“Smile!” said the woman sitting on the curb in the Occupy LA encampment. She was strumming a guitar. “It makes people wonder what you’re up to!”

Sigh. First of all, it’s a cliche. Second, it’s not your place to suggest facial expressions. But most important, smiling doesn’t mean you’re up to something. I never see a happy person and wonder what private plot they’re enjoying, what secret scheme they’ve hatched. No one wonders what someone is up to when they see someone smiling, but it’s one of those counterculture slogans that was funny for sixteen minutes, so it has to live in fargin’ perpetuity.

The encampment was interesting; lots of very nice tents. Quiet and deserted - it wasn’t yet nine o’clock in the morning. There was a big wooden box in the middle of the plaza, decorated with murals, and I wondered if there was something inside the city was protecting. Indeed: a fountain. (Someone climbed a tree the next day and dumped paint on it.) I usually don’t get out and walk around early in the morning, but I’d thrown off the covers early and decided to explore before I headed over to Blogworld. Breakfast? Sure: I had access to the Club Lounge, where there was a buffet of things that qualified as breakfast, I suppose. A newspaper and a great cup of coffee. I was ready. LA: astonish me!


It was the most depressing thing I’d seen in years. Maybe ever. You can’t judge LA by downtown - the citizens seem to hold it in contempt, or regard it as irrelevant - the real LA is out there. The new downtown is ordinary, for the most part, with occasional structures that cause you to pause and oooh. But the old downtown was fascinating: too big to tear down. Too old to reuse, at least for decades. Zombietown. Huge empty buildings. Shuttered stores. Once-grand theaters hollowed out and used for flea markets; commercial blocks that served the middle class given over entirely to dollar stores. It was as if the civilization that build these structures simply disappeared, and another nomadic people whose culture had no connection to the buildings’ creators moved in and adapted them for their own purpose. You could make the case: that’s exactly what happened.


This wikipedia entry on the area helped flesh it all out a bit. This was the Wall Street of the West, the place with the grand hotels and magnificent theaters and august office blocks. Many buildings are being rehabbed for lofts, with the usual friction between the newcomers and the old bohos, but it doesn’t feel anything less than gritty and seedy right now. Give it ten years, it could be a fascinating place - but you’d have to drive out the people who’ve reclaimed it, send them elsewhere. I suspect this is the plan - as long as a few colorful, romantically-multicultural remnants are preserved, like the food market. But what do you do with the theaters? So many. The Roxie:


The Rialto:



The Tower! Good Lord:



The first theater in LA built for sound. For a while in the fifties its name was changed, and it showed only newsreels:



The Million-Dollar Theater, across from the Bradbury: both figure in “Blade Runner.”



I noticed something later when comparing the shots. Elsewhere I’d seen a maiden standing atop of string course with a bison below her. Then I noticed a bison up in the corner of the photo of the Million Dollar. Huh:



Signage? Some. Hanging off the side of he Rosslyn, the Million-Dollar Hotel:



The abandoned ground floor of the Commercial Exchange Building:





I ask you: is this what you imagine when you think Los Angeles?



. I made my way back to the new part of town to find a Radio Shack - it was in the basement of an ill-conceived 70s-style downtown mall. Needed a USB reader, since I’d forgotten my bag of chargers and plugs. (Thought they’d been lifted from the suitcase, actually.) The clerk wanted to know if I would be interested in a two-year extended warranty. I was not. This was okay with him. He didn’t care. His life consisted of selling cellphones to people who went to Radio Shack for a cellphone. Stopped off at the library: magnificent.



The best of the old and new, right there.



Got something to eat in the Grand Street Market, then back to the hotel; always feels a bit odd, and wrong, to be in your room in the late afternoon. Fortified, I headed to New Downtown, to the edge, to the convention center. En route I stopped at Starbucks for an Americano, and as I sat in a comfy chair reading my iPad, a young woman plopped down in the chair on the other side of the table, whipped out a cellphone, and engaged in the most concentrated oration of misery I’ve heard in decades. O to be 22! No. No thank you. EVERYTHING WAS WRONG with her life. EVERYTHING and it was getting WORSE. She had GUM DISEASE. She needed GLASSES. She had no SOCIAL LIFE and she could NOT be expected to study 24/7 and she was living downtown and she HATED IT because it was FILTHY and her roommates were JUST BITCHES and she had to be nice to Jesse even though she STOLE THE INTERNSHIP from her and so on and so on without cease. I snuck a look: she was probably wearing half a grand of designer duds with another half a grand of accessories. She looked healthy and attractive, except for the fact that her face was screwed up in a put-upon pout of furious self-pity.

Compare her with my driver on Friday night. (Because I have an unreal life borne along on a scented breeze of reputation and slight accomplishment, I find myself in situations where I am in Los Angeles being limo’d to Venice to attend a party where I go outside to check my texts, because my daughter has been texting me all night, and I answer her back, check Twitter while I finish my cigar, note with amusement a tweet from Mickey Kaus, then go inside the house, rejoin the party, find Mickey, show him the tweet, and say “damn good point.” But that’s tomorrow’s Bleat.) The driver was a happy man. He came here from New Jersey. Why? To act. That’s right: I had a driver who wasn’t really a driver, but wanted to be an actor. He was doing some theater, it was a dinner theater, one of those murder-mystery thing where the audience gets involved. We talked the entire 45 minutes of the ride. He was a happy man. Hey, the driving, it’s okay. Doesn’t bother him. Gets to see the world. The acting, it’ll come. He’s young. More to the point: he liked who he was, which makes it easier to be the thing you want to be next. The young woman didn’t like who she was, and it was everyone else’s fault. Guess who seemed to exude the most money and social privilege.

Anyway. I kept walking, got to the convention center. Compare the pictures above of old LA to New LA:



Something of a difference, I'd say.

I hooked up with Hugh and his invaluable long-suffering producer Duane, tipped my hat to Anthony, the technical producer, then met Larry O’Conner, who was going to sit in for three hours of the show as well. We got coffee and put on the cans and did three full bounteous hours of radio. What really cinched the date was the appearance of some bloggers and Twitter pros who’ve found their way into my feed, and were now MANIFESTED IN THE FLESH! How can this not be utterly delightful? When the show was over I got a ride back to the hotel from someone I knew as Mr. Fastbucks. Why, of course I’ll get in your car. We’ve had clever exchanges on a social media platform!

Had dinner - and this sounds pathetic - up in the Club Lounge, the same place I had breakfast. I am cheap, I guess. You can really make a meal out of cold cuts if you work at it. Back up to the room; did an interview on Larry’s internet show, then had that moment that seals the day: after all the things I’d seen, the blocks I’d walked, the visual bonanza of a new city, the three hours of radio, the meet ‘n’ greet, I got out the ironing board and did my shirts for the next day.

Because I was going to Beverly Hills.

Swimmin’ pools.

Movie stars.

See you tomorrow!




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