Holy Urban Legend!

From the dusty back roads of Modesto to the salty cliffs of the Big Sur, urban legend has it that an eccentric old man and his faithful dog roam the highways of California. They criss-cross this enormous state in a kitschy vintage car searching for people in need. He doesn't charge a penny; he simply does it because it's nice. His life is on the road - Slim Jims, Big Gulps and all.

I think I read in Westways magazine that he was once rescued himself and decided to dedicate his "retired" life to paying it forward. Okay, I guess if he was in Westways he isn't an urban legend. A rural legend, maybe?

I always expected the guy (wish I remembered his name) to turn up in a dust cloud off some desolate canyon road. Imagine my surprise when a friend and I saw him on a crowded San Diego freeway. During the day. In the open. Just like that.

We got the best shots we could. Enjoy!


On the corner of Sleazy and Tacky

Classic Studio City
I never thought I would act like an old lady who laments the deterioration of a good neighborhood. Perhaps that's because I was the one doing the deteriorating. But times have changed. I have dogs now. I garden, compost and recycle. My husband is always equipped with a bottle of spray paint remover should he see some idiot tagging something. 

the offending corner

the sign graveyard out back
Studio City is a wonderful place. It's the greenest place in the valley with Ventura Boulevard (made famous by Tom Petty's song Free Fallin') lined with cafes and boutiques between Laurel Canyon in West Hollywood and Coldwater Canyon in Beverly Hills. Wikipedia describes it as affluent , picturesque and trendy. CBS Studios is here, along with a Sunday Farmer's Market, loitering paparazzi and mansions in the hills. Do I sound like an old lady yet? If not, then here is is: we are pissed about the corner of Laurel Canyon and Moorpark. 

ahhh, punching bags & massage signs
It started as a nail salon. Then a nail salon and a massage parlor. Then a nail salon, massage parlor and teeth whitening place. Then a nail salon, massage parlor, teeth whitening and tanning salon. I could go on, but you get the idea. But what bothers us are the signs. Yellow signs, white signs, lit signs, sandwich boards, lettered vans and billboards latched to the back of trucks. At first the signs just plastered the corner, sharing the  blight with the Pro Boxing Supplies store also known for their rudimentary display. Now they're across the street, in front of schools and in adjacent neighborhoods. The massages started at $59/hr, then $49/hr, then $40/hr, etc. For all I know, massages are $3.50 at this point. Spas and salons are supposed to be designed for relaxation All the flashing ads make it look like an industrial town strip club.

drive-by skanking
yes, you massage. we get it.
across from elementary school
The cheap, primary colored massage signs seem to scream,"We like fuck!" I'm embarrassed to say I was once in a bind before a friend's wedding and ducked in for a quick manicure. It was a Thai establishment, and they seemed desperate to stay in business during this recession, which makes sense. But they spent so much on signs, I think it may have exceeded their rent. I don't want them to go out of business. I want them to know that all the massage ads are freaking people out and having the opposite effect. They need to class up the joint. As much as it can be classed up next to a liquor store and pro boxing supplies store.

 After I left, I felt dirty. I kept my head down so my annoyed neighbors wouldn't notice. I had gone over to the enemy. In my vanity, I forgot my principles. Never again. 

by the high school

in case you didn't see the first 10


As if ugly people in L.A. don't have it hard enough...

There's an urban legend that says sorority girls take newbies going through rush and make them undress. No, this is not some stupid boy fantasy that involves nighties and pillow fights. No giggling, no flying feathers. Rumor has it that the sorority girls take a magic marker and highlight all the incoming girls' flaws. This isn't true, (I'm an Alpha Gam. Shut up.) but it's still scary. Unattractive people have a tough lot.

It's common knowledge that good-looking students are subconsciously favored by teachers and as adults, fare much better with job interviews. Here is Los Angeles, even good-looking people are bland, and don't get the good compliments until they go back to their hometowns. Things are different now. Back in the 80's, it was encouraging to see what passed for pretty in the movies. Look at Leah Thompson, to the right. Would she or Phil Collins be able to carve out a career for themselves these days? Eighties "hot chicks" girls had messed up teeth and even (gasp!) a tiny bit of body fat. Demi Moore, Julia Roberts and others were heavier before starving themselves down to keep themselves in the game.

Adding insult to injury, we now have job sites that CATER to pretty people. At Beautiful Job Seekers only the pretty may apply so they can go pretty up another office. The site even has a smutty rating system for visitors, feeding our desire to judge and rip people to shreds. Not that the job seekers (and those insecure freaks craving validation) aren't asking for it. Offices willing to lower themselves to this gimmick apparently do not put emphasis on experience or intelligence. "Resumes are so 2010, I need cup size!" Even if they use Beautiful Job Seekers for the classic front desk receptionist position, it still reeks of 50's sexism.

Even weirder is Spirited Sales, who hires ex cheerleaders for sales jobs because, you know, they have spirit. Pep. Can I get an L? Can I get an A? Can I get an M? Can I get an E? What's that spell? Caution, those recruited by these companies needn't know the answer. That's not their job.


Evening Becomes Eclectic

Whenever I hear someone moan that L.A. has no culture, (which is often, since fellow East Coasters  feel a Stepford-like obligation to repeat it) I remind them of Morning Becomes Eclectic. This show played The Shins before they blew up on Garden State, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes before their song was used in a car commercial

Running live from nine until noon all week long, this NPR program streams to computers everywhere via the KCRW website. Bands visit and play live, and I've watched streaming videos of Charlotte Gainsbourg and Ray LaMontagne, the latter being the most memorable of all.

It's no surprise that Morning Becomes Eclectic host Jason Bentley has become an iconic figure in the L.A. music scene. He's even become a sex symbol of sorts. Gay men have speculated on it for years, while straight women lament that he's married to Kahi Lee

I was invited to a KCRW party in downtown L.A., where Jason Bentley played DJ to open for Cut Chemist. Producer Jason Reitman (pictured below) stood alongside Cut Chemist during his performance. Perhaps he was helping. He wore earphones and clapped a lot anyway.

The Hyundai Re:Mix lab was there, showcasing high-tech auto innovations. There was an open bar, a photo booth and lounges. Fellow East Coasters, you'd be amazed about what you'd discover in this town if you spent less time whining, and more time exploring.


Cult in L.A. worships something other than Satan...

enjoying the post-workout glow with Joni Kempner and Karina Smirnoff
They worship the bike. No, not the fixed-gear bikes hipsters use to annoy car drivers. Not even regular exercise bikes, which these cult members laugh off as passe. There's a new bike in town, and if you aren't with the program, you'll be ridiculed.

I was invited to a Soul Cycle kickoff party on the Sunset Strip. US Weekly was hosting it, gift bags were present and Dancing with the Stars' Karina Smirnoff was there to sweat it out with us. The staff was great, but it was the Soul Cycle groupies I found most curious.

They laughed when I walked into the studio wearing my sneakers. Why? Because I needed to be specially fit with bike shoes that "lock in." I asked, "You mean, you don't just slide your sneaker into that strap on the pedal?" More laughter. "The strap? The strap?!" they ogled, in pure amazement. Then, as I hobbled in wearing high-tech robo-booties,  they smugly explained that exercise bikes have been using special lock-in footwear for years. "But, I just took a bicycling class, and we had regular pedal straps. "Where?" they demanded. The Santa Monica YMCA. More laughter. They would never spend less than $10 on a workout class. (Based on research, a Soul Cycle class can cost up to $25 - $30, and an article in New York reported that it cost one customer $1,800 a month, though it was always too crowded to get a seat.) With a series of snaps and bangs, my Buck Rogers-inspired footwear was locked in, and I could not break free. "What if I have to use the restroom during class?" I pleaded. The laughing continued. I began to wonder why they'd need to take a bicycling class. These groupies were getting a great ab workout at my expense. After watching me struggle, they told me that if I needed to go to the restroom, that I could untie my shoes and walk into the bathroom barefoot. Yep, barefoot in a public bathroom, as if I were Kevin Federline.

Suddenly, the room was pitch black. Nightclub lights flashed on, and pop music rattled the mirrors on the walls. Our instructor was peppy, demanding we "push ourselves" though his headset microphone. This is when I realized the groupies were much more than that. They were full-on cult members. And the New York Post agrees!  As does ABC Nightline, among others. I was already impressed by their Soul Cycle-inspired bicycling outfits; skintight moisture-wick material with rock-and roll accents, like hot pink sheer netting or metal studs. But it was their in-class contribution that pushed them into cult territory. When the club music played and we started pedaling, they whooped and hollered with reckless abandon.They even did that outdated rave call, "Ooooh?! Oooh?!" They loved the peppy instructor with the headpiece, encouraging him to play that Katy Perry song as if he were the hottest DJ in town. That's what he was to them. They kept calling it a "cardio party." They fist pumped, they danced in their seats and in the strobe lights, I caught one pouring water over her head, eyes closed as if she were in a Whitesnake video.

Did it feel like a party? Absolutely not. Karina Smirnoff compared it to childbirth, and we got the room so hot that we could no longer see our purple-flushed faces in the mirrors, because they were positively dripping with condensation. Was it a great workout? Yes it was, and the staff was very kind. But as the cult members shuffled out, they high-fived proudly, as if in on this secret about the "hottest club in town." One said that Soul Cycle changed her life, and others nodded in agreement. How can one be self-righteous about a bicycling class, or let it define them? I think until everyone calms down a bit, I should get on a non-stationary bike and pedal away.

But if you want an intense workout while taking in this entertaining spectacle, I certainly recommend Soul Cycle. It may not change your life, but it will change your body.


The Ivy: Where paparazzi are the pigeons

Celebrities don't go to The Ivy for an intimate lunch with friends. If you're in the public eye, you're making a silent (or not so silent) agreement to "make an appearance" where food also happens to be. Or as the bitingly hilarious Michael K. from D Listed puts it: THE IVY: Where THIRSTAY hos can quench their thirst on $30 lemonade and camera flashes.  

one-of-a-kind dish!
Any city dweller knows the perils of dining al fresco, with fearless pigeons scuttling for crumbs. Paparazzi do the same thing at The Ivy, dragging cameras and waiting for crumbs. I get the up-and-down until they realize I'm not thin enough to be famous, then they move on to the next person in oversized sunglasses.

eeehh, nothing compared to Villa Blanca
The one complaint I've always heard about the Ivy is that it's overrated. On the contrary, my Cajun shrimp plate was really special, and I know I'll never be able to get it anywhere else. All the same, the tuna tartare was mediocre and my mint julep too strong (taste=C effect=A+!). And while the decor was quaint and lovely, it was too packed. But why do these minor things send my Los Angeles friends into a tailspin, especially when we've experienced so much worse? Did they expect Angelina Jolie to serve them Cream of Orphan Tears on a tray that once belonged to the estate of  Liz Taylor, just because they've read about The Ivy in tabloids? 

I think the real problem is that it's overpriced. If they brought their costs down, people won't fly into such a tirade when they recount their dining experience. Because at the end of the day, some of these people seem pissed that they plopped $60 down on a grilled cheese sandwich and got no star sightings out of it. Most of the time, that's what it's really about.

the iconic fence
But of course, The Ivy will never comply. They know what they're doing. As long as stars know that the paparazzi will be there, and the people know that the stars will be there because the stars know that the paparazzi will be there, this charade will continue to grow. So will the rants and so will the prices. C'est la vie.