Where We Went This Year! (22,000 miles of driving!)

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Los Angeles (the first 3 weeks)

One would assume, what with the lack of entries for the last three weeks, that we had been busily gadding about the City of Angels, taking meetings with agents, reading for casting directors, discussing upcoming film projects and pilot episodes with hot new directors whose cutting edge vision is about to burst open the format of television as we know it. Understandable - wildly talented as we both are, it would make perfect sense that such endeavors might be draining all our time.

Or we might be spending day after day sunning ourselves on the beaches of Santa Monica and Venice, bronzing ourselves for the long winter months ahead, flagrantly flaunting our director's direct mandate to stay out of the sun, as we're playing (or standing by to play) Germans in the winter of 1891.

Or we might be taking the opportunity to elevate our cultural standards with daily trips to the many museums, galleries, and art schools which populate this New York of the West, this San Francisco of the South, this Mexico City of the North, this American Shanghai.

Or we might be exploring hitherto undiscovered parts of the many surrounding State and National Parks in the area, camping like a couple from the cover of the Orvis catalog, backpacked dog in tow, bicycles on the back of our very, very Vermonter Subaru Forester, and whose only major decisions consist of whether to scale one more peak before turning around and heading back to the city in time for the show.

You might think all of these things.

And as I sit here on our sofa, finishing a beer and looking over at my wife who sits, in much the same position as do I, laptop astride her lap, Heinecken Light to the right, kitchen clocking ticking softly in the background, and looking next at our dog who is demonstrating his newly adopted pastime of staring at himself in the mirror, a habit which causes this humble, superstitious journalist to assume with much certainty that there are, indeed, ghosts right here in the material world, I can safely and without doubt, assure you of the following:

All of those assumptions would be deeply, mightily, charmingly, but woefully, wrong.

You see, my wife and I, having been married for just shy of four and a half years (check the mirror for a few more grey hairs, all our wedding attendees), and having spent nigh on two of those years apart, either with me being on my previous tour, or either one of us being out of town at any one of the finer, lesser-known regional theatres of this great nation [ed. note: one might, at this juncture, justifiably question my use of the term 'out of town', when said idiom suggests a certain geographic regularity to which I can only sheepishly lay claim], and being blessed in our current housing arrangement with one flat screen television, one leather couch, one satellite dish hookup, and one foot-warming dog, have stumbled upon, re-discovered, and are now making thorough re-evaluation of that most American, most Western, most married of nightly endeavors, that which involves three basic choices- HBO, Cinemax, or Showtime - and three basic beverages - soda, wine, or beer. It is in the exploitation of these six options, and the many permutations which might result, that we have, in this pinnacle of Southern California culture, this Cannes of the Southwest, reinvigorated our sagging commitment to the apathy of the urban inhabitant.

We watch tv and we can admit it.

OK - sure, we've visited my Uncle Donny and my Aunt Paulette a couple times, we've spent the day in Venice walking along the beach and dining at a refined, organic restaurant, we've had snap peas and goulash at a vegan restaurant on Sunset, we've attended a basketball game, gone for bike rides in the neighborhood (well one, anyway), taken the dog for hour-plus walks in Elysian Park every morning, attended a Halloween costume party and met a couple friends from college (while making, canceling, and rescheduling appointments with three times as many others), gone shooting at an LA pistol range(!), and even attended a taping of "The Price Is Right," but all of that seems so faint in my memory of the last three weeks compared to the nightly ritual in which we've gleefully engaged, one for which I felt guilty until my wise wife reminded me that this was exactly what we had been missing for so long - sitting down, catching a movie fifteen minutes in, having a drink or two, and soaking in the thrilling monotony of geographic irrelevance. We could be (and will be, soon enough) in Boston, Chicago, or East Lansing, and there would be nothing in this singular experience which would be significantly any different, no mater where we were. And we sit, talking through the movie, or reading about the actors', the director's, the writer's credits on IMDB, or giving Butley's apparent thoughts voice (apparently, he sounds like an over-educated Lenny from "Of Mice and Men"), or surfing the internet for ... well, I'm not even sure what, at this point, nor were we, after ten or twelve trackpad clicks away from the original goal...

And yet - here we are, in Los Angeles. And here you are, faithful gentle reader, paying heed to our misadventures with what I now know to be something between boredom and true anticipation, and I feel it my duty, my solemn trust, to maintain a thorough account of our time here spent in the wilds of America, even if it be wildly domestic, and so I begin...


So the drive down from Portland to LA was pleasantly uneventful. We took our time, and as the sun set and we meandered ever southward, we began to consult the GPS, the AAA book, the Motel 6 guide, all in hopes of finding a good waypoint at which to rest our weary travelers' bones until resuming the drive the following day. It was around this time that my cousin Lisa just happened to have sent an e-mail about our blog, and the thought dawned on us that we could possibly visit her and her lovely family and stay overnight there, renewing both vigor and family connections in one evening. Thanks to her and Leonard's generosity, we did just that, with Lisa even being so kind as to fire up the steam room for us on our arrival, and as we settled in for the most refreshing steambath after a day of driving I've ever had, I had a newfound appreciation for the hospitality code of the great American West. It couldn't have been a lovelier place to stop. That morning Lisa cooked a king's breakfast for us and, rested & fed, we returned to the drive. Even Butley seemed better for the morning's walk on the trails outside Lisa's house.


We got to Los Angeles with no problems, around 5:30 that evening and found our corporate rental, at the Baxter 5 Apartments in Echo Park, and Michelle, the owner/manager let us in. It's a great place to stay and we can recommend them highly to anyone coming to LA, and especially anyone working at the LA Music Center (the Taper, the Ahmanson, Dorothy Chandler, the Disney Music Hall), as it's literally 10 minutes away, all surface streets, and all very manageable. The apartment complex itself is nestled in a section of LA that was known a few years ago as having gone through an amazing transformation, and although now its change may be old news, we are its newest beneficiaries. Funky coffee shops, like Chango, Fix, or Delilah's dot the stretch of Echo Park Avenue that runs North from Sunset to our little place, there are community services like the fabled "Magic Gas" station, the Echo Park Cyclery, run by downtown bike messengers (hence its evening- & weekend-only hours, perhaps), and funkified little clothing shops that seem the respite of keepers whose style grows organically from the environment, rather than invading and supplanting it with their own preconceptions. And so, you have cool clothing stores with the same ragged exterior metal gate across the front door, coffee shops with the same cracked concrete out front and shiny new espresso machines inside, and fresh paint on preserved facades. The ethos seems to be "restore" not "rebuild" and it feels all the less intrusive a gentrification, because of it.

The Baxter 5 is directly across from the Elysian Heights Elementary School, a public school which, apparently, gets pretty good marks from our friends who've got kids of that age and have, of course, been plugged into the grapevine. Angie and I just assumed it was only fitting, as - for one reason or another - we always seem to be staying directly across from a school, no matter where we are, be it 78th Street, Inwood, or Echo Park. You'd think it was a message of some kind, but Butley knows better. He's about all the dependence either of us seem to be willing or able to manage.

The apartment is really comfortable, and notably so for the price we paid. For what works out to little more than the corporate rate the SA cast is paying at the Kyoto Hotel downtown, near the Ahmanson, we've got a full kitchen with new appliances, a living room with nice hardwood floors and too-comfortable leather couch (too comfortable, as in too inviting), a little office are off to the side, and a bedroom with a semi-private gated patio through French doors that we share with one other apartment and which serves as an occasional outdoor dining option or reading room, in good weather.


We are particularly thankful for the apartment as it was a last-minute replacement for another Craigslist rental that fell through at the last minute. In retrospect, we dodged a bullet with great fortune, but at the time it was an incredibly frustrating process to have to deal with. (Even writing about it, my shoulders tighten at the thought of recounting the long story, but I'll be brief.) In a nutshell, the timeline runs like this:

• Mid-October: we secure a two-bedroom house, with a small yard, to rent in Hollywood. Looks nice, the woman who owns it is very dog-friendly. A video editor with her own business. We'll call her Lucy (because she's frickin' bonkers and I fear a slander lawsuit if I give out too much information online). We send the full rental amount, plus a deposit. We sign & return a contract. She cashes our checks. We assume everything's good to go.

• A week later, she e-mails to say that she's sold her other property in New York sooner than she thought she would and and asks whether we have any other options for staying in LA. She hasn't sent us our keys yet. We say no, and can we get the keys? She says sure, no problem, just asking, she'll stay with the ex if we need to.

• A few days later, she says that the other options aren't going to work and can we talk about it. This is three days before we're supposed to get to LA. We say we'll talk about it after we get the keys - send us the keys - NOW.

• We get the keys, and the same day we have a tense conversation with her in which, after my attempt doesn't go well, Angie gets on the phone and they agree it would be better for us to consider another option Lucy has found for us. We call the other place (the Baxter 5) and agree to cancel the agreement with Lucy.

• We get to LA and Lucy says she'll send the check for the refund. It's incomplete, as it's lacking the $500 deposit we had initially made. Also, Angie's attempt to have a conversation with her about the $108 we paid for a gym membership (for a gym which was within easy walking distance to her house and which is now 9 miles and a 30-minute drive away from the Baxter 5), has resulted in a snarky, snide, and dismissive e-mail about how ridiculous it is we would even ask such a thing, and don't we know it's LA and everyone drives for hours in this city and blah, blah, blah, has left us fed up. When she returns Angie's call, Angie doesn't mention it and just asks her to send the $500.

• We wait another week for the $500, which we eventually get. In the meanwhile, Lucy's sending us threatening e-mails about returning her keys, about how we've had them long beyond what is fair and reasonable, how her brother is a policeman and he says it's illegal and constitutes a breach of contract (a contract which she broke in the first place) and threatening legal action if the keys aren't returned. We're very straightforward with her - we'll return the keys when we get full reimbursement, and the day we deposit the check, we return the keys by certified mail.

• Lucy sends another e-mail. Where are my keys? We tell her we sent them, that you can trace them with the tracking number, that the post office has already attempted one delivery and left a notice. Why did you send them certified, she asks, I'm not in town. We tell her, in light of her threat of legal action, we needed proof of her receipt, and that we consider the issue resolved.

We haven't heard back from her since, and hopefully she'll be back in time to retrieve them at the post office. In the meanwhile, we've finally been repaid and, except for the gym fee, we've lost nothing but time, patience, and a little faith in our fellow human beings. But this story may not be over and we'll see if she's able to get them in time or if they end up getting returned back to New York, in which case we'll have to send them again and probably suffer through more paranoid e-mail from her before we send them again. There are many more twists and turns to the story - my favorite being what we've learned about her supposed resume - which consists of two credits on IMDB, neither of which are particularly flattering - but you don't need to hear anymore than you've suffered through already. The bottom line is: she's nuts and we're really lucky we never ended up there in the first place.


Like I said, until getting to LA, our time was somewhat occupied with adventures, seeing the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of cities we had either never been to before or hadn't been to together or which simple held areas we hadn't really explored all that much. In getting to LA, neither of us felt particularly strongly the need for expedition, excursion, or examination - instead we sort of let the city come to us.

I accepted an offer to go shooting with a friend from college, Dave Marko, at the LA Pistol Range and was treated to up close & personal time with a .38 Special, a 9mm Glock, and a .357 Magnum. Because what red-blooded American male doesn't want to blown holes in a poor defensive target downfield at least once in his life (or in my case twice)? And frankly, whether it was a natural ability or good practice with first-person shooter games as a kid, I gotta say - I had pretty good luck. The target, not so much. But it felt like such an LA thing to do...

We visited my Uncle Donny and Aunt Paulette, just south of Century City, who also had come to our opening night party here in Los Angeles - a big event for Paulette who, hobbled by a foot injury months ago and not recovered yet, has rarely left the house in months. But if naked singing suicidal adolescents can't get you out of the house, then really - what will?

We went for a walk on a Monday in Venice Beach, where we found all the mixed nuts that place is known for. Dinner at the Three Square Cafe & Bakery was a highlight of the day. As was a stop at The Stronghold, one of many new upscale shops just a few blocks in from the shore, where we cased the joint for Angie's early Christmas present to me, a pair of blue jeans that may well herald a new dawn of pant-wear for me. Normally, I'm not a big believer in high-priced fashion jeans, but these are neither plastered with a name or insignia, nor the result of some cutting edge couture - in fact, they are uber-retro, being milled on the same machines, with the same stitching and brads, and same cut, styling, dyeing techniques, etc. as the first pairs worn by gold panners of oldendays. I gathered, from the prices at the shop, that while the gold panners might not have found much in the hills, they were clearly wearing small fortunes on their bottom halves, but the reality is that a single pair of really good jeans is probably the most-worn item in many people's wardrobe (certainly mine) and it makes sense - if they really feel good and you know you'll wear them day in and day out - to lay out some bread. And this place will repair and tailor the jeans for life, if you want. And it wasn't like we were mortgaging the house - just deciding between jeans or a new iPod. In any event, I like 'em, that's for sure. And Angie doesn't have to listen to me gripe about not having a decent-fitting pair of jeans, anymore, which is probably a wise investment in marital harmony as well...

We also met a fellow with another blue-nose pit bull that was, at 95 pounds, half-again as big as our little 65 pound monster. Rocco was his name, and he was a dead-ringer for Butley's big brother. Very sweet as well, and utterly knackered by the warm-weather walk his owner had him on, but I still wouldn't want to stand between him & his dinner.

Those blue things you see on his collar are weights his owner uses to build up his neck. He says he shows him, not for pulling or other less savory competition, but just as a fun way to meet other dog-lovers. I guess it works, 'cause this beast had a musculature that rivaled California's Governator. At any rate, Butley thought about it, but decided he likes his slimmer physique. Better for long car rides.

We also had a chance to join other members of the cast for a unique venture - another item for the "I never thought I'd be doing THAT" column. We sang the national anthem for an LA Clippers basketball game! It was a fun endeavor, and a great game that was up in the air for four quarters until the Clippers lost by a single three-point shot in the last 30 seconds of the game. But the really novel part of the evening came afterwards, when we stayed after most of the crowd had left and the LA Dodgeball Society held their Final Championships on the same court.

Yes, Virginia, there is an LA Dodgeball Society. It's a (and I stress this word) casual association of alternative-types in every sense of the word who nonetheless have marshalled their forces into formidable legions of strangely-clad, stone-faced, fierce competitors of this favorite schoolyard game.

And when the whistle blew to begin the games, there was much mayhem to be had - remarkably gratifying after the carefully regimented basketball land of travelling restrictions, shot clocks, holding penalties, and other hide-bound rules...

It was a great 'stumble-upon' kind of adventure, because it certainly wasn't on the bill. We would never have know about it, but that one of our cast members is friends with one of the players and had the inside scoop on where to sit, which team to root for, and the like. We only stayed for about half of the evening, though, because we were spent from the day and we had to conserve our energy for the marathon that was to come.

Or should I say 'Come on Dooooowwwwn!"

Yes, after spending three years in San Diego, and many months in Los Angeles proper, we finally went to the taping of a television show. And not just any show, but a game show. And not just any game show, but The Price Is Right. About 25 of us from the show were there. It was a ridiculously long day - we had to be there by 9am for a 1pm taping. We sat outside in a large holding area until they finally tagged & interviewed, photographed, warned not to be relatives of CBS employees or CBS employees ourselves, waited in another area, and then another, and then finally loaded in like weary sheep to the studio.

Where all of a sudden, music was blaring, lights were flashing, as we were all laughing at how high-school-prom all the decorations and set pieces looked, how small the studio really is, and how the whole thing felt like a junior varsity version of what we imagined it to be like. But we were cheering and yelling "Higher!" "Lower!" "No, no, $1,450, not $1,675!!" along with everyone else until I was glad I was an understudy who (likely) didn't have a show that night because my voice sounded like ten miles of rough road.

Jared Stein, our musical director & conductor, was actually called up and the first winner, bidding closest on an assortment of camping gear which he won't actually receive until up to three months after the January 29th air date (check your local listings) and for which he has little precious little use, not being a camperly sort of guy, but dammit he WON it, and we cheered like we were comrades storming the Winter Palace. THEN, he was eligible to win ... yes, you guessed it ... "A NEW CAR!" Well, a truck, actually. And came damn near winning that, but unfortunately guessed a couple numbers wrong and ... well, you know the sound ... wah-wah-wah. Ah well - what the hell was he going to do with a new truck on tour anyway, it's not like he's ready to drive the rest of the tour, and the taxes would have been about $6,000, and while he could have turned it around and sold it, it's probably more hassle than it's worth anyway. But just watching our own vegan, baggy-pantsed, hip-hop capped, and totally disoriented Jared up there, trying to think clearly while a studio full of people were screaming like huns, bidding on a bright, shiny red Ford F-10 pickup is a memory I'm glad I'll keep from our stay here, that's for sure.

So - three weeks down and, as I write this, two & a half to go. I think I've covered most of the highlights. I guess there was a little more than tv and couch-napping. My regrets for the overdue, overlong nature of this last entry, but I didn't know anyone was actually reading this thing until I started getting e-mails asking for the next installment. Whaddya know - we've got a following. So listen, my children, and ye shall hear, of the yearlong ride of we three here...


Amy said...

todd, angie and butley,

GREAT POST! Loved the account of the psycho woman, the one bike ride (angie, did you get a new bike?), the singing of naked, suicidal adolescents getting Aunt Paulette out and about, and The Lakers??? AND The Price is Right? What an LA experience you've had!

But truly, the best part is the part where you are drinking wine and watching tv together. Now THAT i can relate to, and do...every night.


Anonymous said...

Hey! Ditto what Amy said - glad to be able to join your adventures. Happy holidays to all!!
--Davey Cohen

Anonymous said...

Hi you guys!
Are they still playing Disco Inferno at Price is Right? you know, I'm glad it wasn't you on the show bidding your heart out for the red truck(you KNOW you wanted that for yourself)because you ARE a relative of an ex-employee of CBS...you could have gone to JAIL! That "other" dog i NO match for Butley's fine looks and charming personality. Anyway, congrat's on your NEW JEANS! WOW!! Now that's some REAL news! Give me more!! Come model them for us anytime. Now, if you want a Christmas Card(oops, I mean holiday card) let us know your new address in Tempe...your devoted fan and CUZ Lisa

Sarah said...

Hi Todd, Angie, and Butley,

It's the 9th now, as I read this, so WELCOME (back) TO ARIZONA!! Todd, I'm pretty sure they've moved everything good around since you lived there, but most of it still exists in some form or another. The good used bookstore's now on McClintock and Guadalupe, I'm pretty sure Cafe Lalibela's still dishing out amazing ethoipian food down on Hardy, and...I don't know, clearly I really wish I were there too. I hope you have amazing shows and are able to soak up major rays, and that lovely people come out of the woodwork while you're there.


Ashley said...

"comrades storming the Winter Palace...." BaHaHa!!!!

The Barkers Beauties strike and start raging blue Sterno bonfires....