spent all of Christmas Eve and Christmas Day alone in bed with a nasty cold, and when I recovered I rented a car and took off for Los Angeles. I reserved an intermediate size vehicle at Enterprise and when I arrived was given a previously much-driven economy car, but as I was pulling out of the garage the rental agent ran out and said their maintenance guy just called and said the car had brake problems. As he was calling other rental locations in the city looking for a replacement, two girls returned a brand new Chrysler Sebring convertible and he asked me if I wanted that instead. Although the forecast called for rain the rest of the week, I said sure. When I lived in Southern California years ago I owned an old three-speed Toyota Corolla that would barely go seventy miles per hour, and driving around LA was a drag because people were always on my ass, honking at me to get out of the way. By comparison the Sebring was much fun to drive, after I got used to using the side mirrors to compensate for the lack of visibility out of the small rear window in the convertible top, and the fact that the interior lights built into the rear view mirror were broken and at night I couldn't see a thing inside the car without a flashlight.
called CalTrans before I left to check on closures along highway 1, but the info line reported no problems so Tuesday morning I took off down 101, cut over to Monterey and down the coast toward Hearst Castle. I stopped for breakfast in Big Sur, and when I got about forty miles away from San Simeon I ran into a landslide that had closed the road a couple of hours earlier, so I turned around, drove all the way back up to Monterey, back over to 101, down to Paso Robles and then over to the coast and up to Hearst Castle, which added four hours to the trip.
illiam Randolph Hearst has long fascinated me and I always wanted to visit Hearst Castle, so I stayed overnight in San Simeon and took three tours of the place over two days. Hearst's idea was to build a palace of art that he planned to donate to UC Berkeley after he died, but UC turned it down and the state of California acquired the castle and turned it into a state park in the late 50s. About twenty percent of the art and antiques that Hearst collected in Europe during his lifetime are still there, and it's a wild mishmash of stuff from various centuries and continents. The current worth of the entire collection is unknown, because the state doesn't need the additional expense of appraising a bunch of assets that it's not planning to sell. In Hearst's private bedroom, the tour guide pointed to a small several hundred year old Italian painting next to the bed and said that it was the oldest painting in the castle, and that a very similar piece just sold at auction recently in New York for forty seven million dollars.
went on two daytime tours, one which covered the bottom floor of the main house, and another covering the upper floors including the library, bedrooms, and study. I also took a tour at night that revisited many of the same rooms, but in more detail and with a smaller tour group. The castle feels more intimate at night, especially with rain and wind howling through the dark hills outside, and park employees scattered about impersonating celebrity guests dressed in vintage 20s formal wear added a nice touch. The exhibits and movie about Hearst at the visitor's center down the hill from the castle portray a decidedly circumspect portrait of his accomplishmentsthe phrase yellow journalism is nowhere in evidence, and the nearest reference to Orson Welles to be found was the title of the biography Citizen Hearst, on sale on the bookstore along with Marion Davies' delightfully ditzy memoir, in which she reminisces about all the famous visitors and lavish costume parties at the castle, along with clueless asides like her puzzlement at why the prisoners at a WWII Japanese internment camp near one of Hearst's estates would want to attempt to escape when they were being treated and fed so well. The particular aspects of Hearst's life discussed from tour to tour served as sort of a Rorschach test for each guidesome favored a more family-friendly approach to Hearst, emphasizing his support early on during his political career for universal sufferage and the forty hour work week, while others noted his later obssession with abolishing the income tax and his deep enmity toward Roosevelt. Almost all of the guides, however, mentioned that while the state can't afford to heat the two opulent swimming pools to eighty degrees as they were in Hearst's time, once each summer when the sun warms up the outdoor pool, the park employees are allowed to swim in it for two hours.
ednesday afternoon I left San Simeon and drove to Hollywood and checked into a Motel 6 a half block from Hollywood Boulevard a few blocks west of Vine. The last time I hung out in Hollywood was over ten years ago, when my girlfriend Josie and I separated and we drove all of her stuff from San Francisco to West Hollywood where her sister lived. Later she moved to San Diego and became a well-known rockabilly singer. At that time the neighborhood around Hollywood and Vine was still pretty sketchy, lots of junkies and hustlers and hookers and street people, but I was pleasantly surprised to find it nothing like that now. The Motel 6 was pretty run downI heard local cult figure Johnny Legend lives therebut the room was decent, on the fourth floor facing south with a view of the pink neon Frederick's Of Hollywood sign and the back of the King King club. The bathroom had been recently remodeled and the tub was cleaner than the one in my apartment, so I drove to a hardware store and bought a tub stopper so I could soak in the bath. I also found Whole Foods on Santa Monica Boulevard and stocked up on dry goods, since the room didn't have a refrigerator.
ednesday night I cruised around Hollywood and visited Amoeba Records on Sunset Boulevard looking for an old Landmark Theaters cohort of mine that I'd heard worked there now. He wasn't in, but I discovered that Kim from the defunct SF band Stone Fox works at the Hollywood Amoeba, which was funny because I'd just emailed her ex-bandmate Janis who said she was going to be out of town while I visited. A block west of the record store I discovered my name painted on the sidewalk at the corner of Sunset and Wilcox.
walked over to Grauman's Chinese Theater, and though I had seen the celebrity hand and footprints out front before, I'd never been inside the theater so I bought a ticket and watched Lemony Snicket, of which Meryl Streep was the best part. Afterward I walked back to the hotel and along the way ducked into the King King club and checked out a couple of droning, keyboard-heavy underground bands.
hursday afternoon I went to the Getty Museum, which is free and such an impressive facility that you wish it had a better art collection. The featured exhibit was a small group of Cezanne watercolors, but my favorite display was a show of American family photographs, including a group of black and white snapshots taken between the 1930s and 1960s, and a section of large color prints made from Kodachrome slides
taken between the 1940s and 1960s. This found Americana slide thing seems to be part of the zeitgeist right now. In San Francisco there's Andrew's Adult Slide Show, which is done by a guy who visits estate sales and thrift stores and purchases the unwanted slide collections of total strangers, then sorts through them to find the most bizarre and humorous imageslots of odd travel shots and drunken holiday partiesand assembles them into a hilarious slide show that he narrates with entertainingly snide asides. And while I was in LA a guy was doing a similar slide show titled God Bless Americana at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood.
hursday night I tried to see the 5,6,7,8's at the Key Club on Sunset but the show was sold out, so I went to the House Of Blues instead and saw Reverend Horton Heat, who's not as big on my list of rockabilly guitarists as Dave Gonzalez of the Paladins, but it was fun checking out the SoCal rockabilly scene, which seems bigger and more fashionable than its NoCal counterpart. I always enjoy perusing an assemblage of well coiffed rockabilly gals, as if admiring flowers in someone else's garden. After the House of Blues I went by the Beauty Bar, where I was stopped at the door by a thick-necked security dude who told me the bar was full and I needed to be on the guest list, which I knew wasn't true, for some reason he didn't like my looks and didn't want to let me in. One of the problems with LA is that crowds of cheesy people clog up the trendy clubs, so you run into morons like this door guy in the position of deciding who's cool and who's not. Four girls walked up behind me and he checked their IDs and ushered them in without mentioning a guest list, so I asked him if he was letting people in now, and he hesitated for a moment, then me go inside. Asshole. There used to be a club at the Covered Wagon called Bordello that did the same crap, if I showed up by myself I was told it was a private party, if I showed up with my girlfriend we went right in. I hate that shit.
nside I discovered that most guys in LA can't danceprobably due to a lower per capita ratio of gay guys in the crowdand that girls in LA are much friendlier than girls in San Francisco. Even though I had to cool it because of my knees, I was still the only guy in the bar really shaking his groove thang, and one woman started spanking my ass every time I swung my hips in her direction, and another girl pressed the length of her body against mine and stayed put while I undulated her with every dance move I could think of. After the song we hugged and she said Good times. If anything like that ever happened at the Beauty Bar in San Francisco I'd fall over dead of a heart attack.
riday afternoon I cruised Melrose and reflected on the difference between the sleazy/wannabe biker/metal/porn LA fashion sensibility versus the more punk/freaky/gay/glam Haight Street vibe. I swung by Amoeba again and finally hooked up with my friend Bill, who invited me to a New Year's Eve party at a coworker's house later that night. Back at the hotel I decked myself out in my finest black leather cowboy bluesman regalia
and then hit the Knitting Factory on Hollywood Boulevard for a New Year's Eve show put together by a punk rock pin-up girl zine called Varla Magazine. The Adicts headlined along with Throw Rag and some other punk and garage bands, some of the Varla models did burlesque acts, and the place was full of decked out, tattooed punk girls and rockabilly chicks, many of whom I recognized from the Reverend Horton Heat gig the night before. At midnight I was standing around by myself, and as the crowd screamed Happy New Year! and couples began making out all around me, a short Latina girl with a stud through her lower lip pushed her way through the crowd and stopped in front of me, turned her face up toward mine and closed her eyes and puckered her lips. I leaned over and kissed her and told her Happy New Year, and she stuck her arms up in the air and yelled Woo-Hoo! and then disappeared into the crowd and I never saw her again.
ater that night I arrived at the party at Bill's coworker's place on Sunset, populated by many Amoeba employees. I already knew that someone working at Amoeba in Hollywood was named James Brown, and at one point Bill introduced me to another white guy and said James Brownmeet James Brown. We laughed, and Bill said I've been waiting years for that. We took out our IDs and compared middle namesmine is Edward, and his is Leroy, which is way cooler. I asked him if he'd painted our name on the sidewalk at Sunset and Wilcox, but he hadn't. The people at the party were very friendly, and there was a recording studio in one part of the house designed and sound-proofed by a band that had lived there previously. A trio of guys had a drum circle going with hand drums and I pulled out a harmonica and jammed along for about ten minutes and got an offer to be in a band. I was there until after three in the morning until Bill dropped me off at my hotel and I passed out.
aturday afternoon while driving around looking for an IHOP I passed a place on Santa Monica Boulevard called the French Quarter Restaurant so of course I stopped there to eat, then cruised around Silverlake and Los Feliz a little to see what those neighborhoods looked like. Later that night I hit the Ruby Club on Hollywood Boulevard for Bang! which is an 18+ indie dance club similar to popscene except with about five times as many kids and two extra dance floors, one that played hip hop and another one similar to Diabolik that played 60s retro and soul, which was where I wound up dancing most of the night.
cut out about one in the morning and walked a few blocks over to Boardner's for a goth club called Bar Sinister, which was packed, maybe because Dungeon, the other big goth club on Saturday nights, switched to Fridays starting that week. The crowd was fashionably dressed in swanky attire reflecting the vampirish side of the goth/fetish scene more than the industrial/road warrior/burning man edge of much Bay Area gothdom. The place had a courtyard outside where evidently a band had played earlier, and a long bar in the middle of the floor inside that didn't leave much room for dancing, although everyone crammed themselves onto one side and danced anyways. Upstairs was an S&M playspace where club goers exposed much T&A and indulged in more horny make-out scenes than at most SF clubs. The go go girls danced like moonlighting strippers and guys in the crowd tucked dollar bills into their outfits, which I guess is how LA dudes relate to scantily clad chicks. I hopped onto the go go podium after the dancers abandoned it just before the last song of the evening, and later found a pic of myself on the club's website twisting the night away to "Let's Go Crazy" by Prince.
unday I split and drove up interstate 5 back to San Francisco. I thought about hanging out that afternoon and driving back at night, but the weather was bad and I wanted to get home before it got any worse. As it turned out, I'm glad I did, because it was bumper to bumper the whole way, along with heavy rain and a traffic-stopping accident outside of Livermore, and heavy snow closed interstate 5 at the overpass near Grapevine the next day.