LA Is Still The City Of Dreams

On my first night in L.A., I had pizza with a rock star and an actor. I didn’t confirm it, but the guy who handed us our slices probably has a screenplay in the pipeline. Los Angeles is still the city of dreams and dreamers.

I’m fascinated by cities people flock to in order to pursue a vocation. Writers love New York. Techies settle in the Silicon Valley. Car people need to be in Detroit. Those who are interested in politics and government go to D.C. And anyone who wants to work in the entertainment industry moves to L.A.

Every city also has accountants, police officers, teachers and the rest, but L.A. wouldn’t be the same without the swarms of people who moved there in the hopes of becoming famous. If you live in a city that’s saturated with people who’ve all moved there for roughly the same reason, I can see how it would be a bit annoying. I’ve lived in D.C. three separate times and never warmed to the place in part because it’s a transient city filled with hyper-achieving, my child is going to speak Chinese better than your child, type A personalities.

But while living among the aspiring and working actors, directors and musicians in L.A. might get old, I never get tired of visiting the place. On the first night of my recent trip, my wife and I fell into conversation with a guy who had movie star good looks while waiting for slices of a pizza in a restaurant on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. I don’t watch enough Hollywood movies and T.V. to know if he was famous, but he looked the part. But then again, there are all kinds of beautiful people in L.A. and only a fraction of them are famous, the rest wait tables, take off their clothes in strip joints and do 1,000 other things to pay the rent while keeping their dreams of stardom simmering.

I couldn’t bring myself to ask him, “hey, are you on TV?” because I didn’t want to be too much of a rank tourist. We went outside with our slices and sat at a table next to a guy with a big mop of curly blonde hair and two slices of pizza. He had a guitar on his lap and I couldn’t help but ask him what band he was in.

“We’re called the Mowgli’s,” he said.

The name meant nothing to me but immediately resonated with my little boys, who are fans of “The Jungle Book.The young man told me his name was Michael Vincze and, while I naively assumed that he was just an eccentric dreamer that liked to walk around L.A. with a guitar, he casually mentioned that they’d recently played at the House of Blues in Chicago and on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

In many ways, emerging artists like the Mowglis are forced to be consummate travelers. Vincze told us that his band had crisscrossed the country in a van several times, playing gigs in towns and cities all across the fruited plane.

Later that evening, I rode an elevator at my hotel with a strikingly attractive black woman and thought, she’s probably famous or soon will be, and later found out I was right. It was the British R & B singer Laura Mvula.

Of course, if you’re serious about stalking the mega-stars while in L.A., the real household names, there are a number of websites that list their home addresses, where they eat, pray, shop, etc. I have little interest in celebrity stalking, but I love to simply drive around L.A. and marvel at all the ridiculously expensive cars.

I saw more Rolls Royces, Ferraris, Lamborghinis and Maseratis in four days in L.A. than I’d see driving around Chicago, my adopted hometown, in a lifetime. These kinds of cars would be considered ostentatious in most corners of the planet but in L.A., hardly anyone seems to bat an eyelash.

On our last day in L.A., I was reminded what I like most about the city after reading a beautiful, heartbreaking story in the Los Angeles Times about Seth Burnham, a struggling “Mid 30s-ish, early 40s-ish” actor who moved to L.A. to pursue his dream and, like many, hasn’t made it but keeps hope alive. The story is part of a series called Chasing the Dream that neatly encapsulates how hard it is to make it in the entertainment business.

As a traveler, I like to be in a place that’s filled with dreamers like Seth Burnham. D.C. is filled with practical, serious career climbers, the kind of people who pay obsessive attention to their 401k portfolios and have panic attacks if they go more than 3,000 miles without an oil change.

But L.A. is chockfull of impractical people following dreams, people who carry their guitars around with them, waiting for inspiration to strike, people who, if given a million dollars, would rush right out and spend it on a Rolls Royce, people who, when you ask them how old they are, respond: “Mid 30s-ish to early 40s-ish.” L.A. doesn’t get much love from travel writers but there is no better place in the country to rub shoulders with fun, idealistic people who are this close to making it big.

[Photo credit: Frankenmedia on Flickr]