How The West Was Wonderful

Los Angeles Travelogue

By Michael J. Legeros

          "Got my guitar painted and some California sun,
           red Cadillac, having too much fun."
                                     - Hank Williams, Jr.

Monday morning.  My talking-parrot alarm clock croaks at 5:30 and
I'm on the road within an hour, still a deuce away from flight
time, but with room to spare for a casual stop at the bagel shop, a
little exploratory driving around Raleigh-Durham International, and
one pass past the airport CFR (crash-fire-rescue) station.  Inside
the terminal, I wait in a long line for my tickets, only to be told
"you should already have them."  And I do.  (In my bag, right next
to my traveler's checks.)  The flight to O'Hare is short and sweet.
I'm on the aisle, which is no fun, until the plane banks over the
Windy City and I spy the spot that a Chevy was dropped from, in THE
BLUES BROTHERS.  We land late, by ten minutes, and I jog down the
concourse to make my connecting flight (and nab the new "Entertain-
ment Weekly" with the sneak-peek pictures from BATMAN AND ROBIN.)
The second stretch is more exciting.  Better scenery.  Food.  And
the curious sight of a young woman with back problems, stretched
out on the cabin floor.  (She whimpers periodically.  Sometimes
sleeping.  Sometimes crying.)

We arrive at LAX ahead of schedule, around 12:30.  The air is dry,
the temperature is warm, and surprise, there are mountains in the
distance!  I'm shuttled to the rental car agency, where a kind
clerk gives me directions downtown.  At the hotel, the Omni, I'm
confronted (and confounded) by this thing called Valet Parking.  I
want to park my car *myself*.  I don't want to tip some guy.  And
I certainly don't want to *pay* to park.  The room is nice, but
compact.  There's a fridge, with prices that range from $2.75 for
"Calpico Water" to $4.00 for "Cloud Nine Milk Chocolate."  (Need-
less to say, said fridge stays closed.)  After a quick change to
Summer Mode, I'm back in the Buick and headed north to West Holly-
wood.  I intend to find lunch, get lost, er, misdirected, and have
to settle (settle?) for an ice-cream cone before embarking on the
3:00 V.I.P. tour at Warner Brothers.  (Eleven of us are shown the
studio.  We see some Bat stuff, watch a taping of "The Drew Carrey
Show," visit a "Lois and Clark" soundstage, and goof off on a cou-
ple back lots.)

Night has fallen by the time I've located Hollywood Boulevard.  I
admire the exterior of Mann's Chinese Theater, stick my head inside
some souvenir shops, and begin my ten-block stroll to Vine Street.
(Museums, movie memorabilia, tattoo parlors, sex shops, clothing,
cameras, pizza by the slice, and, last but not least, the Church of
Scientology.)  Not as many hookers as I expected.  (I fondle with
the idea of having my picture taken next to a trio of questionably
clad young ladies, but decline.)  The famous intersection, itself,
is a bust.  Quite uninteresting, save for a place that sells choco-
late-covered potato-chip bark.  (Ummmmm.  Potato-chip bark.)  Back
to the car and the hotel.  Though I'm tired, I try to combat the
time change by staying up as late as possible.  (It doesn't work,
of course, but I have a fine time in the gym, walking downtown, and
chatting with a trio of pharmacology students, three of at least a
hundred that have infested the lobby that night.)

Tuesday is an early-riser, with a 6:30 walk around the corner for
hot chocolate and a bagel, and a 7:30 stroll through the downtown
area.  My first destination is the Biltmore, to pre-register and
see how far I'll have to walk when the workshops start at 10:00.
Next up is City Hall, which my tour book shows as merely a mile
away.  The walk isn't always pleasant, though, with more than one
alley reeking of urine.  Upon reaching the famous white building, I
pop in, next door, to the City's Fire Department offices.  (For a
visitor's guide, which they have.  Not a pretty one, mind you, but
functional.)  I circle City Hall and snap a picture, while standing
on a loading dock that a security guard wishes me to vacate.  My
last stop of the early morning is the Bonaventure.  I take an ass-
puckering ride to the 35th floor, in the same glass elevators that
Arnold Schwarzenegger (and a horse) rode in TRUE LIES.

After the pre-conference workshops are concluded-- one on Cascading
Style Sheets, the other a superb demo and discussion of "Advanced
HTML"-- I return to the hotel with a new friend in tow:  Angela, a
Web Programmer from Cleveland.  Grabbing my map, camera, and travel
guides, we depart for points north and west.  Our first stop is the
Hollywood Bowl, where I ascend an empty stage and perform a medley
of showtunes.  (Why I sing about Oklahoma in California is a mys-
tery to me.)  After taking my bows, we tool on up to Mulholland, to
an almost-closed-for-nightfall observation deck.  Oh, what a sigh.
The City of Angels as the City of Lights.  Breathtaking, but with a
reality check:  returning to our car, we catch a security guard
about to lock the gate.  Yikes.  Back into town, we head west, to
Sunset Boulevard for eats (Thunder Roadhouse, a biker-decor bar
that lists Kick Ass Chili on the menu), shops (Tower Records, Book
Soup), and live music (House of Blues, at a private party that we
later learned was private).

The first full day of the Spring Internet World is exhausting.
Tens of thousands crowd three wings and one outbuilding of the Los
Angeles Convention Center.  All ages, all types, all manner of
casual dress.  "Cool" is the universal expression of appreciation,
while acronyms are the conversational confetti of choice.  API,
ARP, UDP, WWW, NCSA, NT, PC, ATM, NC, IE, SQL, and CFML, quoth the
raven.  (Some stuff sounds suspiciously like a Dilbert strip.  Go
ahead and try to say "disintermediation" with a straight face.)
Lunch is off-site, to somewhere of better quality and lower prices.
(Frankly speaking, a $3.00 hot dog bites.)  A bus ride is required,
though, as our train is involved in a vehicular accident, mere min-
utes before we're scheduled to board.  (We get to see some emergen-
cy vehicles at the station stop, but Angela declines an invitation
to go look at any bodies.)

Wednesday night is Driving Adventure.  My first freeway traffic
jam.  A ride down Rodeo.  Another cruise along the Sunset Strip.
We even get to a follow a fire truck for a few blocks.  (We're
passing the station and I look inside the apparatus bay and I see
flashing lights, so I hit the brakes and pull over to the curb and,
seconds later, Engine 48 comes roaring out of its quarters.)  Din-
ner is at a quaint Cajun place on Sunset.  Afterward, we start
searching for a bookstore and, instead, drive right into a police
operation.  First we see the spotlight from the helicopter.  Then
the squad cars, silently approaching from every direction.  And a
waiting fire truck.  And police officers peeking from behind build-
ings, with their guns drawn.  I pull to the next block and Angela,
who would like to wear something other than a body bag in the morn-
ing, requests that we leave immediately.  I abide.

The highlight of Conference Day Two is an hour with the "Kantor
Group," a panel of five including and moderated by "Internet World"
Senior Editor Andrew Kantor.  They offer insight (and great humor)
into the topics of flat-rate pricing, push technologies, America
Online, the Communications Decency Act, and the evil that men do,
that people think the Internet responsible for.  (Mouse Eaten By
Cat Met Over E-Mail.)  The afternoon keynote, by IBM's John R.
Patrick, is also very interesting.  And, like too many of the
conference sessions, it eventually devolves into a product plug.
Ugh.  So much marketing, so little time.  Thursday evening is a
study in rest and relaxation.  The gym.  The television.  And din-
ner at Engine Company No. 28, a restaurant across the street that
occupies a former fire station.  (My dinner companion is a fellow
hotel guest-- a Webmaster from Silicone Valley and, to our surprise
and delight, an aspiring film critic.  Welcome to Hell, Cynthia.)

Friday is a hodgepodge of activities.  The last keynote.  The final
conference sessions.  A downtown walk.  A firehouse chat.  RETURN
OF THE JEDI at Mann's Chinese Theater.  Store hopping after dark in
Studio City.  Snapping pictures of a fatal car wreck on the Harbor
Freeway.  Saturday, my last day in L.A., is spent with a dear
friend from high school.  Marianne arrives at 9:00 and we head for
the coast, by way of Fire Station #56 (for a friendly tour of the
City's gigantic heavy-rescue rig) and a vertiginous mountain drive
on Mulholland.  We reach the Pacific Coast Highway around noon and
begin working our way back toward Malibu and the rest of the City.
Venice is the expected treat, though it takes a good twenty minutes
to find a parking place.  Dinner on the Redondo Beach Pier is also
engaging, though, by then, the day has cooled considerably.  I don
a Raleigh Fire Department sweatshirt and we're asked, at the hotel,
if we're from North Carolina.  (A couple from Sanford, an hour from
here, interrupts our long goodbye.  Sigh.  Such a small world that
separates great friends by great distances.)

Sunday is the return home and, save for some sinus trouble on the
plane, it's largely uneventful.  (I won't recount *those* details,
thankyouverymuch.)  My first visit to the West Coast concludes with
contemplation.  Reviewing the conference.  Reviewing the City.  Re-
viewing the people-- those wonderful Web-heads, firefighters, and
old friends that I met and talked to and spent time with.  Southern
California, I decide, is the Land of More.  More cars.  More roads.
More energy.  More expensive.  More sunshine.  More smoke-free.
And, of course, more movies.  Always more movies.  (Film crews on
every corner, though the only stars *I* spotted were on the Holly-
wood Walk of Fame.)  Maybe it's time to rethink the how's and why's
of where I live.  The small-town big cities of North Carolina are
as near and dear to my heart as Minneapolis is, but, oh, what our
metropolises are missing.  With exceptions for smog, earthquakes,
and O.J.-- none of which I experienced-- my early opinion of L.A.
is this:  I can't wait to go back.

Copyright 1997 by Michael J. Legeros


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