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A Tour of Hollywood on Oscar Day, Part II

(Read Part I here)

“Welcome to Hollywood!” – Ronald King

I approach the first barker I see that’s advertising Hollywood tours. Once he sees he doesn’t have to do any selling for me, he turns on the tour guide and points out the Famous Walk of Fame! The Famous Egyptian Theater! The Famous Pig and Whistle! He asks where I’m from and once I say that I live down the street, sadly I don’t get to hear about any other famous things for the rest of the block. But, I do get to hear how the guy gets 30% of my fee for bringing me over.

tour3As the company races to fill the van, the photo panhandlers swarm the line waiting to get closer to the red carpet. The killer from Scream poses with an eight-year-old and her four-year-old sister. Yoda rolls up the street accompanied by a Playboy bunny. Our van pulls up and the driver greets the bunny, named Sandra, as it seems that all of the tourist hustlers know each other.

My tour driver is Ronald King, and we hit it off immediately as I’m sporting my St. Louis Cardinals cap and he’s originally from O’Fallon, MO. He gets us out onto Sunset Boulevard and immediately the tour starts.

The first building he points out is Hollywood High School that I’ve walked by hundreds of times. Yes, Laurence Fishburne went there, as did Judy Garland, star of “The Wizard of Oz.” (“Who here remembers ‘The Wizard of Oz?’”) But, I didn’t know they filmed the football scenes of “Forrest Gump” there. Score one for the tour. I have my camera out. I’m ready to go.

Now’s a good time to tell you about Los Angeles drivers. We are the worst in the United States. We don’t have time to drive. We need to write our screenplays, read our screenplays and pitch our screenplays while navigating between cars and changing lanes four at a time. As a twenty-year resident of Los Angeles, Ron understands all of this, working in variable speeds, using both lanes at once, almost getting hit and ignoring the yellowest of yellow lights.

My grip on the armrest tightens during “The Smoking Gun” segment of the tour. There’s where Hugh Grant was busted. There’s where Eddie Murphy was busted. There’s where Britney Spears started a police chase. There’s where Nick Nolte got his DUI. Hey did you know we even have a guy with six DUIs living in this town? Give a big hand for Lakers owner Jerry Buss! My internal cynic winces when I hear the words “That’s where John Belushi committed suicide.”

“Not too shabby, huh?” – Ronald King

What follows next is a dizzying array of beautiful homes owned by beautiful people and worth beautiful amounts of money. The first few we have to guess – “She won an Oscar for ‘Monster’s Ball’; He had his own show on MTV with his crazy family” – but when we reach the meat of the tour it goes rapid fire: Keanu Reeves. Alfred Hitchcock. Tom Cruise. Britney Spears. Dr. Phil. The Playboy Mansion. Aaron Spelling. Rod Stewart. The house used in the filming of “The Birds.”

I’m just now beginning to wonder why I had the bright idea to sit in a topless van for a tour of Hollywood, especially when I look at my watch and realize it isn’t even halfway over. My stomach’s memory of that Rice Krispie treat has disappeared and I can no longer immerse myself in the tourist thing. Initially, not even years of cynicism can shield away the massive excitement of the other tourists; it’s contagious. But after an hour, cynicism starts to win.

tour5At this point, however, is just when the rest of my tour group gets real interested. Soon cries asking where other celebrities live come from the back of the van. Tom Hanks? Jack Nicholson? The Beckhams? Jennifer Lopez? Jennifer Aniston? Sylvester Stallone? I start to watch the conspicuously parked limos outside of these houses, drivers waiting to take the occupants to the biggest televised trade show on the planet. Limos at least prove the existence of someone behind the doors. I use a limo, therefore I am.

I jump for joy (internally, of course) as we start going east on Sunset Boulevard, knowing that soon I will be home with a pizza. However, one last uncomfortable moment awaits as we pull up to a restaurant in the Sunset Plaza and almost park outside. Ron welcomes the van occupants to look inside and see if they can see any celebrities. The people in the restaurant stare back. This is what it’s like to put two fish aquariums next to each other.

“Who are you waving at? You need to wave at God.” – protester at Sunset and Highland

What’s more American than a good ol’ protest? After the van drops us off, I’m smack dab in the middle of one. At all four corners of Sunset and Highland, where the limousines enter to drop off their famous charges, are various protesters with signs like “The Jews Killed Jesus,” “God Hates America,” and “Fags Can’t Marry.” I smile, grab a few photos and put my head down to make the final push for home. Before I do, there’s one last homeless man, weaving his way down the street in front of me. I can’t understand any of his mutterings, and I look away just as he starts to wander into traffic, which is not as rare of an occasion as you might think.

tour4I head home and start jotting down notes about the tour day before the actual Oscar telecast begins; even if I make fun of it, I really do enjoy it. But, the thing is, living out here has changed how I view the Oscars.

Once you live out here in Hollywood, you realize that all the guys are handsome and all the girls are beautiful. All are fit and all are talented. The difference between not working and commercial work is negligible. The difference between not working and movie work is negligible. You just need that one break, that one chance, that little bit of buzz and you would have your chance to do what you’ve always dreamed of doing. Which is what all of those speeches are about, Sandra Bullock be damned. We have to believe that chance is out there, to give us the strength to keep hitting the pavement or the dream is dead. If we believe in that so hard, of course we have to ignore the homeless people. If we acknowledge them we have to admit that one bad break, that one piece of bad luck, that one bit of negative buzz and that’s it, we’ll end up like them.

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About Jason McClain Jason is an aspiring novelist, which means there is a lot of time to put off writing and watch baseball or go fly-fishing, hiking and traveling. By "a lot of time", Jason means "procrastination."

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