L.A. Story


L.A. Story: Mr. Charton, aren’t you a little old to be going to Hollywood? If I had been stopped by LAPD for any reason and they were questioning me, I can see that as a reaction.

California here I come kept going through my head along with one of my favorite lines from It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World.

The lunatics are racing each other down the mountain road. An older couple is coming up on the other side in an old jalopy. The lunatics run the couple off the road. They manage to land upright and he calmly turns to her and says, “Ah said it once, and ah’l say it agin; Ah didn’t want to move to California.”

L.A. Los AngelesIt’s not as though I’ve never been to L.A. before. It’s easier, especially now, as I live in Tucson, Arizona. I grew up in Brooklyn, so it’s not as though I’m fazed by the big city. This trip was the first time though, I was exploring on my own. I’ve been here for meetings before, but now I was going to get to know the city. Before this trip, maps of L.A. would throw me off and I wasn’t sure where things were. By riding the bus, I know where things are now.

My trip to L.A. had a purpose. That will come up later in this essay.

I was taking the train from Tucson. The last time I was on this train was April 1996, when I still lived back East. (It was a cross-country train trip where I was making several stops. I went through Tucson in the dark then).

I was getting on the Sunset Limited right after work. I went downtown and headed for the station.

For three years, I volunteered at the Southern Arizona Transportation Museum, which is in the old Southern Pacific vault (a separate building, where they kept their documents because Tucson was a major rail stop for them). This was the first time; I was actually taking the train OUT of Tucson.

For years, saying the Sunset Limited was late was stating the obvious. Southern Pacific was taken over by Union Pacific. It was only a single track with sidings to El Paso. What this means to a passenger is, the Sunset Limited had to be placed on a siding for the freight trains, which run at a slower speed to pass. In most of the United States, the freight railroad owns the right of way. Amtrak diesel trains can run 110 miles per hour, but the freight railroads are against it, saying they won’t be able to run as many trains and they’ll lose money. The upshot of this is Amtrak has to add extra time to the schedule.

Much to my surprise, the train arrived on time. This was the first time I’d taken a long distance train since 9/11. Your ticket is checked, before you even go through the gate and get on the platform, along with a photo ID. Then a car attendant assigns you a seat.

The long-distance trains West of Chicago are double-decked. The bathrooms are downstairs and the few seats for people with mobility issues. (I feel funny about saying disability). The upstairs is reached by a winding staircase. Not easy with a suitcase, though you can leave your suitcase downstairs, or of course check it.

I had the aisle seat. There are electrical outlets on the window. There was an older man in the window seat sound asleep. (He didn’t stir until we were about to arrive in L.A. ten hours later.

The car smelled partly of unwashed bodies. Keep in mind; some had been on the train for two days. You can hand wash in the bathrooms, I think there are showers in the sleeping cars, but you pay a pretty penny to ride sleeper. I would rather use that money to go to Europe. Then the old man went and farted in his sleep. Oh great. Luckily, the man across the aisle was interesting to speak with. He got on in Fort Worth and was returning home to San Diego. It was his first time riding Amtrak. We talked about baseball mostly.

I slept in spurts during the trip. The train came to a halt at a grade crossing. I knew we were still South of Maricopa, the next stop because I could still see Interstate 10 out the window.

The conductor wanted to speak with this young man. Then I found out where I was only, because a huge Eloy, Arizona policeman boarded the train. He asked the man if he had any bags. The man asked in response if the policeman meant checked bags. The policeman looked at him quizzically; the man picked up his one bag from the seat and off they went.

After that, I woke up at Maricopa (actually near the Gila River Indian Reservation, where there are casinos. To get into Phoenix, you have to board a bus, but if you are riding on the Sunset, it cuts the travel time. There had to be a couple hundred people boarding the train there.

I woke up briefly at the next stop, Yuma, one hundred sixty-five miles away, but fell right back to sleep. I didn’t wake up completely until we were almost in L.A.

I’ve taken the train into Union Station before. I saw the familiar sight of Dodger Stadium as we pulled in. I went to a game once in Dodger Stadium. I would stand in front and look for tickets, but the World Series just ended, the wrong California team won (the San Francisco Giants. I think I would rather go to AT&T Park anyway). Being from Brooklyn, I heard all sorts of stories about the Brooklyn Dodgers. I am happy to see the Nets in Brooklyn, the first major league team of any sort in fifty-five years. The Dodgers played their last game in Brooklyn when I was ten months old. I do not hate the team, but Walter O’Malley, the evil man according to New York Post writers Jack Newfield and Pete Hamill. (They once chose the evilest men to have ever lived. O’Malley is third, behind Hitler and Stalin). O’Malley is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery. Some will bring flowers, I will bring something else.

The train was forty-five minutes early. I was shocked but trying not to laugh. The one time I didn’t care if an Amtrak train was late, it was early. I thought to myself, “Amtrak can’t get it right.” I had to wake my poor friend Donna up to come get me. (Now that I know the transit system I would have just headed there).

Union Station was built in 1939. It is a beautiful Art Deco station and you can imagine the movie stars of old passing through it. It was a foggy cool morning in the City of Angels, but it was nice to stand outside and wait. The palms trees made the station look like it was in a park or maybe part of Jurassic Park, if you used a little imagination. Hey, the La Brea Tar Pits are here. May not be much of a stretch.

I watched the commuters getting off nearby buses and heading into the station. I had to laugh, because the same derelict asked me if I smoked, and I said no. A few minutes later, he had a cigarette and asked me for a match.

Donna pulled up. She has a 1987 Mercedes. We drove down Alameda all the way to Florence and up Florence.

Much of the reason I am writing this is because of my participation on Michael Palin’s website Palin’s Travels. . In the 1980’s, he wrote the first of his travel books, Around the World in Eighty Days. In Los Angeles, he stayed on the Queen Mary, docked in Long Beach. (I stayed on it in 2005). He mentioned what he was reading in the paper about Florence.

In 1992, some of you remember the riots in L.A. after the Rodney King verdict. Florence and Normandie is five blocks away from my friend’s house. That was the infamous intersection where truck driver Reginald Denny was hit on the head and left for dead. This is where I am staying. Certainly a long way from Hollywood, but if there’s no fog, you can see the Hollywood sign from the end of the street by Horace Mann Junior High School. Seeing that sign every day in that neighborhood would either inspire me, or make me angry. I would hope the former would be the case.

My friend Donna works as a library page at a branch of the L.A. County Public Library (different from the L.A. City Public Library). Today, I’m not going with her. She needs to help with cleanup while she’s gone and then she needs me to go to the 99 Cent Store on Florence to buy Halloween candy for her.

When she leaves, I sweep vacuum, take a shower, pack my laptop back in the suitcase and head out. The theme songs from Dragnet, Adam-12, Police Story, and COPS keep playing through my head. I have the key to the back door, though I have to dodge the flies from the food left out for the three stray kittens, which live under the house. (Donna has five cats in the house; one of them lives in her bedroom, where I am staying while she sleeps in the living room. I am calling her Dr. Pratt, the Peter Sellers character in the British comedy, The Wrong Box).

This is the city, Los Angeles, California. It is beautiful and sunny; no I don’t carry a badge.

The neighborhood makes me think of the Walter Mosley mysteries with his detective EZ Rawlins and EZ’s homicidal sidekick, Mouse. Those take place in the 1940’s and 1950’s.

I see where the 99 Cent store is and will stop on my way back from the library. I am waiting to cross Van Ness, where the library is. Going South on Van Ness, a woman is trying to turn left onto Florence but there’s oncoming traffic. Of course she is waiting. The crazy woman behind her is leaning on the horn. Everyone has their windows down. I called out to the woman blowing her horn, “Ma’am, with all due respect, do you want her to cause a bad wreck and tie this intersection up for hours?”

“Ain’t mah problem!” She called out angrily and drove around the woman trying to make the left.

People talk about bad Boston and New York drivers. I saw crazy driving in South Africa. Los Angeles is the worst I’ve seen. People get behind the wheel and don’t seem to care.

I spent a couple of hours at the library. The staff just let me plug my laptop in. Then I was getting tired, walked back, stopped at the 99 Cent store and bought three bags of Mexican candy. (It ended up not mattering; no one came to the door that night). I got back and took a nap. Met the neighbors who are nice people. It was quiet in the hood.

Day Two, November 1st, 2012.
I am going to work with Donna today. She works three miles away at the Vista View Branch of the L.A. County Public Library in Baldwin Hills, near where she used to live.

The side street for the library is beautiful, with tall palm trees on either side. I got the temporary card, the L.A. County Library requires for using their WiFi and got on. Later, I looked at a new book on Eastern Europe, I was burned out from being on the computer.

Donna took me to Wells Fargo on Crenshaw to get some money. The teller admired my Claddagh ring gave two lollypops and said, “Have a blessed day.”

The business part begins tomorrow.

Day Three, Friday November 2nd, 2012.
Well, time to go to my destination; the reason I’m here. I worked out which buses I had to take. I ended up getting one bus earlier, but you will see later why this is important.

I got the 757 weekday express bus. The driver sold me a TAP card which is good forever, as long as you put money on it. For five dollars a day, you can ride all day, just by tapping the card.

I had my suitcase with me, because it rolls, and I could use it like a briefcase. The bus was crowded, but I was able to use the seat on the window for the suitcase. Must be my negative charm, no one called me on it.

I knew where I had to get off, but had to pay attention, because both bus rides were a fair distance. Except for one, I found L.A. bus drivers very friendly and helpful.

The bus ran slowly up Western. The neighborhood was full of signs asking people to vote against Proposition J (it was defeated) which was being called Transit Racism. The purpose of the proposition, was to expand rapid transit in the Southern areas of L.A. Would seem like a good idea, but I suspect many South Central residents saw this as an attempt to run them out of the area. Who’s right? Not sure.

Interstate 10, which runs through Tucson, a day’s drive East crosses L.A. on its way to the ocean in Santa Monica. When you cross I-10 going North, you suddenly see signs for businesses in a different language. Welcome to Koreatown.

I will need more time to actually get off and explore. Luckily, the recording announces the next two stops. I knew to get ready when we approached Sunset.

You pay attention to the walk signs and only walk on that sign. This prevents getting nailed by the car turning the corner. Under California law, once you are in the crosswalk, the driver has to stop, but no point in tempting fate.

Immediately got the 302 bus to UCLA. Now, I am leaving Koreatown crossing briefly through Thai Town and Little Armenia and heading to, drumroll…Hollywood!

It doesn’t look like much on this stretch. Mainly businesses. The further West you go, the more “hip” it gets.

Now you will understand why it’s a good thing I caught an earlier bus. The local driving caught up with a bunch of people. The bus had to take a detour. There must have been fifteen L.A. Sheriff Deputy cars blocking that stretch of Sunset and all sorts of ambulances. Seemed like a war zone. I never found out what happened and I’m not sure I want to know.

West of La Cienega, it really becomes hip. (Ironically, Cienega means swamp in Spanish). Fancy restaurants and boutiques. Then it becomes green on both sides of Sunset. Welcome to Beverly Hills. The fancy mansions are up the hill. Next time I go, I want to go to Nate and Al’s for breakfast. People like Larry King used to hang out there. (Maybe he still does. I want to be able to say to him, I am just a shnorrer from Brooklyn. Schnorrer means beggar in Yiddish).

Eventually, the bus makes a left on Hilgard. Time to get off. Welcome to UCLA.

This is not something I would have attended. For college, linguistics would not have occurred to me as a major. I am finding I am fascinated, but language and how it is used.

I was honored that they made a stranger welcome. Lindy Comstock, one of the PhD students was one of the organizers. She laughed about me being the one with the suitcase and offered to store it. (I didn’t bring it the next day and kept my hands free). Here is the link for the conference.

This was the first workshop I attended.
10:00 am – 10:30 am – Chi-hua Hsiao (University of California, Los Angeles)

From Annotation to Authenticity: The Morality of Intellectual Property
Developed by Subtitle Groups in China

As I took Mandarin Chinese as one of my languages and I’m a writer. Intellectual property is important to me. This involved TV shows. Not just having subtitles as a direct translation, but other Chinese characters on the screen to explain context. One example was the Western idea of challenging someone to a duel by slapping them with a glove. A direct translation into Chinese would be meaningless. The idea of pirating this does not appeal to the creative person in me.

I attended several others, but you get the idea. How language is used, a dominant language,

I met many other interesting people. A woman of Hmong descent, in the department, one woman, who remembered everyone’s name, impressive but can be unnerving.

OK, the real reason I attended the conference. Why I started with “Mr. Charton, aren’t you a little old to be going to Hollywood?” I may use that in a story I have characters, who are LAPD.

Please see the following:
Documentary Screening & Lunch Break
12:30 pm – 2:00 pm
Touch Line (2009) – begins at 1:00 pm
Produced by Gotta Media

Media & Education Panel
2:00 pm – 3:00 pm
Brandon Paris (UCLA Extension)
Benjamin Lewis (University of California, Los Angeles)
Zamir Gotta (Gotta Media)
Robert Bucholz (Spliced Bread Productions)
Moderator: Olga Yokoyama (University of California, Los Angeles)

Documentary Screening and Q&A
5:00 pm – 6:00 pm
The Stage Awaits (2011)
Produced by Gotta Media

Notice a certain name. If you watched Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations on Travel Channel you will recognize the name Zamir Gotta. We became friends on Facebook.

The first movie Touch Line is about crippled soccer players from the Chechen Wars, the Chechen fighters and the Russian soldiers who fought them.

They end up playing together on a Russian national team. One of the young women who came to see the first movie has an interesting background. She is an ethnic Pole who grew up in Almaty, Kazakhstan and is studying Acting at Santa Monica College, down the road from UCLA. Zamir met her when he was speaking in Almaty last year. She made the statement that really made it for the film. “I always thought war was worthless and this movie makes it more so.” These were men who fought each other, but said that was war, so there was no bitterness. There may be some hope for us humans after all.

The second movie The Stage Awaits was about a theater group where the actors have Down’s Syndrome. The company has trouble getting funding , places to practice etc. I wonder if there are any such theater groups in the United States.

The first night, another friend of Zamir’s named Anna who lives in North Hollywood drove me back to Western and Sunset. I would have stayed for the receptions, but where I was staying and meeting friends I could not.

I had fun and have Lindy Comstock and Ashley Micklos to thank for making me welcome, along with other members of the department.

Saturday night, I took the subway in Los Angeles for the first time. I took the bus from UCLA to Sunset and Vermont and got on the Red Line to North Hollywood. I was meeting Facebook friend Nikki Palamino for the first time. Here is the link for her book and information about her. More about the book later, as I am reviewing it and hope to interview her on my blog.

She drives a Mini Cooper. I’d never been in one before. Actually a comfortable car, even for someone big like me. She took me to the Oyster House Saloon on Moorpark Street. Great place, they know her, she signed her book there. Then she drove me back through Hollywood and through Laurel Canyon where a lot of rockers live.

See the Wikipedia link for Laurel Canyon and you will see how many famous folks lived there or live there now.

Thank you Nikki, I hope to spend more time with you next time I am out there.

Day Five, Last Day.

Was glad to see Donna, but today is departure day. Saw two friends today. I met Patricia Logan, a writer I know from Facebook. She came down and we met at the Subway near Donna’s house at Crenshaw and Slauson.

When I left Donna’s I made a detour near Union Station. Across from the Disney Concert Hall, I met another Facebook friend, a lawyer named Randi Susan Klein. She just wanted to make sure I mentioned her new dog Rachel. I hung out with her for over an hour then headed to Union Station. The conductor on the train scanned my ticket and I fell asleep until the train arrived in Maricopa the next morning. Many of the people on the train had been to the University of Arizona UCLA football game. We were clobbered. Glad I didn’t go.

It was a great trip and I was honored to meet so many amazing people. Please ask questions, and I will answer as best I can.

1 Comment
  1. Avatar of Andrew J. Sacks
    Andrew J. Sacks says

    Mike, thank you for posting this interesting piece.

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