Wednesday, May 20, 2015

[LOS ANGELES] Everybody Comes to Hollywood

As Madonna would tell you, everybody comes to Hollywood. They want to make it in the neighborhood. And I’d say why not? The cultural diversity of Southern California makes everyone feel welcome. The weather is ideal: not too cold, not too hot. The many palm trees look you in the eye and say, “Look at us dude, we’re so chill...” with that signature lazy drawl of theirs that trigger memories of beach and suntan lotion. Laidback is an abused term, because it is pretty much an apt description.

The day started relatively early at 2 PM, but I only went out at around 4 PM. That is good, a one hour improvement from yesterday. Take that, jet lag! The friends I was meeting were already starving to death by the time I arrived at The Grove. They had lunch without me, which is not really an issue because food is the least of my priorities when I am traveling. It took me almost an hour from Lafayette. This is, perhaps, the realization of the day. LA seems easily walkable on maps. It isn’t.

But before we delve into that, why not talk about The Grove first? Well, it is a cluster of various shops and entertainment facilities that locals say is hard to miss. True enough, the place is huge and there are many distractions for both tourists and locals. I think my friends ate at Farmer’s Market. We got on the trolley when I arrived. The route was rather short, but the sunshine was very much welcome to counter the cold wind. The upper deck was also a good vantage point for taking photos and videos.

The Grove seems to have everything, from hard candies to luxury brands. I don’t know if this is THE shopping place for Los Angeles, but I’d bet you could spend lots of dough here if you hate money that much. After the mini reunion and some decaffeinated snacks, I decided to take a stroll along Fairfax Avenue. I checked out a map of Hollywood the other night and the layout seemed quite simple. In my head, it would be an easy walk. Well yes of course, it wasn’t. Sometimes, maps can be damn tricky.

But you do not really have to torture yourself. The Metro Orange line can bring you all the way to Hollywood/Vine. In fact, that is what I should've done because I was planning to abuse my 7-day pass, right? But then again, walking has always been my method of getting to know the city. It is through the power of observation that I get to feel the general vibe of a particular neighborhood. How do people behave? How bad is the traffic? Is pollution bad? Will I get mugged at the next block? Shit like that.

It took me half an hour to get to Santa Monica Boulevard. Despite studying the map earlier this week, I totally forgot which is the main street. I knew there was a Hollywood Boulevard. And then there is a Sunset Boulevard, but I associate a play with that name more than anything else. And I think I’ve heard Santa Monica Boulevard in one of Sheryl Crow’s songs. In the end, I just decided to walk farther north to see the hills up-close, but never really reached them as I turned right when I arrived at Sunset.

The hills of Hollywood are alive with the sound of ka-ching! I am not talking about casinos, but rather imagining the content of the thought bubble on the heads of real estate brokers when they sold those fancy accommodations perched along the hills. There must be someone popular living in one of those mansions. You can find out by purchasing a map of stars’ homes somewhere. With California’s strict anti-stalking laws, I wouldn't really suggest knocking from house to house, though.

The hills stalk you from the background as you traverse the length of Sunset Boulevard, where I saw several fast-food chains, nerdist venues, and some stores catering to various musical tastes. I had been walking for yet another 30 minutes when the Roosevelt Hotel finally crossed my line of sight. If you know your Oscars history, then you should be aware that this was the venue of the ceremonies during its earlier years. Eureka! I think I just found Hollywood.

I crossed a few blocks before I finally saw the road sign. No, unfortunately I haven’t seen the other sign yet, the giant one. Let’s save that for another day. Besides, the sun was already down when I saw the first few stars of Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. Coming at night has its advantages, and that includes enjoying all the colorful neon lights and glitter that this famous strip has to offer. If you go when the sun is still up, I don’t think it would be as hypnotic an experience as it is supposed to be.

The walk of fame is a series of sidewalks, with stars lined up bearing the names of relevant Hollywood celebrities who have made a mark in the industry for the last half a century or so. Some of them you wouldn't recognize because they are from way back, or maybe because their line of work is not that familiar to you. The good thing is that each star also displays an appropriate icon, whether the person involved has made a career in film, theater, music, or hosting, among others.

I wanted to take a photo sitting next to Meryl Streep’s star, but then again one of the disadvantages of traveling alone without a selfie stick always ends up hounding me in the end. The lights and sounds of the area eventually drowned my narcissistic desires for a souvenir photo. If it is not the same case for you, then be glad to know that there is no shortage of enterprising individuals or groups willing to assist you for a professional looking souvenir picture.

That particular part of the boulevard is also lined with souvenir shops which sell everything from key chains to chocolate. I also found the Disney Studio Store which shares the same shop with Ghirardelli’s. It was then that I realized how famished I was. I had no time for lunch, and the hour or two of walking was already taking its toll. Luckily, a juicy steak was waiting for me at California Pizza Kitchen, just a stone’s throw away from the Dolby Theater. Oh yes, I attacked that steak con mucho gusto.

If you are looking for popular landmarks, the Roosevelt Hotel is not alone in this regard. The Chinese Grauman Theater is just across the street, and of course, the Dolby Theater is right next to it. Or maybe not, because Hard Rock is right next to it! But whatever, they share the same pavement anyway. El Capitan Theater is Ghirardelli’s neighbor, while Ripley’s Believe it or Not is just right across the street adjacent to that one. Yes, the photo-ops are endless, and this is just Hollywood/Highland.

I believe Hollywood has three stops on the Metro Red line, and I’ve heard that there are also lots to see at Hollywood/Vine. But I was already drained for the day, and the hearty meal that was my dinner was already sending signals to my brain that our day has already ended. Perhaps I would have been able to get more of Hollywood had I arrived earlier or stayed late. But I’m fine. I am already contented with what I saw. If you want to do something legit, I’d say watch a film at Grauman just for the experience.

Iron Man was also there by the way. I mean, someone posing as Iron Man but the costume was really good and looked genuine. I don’t know how those street acts operate but some people taking photos with them would give them tips, while some won’t. Maybe you can just opt to give them a dollar or two. With all the effort they put on what they are doing, I think they deserve it anyway. And so my Hollywood journey ends right there.

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