Yet here I am, standing on the 70th floor of our hotel while John checks in, and developing a little crush. My only experience so far has been spending an hour in the line for passport control and making the official with the tightest hairbun in history smile. I was expecting glamour from the moment I touched down in this city. This, in part, is why I felt I wouldn’t like LA. I bought into the myth that everyone was impossibly beautiful, plastified, holding chihuahuas and taking selfies. LAX looked a little worn out, downtown Los Angeles looks just like Marbella through an art deco lens.
Then I am elevated, literally, and I am looking at this skyline that isn’t much of a skyline with its rooftop pools and helipads. The haze in the distance makes Burbank look like it is Avalon. I try to look for the Hollywood sign in vain. The sun is setting and I am so overtired that when we sit down for dinner later I think the floor might be shaking except it’s just me.
I am taking things in but I am trying not to, I am pushing them out of myself because we are walking around looking for something to eat and the roads are so wide and the pavements so wide and the buildings are tall with the neon glow of billboards in my filtered vision. The Grammy Museum. The Staples Center where Michael Jackson’s funeral….tribute….wake…was held and Usher cried over his golden coffin. I hear more Spanish than English, I love it.
Our room is on the 38th floor. The building next to us looks like a wide shot from The Dark Knight. Out hotel looks like Star Tower. There are benefits to the landscape looking like someone took a rolling pin to the city. You can see all the way out, practically to the horizon. The cars on the roads below never stop moving. The poster in our hotel room informs us that “Nobody Walks in LA.”
I didn’t know what sleeping like the dead meant until that night. I blink and I am awake and it is 6 a.m. and the furthest West I’ve ever been. It’s strange to think it’s late lunchtime in Spain, that as this place wakes up other things are happening in other places. This is supposed to be the point of travel, for me anyway. At the airport I felt like everyone was missing the point. They push and shove and talk into phones and dominate as much space as they can on the plane. Travel is supposed to humble you, to make you realise that London’s greatest problems are a speck in the eye of someone in Los Angeles, flicked away carelessly. We are away from the drab drone of Brexit. Everything feels like a film to me in America.
Everyone says Downtown in Los Angeles is boring, ugly, uncool. Maybe it’s the sun, or the amount of space, or the lack of people walking around the giant sidewalk on a Sunday morning, but it feels peaceful. We stroll to a bakery like the city is here for us. Maybe it’s terribly uncool but we don’t have to queue or fight for space. The high rises co-exist with solitary stocky art deco buildings that confidentally state their grandeur. I get a sense of the possibility here, the wealth, the move West to a warmer climate, the siren call of the Pacific. For such a large city it feels languid, rested. London always feels like it is permanently harrassed, always one minute late for the train.
The library looks like a set piece for Elizabeth Taylor’s Cleopatra. There’s a square named after Ray Bradbury. We take an Uber to Beverly Hills and walk along a practically deserted Rodeo Drive. These stores haven’t had to fight for space so they are free to be ostentatious in their architecture. While not imposing at only two floors tall, the Versace store manages to replicate a palazzo on a cobblestoned hill. The Yves Saint Laurent store is slated in pure white, its golden logo shining in the California late morning sun.
It’s quiet here. We find a square for coffee under palm trees with a fountain. Everything is so clean. I’m not deluding myself, we pass by the less fortunate areas. Yet there’s something here to compare to Oxford Street, to Champs-Elysee, to Fifth Avenue. Even in their wealth they feel dirty, smelly, cramped, pushed upwards. Maybe I’m so used to seeing the scenery in movies but I feel like we’ve stumbled on a set between takes.
We visit the Paley Center For Media for an American Horror Story costume exhibition. It’s free, laid out beautifully with all this envious space they have. The basis of my life is narrative, and this is a city of stories. Maybe there’s a lot about crime, about greed and wealth and everything that isn’t hopeful, but aren’t those the best stories? I’m at an exhibition looking at Lady Gaga’s decapitated head in a jar and it all makes sense.
The haze has lifted, we can see the Hollywood sign from the 70th floor. The couple next to us talk in Spanish about the things Los Angeles has seen, the glamour of the 1950s, the glory of what this city was. I’m looking forward to Hollywood.
There’s something I’m learning about living in a bubble, whatever I felt about these beautiful people walking around, what I have come to realise about life is that there is one impossibly beautiful person, and one hundred average people with a disposable income surrounding them and trying too hard. There’s a lot of that in LA, and it’s amusing, and endearing, and its own bubble.
I lose myself in Target for an hour. I’ve never experienced anywhere where I can grab shower gel, 3 litres of apple juice, vitamins, underwear, and a Funko Pop doll. I spend ten minutes looking about ten different containers of psyllium husk, overwhelmed by price and variety. I think if I moved here I would get very, very fat. Or maybe I would get extremely thin, staring forever at a shelf wondering which item I should get.