MAN, I love L.A. The L.A. area is like they tilted America westward and all across the country small towns came loose and slid down and piled up there. I grew up in a small town in Ohio, and when I'm in L.A., I'm often so giddy I might have just finished sliding down there myself. I actually know very little about the city besides what I've seen of it in movies and on television. As it turns out, though, that's a lot. A while back I flew to LAX Airport on my first visit to the city in twenty years. At the airport I got into a rental car and drove around the city for eight hours straight, and every place looked familiar to me. I had not guessed during those many hours of watching CHiPs and The Rockford Files back in the seventies that I was being educated to feel comfortable in L.A. I drove and drove -- up the coast to Malibu, up Topanga Canyon, along Foothill Boulevard, along Rodeo Drive, down multilane streets disappearing in the distance into weirs of palm-tree trunks. Tall Washingtonia palms punctuated the horizon like upside-down exclamation points at the beginnings of Spanish sentences. On Sunset Boulevard I pulled over to look at one of these palms close up. Its corky trunk, higher up than I could reach, was embossed with tacks and heavy-duty staples that had once held lost-cat notices and ads for classes in martial arts.
I like to walk in L.A. too. Something about the place makes me want to ramble, on foot as much as by car. My wife's sister and her husband live in Silver Lake, and the last time I stayed with them, I walked their neighborhood all around. This part of the city is hilly; Fargo Street, with an incline of thirty-two degrees, is one of the steepest streets in L.A. My relatives live in a modest house at the bottom of a hill, but as you go up the hills, the houses get fancier and fancier. The streets begin to make hairpin turns and traverse the slope, the high white-stucco walls press closer on both sides, the sidewalk shrinks to a curb, and sternly worded warning signs of private security systems proliferate. Finally, at the top of a hill, with the hazy, humming cityscape stretching below, the road comes to an end at a high wrought-iron gate in front of the fanciest house yet. Sometimes at the gate an armed and uniformed man employed by a private police force is reading a newspaper and sitting on a metal folding chair.
MY brother-in-law had an '83 Ford pickup truck, which he mostly used to haul sets for plays and other theatrical stuff. My brother-in-law is an actor and a theatrical man of all work. As near as I can determine, acting in L.A. is divided into two kinds: acting for TV or movies, where they pay you, and acting for the theater, where you pay them. The work my brother-in-law used the truck for was mainly the you-pay-them kind; so when he broke one of the truck's outside rearview mirrors, he did not send an assistant out for a replacement and mark the cost down to "miscellaneous." Instead he went looking all over for the cheapest '83 Ford pickup rearview mirror he could find. Knowing my peripatetic L.A. restlessness, he took me along.