Old Route 66 ends at a pier in Santa Monica. Josh and I walked the pier and the surrounding neighbourhood when we visited L.A. for Spring break. The morning after our surf lesson we cleaned up back at our hotel and then made our way to the Pier where we were told we could catch a tour bus that would take us through Beverly Hills and into Hollywood and back again. If we survived.
We bought our tickets for the tour bus. It was a red, double decker made to look like a bus you might hop on in London. The top was open which was perfect for the sunny day we found ourselves enjoying. At a little shop on the Pier we bought a funnel cake for a nutritional boost after our big surf outing and we carried the messy confection onto the bus and munched while we waited for the rest of the passengers to arrive. After a few more minutes the driver left on schedule but along with three women we were the only passengers. Immediately we were welcomed aboard by a cheery, English voice who launched into an explanation of what we were seeing, block by block, along our route.
The deal was that you could get on or off and back on or off of the bus whenever you liked, wherever you liked and for 24 hours, while the buses were running, you could keep riding. It was really a cheap way to see the city if you had no idea where anything was. We took it all in, pointing things out to each other and keeping our eyes open for celebrities in their natural habitat.
Eventually our route terminated in Beverly Hills and we had to transfer to the Hollywood line. The place we stopped was right by the Beverly Hills city hall. As our disembodied English friend told us as our bus pulled up, it was used for scenes in the Eddie Murphy movie, Beverly Hills Cop. Once we got off the bus I went over to check it out. I looked. And I looked again. And again. It was, well, small. Smaller than what I remembered from the movie. And that started my re-education about Hollywood. Things may appear larger and more important than they actually are.
The street was smaller than I remembered from the movie, the building was nothing like what I would have expected and yet, here it was, reality. Josh was talking to our bus driver who was going on break. “Are you married?” The bus driver asked Josh in a thick, European accent. “No.” Josh said. “Good,” the driver replied, “Women, they are like…” and he makes fangs out of two fingers on his left hand, “Wampires! I’ve been married 35 years…work, work, work, make money, money, money…that’s all she says but I never have any money, she spends all my money, take it from me, never get married.” “Um, well, o.k…” I could tell Josh wanted to laugh but didn’t want to offend. “Where you from?” the driver asked us. “Canada,” I said, “Prince Edward Island.” “Why you don’t sound Canadian?” he challenged me. “I’m not sure what Canadian sounds like but I can promise you that’s where we’re from.”
Soon our bus arrived and we jumped on and headed to Hollywood. The voice was back and he told us all about the magical land we were entering and how it had originally been called, Hollywoodland. The movie studies that had originally settled in Santa Monica had moved further in land to beat the fog that would roll in and ruin shooting. Barns became studios and soon the most disturbed people in North America were all migrating to one, very small geographical area in California. We drove by TV studios, movie studios and cemeteries. It turns out that celebrities still die like the rest of us.
Our bus pulled around a city block where the La Brea tar pits bubble. Again I’m suddenly confronted by reality as I realize a scene from a movie that I distinctly couldn’t have happened the way it did in the scene supposedly set here. I’m getting depressed but Josh, without my 40 years of movie history isn’t really bothered by it all. And then finally, we are there, the strip, the heart of Hollywoodland and it’s time to get serious about taking pictures. The bus makes a scheduled stop and we jump off. We jump off and jump right onto the Walk of Fame. And at first I’m looking at the square where Billy Joel once knelt down and got his picture taken as they added his star to the walk and I’m excited…until I see the guy wrapped in newspaper lying a few feet away. And the gum on Billy’s star. And that everyone is just walking by, over the stars of the famous. There’s no reverence here, no honour, just pavement to walk on, to ignore, to scrape off the crap we’d gotten onto our soles. Only here in Hollywoodland.
…to be continued…