Ghosts and snippets of scenes swirl like quick cuts in a movie every time I am in Los Angeles. Some of the richest and some of the most terrifying moments of my life happened in that beautiful, laid back but hectic, schizophrenic city. It still seems strangely like home because I remember where everything is, but it’s a dream home in which images shift all the time. I lived many lives there between 1964 and 1988. I spent my twenties, thirties and forties there, the years when most of us rear children, build careers and learn who we are. The cast of characters dance before me like holograms as I whisk along the freeways and take sneaky back ways to beat the traffic around Hollywood or the San Fernando Valley, the ones that only locals know about.
I was married there twice, had some romances in between them, one of particular import with a handsome, talented lyricist named Tim Martin. I reared my beautiful daughters in a post war ranch house in Granada Hills, created careers in broadcasting, cosmetics, public relations and the small equipment leasing business, made many friends in various circles, gave dozens of parties, had some glamorous Hollywood moments in “the business,” experienced life’s tragedies and triumphs, and finally left it all to move to Cambria, a charming beach tourist town two hundred fifty miles up the coast where the only traffic tie-ups occur at the grammar school when the kids are handed off to their moms.
I’ve returned many times through the years, visiting friends or attending events. I even lived there again for a year in the ’90’s while my late husband designed movies for Disney. It was another chunk of LA life that was full of experiences and friends.
Tim’s children were reared in the San Fernando Valley, too, and his careers were as varied as my own. Friends and acquaintances crowd his memories, and we decided that since we had the time, we owed ourselves a few weeks to revisit our former lives and inspect what is left of the LA we knew.
As usual, the book project inserted itself into what we had hoped would be some time off, and although we were delighted that Audible invited me to record Home Sweet Anywhere, it cost us four long exhausting days. Still, the engineers/directors at Outloud studios in Burbank made us feel at home and we were happy with the professional results.
In spite of the interruption, we managed to revisit some of the places that we remember so well. Almost every block, off ramp and billboard tweaked some long-lost memory, and since restaurants and bars figured heavily in both the music and public relations business, many of our homage stops included food and drink. We groaned when we saw a strip mall where The Tail of the Cock, (a famous restaurant/watering hole in the San Fernando Valley) should have been, but our dismay was tempered by the fact that The Magic Castle (a fabulous private club in Hollywod featuring live magic and a terrific bar) still perches on its hill above Hollywod Boulevard.
The venerable Musso & Frank Grill (a New York-style bistro that features what Humphrey Bogart called “The best martini in the world,” (and I agree) is exactly as it was twenty years ago – all dark mahogany, faded twenties murals, fabulous liver and onions and grumpy waiters. Tim and I had both fequented Musso & Frank during our Hollywood days and we had noted our mutual memories of aged waiters with their long white aprons and dour expressions being abrupt. This time, the ancient waiter, whom we both remembered, was charming, and he served us with the grace and style borne of long experience. Halfway through my perfectly made martini we realized what had changed – we were now almost as old as the elderly waiters, so they actually treated us with respect! Perhaps the march of time does offer some advantages.
We looked up old friends and made some new ones, too, revisiting some of those cute little bistros along Ventura Boulevard where we lunched for many years, and The Smokehouse, across the street from Warner Brothers in Burbank, where the prime rib is just as juicy and the bar still feels slightly decadent. It hasn’t changed a bit.
We did manage some activities which weren’t food-centric, but even at the the racecourse at Santa Anita one needs food and drink, especially after losing the pick five, which paid really big money.
When people ask us about our home free life, we inevitably mention that we traded the comfort of having a stable home base for the luxury of having time to fritter away an afternoon with no particular purpose in a place we’ve longed to explore. This time it happened to be in a city we know well, but we still found ourselves indulging in aimless wandering just as we would in Paris or Buenos Aires. Sights and streets brought back ancient history. A ride over Laurel Canyon, the route between the heart of Hollywood and Studio City in the San Fernando Valley, brought up tales we’d long forgotten, some we’d never told each other. It was a colorful stay that blended our past, present and future in a way no other city could, and I’m sure we’ll go back to visit our personal archaeological dig again before too much of it changes forever.