Vacation 2011: Hooray for Hollywood! Eventually.



The kids insisted we visit Los Angeles on our trip out West this summer, figuring this was as close as we'd ever get to it on a family vacation, especially now that our group trips are numbered. Opportunists! But yeah, they're probably right. It's unlikely we'll be driving that far again, at least in that direction, before they leave the nest for habitats unknown. After they go, maybe. But by then they'll be on their own, not on the parental dollar. Take it while you can get it. Nothing wrong with that. Unless my kids are reading this. In that case, it's wrong! So wrong! Go clean your rooms!

Paul and I certainly didn't have L.A. in mind when we started planning the trip. We've been to Boston, but that's probably the biggest city we've ever intentionally visited, for all the history made there.  But L.A.? It wouldn't have even occurred to us. Not so for our three off-spring. As soon as they heard the magic word "California" their eyes began to twinkle. And not because of Yosemite, let me tell you.

"Hollywood! Hollywood! Hollywood!"

Readers, they wore us down, like a river through a canyon eroding patterns in the stones. We're the Grand Canyon; they're the Colorado River. It was only a matter of time. And when it comes down to either caving to your kids or losing your last tenuous grip on sanity, you gotta go with the former. If  you don't have kids you can afford to tsk, tsk. And good for YOU. But if you're in our boat you'll get it. We have to stand together or they'll eat us alive. Circle the wagons! The natives are restless, and that's never a good thing.

And these are GOOD kids, people! Honor students, kids who never go missing late at night, partying or what not. No drugs, no smoking or drinking, no loser friends, no sketchy boyfriends or girlfriends… We can't really complain about them. Unless they're reading this. If so, don't you have homework?! Never mind school doesn't start again 'til Monday! When I was a kid I spent all my time studying. And I LIKED it that way.

Because they are my kids, National Parks have only so much interest for them, so I can sort of understand how they felt. I'd probably have felt the same way when I was a kid, before skanks like Paris Hilton came along, tarnishing Hollywood forever. And a person can only take so much camping, our family being as extreme an example (minus Paul, who was raised on camping vacations and still has a strong stomach) as they get. For the kids and me, we're pretty much ready to head out before we've finished setting up camp. So yeah. Maybe I wasn't as resistant as I plead.

Some of it was about being star-struck, wanting to see the studios where films and television shows (Glee!) (Conan!) are made. It wasn't as much about seeing celebrities, though that would have been a pretty big bonus. It was more about seeing where all the magic is made.

But I have to admit, I've never felt like so much a yokel as I did in Los Angeles. It's packed with tourists, of course, but we'd just come from a campsite. And it showed. We were rumpled and crumpled, probably reeking of campfire and bear scat. We, and other mere mortals like ourselves, walked past women in spandex dresses and stilettos, women who probably spend more on one hair appointment than we do on groceries for an entire month. I don't feel comfortable admitting I felt so self-conscious, because it's like admitting they're better and I know it, but I can't remember feeling so out of place. I wanted to molt out of my old skin and pop out nice and shiny. Long story short, didn't happen.

For my sons the draw was all about the exotic cars. Move aside, Top Gear! Hollywood has the real thing, as in real life. In addition to the Ferraris and Lamborghinis they saw by serendipity, we took them to car dealers: one selling Lamborghinis and Bugattis, another Aston-Martins.

The leggy young hostess (could there be any other sort?) was surprisingly tolerant of two boys star-struck by cars. Not that they were the only ones. At both dealers we saw two other boys (obviously brothers), carrying around cameras, looking like they'd just died and gone to car heaven.  The hostess let them climb in and out of a Lamborghini, just the one but believe me, that was okay with them. They were breathless with excitement, like I am when I come upon a bookstore…




Overall, though, I think we're in agreement the highlight of Hollywood was Grauman's Chinese Theatre. Seeing the Walk of Fame, the hand, foot (and wand!) prints in the cement in front, that was all obligatory. But the theatre… Incredible.




The city was like Disney on crack, with silicone implants. It was hot, crowded, filled with gift shop after gift shop, tour hawker after tour hawker, all trying to get our money. That gets old really quickly. My mood took an almost immediate plunge once we left the courtyard of Grauman's. I don't do well in heat. I wilt, sweat and generally become an unpleasant person to be around. Plus, the further we walked the more seedy the area became. Strip clubs, stores selling S & M clothing and "accessories," scary people… You can't go that far in any direction before you end up in an undesirable part of town.

But before we'd gone too far we saw the ticket booth for Grauman's. The ticket booth selling tickets to the last film in the Harry Potter series. In 3-D, no less. Here it was, our chance to see the inside of a historic American icon, playing a film we thought we'd have to wait 'til after vacation to see…


After a drive down Rodeo Drive, through Beverly Hills and what not, we returned to the theatre. And it was awesome. The film was amazing, but seeing it there? It doesn't get better than that.




So beautiful. So plush, and finally a part of Hollywood I didn't feel we stuck out like a sore thumb. The premier was done, the celebrities gone. It was just us and half a theatre full of other tourists, sitting where movies have been debuted since 1927.

All I can say, thank god we brought the camera and no one was rushing us out the door. It was magical. By the end we were the only people there, aside from the cleaning crew. We were poking around, having a look at the original Harry, Ron and Hermione costumes (behind glass, of course), generally taking our time absorbing a piece of Americana we may never see the inside of again.

Turns out it wasn't just a highlight of this year's vacation. It's a highlight of all our family vacations. So maybe the kids were right. Okay, yes. I said it. But if the kids are listening…? Never mind. They already know.



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