Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Captains

I may have missed Comic-Con last weekend, but there was no way I was going to miss a free screening of William Shatner’s new feature-length documentary, The Captains, about the lead actors (including captain Kirk himself) of all five Star Trek TV series, plus Chris Pine from the latest Trek movie. The film was being shown at Hollywood Forever, the area’s oldest and most famous cemetery, which, in conjunction with Cinespia, has shown outdoor movies for the past 10 years. Although the screenings are wildly popular, we’d never been to one until last night.

The films are projected onto the wall of the cemetery's mausoleum, while the audience reclines on a grave-less lawn nearby. Blankets and/or short beach chairs are recommended as the grass can be a bit damp. We took chairs and a blanket just to be safe.

Any excuse for a picnic, so we packed a small cooler full of fried chicken and a salad. Karen brought pasta, cherries and two kinds of cookies. We also took along a jumbo-sized bag of potato chips, just in case.

Though we’d never been inside the cemetery, we’d driven by enough times to know that most movie-goers park on the street and then walk into the grounds. We parked on Gower and schlepped four blocks to the cemetery entrance. We were so loaded down that we looked like three sherpas preparing to ascend Mount Everest. At the gate, a group of young people welcomed us with even more stuff: free movie posters, t-shirts and water. They were promoting EPIX, a new cable channel we don’t get.

Hollywood Forever isn’t huge like, say, Forest Lawn. Still, it’s plenty big when you’re carrying a blanket, beach chairs and a week’s worth of food. Tim zoomed ahead while Karen and I admired row after row of rather elaborate gravesites. Established in 1899, the cemetery is the final resting place of many old-time Hollywood legends (e.g., Jayne Mansfield, Cecil B. DeMille, Douglas Fairbanks, Rudolph Valentino, Peter Lorre, etc.). Even more interesting, though, are the engraved headstones featuring portraits of the more recently departed. I could easily imagine spending an entire day there, roaming the aisles and reading gravestone memorials.

By the time we arrived at the lawn, all the close spaces were taken, so we setup camp toward the back of the crowd. It was still light out. A DJ entertained us with a dance competition and various silly contests, while we ate dinner and waited for the movie to start. Prizes were given for best Star Trek costumes, so there was lots to see until sunset.

Then around 7:30PM, I noticed lights flashing and commotion over by the mausoleum.

“I think Shatner is here,” I told Tim and Karen. They went to investigate while I held down the fort.

Sure enough, a red carpet had been laid down and Bill and his wife were talking with the media. Tim snapped a bunch of photos and then came running back to report what he’d seen. A few minutes later, Shatner, wearing a white fedora, was introduced to a rousing round of applause. He pointed towards Paramount Studios, which backs up against the cemetery, and noted—a little sadly, I thought—that it’s been almost 50 years since he and the crew of the starship Enterprise filmed the first Trek series right there on the Paramount lot.

I could have gotten all misty-eyed, but instead yelled, “WE LOVE YOU BILL!” And then the movie started.

How fun to watch a Star Trek documentary with hundreds of like-minded fans! They knew exactly when to laugh and exactly when to cheer. I was completely in my glory! But soon it was all over as the grounds became suddenly very dark. (No overhead lights!) We gathered our belongings and started heading back toward the car.

I was trying hard to not to stumble, when I heard Tim say, “Babe, there he is!”

I looked up and immediately recognized Shatner’s white fedora just three feet from where I was standing. He was slipping into a black towncar. I considered thanking him for making such a wonderful movie, but just couldn’t get the words out fast enough. Sometimes it’s just easier to yell “We love you!” from the back of a crowd than it is to say “Thank you” in person.

We walked back toward Gower and beamed home.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Not Comic-Con

Normally we’d be in San Diego this weekend, fighting the hordes at Comic-Con, but weren’t able to get tickets this year (boo hoo!). So instead, Tim, Karen and I took the MAK Center tour of four significant mid-century houses designed by John Lautner, the renowned American architect who left a profound, and often controversial, mark on the Los Angeles landscape. His homes, which usually incorporate lots of wood, concrete, and spectacular views of the surrounding environment, are distinctly dramatic. This weekend’s tour was just one of many events celebrating what would have been his 100th birthday. Lautner died in 1994.

The first—and most famous—residence we toured was the Sheats/Goldstein house, an enormous low-lying edifice that sits above Benedict Canyon. Owned by multimillionaire James Goldstein, the house is located atop a steep and winding road, which we traversed aboard a short schoolbus (not recommended!). Although I thought the architecture was cold and uninviting (too much concrete), the home’s gardens were magnificent: lush greenery that does a very good job of protecting the owner’s privacy.

Our next stop, the Schwimmer house, was much more friendly with its curved wood beams and semicircular design. The grounds weren’t anywhere near as lush as the previous home, but the views of the city were amazing. I am not a big fan of hilltop living, especially in L.A. where fires and earthquakes are a common enough occurrence; yet I can definitely see how someone might be seduced by such a phenomenal vista.

We had seen the Harpel house (tour stop #3) before, but were still blown-away by its unparalleled 180-degree panorama of Burbank and the Hollywood Hills. (If you click on the very first photo above and look directly to the right of the antennas on top of Mount Lee, you can barely see the back of the H in the Hollywood sign!) The Harpel house is also known for being right below the Chemosphere, arguably Lautner’s most notorious creation. Built on a pedestal, the Chemosphere looks like an eight-sided flying saucer (which you can see floating above the Harpel house in the photo below.) We may have all been there to see the Harpel house; but I can guarantee that everyone on the tour was secretly lusting for a chance to see the Chemosphere instead.

Our last stop was the Jacobsen house, a cozy two-bedroom postwar residence built above what’s now the Hollywood freeway. Although the entire structure is suspended from just three steel truss columns, I have to say I felt the most comfortable here, perhaps because it was the most modest—and, therefore, most liveable—of the four homes.

Since all tourists need sustenance, we headed straight to Mozza (scene of our infamous porkfest back in February) from the Jacobsen house. Luckily, we found seats at the pizza bar and watched as the cooks assembled a never-ending assortment of wood-baked pizzas. If you’re not hungry when you walk in, you most certainly will be after seeing several pizzas being made here. Our lips were smacking! Boy, was I glad we hadn’t gone to Comic-Con.

P.S. With all my excitement over the houses, I forgot to mention that comic actor Will Farrell was also on the Lautner tour. I guess he couldn't get tickets to Comic-Con either!

Monday, July 18, 2011

Hey! Hey!

Anyone familiar with this blog knows that I love the Beatles and always will. There was a brief period in the late 1960s, however, when my affection for the Fabs was rivaled by four other lads: The Monkees, the pop-rock group who (for any of you non-baby-boomers) had a prime-time TV show from 1966 until 1968.

The Monkees TV show was NBC’s response to the Beatles’ wildly popular movie A Hard Day’s Night. But unlike the Beatles, The Monkees group was specifically created for the TV show. Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith, and Peter Tork all auditioned to become part of the band and, therefore, the show. They were supposed to be singers and actors, not musicians or songwriters.

Although they were derisively called “The Pre-Fab Four” by unkind critics, my sister and I loved The Monkees and their music. I especially adored Micky who, like John Lennon (still my favorite Beatle), was the group’s defacto leader. My sister liked Davy, the “cute one;” but then again, Paul McCartney was always her favorite Beatle, so no surprise there. Getting ready for the show every week, I would change into my best outfit—and maybe even wear a little lipstick—before sitting down to watch my heroes. I was 12 years old.

I’m not sure what happened to The Monkees after their TV show was canceled, but other things in my life became far more important. Then about 20 years ago, they played as part of an oldies concert following a Padres baseball game in San Diego. I tried to storm the stage, yelling “MICKY!! MICKY!!,” but, of course, wasn’t allowed onto the field. Fast-forward to 10 years ago when Micky and Davy began touring together and played a short set at Disney’s California Adventure theme park. I was much more restrained, but thrilled nonetheless to hear them sing their top-10 hits. I thought for sure they’d never play together again.

Not so! As soon as I read that Micky, Davy and Peter were appearing at the Greek Theatre this past weekend, I bought tickets for Tim and me. The majority of the audience was definitely within our demographic as middle-aged people sitting around us reminisced about their teen years. There was no opening act, so I wondered how The Monkees were going to fill a two-hour concert by themselves. Soon enough a large screen came to life, showing silly 1960s Monkees commercials for Kool-Aid and Kellogg’s cereal. Then, at 8:02PM, the back-up band started playing as the three Monkees emerged, singing “(Take the) Last Train to Clarksville,” while footage from the TV show was shown overhead. Suddenly we were all teenagers again! The audience went wild.

Micky, Davy and Peter looked great and, for the most part, sounded good. But most wonderful was the continuous feed of Monkees TV show footage screened at the back of the stage. The Monkees may never have been as talented as the Beatles, but they were certainly much more beautiful. No wonder I dressed up to watch them every Monday might.

The guys performed their greatest hits (and more!) for over 2 hours. By the end everyone was standing, singing and, yes, even crying. OK, I was the only one crying, but we all had a wonderful time.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


So the weekend we’ve been dreading is finally here: Carmageddon—when life as we know it in west L.A. was supposed to grind to a halt while 10 miles of the 405 freeway were closed for major repairs. Fifty-three hours of sheer traffic chaos—or so everyone predicted. Since we live only 2 blocks from the 405, I envisioned all kinds of gridlock in our neighborhood as people tried to avoid the blockage four miles north of us.

But the horror we all thought was going to happen never materialized—probably because the media did such a good job of scaring everyone to death. Westsiders either left town or just stayed indoors all weekend. In fact, the project went so well that the freeway is now open again some 20 hours ahead of schedule.

Still, it was an historic event—how often is L.A.’s main north-south artery voluntarily closed for more than a few minutes?—so, of course, we had to see it for ourselves firsthand.

The methodical process of closing the 405 started at 7PM, Friday night, with full closure occurring at midnight. We tuned into the news as soon as we woke-up the next morning. Expecting to see traffic backed-up for miles, we instead saw a newscaster happily driving around, showing the world just how uncongested the highways actually were.

“I want to see what the freeway looks like without any cars!” I excitedly told Tim. “Let’s go for a ride!”

“But it’s 6:30AM,” he said groggily.

“I’ll drive, but I need you to take photos, “ I insisted. “Let’s go before everyone else has the same idea.”

We threw on the previous day’s clothes and hopped into the car. Most of L.A. was apparently still fast asleep.

We entered the 405 off of Culver Blvd. The road was wide open—a miracle even at 7 o’clock on a Saturday morning.

“Wow! Wouldn’t it be fabulous if the freeway was always like this?” I exclaimed.

Tim was madly taking pictures. Before we knew it we arrived at the I-10 interchange, where we passed a roadblock and several workers in reflective gear. The northbound 405 was closed from here to highway 101. We merged onto the 10 and then exited at National. My plan was to drive up to UCLA and across the Sunset Blvd. bridge, so we could look down onto the empty freeway.

Though few cars were on the road, traffic cops were stationed at what are usually the most heavily traveled intersections (i.e., Pico and Overland). We continued north on surface streets until we got to Sunset and then turned left (west).

“Get the camera ready,” I told Tim as we approached the bridge. A lone bicyclist was standing on the freeway overpass, photographing the scene below. We parked across the street and ran over to the bridge. With the exception of a few orange Caltrans vehicles, the northbound lanes were completely deserted. Very freaky. I felt like we were watching a post-nuclear holocaust movie from the 1950s.

After a few minutes, we jumped into the car and got back on the freeway. We were one of three cars headed south. Very, very strange, but not at all unpleasant. Indeed, it was kinda nice having the entire road to ourselves. Plus, when we got home, we noticed that the ever-present freeway noise outside our front door was completely gone. Maybe this Carmageddon thing wasn’t so bad after all!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Royal Welcome

Despite my wacky behavior on Friday, I woke-up this morning wondering just how badly I wanted to see the royal couple as they visited Sony Studios. After all, I had no idea what time they’d be arriving nor even which studio gate they’d be entering. I had no desire to spend my entire Sunday just waiting for the Prince and Duchess.

I am a librarian, however, and like any good librarian I love the challenge of a tough information query. So instead of moping around the house, missing the newlyweds’ stop in Culver City, I decided to figure out exactly when and where they’d be arriving.

My first clue was a 7AM news segment broadcast from Sony’s sound stage #15, where the big event was going to be held. At least I now had an exact location for their visit. The next step was to figure out where sound stage #15 is located. Luckily, I was able to find this nifty map of Sony Studios, which then helped me deduce which gate they would be entering. I remembered that when I saw President Obama in April, the public entered the main gate on Overland. Yet when I saw him leave that night, his motorcade emerged from the south gate on Culver Blvd. Sure enough, the Culver gate is closest to sound stage #15, plus has a VIP parking lot nearby. The royals would be entering via Culver Blvd. Half of the mystery was solved!

But exactly when would they arrive? I scrolled through countless websites, until Karen called (to the rescue again!) to say ABC channel 7 was covering the last leg of William and Kate’s trip. I checked the ABC7 website and not only did it provide a map of the royals’ activities, but also an interactive itinerary with times! Eureka! I now knew exactly when they were due to visit Sony: 1:15PM. I had three hours to prepare.

To test my theory, I took a quick drive by Sony (less than 2 miles from our house). No royal watchers yet, but police cars and officers were suspiciously parked in front of the Culver gate. Confirmation. I decided then and there to return at 12:30PM to see the royals.

At 12:15PM I spied a helicopter circling Sony and so hopped into my car and headed north. Four blocks from the studio entrance, I could already see a crowd gathering across the street . I parked a block away and quickly walked over. I asked the first two women I saw whether William and Kate had arrived.

“No,” they replied. “But we’re not even sure this is the right gate!”

“This is the correct gate,” I stated emphatically, explaining that Obama used this gate when he was here in April. The women gave me a dubious look—their friends were waiting outside the Overland gate. But they decided to stay anyway. I later heard others repeating my Obama explanation. Since we still didn’t know for sure whether the royals were coming our way, I silently crossed my fingers that my theory was right.

The crowd eventually grew to about 200 spectators—mostly women. I was one of the oldest people there. One young woman wore a tiara and others had handmade signs proclaiming their love for Kate and William. A photographer from the local weekly newspaper, The Wave, took pictures and interviewed a group of girls holding a British flag. We all stared intently at the gate across the street and made note of every movement. Police officers arrived a few minutes before 1PM, as did a cadre of men dressed in black suits. Some sort of secret service, we told ourselves. Final proof that this indeed was the right gate—phew!

Regular people in cars drove by, honking and giving us the royal wave. We cheered when the channel 2 news van pulled up (further confirmation!) and when a line of sheriff cars took off east, toward where the royal motorcade would be coming. Then, in an instant, a flurry of activity occurred. I looked down Culver Blvd. and saw flashing lights.

“Here they come!” I said to the women next to me. People at the easternmost end of the crowd began screaming. I looked to my left and traffic had stopped. In front of us, someone had quickly placed orange cones down the middle of the street. Everyone was screaming! I could see the line of Range Rovers turning right into the studio. The crowd suddenly went wild as all 200 people spontaneously ran into the street!

“You guys!” I yelled. “You can’t just run into the street!” I then whispered, “Oh, hell!” to myself and ran after them.

Though some people insisted they saw the Prince smiling and waving, all I could see was the crowd and the top of the Prince’s car. Everyone chanted "KATE AND WILL! KATE AND WILL!" It was very, very exciting.

The motorcade was now fully inside the studio gates as traffic started moving again on Culver Blvd. A nice police officer insisted that we move back to the sidewalk. The crowd, giddy with joy, booed a young man holding a sign that said “Go Back to Canada.” We craned our necks as faceless people emerged from the motorcade. I fancied I saw Kate, but later discovered it wasn’t her at all.

Still, I was glad I went. Though the crowd wasn't going to budge until their heroes left the studio—at least another hour—I had seen enough and so turned to leave. I'll watch the rest of the royals' trip on the news tonight.

Friday, July 08, 2011

The Royals Drive Thru Culver City

Tim and I were debating where to eat dinner when Karen, who lives near LAX, called.

“There are hundreds of helicopters hovering over my house,” she said.

“OH MY GOD! THE ROYALS!” I yelled, forgetting all about my empty stomach. “Are they on TV?”

“Yes,” she confirmed

“OK. Good-bye!” I said, dashing over to the television. I was so engrossed in my work that I’d forgotten Prince William and Duchess Catherine were flying into L.A. this afternoon. Tim and I watched as the royal couple stepped out of their plane and into one of several waiting Land Rovers. Their motorcade then headed north toward Playa del Rey. Next stop: the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills.

“They’re taking Culver Blvd. to the freeway,” we both guessed. Even though William and Kate’s itinerary—including a stop in Culver City this Sunday!—is well-known, their travel route is closely guarded, so there was little chance for me to plan ahead to see them drive by. We assumed they’d take the Marina freeway to the I-405. But when they passed the onramp, we both suddenly realized they were taking surface streets to Beverly Hills. And not just any surface streets—they were taking our own Culver Blvd., only a handful of blocks from our house.

I grabbed the camera and my phone.

“I’m going to see them!” I yelled at Tim as I went running out of the house and down the street.

By now, the helicopters were flying over our neighborhood as people emerged from their homes to see what was going on.

“Where are you going?” one neighbor asked as I ran by.

“THE PRINCE!!” I yelled. I was madly trying to call Tim to see where the motorcade was.

“They just passed Sawtelle,” he informed me. “Uh oh. Now they’re crossing Sepulveda.”

I had missed them, so stopped running and jogged back home. I arrived just as the motorcade turned left at Overland.

“Why didn’t you take the car?!” Tim asked incredulously. I had gotten so carried away that I just ran out the door! The funny thing is, I can’t remember the last time I ran anywhere, let alone down the block in flip-flops. I was like a woman possessed!

Still panting, I heard the newscaster ask his colleagues, “Does anyone know what street they’re on now?”

“OVERLAND!!” we both yelled at the television. Sure enough, there was Sony Studio on the right, followed a few minutes later by Westside Pavilion mall on the left. I have to say, they were making damn good time—something every Angeleno has to admire, especially during rush hour. The motorcade then turned onto Pico.

“They’re taking our secret way!” Tim and I marveled. Even the royals know the freeway is a nightmare this time of day!

We remained glued to the TV until William and Kate were safely inside the Beverly Hilton. We then got back to the business at hand.

“So where do you want to go for dinner?” I asked.

P.S. Like I said above, the Royals are returning to Culver City on Sunday. This time I plan to be better prepared. Watch for my report early next week . . .