Return to LA: Hooray for Hollywoo(d)!

In the summers of 1995-1997, I spent three amazing, magical, life-changing long weekends in Los Angeles. In October of 2018, once my memories of LA were old enough to get drunk there, I returned.

These are the stories of my return to the City of Angels.

And the jags with the mixtapes.

But First, A Quick Summary

I’m kind of skipping over a day of the trip, here, ’cause, well, it was two things that either require no explanation or utterly defy it.

In the afternoon I made a trip to Universal Studios, which I had visited in both 1983 and 1997, so, yes, this qualified for the “nostalgia tour” portion of the trip. The rides were decent, the crowds a fraction of those at Disneyland (I got into the biggest marquee ride in about five minutes, and that was with stops to watch videos by the Harry Potter cast), but as theme parks go, it’s still just a shadow of its younger sibling in Orlando. But that’s not entirely fair, since Universal Studios Orlando can spread out and be as lavish as they want, while Universal Studios Hollywood is a mini-theme park latched onto a working film/TV studio, so there’s really only so much space.

Rides and restaurants based on Harry Potter, the Simpsons, Transformers, Despicable Me, and a little bit The Mummy were fun, the Waterworld stunt show was impressive, but then there’s the studio tour, which now includes two 3D experiences based on Peter Jackson’s King Kong and the Fasts and Furiousesand also the exact same animatronic shark from 1983.

I suppose realistic sharks aren’t on-brand for the Jaws movies.

I guess some things are just institutions. 

That evening I made my way downtown… and isn’t rush hour LA traffic just a joy… to meet up with friends also in LA for a show called Lucha VaVOOM

There is little point in trying to blog about that experience. I have only words. And words cannot do it justice. So here’s this.

GLORIOUS.

Anyhoo. Our top story this entry.

Back When: LAFF ’95

Why is it that I’m devoted enough to comic book television that last season I watched and ranked 22 different shows, some of which were excruciating to get through? Because there was a time when seeing superheroes I loved on television was a rarity. Something rare and special to be clung to, no matter how dumb the villains could be. And so it was that I spent four years religiously watching, taping, and rewatching Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.

As good as it got in 1993.

I came to this show right before I started exploring these newfangled things my friends were on about called “email” and “webpages.” And so did I join an online community devoted to the show, the Fans of Lois and Clark, or “FOLCs.” A group that existed through email, because while discussion boards very obviously existed and had done for quite some time, the email list was less troll-infested, flame-war free, and a more positive experience. 

Positive enough that in the summer following season two, many of us agreed to all meet in Los Angeles, see the Warner Bros. studio, and have ourselves a big, nerdy party.

It was a weekend of non-stop fun, where people who had been names on a screen became the closest of close friends, even if only for a few days. Groups of us hit Disneyland, went to Venice Beach. We had a costume party and a big fancy dinner attended by K Callan, who played Superman’s mother on the show. And of course, the Warner Bros. studio tour.

I’m next to the traffic light. In an Edmonton Fringe graphic t-shirt. Thanks for dressing up, Young Me.

We not only saw all of the usual tour stops, they let us into two of the soundstages: Clark Kent’s apartment, and the Daily Planet.

Gathered in the bullpen.

Where we were met for a Q&A/meet and greet with the show’s producers, K Callan… and to our surprise, Dean Cain, Teri Hatcher, and Justin Whalen, the second Jimmy Olsen. Which was bold, because the recasting was not met with the openest of arms. Justin made himself some die-hard fans that afternoon.

It was a magical three days that not even a sudden case of stomach flu or maybe food poisoning on the last morning could spoil. There was no question about going back the next summer, or the summer after that. I think they may have kept it going until 2000, or maybe that was just a reunion. And maybe the studio tour was never as awesome as that first trip, but each Los Angeles FOLC Fest remained magical. Each time was a reunion with treasured friends, and a chance to make new ones.

Friends I lost track of as the show ended and we drifted apart. This was the 90s. Social media was a decade away. Keeping up with people in other cities was a challenge. It was like summer camp… or what TV tells me “summer camp” was like, since all I have to personally base that comparison on is a drama camp called Artstrek I went to a couple of summers in high school–

I just admitted to going to a convention for fans of Lois and Clark. Thrice. You think you can shame me over drama camp? Bring it.

Anyway, you go to summer camp, you meet other kids, you promise to write each other, and then you don’t. Except in this case you wrote each other a lot, talked about a TV show, swapped fanfics– you’ll never prove I wrote one– but then the show ended and you just kind of… stopped. Most of us. The community never died completely, there’s still an active message board… including a thread on Supergirl, so hey, still active… but by and large, it’s just a treasured memory. Even if all I have are a handful of old photos that are… somewhere? Maybe in my house? I honestly don’t know.

But those three weekends were the heart of the nostalgia driving large chunks of this trip. Outside of Disney with Dara, almost everything I did in LA was connected to something I did at one of the Los Angeles FOLC* Fests.

And while it might not have been first, the most notable was a return to the Warner Bros. Studio.

Road to the WB

You don’t need to be part of a convention to get a tour of the Warner Bros. lot. You just need to show up and pay for the tour. Or, in my case, have your travel agent book it for you, and also include a shuttle because the studio is in Burbank and that is not close to Anaheim, nothing is close to Anaheim, but your hotel was picked for proximity to Disneyland so here you are.

The drawback, in my case, is that the shuttle was not taking us directly to the studio. First, there was a stop in Hollywood, for some individual sightseeing by Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, right in the heart of the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

I’d never been to the Walk of Fame. Not… not 100% due to lack of interest, because back during LAFF ’95, the OG LAFF, there had been talk between me and another attendee about trying to catch a movie at Grauman’s, which technically would have meant going to the Walk of Fame (the best Walk real estate is within a block of that theatre), but it is mostly from lack of interest.

Because Hollywood is kind of a dive.

It’s not even the heart of the movie industry if we’re being honest. Warner Brothers and Disney’s studios are both in Burbank, as Universal might be if they hadn’t declared themselves to be a separate division called “Universal City.” And all of that is a ways from Hollywood. But there was 90 minutes before my shuttle would depart for the studio, so I decided to explore.

The Mix Tape

The vast majority of the Walk of Fame is not exactly glamorous. It’s people’s names on stars in front of small car dealerships and apartment buildings and fast food joints. Really, there’s just one block that’s really noteworthy and touristy. It has Grauman’s, the theatre where Jimmy Kimmel records, two rival wax museums… can we agree that it was a dick move for Madame Tussaud’s to move in down the street from the Hollywood Wax Museum? All that city and they just…

And because all the tourist spots were right there, so were the Scavengers.

You know the Scavengers. They lurk in Hollywood, Times Square, the Las Vegas Strip, Trafalgar Square, Picadilly Circus, downtown Havana… they wear pop culture costumes and pose for pictures in exchange for tips. In cities where they can get away with it, women wear as little as possible and offer pictures with them. They dress as Yoda or monks and pretend to hover or balance on a pole. On the Walk of Fame, they’ll put your name on a blank star and let you pose by it with an Oscar statue, and yes people did that in my presence, so I guess there’s a demand.

But the worst, to my current estimation, are the jags handing out their “mixtape.”

Sure, some of the costume folk don’t have the best outfits… some are downright unsettling… 

Filthy Elmo is a haunting sight.

…but most of them let you come to them. Sure they’ll wave and encourage you to come over, but they won’t chase you down. Probably? Damn, shouldn’t have put the image in my head, gonna have nightmares about Filthy Elmo loping after me… 

The Mixtape Hawkers, on the other hand, will come right at you and all but shove a CD they claim contains their music right into your hands. Putting aside that this is the exact method a Chinese hacker army used to compromise a security company on Mr. Robot, they’re peak annoying because of that aggression. When the second hawkster approached me outside Grauman’s, I sighed and took the CD, thinking that maybe this was a Fringe artist handing out fliers situation, that he just wanted his music Out There. No. Oh no.

“Sir! Sir? Sir! Sir!” came his voice as he followed after me. “Want me to sign it for five bucks?” I did not, and told him so. “Sir! Sir? Sir!” He assures me he’s not a bum, he’s an artist. I try to keep walking. “Sir! Sir! Sir? Sir!” Will I share his music with my friends? Yes, I say, as I absolutely have friends I’m willing to torment with some mamaluke’s shitty rap CD. “Sir? Sir! Sir!” I turn back one more time, saying “I would really like to move on with my day now.” He asks for a tip. What he gets is his CD shoved back into his hands, and I depart.

I have learned the best defense from his ilk is a brisk walking pace. Don’t break your gait, don’t make physical contact with the CD, don’t make eye contact, don’t acknowledge them as people. Which led me, weeks later, to text my brother saying our father could no longer be allowed to walk Times Square unaccompanied. Without some combination of my brother, myself, and our mother, his genial and outgoing nature would leave him a target for the Mixtape Hawksters, who need only a friendly word to lock onto you with their pitch. And my dad has a friendly word for everyone.

I did not inherit this. I take after my more suspicious mother. Or perhaps eight years of dealing with bullies left me with a wary eye to outsiders. Who knows? Our lives are complex tapestries. Anyway.

The Exploration

To avoid this mope and his nonsense, I move away from Grauman’s for the next chunk of my mandatory 90 minute exploration of Hollywood. I follow one side of the Walk of Fame as far west as it goes, to see who’s on the end. The answer is no one. The western terminus of the north side of the Walk of Fame is a blank star. Can’t blame modern celebrities for not jumping at the chance to claim it, it’s basically by just a minimall. The last name, right before this blank star, is Spanky McFarland.

Calm down. He was a Little Rascal.

I suppose I could have seen how the other side of the street ended. Not sure why I didn’t.

I note that Lloyd Bridges is flanked by both of his sons, and that Charles Schultz is right next to his signature creation, Snoopy. A courtesy not extended to Walt Disney, a few feet from Mickey Mouse, or Chuck Jones, who is separated from Bugs Bunny by Lurene Tuttle.

A character actress and acting coach who went from Vaudeville to being known as the
“First Lady of Radio,” and someone thought her worth remembering.

From there I headed north, wanting to catch a glimpse of the Magic Castle, because I think it’s neat that place exists. I don’t know what one has to do to score an invite to a show there, but if the Netflix series Love is correct, part of the process is “wear a suit jacket,” and I did not pack one.

I went to a Walgreen’s to buy water and contact lens solution. That’s not exciting, it’s just something I did. I was worried about running out. Look, not everything is an adventure.

And finally, I paid homage to my first WB Studio tour. On the way back to the hotel, someone in my carpool said they were craving a milkshake. Within seconds, we all were. I don’t know what every other car was doing, but we pulled into a 50s diner down the road from the hotel for burgers and milkshakes. It seemed fitting, then, to seek one out now, since it was lunchtime and there was a Hard Rock Cafe near the Grauman’s hub, because of course there was.

Chocolate, frosty, and delicious.

I didn’t succumb to either wax museum, lacking both time and interest… I once loved wax museums, for reasons that I recall only vaguely, like a half-remembered dream, but lost interest in 2011. I didn’t pay anyone for a photo with them or a fake Hollywood star. And I didn’t take advantage of an offer our tour shuttle provided, a free gift with any purchase (presumably over a certain, unspecified amount) at the large souvenir shop across from Madame Tussaud’s. Because I couldn’t see one thing among the chintzy souvenirs, t-shirts, coffee mugs, or obligatory Funko Pops that I’d want to bring home and display. Or give as a gift. There is no one in my life who seems like they need a miniature director’s megaphone or a coffee mug with “Hollywood!” written on it. Or a tiny statue of a Walking Dead character with a giant, rectangular head.

I don’t really get Funko Pops. Yes I own three of them but not by choice. 

And so, eventually, it was time to wait for my shuttle to the Warner lot… where a moment of utter joy awaited me.

Which we’ll discuss next time.

Complaining about the jag with the mixtape took up a lot of space.

God he was a jag, though.

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