Em and Stu do America part 16: Legendary Los Angeles

Reading time: 10 minutes 

Downtown LA, aka DTLA

Downtown LA, aka DTLA

“Welcome to Hollywood! What’s your dream? Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don’t; but keep on dreamin.”

-Pretty Woman                                                                           

I know LA only through media; the sublime (Billy Wilder’s noir classic Sunset Boulevard, David Lynch’s haunting Mulholland Drive) to the ridiculous (genius 90s hit Clueless). I’m a devoted follower of James Ellroy, who wrote the searing LA Quartet (The Black Dahlia, The Big Nowhere, LA Confidential, White Jazz) and the LA memoir My Dark Places. There’s wild variation in these pictures, but I wanted to see it all. Even the grimiest depictions sound glamorous: Mulholland Drive. Hollywood Boulevard. Sunset Boulevard. Rodeo Drive. Santa Monica. The Valley. Venice Beach.

Iconic Santa Monica beach.

Santa Monica beach.

We allowed three weeks here to end our trip, wanting the chance to relax and explore these mythical places at leisure after barrelling down the west coast. After successive shocks to the system from snowy Washington, icy Vancouver, watery Oregon and foggy San Francisco, we cautiously got our thongs/flip-flops back out, ready to enjoy that famous California sunshine.

But you know what? We arrived tired. Too tired to give LA the same energy we threw at New York. And LA is a lot less user-friendly. It’s a massive, sprawling city. Yes, there are many cool neighbourhoods, but many dead, dirty, scary zones between, full of men who have a scary habit of lurching within inches of me when they see me, as though the zombie apocalypse actually happened while I was sleeping and I they can smell my tasty brain.

Venice Beach

Venice beach.

The parking and driving was terrifying here, so we returned our car to Enterprise and opted for public transport and walking instead. But even for committed walkers and train-catching cheapskates like ourselves, LA is HARD to get around without a car. The public transport system is perfectly fine, but the distances are just huge.

Thanks to all these factors, our LA story is partly about what we didn’t do. We didn’t drive to Palm Springs or Joshua Tree National Park. We didn’t tour Warner Bros or Universal. We didn’t do Harry Potter World Round Two. We didn’t go to Channel Islands National Park. We didn’t do Hollywood Behind the Scenes. We didn’t do a self-guided Clueless filming locations tour.

Outside TCL Chinese Theatre. Heaps of fun to look at all the stars' signatures!

Outside TCL Chinese Theatre. Heaps of fun to look at all the stars’ signatures!

We did do SOME stuff. The Walk of Fame and TCL Chinese Theatre, the Hollywood Museum. We went and saw Tim Ferriss interview Terry Crews (star of Brooklyn Nine-Nine) live on stage – a major highlight for us both, since Stu is a big Terry Crews fan. We walked the Santa Monica Pier and then walked along the sand to Venice Beach. We hiked to the Hollywood sign.

We ate. Corn cheese (you heard me) and Korean BBQ in Koreatown. American treats we normally avoid: pancakes with bacon, fancy PBJs and grilled cheese sandwiches at Grand Central Market. Tacos Tumbras a Tomas and Salvadorean pupusas from Sarita’s (the setting of the first date in La La Land), also at the market. For our last night we have booked the Pacific Dining Car, as immortalised in Ellroy novels and in the movie Training Day.

An awesome moment. Just me, the open air and the smog.

An awesome moment. Just me, the open air and the smog.

And we lazed. We hid from our somewhat scary and ill-chosen neighbourhood and went on a cinematic tour. I know it sounds terrible, watching movies about LA instead of being out in it. But I swear it provoked thought. Hear me out.

We watched or re-watched Sunset Boulevard, CluelessSpeed, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, LA Story, Afternoon Delight, Training Day and, of course, Volcano, set in the streets not a 10-minute walk from where we were staying, near MacArthur Park on the edge of downtown LA.

I did find one nice spot walking distance from our place: Echo Park.

Echo Park.

It felt surreal seeing a tidal wave of lava pouring over streets we have walked now for weeks, in our local train station. I thought, people who live in LA see their homes in celluloid all the time. This is normal for them, to see their lives and landscapes, their train stations, their cafes, all represented, countless “what if” scenarios played out. I can’t help but feel there’s both advantage and disadvantage that a city can be this self-reflective.

Classic LA: beauty, with parking.

The field of racial and “whiteness” studies says that for a race to be routinely represented in mainstream art forms gives that race a kind of validation, an acknowledgement of its existence within the culture, and by association gives it power.

Transpose that idea to not a race but a city identity like “Angelinos”. They sure are getting represented, validated, afforded power in a global context by the sheer amount of representations getting pumped out into the world. So when does this become something not just empowering but navel-gazing, something that shuts them off from seeing the rest of the world and just permits them to continue their lives unchallenged by different ways of living and seeing? I thought NYC was an insular culture; surely this is too. It calls to mind recent social commentary that Facebook has an unhealthy way of feeding us all stories it knows we will like and agree with, thereby leaving our minds fat and lethargic. Is it healthy, in other words, for LA to get fed so much pure LA?

Santa Monica

Santa Monica

And is it healthy for the rest of us to get fed so much LA? Are we deficient of home nutrients? I watched these movies as a kid thinking “this is what a city looks like,” not questioning that city, its reality, its demographics, its very physical being.

It’s only now that I can see it’s a real place. Not only a blank canvas for a movie but the weirdest, most intense, most unbalanced city I have ever seen. It’s so far apart from my home, despite the thin veneer of sameness of all Western civilisation, that I feel like it’s really another planet. And yet I have I have grown up on their cultural products, not my own.

That feels a little odd to realise, and a little sad. That Perth, such a beautiful place, with an ancient Aboriginal history as well as a much shorter European history, doesn’t get represented to the world. We let Tim Winton do our heavy lifting, and I fucking love Tim Winton, but we can’t just leave it all to him.

Hehehehe.

Hehehehe.

I know we have more good writers. I know we have good independent films and many excellent musicians. Perth is bursting with creative people. But there’s no denying that Perth bleeds artists to other cities and countries where their voices are heard more easily. Sometimes people, including me, forget to encourage these voices with cold hard cash.

We pay for stories from all over the world, for meals out, for coffees, but begrudge money for local movies and festivals and music. It’s a luxury to have this access to cultural products from elsewhere, but it’s maybe a loss, too, of connection with our own place. They might not be the same brand of sexy as LA stories, but they’re ours, and I have promised myself to think a bit harder about how I spend my entertainment dollar.

A beautiful scene, apart from the rotten brown haze :/

There’s more to LA than movies, by the way. There is a vibrant food and wine scene and exciting cultural diversity and some progressive recycling and renewable energy programs. It’s just as well – I have never seen anywhere dirtier, including NYC, and while I have read pollution has loosened its grip on LA in recent decades I was horrified at the great stripe of smog we saw blanketing the horizon as we looked towards the city from Burbank Peak.

It’s a lot to get your head around, and my thoughts are increasingly drawn to home. Wonderful coffee. Starlight. Supermarkets that make sense. Farmers’ markets that make even more sense. Toenail polish. Coloured clothes. Beer and wine and water coming in real glassware. Clean, safe, quiet streets. The Swan River. Within minutes of leaving the house, beautiful, unfenced, pristine parks everywhere you turn. Grass gently yellowing in dry December heat. Parks with gas barbecues cooking, not shrimp, but simple, classic Aussie beef snaggers. See you soon, Perth!

StuMobservations: LA

  • Gus’s drive-in has the best BBQ bacon cheeseburger in all the land.
  • $20 all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ is a cook your own adventure of epic proportions.
  • Who knew: When Max Factor originally introduced makeup to the common (ie non actress) woman, wearing it represented liberation for women and they protested to be allowed to wear it.
  • Squirrel + avocado diet = gigantic squirrel.
  • Terry Crews has a remarkable message about going for what we desire most.
  • Driving in LA is scarier than driving in the snow.
  • Why have I not tried Ramen before?
  • A hike to the Hollywood sign means you can see the back of some of the letters.
  • I wanted to steal Milla’s red dress from Resident Evil #prollyworththejailtime.
  • I saw the shoes and wand that Harry, Ron and Hermione used to imprint cement then I saw the imprints in the cement.

Wooooooooooooooo

 What we’re reading
Man’s Search For Meaning, Victor E Frankl; The Course of Love, Alain de Botton; Mr Mercedes, Stephen King

 

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Performance-enhancing book: Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans

the-tim-ferriss-show-podcast

Tim Ferriss and trusty steed Laura keep me inspired and happy through each and every commute. 

Just as with fiction I tend to fall down the rabbit hole, I get excited when I find a good resource covering one of my more “real” areas of obsession.

I find a new font of inspiration and information and sort of suck them dry like a vampire, until I have consumed everything they have to say and grown stronger. Hmm, perhaps more of a parasite.
Unflattering self-depictions aside, recent examples include the financial freedom blog of Mr Money Mustache (nearly 500 posts, worked through gluttonously and chronologically) and the 100-odd hours of The Minimalists’ podcasts so far released.
Eventually, I find, I absorb the message. I’m converted. I get it. I know the Minimalists’ stories and catchphrases so well I listen to them more like a soothing old bedtime story now than a source of excitement. I’ve done the projectsjoined the cult.
But a slightly different case is the Tim Ferriss Show,  the podcast in which optimisation junkie Ferriss conducts long-form interviews with the world’s top performers across myriad fields, deconstructing their habits and back-stories in an effort to find out what habits lead to success.
Ferriss is also author of business classic The Four-Hour Workweek, health hacker bible The Four-Hour Body and learning-method deconstruction The Four-Hour Chef. He is so adored it’s sometimes hard to tell who’s more star-struck, him or his famous guests.
(Imagine my delight, incidentally, when finally my nerd prayers were answered this week and Ferriss bowed to fan pressure to interview Mr Money Mustache in the latest episode).
This show never gets old and never runs out. You never learn it all. It’s the personal development equivalent of a gold mine that runs to the other side of the earth. You could never hope to read all the books recommended, follow up all the little side routes and innovations you hear about. I’ve read two of the books, bits of the others and listened to more than 200 hours of interviews and yet feel I’ve barely scratched the surface.
I have the books on Kindle, but am planning to buck my own minimalist trends and buy them in hard copy to keep for more easy and frequent referencing. And throughout the interviews, there are certainly common themes, but there is far more variation than there is repetition, and the recurrences are, in themselves, fascinating.

This was the reasoning behind the book, an attempt by Ferriss to capture and distill the best of all his interviews thus far, and draw the connections between them. I approached it with greedy anticipation, having bought it for myself as a Christmas present (though I had to get it on Kindle, the city bookstores having sold out).

It’s a diamond-hard read without an ounce of fat, and includes plenty of new material and insight into Ferriss’ personal struggles. But a word of warning: don’t bother if you’re not seriously into personal challenges and life-hacking. Otherwise it will quickly overwhelm. Even a medium-level devotee such as I found many of the concepts covered (it is divided into sections Healthy, Wealthy and Wise) too advanced for me, at least in terms of finance, exercise, diet and biomedical science. But even if you skim over parts, that, he says, is the way he intends the book to be read. More like a buffet than a three-course meal (my words, not his).
And it’s endlessly stimulating. I love knowing there is always more out there to learn, about people, the capacity of an individual mind and body to reach extreme performance. It’s humorous and fast-paced, and at 700-odd pages, you can skim the parts you’re not up for yet without feeling like you’re not getting bang for your buck.
Cool features include a comprehensive reading list from each interviewee, and a cartooned spirit animal for each based on how they imagine themselves. My advice is get it in hard copy, devour it for fun, then go back and drill down.
Happy nerding!

Suspend your disbelief for new Netflix doco, Tony Robbins: I Am Not Your Guru

Tony Robbins: I am Not Your Guru

Tony Robbins: I am Not Your Guru

Every year 2500 people from 71 countries come to Tony Robbins’ Date With Destiny seminar in Florida.

The word seminar seems a little inadequate. It’s $5000 a ticket for six 12-hour days in which Robbins speaks and performs ‘interventions’ for audience members. Attendees also attend intensive group therapy  sessions to confront their demons, build relationships and eventually create strategies to take their ‘breakthroughs’ into the future.

Robbins was someone I had previously thought of as a fat old white dude who writes self help books for a living, but turns out to be a relatively young, foul-mouthed and funny behemoth of a man who looks like Jack Reacher and burns with an almost evangelical passion to help people, a passion that arose from the ashes of a troubled childhood.

His brand of ‘intervention’ is a technique he calls ‘practical psychology’, a unique blend of performance and personal connection in which people (like deer in headlights) tell him darkets secrets in front of a crowd of thousands. He doesn’t know the outcome of these conversations at the outset, but under the pressure of the spotlight he questions them closely, pays close attention to body language and every time, leads them to catharsis, usually using a heady blend of humour and tough love.

Tony Robbins: I am Not Your Guru. Photo credit: Courtesy of Third Eye Motion Picture Company/Netflix

Tony Robbins: I am Not Your Guru. Photo credit: Courtesy of Third Eye Motion Picture Company/Netflix

This sounds terribly weird, even grotesque, but it’s fascinating. His huge team of staff (the coordination  of this event is a wonder in itself) who run the groups identify from extensive questionnaires the ‘red flags’, or most damaged attendees, those at risk of self-harm or worse, and keep a close eye on them, as does Robbins himself, throughout the process.

I’m a noted sook, but I defy you not to cry at seeing people, who in some cases have faced unimaginable trauma, finding hope in a place they thought of as a last chance at life. It’s also an insight into a man who the phrase ‘larger than life’ was probably written for.

This is the first time in the event’s 25-year history that Robbins has let media in and the result is this remarkable documentary by Oscar-nominated filmmaker Joe Berlinger (Brother’s Keeper, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, the Paradise Lost triology).

Robbins said in a recent long-form podcast interview (worth a look itself) that after the premiere he got a letter from Michael Moore, telling him that watching it left him both a better man and a better filmmaker.

Suspend your disbelief and check it out – at the very least, it’s grand spectacle, but for many it’s redemption.

My most inspiring podcasts right now

Podcasts: for Type A individuals who enjoy learning in their downtime.

Podcasts: for Type A individuals who enjoy learning in their downtime.

I’ve decided I can’t stand blog posts that make you wade through a bunch of personal crap before they get to the reason you clicked, so without further ado:

The Tim Ferris Show
My favourite podcast. Usually the top-ranked business podcast on iTunes, and iTunes’ “Best of 2014” and “Best of 2015.” Tim Ferriss is the author of the Four-Hour Workweek, the Four-Hour Body and the Four-Hour Chef. Despite how gimmicky these sound, they are intensive. A long-form show usually in intimate interview format, with diverse and fascinating guests, sometimes famous and sometimes not, dissecting their high-achieving lifestyles along with Tim Ferriss, who they are usually as impressed by as he is with them. Listen to this if you take self-improvement and learning deadly seriously.
Recent favourites:
Conversations with Richard Fidler 
Lovely 45-minute interviews that are reliably wide-ranging, humorous and touching. Recent favourites:

Chat 10 Looks 3
How could you not already be charmed by a podcast whose title is a quote from A Chorus Line? Annabel Crabb (Kitchen Cabinet host, ABC political writer and author) and Leigh Sales (famously tenacious journalist, host of ABC’s flagship 7.30) get way less serious in this podcast in which they bake for each other, eat the things they bake, name-drop, review books and TV shows and movies, and generally crap on about things they like. They are hilarious when bouncing off each other. If I could get paid to make a show like this I would die happy. Has recently been made into an iView show called When I Get a Minute. It’s completely unstructured, so just dive in at any starting point you like.

The Minimalists Podcast
The Minimalists talk about ‘living a meaningful life with less stuff’. If this topic doesn’t interest you, probably don’t start. If it does, hop into it, because these two are pretty much the faces of modern minimalism.
Inspiring and encouraging for anyone who feels like life is a bit of a rat race at times, and provide a sense of community. They repeat their own stories a shade too often, but I kind of like this, I find it weirdly soothing. They are a good team and bounce off each other well – they’re not preachy or overly serious.
If you’re looking at this for the first time, I’d avoid their more recent guest podcasts and the ones done live from cities,as these are all kind of filler episodes while they’ve been touring their new documentary. Yes, I have preordered the documentary and the six hours of bonus footage. I’m a sad lady.

Enjoy!