If Only In My Dreams

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All those songs are right … it is nice to be home for the holidays.  In 2018, according to AAA, nearly seven million people in the United States will travel via air during the next couple weeks to see family and friends.  Over the last twenty years I’ve boarded many planes during the holiday season, and my journeys have gone smoothly.

Except once.

In December of the year 2000 the Travel Gods had a good laugh at my expense.  What follows is the journal I kept back then on planes, in various airports, my parents’ house in Lynn, and my apartment in Los Angeles.  I always thought what I wrote was pretty funny, and I had visions of publishing a David Sedaris type article about my misadventures (I had recently read his SantaLand Diaries).  Unfortunately that never happened.

Eighteen years later, I present these journal excerpts to you as my last blog post of 2018.  Happy Holidays and I hope you enjoy!

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December 24, 2000

FL 2677 to Phoenix (America West Airlines)

1:44 pm PST

In my seat and waiting to take off for the first leg of my journey.  I should be thankful I made it on this plane.  The morning started off quite poorly.

The fire trucks were a bad omen.

I somehow wake up just after eight am after drinking with Bradleigh and the crew all night, throw a bunch a clothes into a bag, and survive the fifteen minute walk to the subway station with my suitcase.  Tired and weary, I am still on schedule.

But when I arrive at the Hollywood & Highland Metro station, there were flashing lights and fireman clomping down the stairs and police sirens in the distance.  I didn’t smell smoke and nobody stopped me, so I descend towards the tracks on the escalator.  I used the automated kiosk to pay my $1.60 fare and wait for the 9:20 train.

The night before I sat in a booth at The Formosa Café and got laughed at after divulging my plans to take the LA Metro to the airport.  My friends looked at me as if I claimed I would get there via a pogo stick.  I sipped my Manhattan and said confidently:

“The Super Shuttle is twenty-five bucks.  A cab is about forty.  And none of you drunks are going to get up that early and drive me.  I’m broke and the subway is less than two dollars.”

Nobody believed it was possible.  And when I explained the logistics, the red line to the blue to the green and then a quick shuttle, they thought it was all a joke.  There was general disbelief a subway line even ran under Hollywood.  I assured them it did, and that I had mapped it all out online the day before.

After the bar we all ended up at my place.  I had planned on packing for my trip home to see my family, but then the tequila was taken out of the freezer.  Not too many hours later, the buzzing of my alarm clock was terrifying.

But bag in hand, I had made it to the Metro tracks.  LAX was about an hour away.  It was the morning of Christmas Eve, and I stood on the Hollywood & Highland platform waiting for a train that would not come.

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Had I not been so hungover, I likely would have realized my plight.  But the night before I gave into my roommate Bradleigh and went out for a Christmas Eve-Eve Party.  It started at our apartment on June Street, went to the Formosa, then to Cat & Fiddle, and finally back to where we started.  It ended sometime around five am with a group of us watching American Beauty.

The 9:20 train didn’t show, and then it became 9:40, 9:45, and 9:53.  I heard yelling down the other end of the tracks, and it sounded like someone was saying the station was closed. My adrenaline had spiked, and I walked back upstairs to investigate.  The voice was coming from an MTA employee.  He was informing people not to go down to the tracks, but neglected to share this information with the poor slobs on the platform.

I raced up the stairs to Hollywood Boulevard and hailed a cab.

I cursed myself for not arranging a Super Shuttle.  This trip home to Boston was already going to tax my meager bank account, and my $1.60 mass transit ride had turned into a forty dollar cab.  I’ll need to cross someone off my Christmas list.

Getting out of the cab I was horrified at the scores of people on the curb and inside the terminal.  My plane would be leaving in about forty minutes.  I scanned the area for an airport employee who did not look like he would stab me if I asked a question.

“I have an e-ticket and no bags to check,” I said.  “Do I have to get my ticket here?”

“No, you can go right up to the gate.”

Nine of the greatest words ever spoken.

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(Author’s 2018 note: It’s hard to remember that in the days before September 11th, anybody, regardless of whether they had a ticket, could go to an airline gate.  While it was nice to be greeted by family and friends right off the plane while traveling, it also meant every nut imaginable could prowl the terminals asking for “donations”.  While there certainly were legit charities at LAX, you were normally solicited by dozens of weirdos. Every time I would think of Leslie Nielsen in Airplane!  And on that day my confusion was heightened by something very new to me back then, the e-ticket.)

I purchased my tickets online, first time ever for me, and I didn’t even print a receipt.  There was nothing to prove I was supposed to be flying to Boston for Christmas.  If I wasn’t so hungover, I probably would have been very nervous.

Checking the monitors my flight seemed to be the only one not delayed.  I figured it was karmic payback for the cab.  But when I got to the gate the earlier Boston flight wasn’t even boarding.  I was delayed, despite what the computers said.  But I still needed my ticket.

In the mass of people there seemed to be an amorphous line.  I squeezed into it.  There was a good chance I would be shunned at the gate.  I hadn’t even called to confirm the ticket I bought online from William Shatner’s Priceline.com over a month ago.  Maybe this wasn’t even in the right place.  Was it Northwest or America West or Southwest?

And what if my name had been deleted by some computer in, say, Backwater, Utah?   I could hear some smarmy guy explaining, “Sorry, sir, no Ostrowski’s on our list.  In fact, we don’t even have any Michael’s”.

Panic would set in and I’d be too weary to do anything.  Muttering to myself and heavy drinking would soon follow.  I would curse Captain Kirk to the day he died.

But I showed my ID to the woman at the counter and she gave me a boarding pass.  I wait an hour or so (I’m still on track to make my connection to Boston in Phoenix), and eventually got to my aisle seat on flight 2677 to Phoenix on America West Airlines.  Writing in this journal has already eaten up a lot of time.  I’ll eat my snack mix and then continue as we’re about to land.

Wheels down now for the approach to Phoenix….

It’s close to two o’clock Pacific time, and we’re thirty minutes before my plane to Boston.  Lunch would be nice, but not enough time.  Thankfully the gate I’m landing at will be right we’re I’m taking off.

…..Later On

4:06 pm

Still in Phoenix

“Flight 2824 to Boston- obviously we’re experiencing a delay.  The plane has been clean and catered and the pilots are ready for departure.  We just need a crew.  There will be a slight delay while we locate them.”

-America West Announcement

The delay in Los Angeles wasn’t much of a problem.  Whether waiting in LAX or Sky Harbor…it’s still waiting.  But we’re nearing 4:15 pm and they haven’t begun boarding.  Another announcement just informed us the crew would be here shortly “from the break room”.  The person using the PA is obviously pissed at his fellow employees.  For such raw honestly in an airport must be done out of spite.  Passengers are a cranky lot by nature, and this just gives them live bodies to vent their frustration.

At the gate across from me a shouting match is going on.  Well, not really a match.  It’s more of a one-sided verbal tirade from a female customer.  I wonder if the crew on her flight got adequate rest in the employee break room.  They’re surely going to need it.

“Once again we apologize for the delay”.

Airports just bring out the worst in people.  Like freeways and World Wars.  Mostly I find them a creepy necessity.  Thousands of strangers each desperately wanting to get somewhere/anywhere and most willing to step over babies and shove the elderly to do it.  And then there’s the airplane food.

“Your choices for dinner tonight are Salisbury Steak or Walnut Chicken Salad.”

I hate walnuts and Salisbury Steak reminds me of Elementary School.  But all I’ve eaten today is snack mix.  I get the beef and a beer.  1,854 miles to go.

….Later on

11:00 pm EST

It’s been a family tradition to gather at my great aunts’ house on the night before Christmas.    Afterwards I would go to Ditch’s and drink Irish whiskey and see friends from high school.  I’d never missed either of those events despite living on the other side of the country for the last three years.  Tonight the streak ends.

Fuck you, America West.

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*******

December 30, 2000

2:30 pm

Logan Airport, Gate 43B

A great trip home, but I now must get back to Los Angeles.

With a king hell bastard of a snow storm closing in on Boston, I’m here at the near empty America West terminal.  On the news I hear of delays and cancellations and all sorts of airport trouble, but somehow, someway, FL 2188 is on time.  The madness of LAX a week earlier has been transplanted to the tranquility of Logan.

But it’s a little too quiet.

There has to a problem.  My good ole friend shitty luck tells me that.  He’s an asshole so I want to ignore him, but unfortunately Mr. S. Luck is usually right.

Although this could be a karmic bone thrown to me for leaving (and losing) $300 worth of CDs on the plane from Phoenix.  I really don’t want to relive that situation…thinking about it makes me want to scream.  I called the airline and spoke to several people, but nobody could locate my CD carrying case (Author’s 2018 note: we were still around a year away from the iPod being released…it was devastating to lose all that music.) 

What is certain is that I’m missing both wild card games.  There’s no damn TV in this mini terminal.  No food, no stores, no magazine racks either.  I’m not even sure there’s a bathroom.  I could walk over to the American one and see how the Colts are doing, but that’s just inviting disaster.

Well…the trip home?

Great seeing my mom, dad, sis, bro, nephew, brother-in-law, grandparents, and friends.  I got to spend a lot of time with everybody and I’m truly lucky to have so many wonderful people in my life.  But of course that makes me not want to go back to LA.

The play (SantaLand Diaries) and the museum with my Mom were great days.  My nephew Nicholas is almost two-and-a-half, and was much more receptive to me than my last visit and he actually said my name.  Ditch and I had a good time drinking at Uno’s and The Border Café.  And I got to toss back some pints with Mark and Scott at The Beantown Pub, then later at Nua Tua (a new Irish Pub that was cool).

I also watched the Pats game with my Dad (a close loss to the Dolphins, finishing the season at a very disappointing 5-11) and talked sports with Jeff.  I met Mark last night to see the new Coen Brothers’ film “O Brother, Where Art Thou” (which was great) at the new Fenway Cinemas.  And like always, Boston looked amazing despite the cold weather, and made me realize how shitty LA really is.

Back to Hollywood.

David Sedaris Christmas

… 2:36 pm PST

FL 2188

At the back of the plane all by myself.  Haven’t been on a plane this empty in along time.  It’s quiet and I have space…not too much else you can ask for on a cross-country journey.  Well, if a really cool and pretty girl was sitting back here … and we had a great conversation and then ended up becoming boyfriend-girlfriend.

Let’s be reasonable.

I think it would be wise to declare my life a disaster area and try a different approach.  Because what I’m doing now just ain’t working.  But is that the absolute truth?   Is this is all “destiny”…part of some bizzaro plan that’s never been shared with me?   I moved to LA two and a half years ago, and I’ve got nothing to show for it.  I can’t believe it that’s my plan. I need to make things happen.

Shit, I’m tired but I can’t sleep.  Even with nobody in any of the rows surrounding me I can’t get some Z’s.  But I’m going to try again.

 . . . 7:38 pm

Sky Harbor Airport

Fucking Eh.

I get out of a damn blizzard in Boston and now I might not get to LA because of fog.  We were 30 minutes early to Phoenix, but now have to wait least an hour delay with a high chance of cancellation.

The Travel Gods are straight up giggling at me.

Although it’s a dump, I just want to get back to Hollywood.  I’ve been up since 5 am Pacific Time and I’m getting a headache.  They’re announcing our fate in a few minutes.  If I didn’t have to work tomorrow it’s no big deal.  But I do.  And this whole situation, for lack of a better cliché, sucks ass.

 . . . 8:30 pm

Gate B6

They say my flight, most likely, is going to take off.  But they changed gates.

From gate B26 (where I was) to B6 (where I needed to go) is a long ass walk.  My flight is delayed to at least 10 pm, and they make you trek all the way through the damn terminal to wait for a plane that still might not leave tonight.

My other option is Burbank.  That leaves at 10:30 pm and “supposedly” there is no fog there.  For all I know there’s hail and locusts.  Burbank would be a cheaper Super Shuttle to Hollywood.

I’ll wait until 9 to make my decision.

Shit, it’s not 8:30 it’s 9:30.  Lousy Phoenix and their disregard for Daylight Savings!  I thought we were on LA time.  I’m going to try for the Burbank flight.

…..On the Flight Back to LA

I’d like to think I looked like OJ running through the airport in those old commercials.  But most likely I resembled Culkin’s family in “Home Alone”.

After going all the way to Gate A9 for the Burbank flight I was told I had to go to Customer Assistance if I wanted on that flight.

“Can’t you just put me on?” I asked.

“No.”

“But, the computer—”

“I can’t do it.”

Screwed.

I’ve seen Jamie, my good buddy and an AA employee, do it many times.  But she wouldn’t take the 5 seconds to help me.

Screwed.

The line is deep.  I’ve been waiting in it now for 15 minutes and I’ve moved nowhere.  At this rate I should be at the front in . . .well, never.

Somehow I make it to the front of Customer Assistance only to find out the flight is full.

The woman there offers some hope when she says, “But they’ve lifted the fog ban in LA and I think they’re boarding now.”

I am nowhere near B6.  So it’s come to this.  I’ve been up for 17 hours, my nose is running, my eyes watery, the last meal I consumed was reheated Salisbury Steak, and now I have to RUN halfway through Phoenix if I don’t want to spend the night here.

I make it one minute before they close the doors.

We’re in the air I hear for about twenty minutes and we get this gem of an announcement:

“We don’t want to get your hopes up.  We might have to turn around and go back to Phoenix.”

Luckily that doesn’t happen.  We somehow are able to land in the fog and the whole plane is clapping.  But I can’t see a thing out the window and I’m not at all convinced we’re at LAX.  We taxi on the runway forever.

….Later on

1200 North June Street

Los Angeles, CA

Beer in hand, time to finish this crazy story.  If I wasn’t so broke I would have taken a cab.  Instead I had to take the Super Shuttle, and just before we’re about to leave it’s just me and a woman going to the Westside.  The Super Shuttle is great for those of us on a budget, unless it’s full and you’re one of the last people to get dropped off.  But here it is, after midnight, and hopefully I can escape with just one other passenger.

Nope.

Four more people squeeze in just before we’re about to take off.  Guess who’s the last stop?  My laugh scares several of the passengers.

I take the elevator up to my floor, and I truly expect to come home to a robbed apartment.  But when I open the door I find everything exactly as I left it.  Bradleigh’s working and won’t be home for a couple of hours.  There’s three Guinness in the fridge and I plan to drink them all before going to sleep.

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The Case for La La Land

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La La Land won seven Golden Globes, the most ever by a single film in history.  It also garnered fourteen Oscar nominations, tying the record for that, and won six.  It was my favorite film of 2016.

Because of all those factors, and others I’ll explain later, I had to take a second, more critical look at La La Land.  Many of my favorites have been nominated for Best Picture, but the only one I saw in the theater that ever won was The Hurt Locker.  That made me think…had I just been charmed by La La Land or was it really that good?

After my second viewing tonight, I actually loved it even more.  La La Land is really that good. The montage that ends the film is pure magic, and overall I can truly say it represents everything that is great about the movies.

After watching it on Blu-ray tonight, it also got me thinking why the film, which was originally praised by critics and audiences,  received an inordinate amount of nasty backlash just before the Oscars.  One of the biggest disses was an article that appeared in USA Today called “The Case Against La La Land”.  I will always have complete respect for everyone’s opinion (and know that dissent is not only healthy but important), but I think the person who wrote the piece just didn’t get the film.

Unfortunately that article was just the beginning…there were others that mushroomed up just before the Oscars, which led to the surprising defeat of La La Land for Best Picture.

I’m all for varying opinions, especially when everyone is fawning over a film, and it’s always a good idea to take a second, more critical look.  If it’s deserving, someone should take a few whacks at it.  We should routinely question why the public have anointed anything “great”.

One of the arguments against La La Land, which I’d seen in a few articles, was that the main characters are thinly drawn.  At their core, Sebastian and Mia have real, tangible goals that they are passionate about achieving.  In drama, if you can make an audience believe that and also get them to root for their success, you have real, three dimensional characters.

You also don’t have to shove exposition and backstory about down the audience’s throat to make characters real.  I’m on the Hemingway side that its actually the opposite . . . if you tell the story right and true, you can leave many things out and it will make it stronger (the “Iceberg Theory”). The goal should always be (no matter how you go about it) to get a viewer to connect emotionally with a character.  If that’s accomplished then the writer, director, and actors (and everyone else who worked on the film) have done something special.  And Mr. Chazelle, Mrs. Stone, and Mr. Gosling did something special.

I also completely disagree with the argument that many of the songs are “lackluster and dull” (quoting that USA Today article).  I bought the soundtrack on iTunes the night I saw La La Land and the lyrics and music are excellent (“City of Stars” is something Cole Porter might have wrote back in the day).  I still listen to it.

Maybe the majority of today’s audiences just can’t grasp musicals.  Granted, it’s quite odd to see people just randomly break into song and dance.  Or even if you can accept musicals for what they are in theory, a lot of people don’t know how to properly critique them because they don’t have the necessary knowledge/history of the genre to do so.

For whatever reason I have always loved musicals (Singing in the RainAn American in Paris, and Guys & Dolls are three of my favorite movies).  That being said, the first time I saw La La Land, as I was watching the first two numbers (“Another Day of Sun” and “Someone in the Crowd”) I was thinking “This is a bit weird” . . . here’s  a musical and I don’t know the songs.  That gut reaction is because we’re so used to singing along with musicals that have been around for a long time.

La La Land is completely new, and has original songs.  Most people who come to thefilm have never heard any of the music.  Would critics have preferred the scenes to have been scored with songs from “Grease” or “Hairspray” or “My Fair Lady”?  I certainly wouldn’t.

I haven’t seen Moonlight yet (I really want to), and it very well may be the better film.  But . . . and this is a big question to ask . . . why does Moonlight’s story rate higher on the importance scale than La La Land?   Yes, it certainly seems more dramatic and intense, but should that matter?  To me film transcends race, color, creed, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, and all other categories you can name.

I think Richard Linklater (through the character Jessie) said it best in Before Sunset:

“So when I look at my own life, you know, I have to admit, right, that I’ve-I’ve never been around a bunch of guns or violence, you know, not really. No political intrigue or a helicopter crashes. But my life, from my own point of view, has been full of drama. And I thought, if I could write a book that, that could capture what it’s like to, to really meet somebody, I mean, one of the most exciting things that’s ever happened to me is to meet somebody, to make that connection. And if I could make that valuable, you know, to capture that, that would be the attempt.”

With movies (in my opinion), the goal isn’t to judge which character had it “harder” in life . . . in the La La Land vs Moonlight comparison of course it would be the latter.  We should be examining drama, plot, characters, emotional connection, how it makes us feel . . .  the heart of filmmaking.  Yes, the stakes need to be high in order for a movie to be considered “Important”, but love and pursuing your dreams and passion and giving your all to whatever makes you feel alive, will always be some of the most important stories we can tell.

Either I was smiling at the magical dancing/singing/music/cinematography of La La Land, or I was astounded at how good the performances were, or I was hit with a dizzying nostalgia at my own days of trying to succeed in Hollywood.  The film is extremely entertaining, but more importantly the subtext is rich and it has a lot to say about dreams, ambition, and the choices we make in life.  It also isn’t spoon-feeding you a “message” . . . the film wants you to make your own opinions and thoughts about the price you pay for following your dreams.

If you haven’t seen La La Land, I highly recommend you check it out.

 

48 Hours in L.A. – Part One

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On top of the Hollywood Sign

I lived in Los Angeles for six years, and whenever I return I’m struck by nostalgia in almost every direction.  My feelings on the place are aggressively mixed.  While I can never forget how much I struggled during those days, I have so many wonderful memories.  The way I figure it, I could have easily never left.

Many years ago I wrote a novel set in L.A. (A Model Community), and I can still remember why the younger version of myself wrote these words:

Unlike many of my East Coast brethren, I did not consider Los Angeles as the devil incarnate.  To me, it’s just so unimaginably easy to hate it.  Sure, the menu of complaints was extensive: helicopters haphazardly buzzing around at night, smog settling like dust on your skin and lungs, parking lots posing as freeways, accidental architecture.  There were gangs and crime and money was flaunted in the most shameless of manners.  But none of the demeaning qualities of the city really overpowered me.

It was always tough to admit it while I was a resident from 1998 to 2004, but in many ways I did (in a vaguely Randy Newman-type manner) love L.A.

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Cover art by the very talented Fozzie Phillips.

********

Los Angeles can easily overwhelm a visitor, but even a short trip can yield a terrific combo platter of what the city has to offer.  But you need a plan.  I only had 48 hours to spend in LA, and despite once being a resident, I did a lot of pre-trip research.  While I figured I had to embrace the nostalgia, my goal was to get to know the city of 2016.

I took the red-eye from Honolulu and landed at LAX at 6:30 the next morning (3:30 am Hawaii Time).  Knowing it would be an incredible longshot my room would be available that early, I still needed a destination to give to my cab driver.  After I said “Magic Castle Hotel in Hollywood”, I wasn’t entirely sure the gray haired gentlemen heard me over the classic rock track cranking over the speakers.  However, being on less than two hours’ sleep and with the cabbie joyfully exclaiming in his heavy Russian accent about how Deep Purple is his favorite band . . . I didn’t have the heart to ask if he understood.

While “Smoke on the Water” vibrated throughout my body, the driver got me to the Magic Castle Hotel without further instruction.  As I figured, I couldn’t check-in because it was just after seven in the morning and they were completely sold out last night.  But with friendly service they stored my bags and pointed me to their continental breakfast spread.

I had a choice . . . a lounge chair by the pool for a few hours of sleep before check-in time, or carpe diem the shit out of the day.  I chose the latter and downed three cups of coffee and had some yogurt.  Soon I was walking east down Franklin Avenue towards Griffith Park.

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Having done my research, I knew the trailhead to the Hollywood Sign Hike was just over 2.5 miles from my hotel.  With the trek itself being about five miles’ roundtrip, Uber or Lyft seemed the smart choice.   So why, after almost no sleep after a long flight across the Pacific Ocean, did I decide to walk?  Strangely, I felt pretty good physically and the coffee had given me a jolt.  But maybe after the $70 cab ride, I didn’t want to pay any more money for transportation.

When I lived in L.A. I had done many hikes in Griffith Park, but for some reason never put the Hollywood Sign on my to-do list.  It certainly wasn’t because I thought it was touristy (I had done the highly popular Griffith Observatory one on many occasions), or that I was unaware of its existence (I knew you could get there).  While I’ll never know the reasons why I shunned the Hollywood Sign, it’s certainly an activity I should have done.

After almost two miles walking down the heavily trafficked Franklin Avenue, I took a left just after Gelson’s Market on Canyon Drive.  Soon I was transported into a tranquil world.  Residential of the highly upscale variety, I could hear the wind in the trees and birds chirping as I walked up the slight incline towards Griffith Park.  After a short walk I reach the trailhead.  If I had been driving, parking was available in a couple of lots on either side at the end of the road.

The Bronson Caves, which have been used in several movies throughout the years and most famously in the 60s Batman show, were just a short detour before beginning the trek to the Hollywood Sign.  As it was nearing 9 am and I had a 2-and-a-half-hour hike ahead of me, I decided to get right to the main trail and forgo the Bat Caves until afterwards.  However, I actually never get to see them because I was too hungry when I returned and needed to get to a bathroom.

But after the experience of walking all the way up and behind the Hollywood sign, I’m sure those little caves would have been a disappointment.

******

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There was a fit couple in their 20s who started the hike approximately the same time as me, and with their speed and my just-happy-to-be-there gait, they quickly put distance between us.  A few minutes later four people in their 50s speaking German passed me on their way down, and it was probably another 30 minutes before I saw anyone else on the trail.  With the fog and the elevation and my lack of sleep, the whole experience was quite dreamlike.

I started getting weird thoughts.  What if the exertion was too much on too little sleep and I pass out?  There had to be mountain lions and rattlesnakes and David Lynch type monsters lurking just around the bend.  But I quickly ousted those ridiculous macabre fantasies from my mind, and it’s easy to enjoy the moment.

The first thirty or so minutes of the hike is a steady incline with some switchbacks, and then it gets easy for a while until you reach the turnoff that will take you up behind the sign on Mount Lee.  You need to step around quite a bit of horse poop, but otherwise the path is easy walking.  On a clear day I’m sure the views of downtown and the entire surrounding area are outstanding, but the diaphanous fog was doing its best to shield the sights.

Before going up behind the Hollywood Sign, I keep going along the ridge with its old wooden fence running along the left.  Through the fog I could just make out the Griffith Observatory and the outline of the skyscrapers in the distance.  Down below a group of horses ambled around a pen.   I reach the end of the path and can see the letters spelling out H-O-L-L-Y-W-O-O-D above me, the closest I’ve ever been to them.  After snapping a few photos, I turned back around towards the trail to get to the top of Mount Lee.

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The sign still seemed far away, and with a big yawn I began to feel the lack of sleep.  I wanted to take a nap in the grass, but I kept onward.  It was up, up, up for maybe another 20 minutes before reaching my first extreme close-up view of the Hollywood Sign.  Behind a high chain link fence and warnings forbidding closer access, I looked down at the giant letters in awe.

Built in 1923 to advertise a real estate development called Hollywoodland (the L-A-N-D letters were taken down in 1949), the sign originally lit up with bulbs and was only intended to exist for eighteen months.  It then became a symbol of the glamour and glitz of the American film industry, and eventually morphed into a historical landmark of worldwide acclaim.  Something I didn’t know (until Wikipedia recently told me), was the original 1923 letters had become so deteriorated they had to all be replaced (by bigger ones) in 1978.

*******

Like countless people before and after, I moved to Hollywood in my twenties to make it in the film industry.  For me the dream was to become a professional screenwriter.  While I wrote several scripts, made many connections, and got read at some of the top agencies, I never got the proverbial big break.

When I made it to the top of Mount Lee that morning, a little winded and my calves feeling strained, I gazed down at the Hollywood Sign with respect.  I couldn’t help but think of all the hours, days, weeks, months, and years I spent holed up in dingy apartments writing and hustling to sell my work.  All the time hunched over a keyboard, doing my best to remain disciplined while my friends were out having fun.  All of the near misses and rejections I received from agents and producers.

And I couldn’t help but smile.

I had always enjoyed the process, the honest and pure attempt at trying to reach my life goals.  Since leaving Los Angeles I’ve never been so passionate, so dedicated to a singular vision.  That’s probably the biggest reason why I loved living in L.A. back then (not the weather, or the history, or even all the great friends I made).  And it’s why, despite failing to achieving those goals, I will always look upon my time there reverentially.