Work-wise, the period 1992-1994 was not the best for me. The Alliance & Leicester had made its decision to centralise its professional functions in Leicester so I knew that redundancy was coming, just not exactly when. We didn’t really have any meaty projects to work on and we were, quite frankly, bored for much of the time. Carol and I saved our pennies during this period and didn’t take any form of a holiday. Then, as soon as the plans were announced and I knew the size of my redundancy package, we booked the big one: Los Angeles, San Francisco and Las Vegas. Vegas isn’t really our sort of place, it was just handy from which to visit the Grand Canyon; San Francisco is a vibrant city – compact, unbelievably hilly and boasting the fascination of Alcatraz, the Golden Gate and locations of the Clint Eastwood movies I enjoy so much (the swimming pool on the roof of our hotel was the one used in the opening sequence of ‘Dirty Harry’). But it was LA – and particularly Hollywood – that I fell in love with. Although we visited all the touristy locations like Disneyland, Knotts Berry and Universal Studios, my thoughts centre more on the awesome geography and scale of the city and some personal memories…
To the City of Angels
I was like a small, excited child before I even reached LA. On the flight over, I asked to take the boys up to the flight deck. They lost interest after five minutes but I stayed up there for a good hour, the captain showing me the speed indicator at take-off (I think it was 164.7 mph), the graphical representation of fuel being pumped round the aircraft and and even letting me press the button that confirmed an air-traffic control request to increase altitude by 2,000 feet – awesome!
Safely landed, I woke on the morning of October 3, 1995 and pulled back the curtains; Wow! We could see the famous old Hollywood sign from the window of our hotel room, in the Hollywood Roosevelt, which stood just opposite the concrete hand and foot prints of Mann’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. What a great start!
The lobby of the impressive Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
Built in the Spanish Colonial Revival style, and hosting
the first Academy Awards ceremony in 1929, it has
hosted many of the world’s ‘golden age’ film stars,
including Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and Charlie Chaplin.
You can see Carol, Christopher and David in the centre of the picture
The lobby of the impressive Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel.
We visited Shelley Cafe opposite the hotel for a wonderful breakfast of coffee, omelettes and toast. Then we were rather brought down to earth as the TV reminded us that today was the announcement of the verdict in the O J Simpson trial; we had followed proceedings religiously back in the UK and knew that (a) he was clearly guilty, but (b) if guilty was the verdict then the city would probably turn to one massive riot zone. Accordingly, we watched the live broadcast from our hotel room with mixed feelings. As it turned out he was (wrongly) acquitted and calm prevailed. We left the hotel and began exploring.
The city is truly incredible. Bordered to the west by the Pacific Ocean and the east by the San Gabriel Mountains, the temperature rarely drops below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. It stands on the San Andreas faultline and has experienced several devastating earthquakes, a particularly nasty one having occurred in 1994, just a year or so ahead of our first visit.
The population of the main urban area is about three million and Greater Los Angeles covers an area of 4,000 square miles – so you could fit the county of East Sussex in to it nearly six times over. It comprises 86 separate towns, including Long Beach, Beverly Hills and Hollywood.
LA is ruled by the car; there are 6.5 million of them and it has been suggested that, during rush hours, there are so many vehicles in the area that they reduce the speed the world is able to spin on its axis! The traffic creates lung-crunching levels of pollution – 18,000 tons of carbon monoxide each and every day. On calm days, a thick smoke haze hangs over the city.
LA is so vast that, if you stick to the speed limits, it takes you two hours to travel from one end of the conurbation to the other. The city boasts the world’s first theme park – Knotts Berry – the original Disneyland and is the birthplace of McDonalds. Originally, the Hollywood sign read Hollywoodland and was lit by thousands of light bulbs; a caretaker lived in a shack behind one of the L’s and it was his job to replace those that burned out!
And, talking of Hollywood, to me it has always been a state of mind rather than a place – a name that encapsulates the golden era of the US film industry. Indeed, on our early visits, it was certainly a far cry from the swish location many believe it to be. In fact, it was quite run-down and all the better for being that way. I enjoyed nosing around the numerous little gift-shops on forgotten street corners and imagining the stars who would have frequented the dark, smoky coffee bars in days gone by. I loved the long, twisty drive down Sunset Boulevard to the Pacific Coast Highway, another thoroughfare which, for the most part, lacks any form of glamour. In recent years, the city has tried to create that ‘real’ Hollywood by constructing the hideous Kodak (now Dolby) Theatre and associated shopping malls and, as a result, has eradicated any magic and mirage.
So, thank you LA and, especially, thank you to the ‘mirage’ of Hollywood; I came to love the place, becoming almost obsessed with it. I was 34 years old on my first visit and I’m glad – because I really felt privileged to be there. I am sad that I shall not visit it again – not in this life anyway – as its magic, for me, has faded.