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February 22, 2007

TT: This isnít the city

Iím sitting in a room on the fourteenth floor of a boutique hotel in Brentwood, looking at a deceptively familiar skyline and seeingÖnothing. Iíve only been in Los Angeles for one day, not nearly long enough to pierce the haze of half a lifetimeís worth of representation. The Long Goodbye, Chinatown, Double Indemnity, Sunset Boulevard, L.A. Confidential, L.A. Story, even Dragnet: all these fictional portayals of the Unreal City stand between me and the thing itself, preventing me from seeing what Iím seeing.

Not that Iíve seen all that much. I arrived at noon yesterday, picked up my rental car, and went straight from LAX to the Hotel Angeleno, a short, anonymously ugly drive. ďDid you know that O.J. in the Bronco exited at Sunset and the 405 and made a left past your hotel?Ē a local friend e-mailed me when I told him where I was staying. ďIt was a Holiday Inn until its recent refurbishment. You can catch a quick glimpse of it in Godfrey Reggio's Koyaanisqatsi.Ē Thatís Hollywood for youóif itís been in a movie, itís real.

Iíd already been struck by how flat and uninviting Los Angeles looks when viewed from the window of an airplane, but Iím hoping that my tour guide will help me see the beauty of this strange place. Stephanie Steward is a California girl who came east to college, took a course in criticism from me, worked as a research assistant on my Louis Armstrong biography, and in due course became a close friend. She loves Los Angeles and wants me to love it, too:

LA is a great town and has a very different beauty than San Fran. When traveling between the two cities I always think back to something I read in an interview with The Doors. I think it was Ray Manzarek talking but I can't remember exactly since I read it so long ago. The point is that he was talking about how the band was lumped in with the whole 1960s psychedelic rock scene and that, while this was probably the best way to categorize their music, they were very different from the flower-power bands from the SF Bay area. The Doors, coming from Venice Beach and Sunset Strip, were darker and grittier than, say, Crosby, Stills, & Nash, Jefferson Airplane, and that "Aquarius" sound. Anyway, I've been mulling over that contrast all day while thinking of you flying in this morningÖ.

Steph and I launched my visit to the City of Angels by dining at the Westwood In-N-Out Burger (mmmm!) and seeing the Geffen Playhouseís revival of Speed-the-Plow, David Mametís ferociously satirical play about the movie business, in which Alicia Silverstone has been cast in the role created on Broadway in 1988 by Madonna. Iíd say that was a real Los Angeles evening, wouldnít you?

Now Iím headed for bed. Iíve been waking up at five-thirty every morning since arriving in San Francisco, not because I want to but because my body still thinks itís eight-thirty. Today I swore off alcohol, which tends to keep me awake, and my eyelids are drooping. Hereís hoping theyíll stay that way for the next eight hours. Iím eager to see more of Los Angeles, but it can wait a little longer.

Posted February 22, 2007 12:00 PM

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