Fear and Raging in Los Angeles

A few weeks ago, The Recorder staff jetted to Los Angeles to escape the cold rain and snow of Connecticut for a college newspaper convention.

It was my fourth convention of the kind. CCSU and our newspaper’s budget has been kind enough to send me to wonderful cities like San Diego, Austin and Louisville in past semesters. The anticipation to visit Los Angeles might have been higher than the rest before.

Ah, Hollywood. The land of theĀ privileged. Where the reminder of the gifted, rich and famous never leaves your mind. You walk on top of their stars and you see the famous Hollywood sign towering over the valley, a clear sign of the absolute talent and money that has created the place you see before your eyes.

But never did I imagine that Hollywood could actually be a cesspool for exploitation and the most vicious parallel between those privileged celebrities whose stars adorn the sidewalk and the numerous cases of poverty you encounter walking up and down Hollywood and Sunset Boulevard.

Charlie Sheen's star is clearly winning. But is the homeless person lying next to it doing the same?

Okay, I’m not naive. Where else BUT Hollywood could such a thing exist? Yes, that is a homeless person sleeping right beside your favorite celebrity’s Hollywood Walk of Fame star. John Wayne’s name makes for a wonderful bed.

I’m sorry, but I hope the other hundreds of college journalists attending the Associated Collegiate Press conference a few weekends ago noticed the complete irony of the situation. The image of world famous celebrities in Hollywood is a farce and I think it’s safe to say most of us knew that coming in. None of that actually exists on Hollywood Boulevard.

Sure, there are renowned locations on the road, including the Kodak Theatre, Grauman’s Chinese Theatre and Capitol Records – all signs of what they want you to think Hollywood is about. But the majority of the location consists of smoke shops, tattoo shops, convenience stores, overpriced gift shops and super sketchy clubs that I habitually fear. Oh, and no, I would not like to take a tour of Hollywood. Ask the other dozen guys who already asked me why not.

I know I’m not blowing the lid off anything here, Hollywood is presumably as fake as life comes. But the whole fabricated creation got to me. The exploitation of a little person dressed like Mr. T in order to make a few bucks by posing for pictures with some hopeless big-eyed midwestern tourist sap got to me. The lost souls who didn’t make it in Hollywood dressing up as an assortment of famous movie characters and Hollywood personalities got to me. The forced smiles of waiters and waitresses who you knew wanted to be in Hollywood for another reason got to me.

Perhaps nothing displayed my dislike for that part of the town than my walk back from seeing Phish’s Trey Anastasio blow the roof off the Henry Fonda Theatre about a mile and a half down Hollywood Boulevard. Anastasio’s show was the absolute highlight of the trip for me. As a Phish-obsessed individual, the timing and location of the concert couldn’t have been better. But leaving the venue at 12:30 a.m. was something I couldn’t have expected.

Trey Anastasio was the highlight of my trip. The walk back to the hotel left a different kind of impact on me.

I tiredly wandered through the entrances of crowded clubs, with everyone doing their best impression of what bouncers wanted to see before letting you in. The crowds were dressed in a miserable black, slimming their figures and letting go of any true personality and individuality they might have as a person. Bouncers yelled at passers-by like myself, “Keep moving! Keep moving!” as to not clog up their precious velvet-roped line. Hey bouncer, I’d love to leave this misery of a grouping, but this crowd of self-obsessed people just won’t let me!

Walking to my hotel was a maze of misery, the homeless had found which celebrity they would sleep next to that night and the seedy clubs and bars were still full of individuals that might erupt in alcohol-fueled explosions of anger because of a simple disagreement or because ‘the man’ was trying to kill their mood. I never so desperately wanted to leave a street for reasons that didn’t include the potential to be injured. It was just pure distaste for the gathered crowd.

A dog was wandered by itself. What in the hell, you ask? Devoid of any owner, a larger and not too nice looking dog was making its way past the entrance of a club. I was surprised the bouncer didn’t ask it to keep moving as well. The nightlife was as freaky as this – I might find a bouncer having a conversation with a dog normal. You might say I wasn’t prepared, and I might say I felt my time spent in Hartford’s helpless nightlife might have given me a bit of an experience. But this was an extraordinary cauldron of people who reeked of self-loathing.

My only laughter of the walking trip back to the hotel might have been my stop into a convenience store to grab some fluids I lost while raging to Anastasio’s blistering guitar work. As I stepped up to pay, a bigger sized woman and her company walked into the store asking for an ATM. The two workers replied with a no and before I could get my change I was forced to hear their low-key cat calls to the thick-hipped lady. Then I was given an education in culture, as the two men began to describe to me how in their country a woman like that would be much appreciated by the tigers and lions. No, I didn’t understand them. Yes, I did take part in their small talk. I left with a smile on my face.

A smile that would turn to healthy dismay when I realized I still had many more stars to walk upon before being able to escape the freaky night and return safely to my bed. As I made the final stretch, I was reminded once again by a lamp post that the world is indeed going to end soon. Then I got another taste of the fruitful drunkenness late nights in Hollywood had to offer me. Yes, you just got kicked out of a Lucky Strike bowling alley for being a jackass, stop complaining to the police about it.

The world is ending pretty soon, just so you know.

I finally made my way into my far too fancy hotel (by the way, big thanks to ACP for putting the conference in a hotel with free M&M’s in the lobby), leaving behind me a scene I’d gladly enjoy hiding from for the coming night. But before you harp on me for harping on Hollywood, let me make it clear it was a scene I was glad I was able to experience. There’s really nothing else like it in America.

I enjoyed my stay in Hollywood and I enjoyed The Recorder winning 5th place in best small school website, but as much as I love new experiences, Hollywood’s nightlife was one of distaste. The town was beautiful when the sun was out, like most of California is, but I’d much rather have gone back to the much more calm, cool and collected San Diego.

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