While I wish I could tell you of how I squatted in the Playboy Mansion, disguising myself as Hugh Heffner’s hat stand, or how I power cycled behind a sightseeing bus, stretching my ears out so to capture a second hand audio tour, the truth is, to see LA in its entirety, I had to break a few Benjamins (Breaking Benjamin referring to spending money here and not assaulting various gentlemen by the name of Benjamin). Not because the city itself is an expensive place to be, but because a. 468 square miles of conurbation seemed slightly arduous without a car and b. I wanted to buy everything I saw.
Once you’ve bitten (or rather, let the lazy car-renting bullet dissolve in your mouth) you can finally begin to traverse the many tendrils of Tinseltown. A night drive up to Griffith Observatory may even convince you that these tarmacked tendrils are the real tinsel of the town, twisting between the forests of concrete Christmas trees that stutter the city’s skyline. Without intending to spoil the image, LA seems as if it were designed by Jeremy Clarkson. To conquer it all, or at least get a decent photo of the Hollywood sign, you need a car.
For those that are less petrol-headed or just traffic jam intolerant, the subway (built in the 1980s) is a safe, cheap ($5 for a day pass) and undersubscribed alternative. However, like Ryanair, there is no guarantee that your intended destination will be within a day’s walking distance of the station you get off at. Having played LA Noir and GTA San Andreas, my Cambridgeshire-coddled self was a little apprehensive about taking the train into uncharted territories. I discovered however that the atmosphere in LA is far more Modern Family than it is Modern Warfare.
The film industry is what continues to give this place its gravitational allure. Warner Bros., Paramount and Universal all give studio tours of sets such as those used in The Big Bang Theory, Community and Desperate Housewives. Ticket prices range from $50 to $150 depending on whether you want to golf cart past a row of anonymous sound stages or wear in Chevy Chase’s new shoes before he struts them into an episode. However, for a cheaper alternative the defiantly named iamnotastalker.com offers drivers the opportunity to visit set locations as all of those studios combined, for example the Fresh Prince’s Bel-Air estate.
Given that this summer seemed to be all about London, I’ll try to assign a London equivalent to each part of LA. Rodeo Drive and Beverly Hills are like Chelsea with palm trees; Venice Beach is Camden Town-on-Sea that offers $40 medicinal marijuana eligibility tests; and Melrose Avenue is a second home for Shoreditch’s hipsters. Out of pure serendipity, I happened upon Melrose’s 1988 gallery, which at the time was holding an Arrested Development exhibition complete with frozen bananas, affordable fan art and and Tobias Fünke (character from the show and human innuendo) tribute acts.
By day Hollywood Boulevard, (best know for the walk of fame) provides an unravelled Leicester Square, with film star lookalikes taking the place of Angus Steak Houses. By night, however, sunspots start to sully the paving starlight and the dark underbelly of the American Dream reveals itself. It’s somewhat strange to watch families trundle blindly past a homeless man slumped in a bin, bearing the sign ‘cum guzzling gutter slut’, in order to have a photo taken with Kermit the Frog’s paving slab. Likewise, there’s an irony in queuing up for Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum while an elderly gentleman asks you for money to help pay his oncology bills. Healthcare may be private, but the inequality in the city is very public.
With my last year of study at UCL looming I had to check out our alphabetic brother: UCLA. While both universities are irrefutably sexy, UCLA being mostly byzantine in appearance as opposed to Victorian, UCLA wins when it comes to academic merchandise. Subject-specific cuff links, UCLA-logoed golf tees and sports team branded flasks are but a few bits of memorabilia that I had to resist pulling all the ‘A’s off of in shameless self-promotion. It turns out that you can even buy UCLA jumpers in Next. Maybe if UCL injected a bit more cash into its image, strangers wouldn’t keep asking us “oh…is that the one in Lancashire?”