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LA Burnout

by Margaret MacLennan

December 30, 2014

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“Are you a celebrity?”

The first time I visited LA I didn’t wear sunscreen and walked from Griffith Park to my sister’s place in Los Feliz. I was bright red when her husband took us out for Korean that evening. We each received a bowl of seaweed soup on arrival and my sister warned me to eat quickly – the chef intentionally screws up your order if you don’t eat her soup, and since I already looked ridiculous I’d better act fast and blend in.This time I wore a giant hat and sunglasses with a slip of a dress. I still looked ridiculous but I was determined not to burn.

“No, sorry, I’m… Canadian?” I was leaving a coffee shop when the stranger asked. A celebrity sighting is the holy grail of L. A. tourism and a hidden face attracts attention. I rejoined my sister outside, already tanned from years in California. This afternoon we planned to see the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

On the bus heading toward Fairfax and Wilshire I joked about pouring a forty for Biggie Smalls on the sidewalk where he was shot outside the Petersen Automotive Museum in 1997. But on arrival there there was no plaque, no commemoration, and pouring vodka would start a fight with the panhandlers. LA’s not that sunny. The shady sights are whistlestops.

Across the street stands Johnie’s Coffee Shop. The first time I saw it was on the silver screen in films like The Big Lebowski and Reservoir Dogs. Its low blue and white geometric roof was built in the 1950s Googie style but its turquoise interior and vinyl booths are dark. The diner served its last meal in 2000 and a sign in the window advertises it as a film set to the traffic heading west to Santa Monica.

We turned from the neglect to the curved west wing of the museum where security guards replaced the homeless. The wall soon gave way to white antique cast-iron streetlamps. Walking through them obscured our view of the street and we emerged at the entrance. After a few hours admiring objects beautiful enough to be preserved and displayed by invisible curators I went to the giftshop to pick out a postcard to send back home.

I chose an old photo of Hollywood overlaid with bright letters: Wish You Were Here! I signed my name and wished I was there, too. I wanted to see an LA where the diners were diners and dead celebrities got a nod, where the beauty wasn’t locked up and guarded. Leaving, we blended back through the streetlamps to a bus stop, west toward Santa Monica. My sister says it’s the best place to see a celebrity.

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