Wednesday, February 19, 2014

You know you're in West Hollywood...

...when you see a sign like this one on the sidewalk. (And there are sidewalks in LA; lots of 'em.) You also know you're in California when you're served a chocolate chip cookie on a platter, below.

Some of the pictures I didn't take were of the couple sitting next to us at an outdoor cafe on Melrose Avenue. Around sixty years old or so (maybe older), the woman was impossibly thin and tanned and her husband (date? boyfriend?) looked impossibly rich. When they got up to leave (and thank God, because she kept looking at us like we were the Beverly Hillbillies), we could get a clearer view of the two guys at the table just beyond them. While one guy had an Afro hairstyle or dreadlocks (or something), the other bore a striking resemblance to Charles Manson (he's still in jail, right?).

I'm sure the natives could tell right away that I was a tourist, constantly jaywalking in my shorts, polo shirt, Jimmy Kimmel Live! baseball cap and running shoes. Angelinos, I've noticed, have an understanding: cars careen like mad through the Las Vegas-wide streets while pedestrians patiently wait their turns at the crosswalks (even if it's early in the morning and no one is coming).

And as for their attire, Southern Californians must take the beautiful weather for granted quickly, because most people seem to wear long pants (or just pants, as my sons kept correcting me). And, in what I found to be the oddest local sartorial custom, people of all ages wear Converse All-Stars (above), or "Chucks," as they are known there. High-top, low, black, white, red or any other color imaginable -- it doesn't matter. In Cali the $9.99 gym shoes of my youth are de rigueur. "I'd get a pair if I lived here," I announced at one point to no one in particular. "You could get them right now, Dad," one of my sons responded exasperatedly.

If you ever find yourself in WeHo (as I now call it) at any time in the near future, feel free to stay at Le Parc, a very civilized hotel on North West Knoll Drive with a pool (of course!) and a tennis court on the roof. (Even though I don't play, it's nice to know they'll supply you with racquets and balls if you forget yours.) As for meals, you can't go wrong eating breakfast (or brunch) at the Urth Caffe (order the Spanish latte) and/or Le Pain Quotidien on Melrose. For lunch or dinner, check out the fried chicken sandwich at Joan's on Third, which is on -- you guessed it! -- Third Avenue, and the Belmont on North la Cienega for burgers and other "bar food," as my son called it.

While you're out there, stroll around the perimeter of West Hollywood: west on Santa Monica, left on Doheny Drive (which reminded me of Lake Shore Drive or Sheridan Road in Chicago), left on Third and left again on Fairfax and back up to either Melrose or Santa Monica. You'll pass this place on Third (above) which had the best almond croissant I've ever stuck in my mouth. And if you're still hungry (which I always am), check out the Magnolia Bakery a little farther down for some insanely-good banana pudding.

By the way, when you turn on Fairfax you'll come upon Fairfax High School, which is the unlikely alma mater of such varied celebrities as Herb Alpert, Mike "Super Jew" Epstein, Jack Kemp, Mila Kunis, Demi Moore, Ricardo Montalban, Mickey Rooney, Phil Spector and Warren Zevon. The school's parking lot also has what can only be described charitably as a flea market on Sundays. You can go there after you eat breakfast (or brunch) at the farmer's market on Melrose Place.

And if you turn off onto one of the side streets in WeHo, you'll see some charming homes like the one above. (Do you think West Hollywood has ever been described as "charming"?)

Finally, brave the crowd and go up to the Griffith Observatory just east of the Hollywood Hills. You'll get a panoramic view of the city, of course, including one of the largest houses in the Hills, owned by the daughter of Larry Ellison, the founder of Oracle and the third wealthiest American according to Forbes Magazine. "Wow! What does she do for a living?" my wife asked naively. "She's Larry Ellison's daughter," my son answered. "She does that for a living."

Now, I know what you're thinking: Isn't LA crowded? Isn't it expensive? Aren't the taxes high? And isn't there a lot of traffic? And the answers to those questions are: yes, yes, yes and -- okay -- yes. But those things are all true about Chicago, too. In fact, anywhere I live is going to have all of those attributes. Want to live somewhere without that stuff? Move to Mississippi.

So what does LA have that Chicago doesn't? Beautiful weather. And not just six months out of the year, like in the Midwest. All year long. Every day.

I can't wait to go back.

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