growing up, only the Hollywood portrayed in Singing in the Rain was my absolute ideal: I wanted to be Debbie Reynolds, belting her heart out, jumping out of cakes, sassy and pretty and sexy and desired and downright funny, swooning in Gene Kelly’s arms – never mind, of course, that it turned out he was awful to her on set. Note: I found that out a few years back and it broke my heart.
On the flip side, “Los Angeles” did not equal “Hollywood” to me. The LA shown in films I’d seen was gritty, dirty, car-filled and downright unpleasant, shot through a muddy yellow overexposure, stringy dyed hair and dead eyes. I visited in March 2010, distinctly underwhelmed (and, frankly, a healthy bit freaked out) by the freeways, high heels, and ubiquitous botox. Think about Crash, Drive, Mulholland Road – none of these films ever made me sit up and say “gosh darnit, please let me MOVE to this city to drink cheap whiskey and wonder where it all went wrong.” LA remained a city not for me but beyond me, somewhere numerous members of my college theater entourage had mass migrated to and I’d never heard from since (Note: I’ve heard from them).
This past trip to LA I stayed in an area that – two years ago – had seemed uninhabitable, a wasteland of concrete buildings and tumbleweeds. Days were long on the trade show floor and at the end of the day I couldn’t even fathom mustering strength to formulate sentences and reminisce with LA-based friends. Instead, I threw on comfortable-but-not-too-ugly shoes (I was in LA, after all), and ventured forth into the yellow southern california sun, to find something or nothing at all while giving my brain a chance to un-PR itself and rest a bit.
The Standard beckoned. I’ve mentioned my obsession with finely crafted hotels before, and the opportunity to visit the downtown outpost of a hotel that pioneered women in aquariums at check-in was one I couldn’t pass up. After mistakenly thinking I could head to the rooftop bar without a wristband (silly Canadian), I entered the just-vintage-enough deco elevator and headed to the roof.
Doors opened and setting sun reflected off the buildings opposite, blinding me, in that good way. I gingerly stepped out of the elevator, careful to gawk at the beautiful clusters of people, but not enough to draw attention (Note: I failed). I grabbed a tall table and awkwardly perched on a too-tall chair. Way to blend in, I thought, they can smell Canadian interloper from a mile away.
Meekly ordering a glass of rose from the bright-red uniformed waitress, I asked her how she got to LA. Not as small talk, as a part of me truly wanted to know what exactly drew her to this strange beast of a city. She smiled kindly and told me she came to be an actress, was no longer an actress, and now just couldn’t bring herself to leave. Despite a gaggle of douchebags demanding her attention, she stayed with me and told me of dreams, adventures, disappointments, and a community of much-loved friends she couldn’t leave.
I mentioned I was from Canada via SF, and I’d always been afraid of LA – how I left NYC with my tail between my legs and that the prospect of living in the land of (what I assumed was full of) botox, unread screenplays and eating disorders gave me heart palpitations. She saw me shift in the smooth plastic too-tall chair and laughed. She promised me it wasn’t that bad, in fact she thought I’d love it in in Silver Lake, Echo Park or even a few blocks from the hotel. Trust me, she said, I think you’d like it here.
Miraculously, it was clear day and the mountains gleamed beside the US Bank building. At a low enough angle to cast a golden glow over my face and the road below, the sun cast a calm over the city scene and somehow I took my first real deep breath that day. Clear air, sun on my face, and a new friend who gave a minute to an uncomfortable business traveler looking for a glass of wine and a conversation.
The sun set and the air chilled and the glass emptied. I noticed I myself smiling, a silly little grin of a girl taking solace in the plate glass forest, in having a moment in an unknown space.
Contemplative sepia cinematography kinda makes sense, or at least feels slightly less foreign. I paid my bill, took the elevator down to the deliberate lobby and passed a group of skinny pre-starlets flirting with the security guy. Wrapping my sweater around me, I ventured forth into the unknown.