Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

Driving into Los Angeles that Saturday morning had been foggy, with not much to see in the distance. The heavy clouds showered the mountains with rain, and kept the sun away. A sign over the expressway indicated we were approaching Hollywood. Riding shotgun, I pushed myself forward until my seatbelt stopped stretching, so I could capture a better picture. The picture came out blurry.

“I told you. I detest Hollywood, it’s nothing but one street that they show in movies,” Krysten said from the back seat. Krysten and I had met in Chicago working a retail job when we were both in college. She was a fashion major from Orange County, a fashionista, who didn’t want to get married. And I was an English major and a married lady (that about sums it up), so I don’t even recall how we became friends.

“I like it. It’s really cool, especially when you walk down Hollywood Boulevard at night,” said Steve as he continued driving. Krysten met Steve at a New Year’s Eve party a few years back. He was a blonde, blue-eyed, rocker guy from the South Side of Chicago and he just swept her of her feet. Steve proposed to her on Valentine’s Day; it was a scene out of a movie, confetti, and balloons, their entire studio apartment decorated, and a diamond ring. They had a Chicago theme wedding and moved to Orange County.

Years and surroundings change people, and Krysten and I had changed since the last time we saw each other. Back then I was going through a divorce and she was getting married. I remember we sat at the Signature Lounge during her bachelorette party and she confronted me, “Are you happy?” She looked past my attempts to cover up and forced me to tell the truth out loud.

Krysten’s wavy brown hair was down to her waist, and my wild dark curls grew out a few grey hairs. I learned to smile and bid farewell to a life that didn’t feel like mine. She ventured into a life-long adventure with the love of her life. And we welcomed a fresh beginning. Although not all beginnings are sweet right away, the hope they bring with them is always worth it.

Getting to Hollywood Boulevard, the ride was bumpy: LA traffic, graffiti, the Church of Scientology, tours of the homes of the rich and famous, and the Hollywood Hills in the distance. I left the subzero Chicago winter, icy roads, bare trees, piles of dirty snow on the sidewalks and unhappy commuters. And brought the bad weather to a place that was known for sunny days, warm climate all year round, movie stars and hillside mansions.

I didn’t have a clear opinion of Hollywood prior to my visit. I didn’t let the rundown buildings, tagged by LA gangs let me stop appreciating the architecture of the city; the old Hollywood glamour and architecture from the fifties with a touch of souvenir shop. The Chinese and Kodak theatres doubled their size and luxury when they’re broadcasted on television, but I still took a picture in front of them. The Hollywood walk of fame was buzzing as the stars got trampled and photographed, and some stars aren’t camera ready. I even tried not to be bothered by the famous names of stars that were directly outside tattoo parlors, souvenir shops, adult stores and empty lots. I respected those guys on the street, who tried to openly rip off tourists by asking them where they were from. And I respected them even more for backing away when they heard, “from the Southside of Chicago.”

The first thing would be to take a picture next to my favorite rock band or actor, a task that was made difficult when there were others who tried to do the same. People didn’t stop when they saw others trying to take a picture. I had to crop out many shoes from my picture of The Doors. Everything in the area is geared towards attempting to lure people into the glamorous life of celebrities, tours, imitators, theatres, museums, yet nothing about it was star-worthy. We stopped at a five-for-five souvenir shop, so I could get some shot glasses, and an umbrella because I didn’t want to ruin my new leather jacket.

Back in our college days, Krysten and I were foodies. We used to have a collection of favorite BYOB places, and we knew bars with drink specials for every day of the week. Things didn’t change much in Hollywood, except I would be doing the drinking for the both of us since she was four months pregnant. She wanted to take me to the Snow White Cafe, which had been in the same spot since 1946. The bar was a hole in the wall next to the wax museum, and it was home to ten-dollar, thirty-two ounce beers and big baskets of fries. The walls in the place were painted like the outside of the dwarves’ cottage. The trims were brown and the window frames had illustrations from Snow White, all contrasted with multiple flat-screen TVs showing college football. Sitting in a fairy tale bar with one of my best friends in Hollywood was not an every day event.

“This beer mug is bigger than my head,” I said taking a sip of the cold Blue Moon. Steve and I tried to cheer with our large containers of alcohol and she joined us with her Shirley Temple.

After we left the Snow White Bar, we began our drive up the Hollywood Hills so I could take a picture of the sign. It began to rain when we got in the car, there we were, two semi-buzzed adults, and a pregnant woman. Steve had a general idea of how to get up there. I wasn’t sure how the little sedan, named Pete, would handle the ride up the hill. They seemed to have confidence in Pete, so I did as well.

The Hollywood palm trees were there, but I just didn’t see them. I was surprised by the architecture of the houses. All those houses, which weren’t even mansions were located on what seem to be the center of a cult. The culture was unlike other I had experienced, and it felt like the real Hollywood was deep in the underbelly of the city. The combination of movie studios, mansions and rundown apartment buildings seemed strange to me, as if it belonged in different planets.

The residents of the area were blocks away from movie premiers and award shows. The higher up we went houses were inconveniently located, no grocery stores nearby, coffee shops, or other signs of civilization aside from neighbors. They would have to get in their cars and squirm down the hill to be able to get from place to place. How could those streets have names or anything when they would curve and change into a different street?

“Are you sure you know where you are going?” Krysten asked Steve.

“Yeah, I’ll find it,” Steve said.

We found a sign that led to a scenic view and hiking trail. Pete continued to take us up. I wondered what the people who lived in those houses did for a living. They looked like the average upper middle class house, some only one-story, manicured lawns and a few of the cars in the driveways cost less than mine. Steve mentioned, he thought they had to be old money. As we drove away from houses, the side of the hill began to look more like a hiking trail. We were approaching what seemed to be a State park with a two-mile trail that led to a panoramic view of the Hollywood sign.

Despite the fact that the trail was closed due to the rain, none of us were willing to get out and walk it. Since Krysten was pregnant, she had to pee every half-hour or so, and Steve and I each had a large beer so we were right after her. As much as we needed to find a bathroom, we brush it off and continued on the drive.

Steve, whose buzz had worn off by the need to pee, took on trying to find us the perfect viewing spot to keep his mind occupied. He looked up an alternate route on his phone and we were on our way. I didn’t want to think about the pushing pain forming in my bladder, so I continued to make conversation. Secretly, I was thinking of all of the things my friends were doing to make sure I had a good time on vacation, and I felt lucky.

“Did you decide on a theme for the nursery?” I asked Krysten.

“Yes, I’m going to paint it all myself.” Krysten said. Krysten had always been quite the artist.

Steve took on steep roads, which kept getting narrower, wide enough to only fit one car. It was difficult to see if there were cars coming in the opposite direction, and I was terrified one was going to come at full speed and hit us. The mirrors hanging from the posts made me feel safer, knowing drivers would look at up and slow down. It rained a little harder and the drops of on the windshield reminded me I should have been looking for a bathroom instead of trying to capture a picture.

After a few minutes the rain slowed down, and it was more muggy and foggy than dangerous. Then we came across more twists and turns, and the houses stood at the edge of the hill and we were just as close. I am not afraid of heights, but the thought of not knowing my way down and the proximity of the edge made my hands sweat, and my mouth dry. We reached a dead end and what seemed to be as far as cars could go. The sign re-assured us we were going on the right direction, indicating with an arrow downhill was the way to go.

Steve’s phone ran out of battery so we couldn’t be sure if we were going the right way. Krysten pulled out hers and she had no signal, I had no signal, so we had to rely on the signs. The Hollywood sign had been there all along of course, mocking us because we were so close to it, but couldn’t get the right picture. It’s not like we could have just gotten off the car and taken it, having all those houses blocking us. Going downhill the road opened up, we saw a line of cars parked, and the Hollywood sign free of obstructions.

I got out of the car and stood on the sidewalk admiring the Hollywood sign, as if I was chasing the sunset. I handed Krysten my phone and urged her to take the picture before the moment would slip by. Then she handed the phone to Steve who took a picture of both of us. We stood next to each other, she had her arm around me and I had my left hand framing her belly, and we were smiling. I didn’t have time back then to think what that moment meant for me. We were two friends who lived in different places and our lives were so different. How much I cared for her had not changed, and after that trip I felt closer to her. Time had brought different things for Krysten and I, separated us, brought us joy, and we would never be sure what was next. But at that moment, sharing that experience, we knew where we stood.


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