(Written in the terminal, waiting for the plane.)

Los Angeles. Add that to this year’s list of places. I’ve been more places this year than I’ve been my whole life, I think. I love to travel. I hate to travel. I love airports. I hate airports. I love being early for planes so I don’t have to rush and panic. I hate being early at airports . . . by myself.

If the family was along it would be peachy, but we wouldn’t be here. No, we’d be back at the house, still getting the last 29,493 items into the suitcase while I paced a groove in the floor, convinced we’d hit A) traffic en route, B) a long line checking the luggage, C) a long line through security, and then we’d miss our flight. Which has never happened. So now I’m as early as I like and bored stiff. I have a column to file, but don’t feel like looking at it.


So I bought a sandwich for seven dollars - that’s the part about airports I really hate, the feeling that you are bleeding money out of newly-opened apertures - and read the paper. Played pinball. Wandered here to the gate, found an outlet, parked myself on the floor and settled into the placid patient state I never have when traveling with the family.
Years ago when I was getting over my fear of flying by not getting over my fear of flying at all, I would have been a guilty sop over at the bar, trying to smother the screaming harpies with a beer and a shot. No more. The first time I took a flight after ten years of trains I had a small minor anxiety-reducing pill, which made me speak like Frankenstein’s monster, and made the flight last about nineteen hours. No more. I’m used to it. I like it.

Okay! here we go.

Okay, here I am.

It’s the Biltmore. I have no idea what time it is. According to my room clock it’s 7:19. According to my computer it’s 10:39. According to the clock on the wall it’s 8 something. I’ve had nothing to eat but peanuts, since meal options on airplanes are ancient history.

Sitting at the bar of the Biltmore waiting for a hamburger. I’m here for Blogworld - more about that later - and I can tell who’s hear for that, and who’s here for the architect’s convention. (Subject: building jails for juveniles. Really.) The nerd quotient is high, but it’s a different stripe of nerd; it’s the brand that has a job in social media. There’s a certain swagger. That’s right. We’re leveraging Twitter. Okay.

Easy flight; I love Southwest. Took the SuperShuttle into town through horrific traffic. Talked to a big guy who’s starting up a travel business getting people to a town in Spain where they can throw tomatoes at each other. Business is good. The economy of the world may be fragile as a stale pie crust, but people are still spending thousands of dollars to hurl tomatoes at each other for a lark, so there’s that. The drive in took a while, due to the presence of other humans in cars, of which there were millions. One long thick snake of plastic and metal, red lights unto the ends of the earth. Got a tour of downtown LA as the driver dropped off other passengers. It seemed unoccupied and banal. Didn’t even get to pull up at the hotel’s grand entrance; we shuffled through the back. But once inside: Oh, my.



The hotel is a classic twenties pile, ornate, gilded, exquisitely maintained, with tiny rooms dominated by an immense bed and a huge TV armoire. Can’t even get a good picture because you can’t get back far enough to take it all in.


It’s been in all the movies. The lore says the Presidential Suite had a secret panel during Prohibition - press it, a wall slides up, and it’s BOOZE FOR THE OVERCLASS! Favorite part of the lore: Elizabeth Short’s last known whereabouts was downstairs in the lobby on January 9th 1947, where she spent some time making phone calls. The next time anyone saw her she was dead in a field, and we know her as the Black Dahlia. Says something about LA: that’s touted as a selling point.

It’s one of those hotels where the weight of history is like a black hole in the lobby, sucking all the life from the upper floors. The public areas are impressive, but oddly lifeless, like a foyer for a museum that doesn’t exist. The elevators thump and bump when they stop. The furniture in the room, with its dainty, fussy, French-style gilded accents speaks to some old outmoded idea of “class” and “breeding” that’s lost its purchase on the modern mind. It’s a fascinating place, but it all seems immensely tired. There’s a picture on the wall of Walt Disney giving an award to Shirley Temple, presumably here, a million years ago. A big picture of some gala event with people in evening finery; you always expect to see Jack Nicholson in the foreground, arms spread wide in welcome. It’s possible that no building can contain so many transient souls for so many years without becoming disoriented and confused, and the only way for it to keep sane is to feign deafness.

That’s what this place is. It’s deaf. It’s heard it all. There are no surprises left.

For it, anyway. For us, the shadows that flow through the halls, there's lots to learn. I took the stairs down to the lobby; it’s only ten floors. When you get to the second floor there seems to be an assumption that no one’s taking the stairs, so there’s no reason to paint or fix or tidy up. It feels like you walked into the wrong part of town, all of a sudden - and then you see that the banisters haven’t been painted. They’re the original color from 1923. The stairway narrows, goes down to a door, you exit - ah hah, the lobby. When you turn around you see that the door has vanished behind you. It’s set into the wall, it has no handle, no visible hinges. You feel as through you just emerged from a secret passage. You know what? You did.

Here's a little thing.



Oh: one more detail. You may have seen this movie:



It's the side of the hotel, an alleyway. Hallowed ground! And it's now the place where everyone goes for a smoke, not knowing where they tread.



See that white building in the middle?



It's this.



But you'd never ever know it from the movie. They're good at that.

TOMORROW: The big tour of zombietown.




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