Somebody once asked me if moving to Hollywood, the most branded neighborhood in the world was intentional. Hadn’t crossed my mind. But it does have significance.
My childhood was spent in a globally branded city– Las Vegas. The Entertainment Capital of the World. Sin City. What happens there… whatever, you know the rest. The vibes of its brand permeated the city’s atmosphere. Gambling, hookers, easy money, hustling. A predatory place for a young girl to grow up, and a desperate lifestyle of drinking and lost life savings for lots of locals. In the weeks before I left town, I spent hours driving around Las Vegas wondering: does this city have a soul?
Living in Hollywood is another experience of observation. While “Hollywood” is shorthand for the industry that supports most of this city, the actual neighborhood is a mix of cultures and commerce. I see dazed tourists shuffle down Hollywood Boulevard, grimacing at the laid-out street folk openly smoking weed and testifying about Jesus via sidewalk chalk. The youngest girl in a chubby family, wearing a glitter purse, pink sweats, and child high heels openly grimaces at a bus stop bum, but doesn’t notice him laughing at her entire family as they pass.
I see strollers after strollers, young mothers enlisting the oldest to push shopping carts full of babies across Santa Monica, from grocer to fruit stand and then back home to a midcentury apartment building, with thirty-plus un-airconditioned units and two palm trees in front. Odd murals dot the street– off-brand Homer Simpson, barely recognizable Ralph Lauren Polo cologne, anorexic Michelin Man, painted in unrealistic perspectives.
At Hollywood and Vine, aspiring teenage record producers perch on planters in their telltale orange lanyards, scholars at the Los Angeles School of Recording Arts. Smoking weed with their Beats by Dre headphones blasting from the neck, each and every one of them is going to make it. They’ll all be working with Jay-Z, eventually.
In Little Armenia, where couches and mattresses and broken big screen TVs accumulate endlessly on street corners, old men line the sidewalks, congregating in small groups. Smoking, drinking Turkish coffee. Coughing and speaking loudly in dark, hoarse Armenian. Watching the neigborhood, never smiling, never waving, only observing the evolution of their landscape, and the endless parade of double-parked Land Rovers.
Jumbo’s Clown Room lures the hipsters to Thai Town at night. Smog Cutter’s karaoke down Virgil is the next step, a catch-all for the kicked-out drunks who drive home blasted anyway. The Spare Room. The Virgil. Good Luck Bar. They blur at night. Slow down as you pass the Scientology building to see vacant-eyed Orgs robotically gardening in the dark.
The universally accepted Hollywood brand– convertibles! Movie stars! Glamour! Youth! None of this truly applies to the East Hollywood neighborhood I know. But I love my neighborhood, filled with ridiculous murals, wild characters, independent businesses and a flat landscape, perfect for biking. If I really wanted glamour, I’d move to WeHo.