Someone, I think it was Shane Nickerson, recently recalled the apocryphal advice given to people who choose to come live in Los Angeles: this city sucks, so if you're going to live here, you should at least love what you do...
I got into Hollywood at 11 yesterday morning, and came back out at 7:30 last night. I can't say why, or what I was doing in town, but the journey there and back again is worth remembering.
I don't know how I did it, but I managed to leave the house on time and didn't feel stressed at all as I drove through the lingering dregs of morning traffic into Hollywood. I exited the freeway at Forest Lawn, and counted at least half a dozen immigrants - many appeared to be entire families with one or two small children - offering bouquets of flowers to people visiting the cemetery for which the street is named. Business must have been good for some of them, because when I looked up the hill into the cemetery, I saw as many flowers as there were graves, maybe even more.
Before I could succumb to any melancholy thoughts, the cemetery was behind me and I was passing Warner Brothers on my way to Barham. Though I've spent much of the last ten years working as a moderately successful writer, getting to work as an actor on things like The Guild, Leverage and The Big Bang Theory last year reminded me how much I love performing with other actors. I hit a red light by one of the studio gates, and stared at one of the sound stages.
I recalled a lifetime spent on stages just like that one, where I'd trade the real world for one that temporarily exists for us because dozens (in some cases hundreds) of people all agree to work together to bring it to life ... but also permanently exists for whoever in the audience is watching it.
Stephen King talks about writing as time travel in his book On Writing, and it wasn't until yesterday that I realized the same thing could be said about film and television. I suppose it's one of those things that is so obvious, it's easy to miss unless you're really looking for it.
I looked at that sound stage and desperately wanted to be on it. I wanted to spend whole days working with other actors and a director to bring an imagined world to life. I wanted to experience the joy and creative satisfaction that I can only receive when I discover an unexpected moment in a scene, or am so profoundly moved by something in another actor's performance, the character may as well have been real.
I wanted to walk to Craft Service and linger around a table of half-bagels and soda cans sweating in melting ice while I talked with other actors about acting in a language that only actors understand.
I must have been wishing for a long time, because I was jarred back to reality by the blaring of a car horn behind me. I looked up, saw the light had turned green, and waved the universal "sorry" gesture as I pulled away from the line. The car, a dark-colored Audi, sped around me, its driver clearly and angrily yelling something at me as he passed. I figured he must work at the studio, probably in business affairs.
I made a left on Barham and drove down into Hollywood. Traffic was jammed at Hollywood and Highland. A DOT sign told us the cause was a Special Event, but wasn't more specific. "Only in Hollywood," I thought, "would Special Event happen so frequently, they'd need a sign as common as Road Construction."
About twenty tourists took the whole thing in. Some of them looked down at the walk of fame, others looked up at the theater marquees, most of them posed for and took pictures. Vendors, street performers, and pan handlers all looked on, hoping to somehow separate the visitors from their money. As I drove past, I wondered if the reality of Hollywood meets the expectations tourists have from seeing it on television. I see them wandering Hollywood Boulevard from La Brea to Vine all the time, and I can't help but wonder if it's as disappointing as I think it would be.
I drove on a bit further, and arrived at my destination.
I can't tell you what I did, which is a shame, because it's a pretty cool story all by itself. Perhaps I’ll be able to tell it in the future, but it’s not what this story is about, anyway, so try not to dwell on it.
Hours later, I found myself back on Sunset in the very worst of rush hour traffic, heading East toward the 101. Every local radio station was playing crap, so reached for my iPod, planning to listen to podcasts the entire way home. Further confirming my belief that DEX is my dump stat, I fumbled and dropped it into that place between the passenger seat and the centre console where you can't quite grasp it, but you can nudge it just out of reach to a place where you'll cut the hell out of the back of your hand trying to dig it out. Before I could pull over and begin the annoying recovery process, it bumped against something, lit up, and began playing music from my ambient playlist.
I didn't think to choose ambient, but as it started, I was glad my iPod (which is named BATMAN) did. The music surrounded and calmed me. After a minute, I didn't care that I was creeping along in traffic, sharing the road with but completely isolated from all my fellow commuters. I let go of the frustration of the commute, and opened myself to the interesting things around me. I noticed the fading pink of the setting sun on the West-facing walls of buildings, contrasting with the bright red glow of brake lights ahead of me. I saw the deepening gloom of night beginning to reveal a few very bright stars. I saw Crossroads of the World ... and looked through time to late 1979 or early 1980.
I was there for an audition with my mom, and we had parked on Sunset right in front. It must have been close to 4pm, because there were three tow trucks lined up on a side street, preparing to tow the cars that violated the ironclad "No Parking from 4-6" rule.
We walked out to the car - a 70s Toyota hatchback that I spent hours in every day after school going to auditions - and I noticed that there were a lot of strangely-dressed women lined up against a fence in front of a motel across the street, talking to a few police officers. They were, of course, prostitutes, and they were everywhere on Sunset in the late 70s and early 80s. I remember feeling fascinated by them, not in a sexual way (the whole concept of sex didn't exist for me, much less buying and selling it) but because they were all dressed in the most outlandish costumes: fur coats, shiny hot pants, thigh-high boots, mini skirts, various animal prints, all of them in high heels and holding shiny little purses. I stared at them the way you'd stare fireworks, or a peacock displaying its feathers, unable to look away. I remember that it bothered my mom, who admonished me to stop staring and get into the car.
I think that motel was a Travelodge back then, but it's long gone, replaced by a decaying strip mall with a 7-11 and some walk up fast food places that I suppose you could call restaurants, in as much as they trade various consumable items for cash.
I continued to (safely) let my mind drift with the music as I crawled toward home at 3 miles per hour, and found myself nearing the Cinerama Dome at Sunset and Ivar.
When I was on Star Trek, we recorded our ADR at a post facility called Modern Sound, which was across Sunset on Ivar, and I remembered a warm afternoon in 1988 or 1989 when I went up to Modern after a morning of on-set schooling to rerecord a bunch of lines from a corridor scene that we shot on stage nine with the stage floor creaking like crazy beneath the camera dolly. I don't recall the episode, but I do recall the post supervisor breaking the entire session up into a different take for each of my lines.
"I think I can do this as one take," I said.
The voice in my headphones wasn't nearly as confident. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah, it's just timing; we're not altering the performance at all."
It was quiet for a second. I picked up my pencil and absentmindedly doodled on the line breakdown, illuminated by a small cone of bright white light that made everything else in the studio except the monitor appear to vanish into darkness.
"Okay," the voice said, "we'll try it, but -"
I held up my hand and finished the thought. "But if it doesn't work, we can break it up into chunks or single lines. No big deal."
An engineer slated the take, and I listened for the beeps as the image of Wesley and ... I think it was Riker ... walking down the corridor began to move, the top Wesley's helmet hair occasionally disappearing behind timecode.
I made it about halfway through the scene on the first take, convinced them to let me try it again, and made it all the way to the end on the second take. I was intensely proud of myself, and more than a little excited that the session we expected to last an hour or more was over in a fraction of that time.
I signed out, and walked back to my car, which I'd parked on Ivar. Back then, the Cinerama Dome was the only structure across the street, and it dominated that whole block like some kind of giant white turtle next to a vast parking lot.
I don't know why I looked at it, but on the marquee, it said they were screening Stanley Kubrick's 2001. On the sidewalk beneath was a sandwich board with showtimes, and I saw that the next showing would begin in twenty minutes.
I've never been an impulsive person, and I to this day I like to plan everything out as much as I can, but I couldn't believe my good fortune. I'd never seen 2001, and I couldn't think of a better way to experience it for the first time. I moved my car into the parking lot, bought my ticket for three dollars or whatever it cost back then, and called my mom from a pay phone in the lobby so she wouldn't worry when I came home hours later than I was expected.
I was overcome by exhilaration. Not only was it my first time seeing what I understood to be one of the greatest Sci-Fi films in history, it was my first time walking inside the Cinerama Dome. There were lobby cards and original posters from the film's first release in the 60s, and I have this very dim memory that may not even be real of reading some notes about the movie that had been printed out, glued to foamcore, and presented on easels near the snack bar.
I walked into the dimly-lit theater and saw that there weren't even 20 other people inside. That weird overture played as I took my seat and looked around the cavernous room - probably the biggest non-arena location I'd ever been in - and felt like I was doing something cool and important.
The movie began, and held me rapt from the first primate, through the intermission, to the arrival of the Starchild. I didn't understand all of it (if I'm being honest, I still don't), but I loved every single second, and when I walked back to my slightly-better-than-Patrick-Stewart's 1989 Honda Prelude Si 4WS, I felt like I'd gained a level in Sci-Fi and film appreciation.
The traffic remained as terrible as I've experienced in years, but with Banco de Gaia and Global Communication joining a nearly endless supply of hazy and clear memories of a lifetime spent driving around those very streets, it didn't bother me at all.
I really hate living in Los Angeles. It's way too expensive, it's way too crowded, our infrastructure can't support our population, and everything is so damn spread out, we waste hundreds of hours a year sitting in traffic just trying to get there ... but yesterday, as I made my way there and back again, I was grateful for each mile of the journey.