I think that when most people think of New Orleans, they think of food, music and lots of drinking. It may be true that Bourbon Street is the Disneyland of drinking, but it’s just one street. When people think of Los Angeles, I suppose they think of movie stars and premieres and there are plenty of both, though I doubt the average tourist would have access to either. Having lived in Los Angeles for nearly 18 years, going to L.A. is more than a vacation for me, it’s a return to my former home and the friends I left when I moved to the Big Easy.
The airplane started to suck the moisture from my skin as we crossed the country and I suddenly remembered the thing I most disdained about California weather – the dry desert air. Though the plane reminded me, nothing could prepare me and within an hour of landing, my fingertips were sandpaper snagging my knit fabrics.
My friend, Danica, picked me up from the airport and we drove through town on our way to The Grove. Bourbon Street in New Orleans is peppered with strip joints and live shows called “love acts.” Scantily clad women stand in doorways framed with explicit photos and some tourists cover their children’s eyes as they pass. But in L.A., I couldn’t help but notice images of sexuality everywhere. In addition to building-sized advertisements like the one for Hung with a man in bed with at least 4 women with no faces, there was a store called Beverly Hills Pimps and Hos with cupids brandishing AK 47s on the sign. It was a real head scratcher for me, what could they be selling? Who were they trying to attract? Turns out they sell t-shirts from $39 to $120 and trucker hats averaging $69 emblazoned with “Pimps and Hos.” Now, I’m even more confused about who the market is for their product. Also imponderable, the “Medical Spa.”
The Grove is one of my favorite places in Los Angeles. Attached to the historic Farmer’s Market, the upscale shopping center serves as a town centre with restaurants, shops and an excellent movie theatre. The Christmas tree was up and decorated and ready to be lit the following weekend in a ceremony that includes carolers and fake snow. After some window shopping, we met friends for supper at The Farm restaurant, one of my old favorites. We sat on the patio watching the streetcar run its short track from one end of The Grove to the other. Now, I ride a streetcar to get around my beautiful city of New Orleans. They may not be as shiny and toylike as the streetcar at The Grove, but, between the streetcars, walking and carpooling, I’ve driven 698 miles so far this year. And the gas is cheaper in NOLA.
I’d sent Mardi Gras beads to my friends’ kids last year and had no idea if they went over well but I dutifully packed a quarter of my suitcase with more of the festive treats and, wisely, handed them out after dinner. The kids really seemed to love them and I was transported to my own youth when my cousins would give me beads. I treasured them and longed to catch my own one day. I was thrilled, later that night, to find that Angela’s daughter had used last year’s beads to decorate her pumpkins, doorknobs and trees for a recent Halloween party.
In New Orleans, everyone interacts with everyone. Whether it’s a concert, a festival, a parade or just a pretty day for a walk, there are always babies and grandparents around, men in ties and others in tie-dye, and people smile and talk to one another. In L.A., it seems like everyone is between the ages of 21 and 35, all wearing expensive jeans and uncomfortable footwear (no one walks so it works out). The elderly seem confined to a 10 block radius near Fairfax Ave. and the children are tucked away, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang-like, in preschools and martial arts classes. As we enjoyed our small gang of rambunctious 5 and under kids, we noticed other tables complaining about the noise, the activity. I was glad to see that, like in NOLA, the kids had a safe place to run around without fear of being hit by a car, but it was clear they weren’t everyone’s idea of a good time. We didn’t care, we just enjoyed their game of hide and seek while catching up on each other’s lives.
I stayed in Laurel Canyon with Angela, my friend since high school, near 2 of the houses I used to live in. I was able to be happy when I lived in Laurel Canyon. The trees and birds and squirrels made the city seem far away and neighbors spoke to each other there. Angela recently redid her backyard, turning it into a zen garden paradise. As we sat under the moon with wind rustling the bamboo, coyotes began wailing in the near distance. After 3 years at the bottom of the hills in Hollywood listening to helicopters and horns honking, and 2 years of the frogs and insects of Louisiana, I’d forgotten the coyotes.
According to Wikipedia, “Coyotes are opportunistic, versatile carnivores.” Throughout history and literature, they have appeared as tricksters and folk heroes. I nominate them for the town’s mascot. I’ve always admired the pluck it takes to leave everything you know behind and follow a dream, the cowboys and gold diggers who continue to venture west in search of their futures, but L.A. definitely attracts opportunistic, versatile carnivores.
The next day, I hitched a ride down the hill to the rental car place. Turns out it would be much cheaper if I came back in 2 hours so I decided to walk the few miles back up the hills to Angela’s. The morning was sunny but crispy cool, especially in the shade. I only passed one other person walking (and talking on a cell phone), though it was clearly rush hour. In New Orleans, many people walk or ride bikes or scooters. We all pass each other and smile or exchange, “How you doing today?” greetings. On Sunset and in Laurel Canyon, every commuter in the bumper to bumper traffic was in the bubble of their car with eyes forward and disengaged. I also noticed that each house I passed seemed to have 2 or 3 cars in front even with all the cars already on the road.
The walk wasn’t so bad on the lower part of the hills but as I climbed further on increasingly steeper inclines, I noticed the air was not only drier, it was thinner. The last part of the walk was a challenge and it was a pity that the smell of Sweet Olive so heavenly in New Orleans had been replaced by the old familiar stench of car exhaust, but I will admit that there are times I’m walking through the beauty of New Orleans and wish for a hill taller than the diminutive manmade Monkey Hill. I used to love walking in the hills. With many of the tall gates open to allow pool cleaners and gardeners in, I could see inside courtyards and uncovered windows and open doors. I had favorite houses, usually in the 2 to 3 bedroom range, and I wished I could own them if I had a few million dollars. I continue to be a renter, but there are plenty of large homes in NOLA for under $400,000. Heck, you can buy a mansion for $500,000.
The Enterprise guy came to pick me up and we talked about the Saints. He was from San Diego and was a fan of Drew Brees and Darren Sproles, who he said we’re making much better use of than their old San Diego team had. He also confirmed that no one in L.A. can drive in the slightest of rain sprinkles and said he found the city to be “superficial.” I asked how long he’d been in L.A. “One year.” I definitely let the town seduce me longer than that.
I went to my old doctor for a yearly exam. There are a few things about L.A. I haven’t quite weened myself from including Trader Joe’s and my Beverly Hills doctor. People are always asking how the city’s doing after the Storm, and I’m always happy to report that the city awaits them, ready to show them a great time, but Katrina did impact the medical community. I hope one day to find someone here I trust as much as my best-money-can-buy doctor in L.A. And since it’s L.A., of course a starlet was arriving as I left.
And though I love the food in NOLA, I have yet to find a tuna melt as deeply satisfying as the ones at Mel’s Drive-In (the restaurant featured in American Graffiti – recently made famous by the opening credits of Entourage). Marilyn, my former manager and current friend, shared a low-fat chocolate yogurt shake topped with whipped creme and cherry with me. Yum. My favorite waitress, Janet, was working and even Sunshine, my favorite panhandler, happened by while I was there. I love traditions and it was nice to have so many collide into the perfect L.A. lunch – my way.
Afterward, we shopped Sunset Plaza. Jeans started at $240 and dresses soared into the thousands. There were some new shops replacing the ones that didn’t make it through the 2007-08 Writer’s Strike. One was “drybar,” advertising, “No cuts. No color. Just blowouts. Only $35.” In the context of living in L.A., I can see that it’s a genius idea. For those who are regularly photographed going shopping or eating lunch, the monthly membership even makes sense. But for a NOLA girl used to walking to $10 lunches in thick humidity with no one photographing me, I could see it was a little kooky, a different type of indulgent than we are used to here. After looking at cute, impractical things, I bought buy-one-get-one-free sweaters at H&M and headed back into the hills behind many of the 10 million city residents.
The whole reason I went to L.A. was for a dinner. Having recently been cast in Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained, I was invited to join some of the producers and cast for supper at Mr. Chow’s. I’ve eaten at Mr. Chow’s many times. It’s the kind of place people choose when they want to “see and be seen.” The L.A. version of the table hopping at the Friday lunch scene at Galatoire’s, people use the opportunity of finding agents, producers, stars and directors held captive by their meals to drop by tables and “shmooze.” I wondered who I’d run into but I wondered more how we’d ever get a chance to talk amongst ourselves with so many people visiting the table. Thankfully, we were ushered to the private room upstairs and afforded the opportunity to pass plates of food, tell stories and get excited about this new journey we are all taking. Though I’m unwilling to add specifics, I’m thrilled to find so many of my costars to be intelligent and fascinating people and I look forward to spending long days with them.
I finished the day hanging out in Angela’s serene yard. We debated whether the moon was full, talked about all the exciting changes in our lives and laughed about all the kooky adventures we had while we both lived in L.A. New Orleans is my heart and my home and I continue to make wonderful new friends, but there is no substitute for old friends.
Here’s old friend Richard Danielson’s band, Vintage Trouble, who won Best New Artist in the UK that night. Congratulations and I hope the band finds their way to New Orleans soon.