Bridget Hoida On: Placing the Pages

This post originally appeared as a guest blog on A Chick Who Reads

In my book, So L.A., Magdalena, the protagonist, drives her convertible through the complicated L.A. streets and maze of intersecting freeways as though it were an incurable habit. “I like to drive,” she states on more than one occasion, her oversized sunglasses a shield against the perpetual sunshine of the Southland. “Not to anywhere in particular, because I have no place in particular to go, but I’m addicted to freeways. The 405 to the 10 to the 110 to the 101. It’s so L.A.”


On this virtual literary tour of So L.A I invite you to join Magdalena and me “stop and go”  across the pages of So L.A. and some of my favorite places in Los Angeles.


To visit Stop One: 730 N. Bedford Dr. you’ll only have to take a peek in the rearview mirror as we back down Magdalena’s driveway in Beverly Hills. When I was “shopping” for houses in which to place my novel and its main characters, 730 N. Bedford stood out to me, not only because it’s a classic Beverly flats mansion, but because it is also the former residence of Lana Turner, one of old Hollywood’s leading ladies and the site of  “The Happening.” Ask any of the kids who sell “Maps to the Stars” in Hollywood and they will tell you, “The Happening” at 730 N. Bedford is what happened when Lana Turner’s 14-year-old daughter, Cheryl Crane, stabbed Turner’s abusive boyfriend Johnny Stompanatoto death in 1958. Morbid as it seems, I needed Magdalena to live in a house that had not only experienced death (as death and tragedy are both reoccurring themes in So L.A.), but also a house inhabited by female solidarity and extraordinary bravery.

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As we make our way from the neighborhoods of Beverly Hills to Stop Two, the bazillion dollar shopping districts of L.A. proper – just a few block over and a few blocks up, totally walkable not that anyone from Beverly Hills every would—I’m going to do the unthinkable and pass right by the iconic Rodeo Drive for the lesser-known, and oh-so-lovely, Robertson Boulevard. Less conspicuous than the infamous Rodeo, Robertson is still no stranger to over-the-top luxury boutiques and insane celebrity sightings. In fact, because most tourists are still in the dark about the very existence of the extremely high-end Robertson, many celebrities prefer shopping Chanel, Odd Molly, Kitson, and Dolce on this quiet side street. And when you’re done shopping, you can indulge in a glass of wine and some warm cookies, as Magdalena frequently does in So L.A., at Stop Three: The Ivy.


Unlike the rest of Robertson, The Ivy is a place a girl goes when she wants to be seen. Often flanked by paparazzi and celebrities alike, The Ivy is an adorable restaurant with patio dining so those who can get “on the list” are seated in obvious sight of everyone walking the sidewalks that could not quite seem to manage an advanced reservation. A word of caution, however, when parking at The Ivy, be sure to use the valet so as to avoid colliding your car with a billboard, a rather unfortunate “Magdalena moment” that throws the darling of So L.A. into a spotlight almost too bright for her to handle. Good thing for lobster ravioli and Quentin, the man Magdalena meets crying on a Robertson curb who escorts her, not in a the chauffeured town car of which she is accustom, but rather in a bright yellow utility truck, to downtown L.A. where the bars are dim and the drinks are stiff.


Stop Four: Downtown Los Angeles. On a personal note, I was once told by a “well intentioned friend” never to go south of the 10 freeway or east of La Brea. Thankfully, I did not heed that advice because downtown Los Angeles (as well as south and east of downtown Los Angeles) is glorious! In So L.A. Magdalena frequents the meracdos, bars, museums, and even the public libraries of downtown L.A. In one of my favorite passages of So L.A. she actually walks from the MoCA to Japan Town (passing the courthouse and the old L.A. times building) while she counts trees that are not of the palm variety. And she does all this at dusk, in a pair of Yves Saint Laurent platform sandals! Does she blister? Absolutely. But she’d do it again in a heartbeat. (And if you’re ever in the area, I’d encourage you to walk downtown L.A. as well.)

Because of the blisters, or maybe because of all the shopping and the walking and the brief cultural tourism at the Japanese American National Museum, Stop Five: The Beverly Hills Hotel

Title: Beverly Hills Hotel, front driveway and...

Title: Beverly Hills Hotel, front driveway and entrance (copy of photograph), circa 1925 Publication:Los Angeles Times Publication date:circa 1925

is about back where we began. In So L.A., Magdalena takes up temporary residence at the Beverly Hills Hotel—mostly because she admires the huge banana leaf wallpaper and the plush pink bathrobes—but also because she finds a certain (privileged) security in “homelessness so close to home.” Like a child who runs away to the basement or a cardboard box in the garage, Magdalena really isn’t seeking an escape from her marriage, rather she is yearning to be found by her husband, Ricky. So she seeks refuge in what she thinks is the closest and most easily found location: a hotel less than three miles from her house. Sadly, or perhaps central to the plot of most any discovery, neither Ricky nor Magdalena can see what is literally right under their noses. But they learn and they try and, in typical L.A. fashion, they drive onward into the sunset.

As we motor off this virtual page I’d like to leave you with these driving tips from Magdalena, straight off the pages (and freeways) of So L.A. where she says:  “Ricky, like most Angelinos, doesn’t believe in the blinker. He maintains that by initiating the blink you actually hinder any small chance you have of actually getting over. The guy on your right, when he sees the click-click of the yellow light, will speed up and close in on the gap. But I disagree. One of the remarkable things about Los Angeles, one of those things that no one seems to talk about, is how we all do manage to get where we’re going. We slide from the fast lane (wave) to the middle lane (wave) to the slow lane (wave) to the exit ramp (blinker off), and we merge. It may not be singularly graceful or without incident, but 99.9 percent of the time we do manage to make our exits, our left turns, our way home.”

Thanks again to A Chick Who Reads for allowing me a guest spot on her fabulous blog!

Bridget Hoida On: Top Down Days

It’s hot in Southern California.

Which means everyone is talking about the weather. Spoiled as we are on the coast, we tend to complain, loudly, every time the temperature drops below 72 degrees or rises above 78.

There’s a reason our license plate frames read: Best Climate on Earth, and when mother nature denies us this boast, we get a little cranky, and more than a little vocal. Mostly because we don’t have in-home air conditioners, or if we do, we’ve forgotten how to clean an air vent, to turn them on.

In addition to living at the beach, or splashing in the pool until your toes are prunish, one way to escape the heat is to drive. Tops and windows down, we crank up the radio and blue dial the air-con and drive until the heat breaks.

In Play It As It Lays—or the best Los Angeles novel ever written as I call it—author Joan Didion drives her protagonist Maria through the heat as she takes on the iconic interchange of the L.A. freeway in brilliant and breathtaking fashion. She writes of roads and off ramps, rest stops and lane changes unlike any other writer.

In my book, So L.A., I was very much inspired by Didion’s freeway devotion. Particularly, the ways in which driving becomes a brilliantly choreographed dance, like in this passage:

Once she was on the freeway and had maneuvered her way to a fast lane she turned on the radio at high volume and she drove. She drove the San Diego to the Harbor, the Harbor up to the Hollywood, the Hollywood to the Golden State, the Santa Monica, the Santa Ana, the Pasadena, the Ventura. She drove it as a riverman runs a river, every day more attuned to its currents, its deceptions, and just as a riverman feels the pull of the rapids in the lull between sleeping and waking, so Maria lay at night in the still of Beverly Hills and saw the great signs soar overhead at seventy miles an hour. Normandie 1/4 Vermont 3/4 Harbor Fwy I. Again and again she returned to an intricate stretch just south of the interchange where successful passage from the Hollywood onto the Harbor required a diagonal move across four lanes of traffic. On the afternoon she finally did it without once braking or once losing the beat on the radio she was exhilarated, and that night slept dreamlessly.”

-Joan Didion, Play It As It Lays

So, in an effort to escape the heat, I invite you to join Joanie D. and me as we hop into something convertible, our hair wrapped in brightly covered scarves that flutter in the wind. Remember to buckle up. Use your hands free device, and above all, do not forget to press your oversized sunglasses tight against your faces as I put the car in drive.

Backing out of the driveway at Joan Didion’s “suburbia house” in Brentwood Park, the one that used to harbor a garden of “mint, stephanotis and the pink magnolia,” we’ll have to navigate the city streets until we catch the 10 freeway east to the 110 to the 101 before briefly hopping back on the 10 again to exit on Temple. There, we’ll find ourselves (if, of course we find parking), on streets well walked by another Los Angeles writer I adore, John Fante.

Often hailed as the best Los Angeles book that no one has read, Fante’s Ask The Dust (1939), is situated in Bunker Hill, in the heart of downtown. Part love song to an illusive women, and part love song to the city of L.A. herself, Fante declares his devotion (and his distaste) for the city of angles in breathless lines such as these: “Los Angeles, give me some of you! Los Angeles come to me the way I came to you, my feet over your streets, you pretty town I loved you so much, you sad flower in the sand, you pretty town!”

-John Fante, Ask The Dust

From here we can walk to the corner of Alameda and Main. I know, I know. I’ve heard the song plenty and nobody walks in L.A., but trust me, in the time it would take us to find our keys, make a left turn on a red light and repark we could walk to Alameda and back five, maybe six times, so settle up your peep-toed shoes and follow me to old Terminal Annex Post Office building where Charles Bukowski spent years sorting the mail (and his various rejection slips) before the publication of his book Post Office (1971) where he confesses: “I wanted the whole world or nothing.”

 —

Next door, at Union Station, we can buy a round-trip Metrolink ticket to El Monte, home of the imaginary sun-bleached flower fields of the El Monte Flores, a notorious carnation picking gang who wage a war against Saturn and omniscient narration in Salvador Plascencia’s The People of Paper (2004). And if we listen carefully, we can hear the words of Plascencia’s papered people: “She had heard that Los Angeles was the last refuge for those who had lost their civilization and were afraid of the rain.”

-Salvador Plascencia, The People of Paper

 —

Off the train, we can walk back to fetch the car and end the day with a drive down Hollywood Boulevard, stopping for a drink at Musso and Frank, a place Gore Vidal said, “is like stepping into a warm bath.” Frequented by William Faulkner, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Raymond Chandler and Nathanael West, the martinis never fail, and neither does Manny Aguirre, the 78-year-old bartender who is rumored to have once poured a drink for James Dean.

 —

With cocktails and dinner done, we can then turn in at the Hollywood Patio Hotel, with the “ugly maroon bedspread” where Money Brenton, the protagonist of Mary Robison’s brilliant Why Did I Ever (2002) spends her undermedicated days doctoring Hollywood scripts, while passing out beautiful zingers like: “There’s an anemic moon out there, milked over, hanging low in the low green sky. That couple in the heated pool. How do they, I wonder, figure into things?”

-Mary Robison, Why Did I Ever

 —

In the morning as we ease into rush hour traffic, remember, to put on your blinker. As Magdalena says in So L.A.:  “Ricky, like most Angelinos, doesn’t believe in the blinker. He maintains that by initiating the blink you actually hinder any small chance you have of actually getting over. The guy on your right, when he sees the click-click of the yellow light, will speed up and close in on the gap. But I disagree. One of the remarkable things about Los Angeles, one of those things that no one seems to talk about, is how we all do manage to get where we’re going. We slide from the fast lane (wave) to the middle lane (wave) to the slow lane (wave) to the exit ramp (blinker off), and we merge. It may not be singularly graceful or without incident, but 99.9 percent of the time we do manage to make our exits, our left turns, our way home.”

-Bridget Hoida, So L.A.

Bridget Hoida on: Happy Birthday Dear Freeway

I adore Garrison Keillor. I’ve been eyeing him, and that $60 red coffee mug he peddles on the sidebar of his Writer’s Almanac for years now. And should I ever magically discover not one, but three, twenty dollar bills in the pocket of my coat–a season after the fact–I’ll buy it, if only to thank him for bringing words to my inbox every night at 11:05 pm.

I suppose if I lived on the east coast, or Barcelona, his poems would arrive on the day they are intended to represent, but because I’m lucky enough to live out West, I get them all an hour early. And truth be told, with only four rare and unusual exceptions, Garrison is always spot on. He’s a narrative soundtrack, if you will, to the just before midnight musings of my actual life.

He reminded me of  The Day Beauty Divorced Meaning, for example, and then, after too many consecutive days of rain, brought me a Starfish from Robert Bly. But by far his best, most precious gift: a small story about inseparable suburban housewives, Anne Sexton & Maxine Kumin who “installed extra phone lines in their houses so that they would never have to hang up on each other, and when either of them wanted to talk about poetry, she would whistle into the phone and the other would hear it and come to listen” (June 6, 2011).

And today, or tonight rather, my phone–the one I always leave off the hook–whistled and on the other line was my inseparable suburban housewife with a cupcake and an invitation to the birth of the Los Angeles freeway.

The Arroyo Seco Parkway turns 72 today and although much everything else in Los Angeles has undergone extensive and gratuitous augmentation, the OneTen–as she is affectionately called–remains relatively unchanged, “even though it wasn’t designed for the speeds that motorists travel today: There are no acceleration and deceleration lanes, and drivers must go from the on-ramp speed of five miles per hour up to the freeway speed of 55 in a short and hair-raising distance.” –The Writer’s Almanac

And it is moments like this, ripe with facts so absurd, so incongruent to modern-day life, that remind me why I love L.A. With freeways built “to carry about 27,000 cars a day” that now see “closer to 122,000,” Los Angeles survives.

Or, as Magdalena said in So L.A.:

Ricky, like most Angelinos, doesn’t believe in the blinker. He maintains that by initiating the blink you actually hinder any small chance you have of actually getting over. The guy on your right, when he sees the click-click of the yellow light, will speed up and close in on the gap. But I disagree. One of the remarkable things about Los Angeles, one of those things that no one seems to talk about, is how we all do manage to get where we’re going. We slide from the fast lane (wave) to the middle lane (wave) to the slow lane (wave) to the exit ramp (blinker off), and we merge. It may not be singularly graceful or without incident, but 99.9 percent of the time we do manage to make our exits, our left turns, our way home.


 

Magdalena on: Navigating Los Angeles

I looked to the dash, 4:43 pm. In another hour Los Angeles would switch places. The freeways, already congested with the exchange, would be jammed in both directions as gardeners, housekeepers, pool boys, and handymen keeping up the homes on the Westside made their way east to Downey, Inglewood, El Monte and Echo Park while lawyers, bankers, producers, executives and industry types, working downtown, made their way west to Bel Air, Beverly Hills, Westwood and Malibu. Aspiring actors would stop circulating their headshots and start passing out menus. Musicians would climb down from billboards and arrange drum sets in someone’s cramped studio apartment. It was a slow parade of poorly documented domestics making the long walk to the neighborhood limits, because public transportation is restricted from entering designer drives (see decrease in property values) and chic canyons (see smog, see noise ordinances, see intentionally narrow roads that curve and chicane).

According to my navigation system, downtown L.A. is exactly 12.62 miles from Rodeo Drive (Start out going Southeast on N RODEO DR toward ELEVADO AVE. Turn LEFT onto S SANTA MONICA BLVD/LITTLE SANTA MONICA BLVD. Turn SLIGHT RIGHT onto BURTON WAY. Turn SLIGHT RIGHT onto N SAN VICENTE BLVD. Turn RIGHT onto S LA BREA AVE. Merge onto I-10 E. Merge onto CA-110 N via the exit—on the left—toward PASADENA. Take the 4TH ST/3RD ST exit—exit number 22B. Take the 6TH ST ramp). On a good day, say on a Sunday at 3 am, you might get there in the twenty-three minutes, Google Maps suggests. On most other days it will take you anywhere from forty-seven minutes, not including parking, to an hour and a half.

An hour and a half, without parking, to go 12.62 miles seems extraordinary in most instances, but it’s one of the only things in L.A. that actually make any sense; it’s one of those collegiate conundrums of place and space that can actually be solved, QED. My sociology professor would go nuts over it: income times quality of life divided by a quotient of perceived happiness, expressed or otherwise, minus assets, including but not limited to green cards, 401Ks, IRAs and dental insurance, and it takes a hell of a lot longer than twenty-three minutes to navigate from Olvera Street to Rodeo Drive. In fact, I’ve heard it said that, although it’s walkable in less than an afternoon, it can sometimes take upwards of five generations to make the trip.

Ricky, I suppose you could say made the trip in two generations and some change—which beats my fifth-generation white-ethnic slide down from Pollack Hill by quite a mean feat. The traffic must have been particularly light. Maybe he took the surface streets or maybe, oh the genius, he took the carpool and didn’t get caught!

Copyright 2012-Bridget Hoida- So L.A., a novel

Bridget Hoida on: Surrealist free-association

As if Parisian tents and 18-point times weren’t already high enough on my love list… now there’s the Metro Poem, ala Jacques Jouet, who, according to Daniel Levin Becker “burns all his drafts.” Which has me imagining, of course, the musings of my darling Magdalena as she navigates La Cienega from Fairview (or at the very least the 10) to Rodeo. I’m keeping the constraints (as outlined below) but adjusting the stops if you will… from the open and close of the metro’s door to the irrational alternation of red and green traffic lights:  When the light turns red, you write the line down. When the cars start again, you begin to compose the second line. No writing while the car is in motion; no composing while it’s stopped. And instead of stations, we’ll use neighborhoods to break our stanzas. We’ll call it the Unbuilt Highway Poem with a nod to the Beverly Hills freeway that never was.

From Daniel Levin Becker’s essay “Little Demons of Subtlety: On the Oulipian Constraint” in Berfrois:

“The Metro Poem: it’s a free-verse form with rigid compositional rules. You get on the metro and compose the first line of a poem in your head. When the train makes its first stop, you write the line down. When the train starts again, you begin to compose the second line. No writing while the train is in motion; no composing while it’s stopped. If you change to a different metro line, you pause on the platform to write down the line you composed before getting off, then start a new stanza for the next leg of the trip. You write down the last line upon arriving at your destination, and then go wherever it is you were going in the first place.

The metro poem is oulipian mostly in the sense that, if done rigorously, it’s surprisingly challenging—straightforward as it sounds, the time strictures make it less like a Surrealist free-association exercise and more like a suicide-aerobics drill for the parts of your mind that usually make observations into ruminations and ruminations into language. It constrains the space around your thoughts, not the letters or words in which you will eventually fit them: you have to work to think thoughts of the right size, to focus on the line at hand without workshopping the previous one or anticipating the next. You have to actively avoid the master craftsman’s impulse to map out the whole poem, since that would defeat the momentary experientiality of the thing. “There is no question of correcting one’s composition, beyond the time of composing the verse, which means that the time for premeditation is reduced to a minimum,” Jouet writes. “No manuscript version.” (As a rule, Jouet burns his drafts.)”

From: “Little Demons of Subtlety: On the Oulipian Constraint” by Daniel Levin Becker

Magdalena on: naked rush hour bingo

When we first moved to L.A. my favorite thing to say was, That’s so L.A. I used it to describe just about everything from fake boobs to traffic. Then I got implants and started to drive. Drive not to go someplace, but as sport. On the 10 you can pick out the regulars from the tourists. Those who merge left just before the lane ends and then have to merge back right again versus those who know the La Brea shortcut: exit but don’t ever get off. During a crunch you can save five minutes plus if there’s a pile-up. My favorite time to drive is early morning and right before dark. I like the added thrill of the sun in your eyes. It throws mirage into the game and the DJs are at their prime.

Sig alert on the Santa Monica Freeway West, the Shady Lady hums through my speakers. Since nobody’s going anywhere anyhow I’ll take caller number nine for some naked rush hour bingo.

I kid you not. Bingo. Naked. In rush hour.

Shady Lady here. Name, make and license plate, please.

Oh hi-yee! I’m Alyson, with a y, and I’m in a silver 325i on the 10 West, wearing pink and black—

Which, as you may realize, is the physical description of a gazillion people on the 10, but everyone plays along.

Okay listeners we’re on the prowl for a silver Beemer license 1MY325I. If you see her, honk. And Alyson, you know the rules: you lose a piece of clothing for every honk you hear.

As if there isn’t enough honking on the 10. As if taking your clothes off while stuck in traffic weren’t so L.A.

Magdalena on: the courtesy wave

The best part about freeways is the lane change. I like to cross from middle to fast without hitting the reflective bumps that divide the road. It takes a lot of practice, especially at speeds above sixty, but if you tune into the blinker, if you play the clicks of the flashing green light like a metronome, you can usually succeed provided some asshole—the type who refuses the courtesy wave—doesn’t speed up when he sees you attempting the merge. I always give the courtesy wave; it’s like waiting the requisite three seconds before making a left on yellow: survival. If I were a cop, I’d ticket anyone who didn’t wave. It’s inexcusable. Almost as bad as strutting down Rodeo with a Prada knockoff bought from a vendor on Venice Beach or screwing another woman’s husband.

I said almost all right?

Magdalena on: caution tubes & cement dividers

Now I consider breaking things just for conversation. Like the Tank. It’s silver and colossal and has a gazillion cylinders, so I run over things for adventure. It started with those little concrete blocks that separate parking spaces; initially I had to escape an irate gas man, but once I realized I could do it, I started to run things over on a regular basis. My favorites are orange tubes. Not the cones, those get caught in between your tires and can’t clear the muffler so you end up dragging them for a block or two and people look at you funny. But the orange tubes, they’re taller and usually stuck to the asphalt by a black hexagon. They’re also a harder plastic so when you run over them you get a nice click-thump rather than just a chub. The trouble is the tubes are usually located on on-ramps to alert your attention to cement dividers, so it’s quite a trick running over the tubes and still clearing the concrete. A trick I’ll most likely be avoiding today, considering the ’Vette and all. I mean I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the pinnacle of caution, but I’m not exactly malicious either. Although I should add—not many people know this—when you’re in a Polo White ’53 ’Vette with a personalized license plate that reads ARTGRL, you can’t see the front from the back, parking’s a bitch and you can forget cutting anyone off.

Magdalena on: the freeway

I like to drive. Not to anywhere in particular because I have no place in particular to go, but I’m addicted to freeways. The 405 to the 10 to the 110 to the 101. It’s so L.A. I used to like driving more when I had a piece-of-shit Escort. It was a stick shift and unreliable and I never knew where I’d end up stranded. Since the move to L.A., nothing’s been unreliable, at least in terms of cars and appliances.