Starring: Jamahl Epsicokhan (critic-turned-pitcher; narrator), Wade Steinberg (best buddy; travel manager), Joe Menosky (pitch inviter; co-executive producer), Ashley Miller (objective pitch adviser), Mike O'Halloran (tour guide), Bryan Fuller (pitchee; executive story editor), Tim Lynch (retired critic), Ted Liu (final test-pitch victim), Brannon Braga (incidental meeting guy; executive producer)
By Jamahl Epsicokhan
July 7, 2000
Day 2: March 11, 2000
8:00 a.m. GUESTHOUSE INN, CORNER OF BEVERLY & OGDEN — Welcome to Day 2 of my trip to Los Angeles, otherwise known as: it's now the beginning of July, this trip happened almost four months ago and I'm just now finally writing the rest of it up. As we rejoin our heroes, Wade and Jammer, it's up-and-at-'em time. Seeing as the built-in bio-chronometers have us still on Central Time, it's easy getting up at 8 a.m., which feels more like 10. Besides, the last time I went to bed by 11 p.m. was ... well, a long time ago. I'm a freakin' night owl, even though I work every morning at 8. But shall we stay on topic here?
Some background information on one of today's activities. In the days before I left Bloomington on Thursday, I arranged via e-mail and telephone a lunch meeting with former Usenet Trek critic Timothy W. Lynch, who lives in the San Fernando Valley. If you read my stuff there's a very good chance you've also read Lynch's. I doubt he needs an introduction in this particular column, unless of course you are new to online Trek reviews in the past year or so since Tim retired. Anyway, being online correspondents and seeing as it wasn't likely that I'd be in the L.A. area again anytime soon, I figured it would make sense for us to get together while I was out here. Lunch seemed like the perfect situation. Now it's details time. Through the use of Wade's cell phone (which would garner something in the neighborhood of a $45 bill for our 48 hours in L.A.), we arranged a meeting for 11 a.m. at a restaurant to which Tim provided directions.
Do you really need to know that Wade and I took turns taking showers and shaving before starting our day? Simple hygiene, that's all, but not exactly the kind of information you really need, now is it? It might be more interesting if I told you that we took a shower at the same time, but that'd also be a lie, and, besides—I'm thinking you should get your mind out of the gutter. Jammer is a Web critic, not a piece-of-meat sex object to be put into compromising situations in the minds of his readers. Shame on you. Perhaps you've noticed the change in storytelling tone here. I need motivation for finishing this report instead of exercising continued procrastination, and willful goofiness is as good a motivator as any. You know, I should really lay off the sauce.
9:00 p.m. SUNSET BLVD. — It's another beautiful day—sunny and 70 degrees. We take to our rented Buick Century and pull out the maps (y'know, the ones I thought I left on the coffee table in Chicago) and prepare to head in some sort of westerly direction that will get us to Westwood Village, where we can waste time before heading north for lunch. We have nearly two hours to kill, so we take an obligatory drive down Sunset Blvd. in Beverly Hills.
This turns out to be a very pleasant drive, and we pass plenty of upscale houses with gated entrances. Gated entrances are for lamers. And the first thing I'm gonna do when I'm rich is become a lamer. HA! Why? Because I CAN, that's why! Hey, now, don't get testy with me. I'm on 48-hour vacation, so I'm allowed to be a damned moron (which is pronounced mo-wahn).
I snap a few photos as we're driving down Sunset, including one at a stoplight. These are not exactly the most exciting photos you've ever seen, but I at least wanted to get a visual sense of the space.
9:45 a.m. WESTWOOD VILLAGE — We make our way to somewhere in the vicinity of the UCLA campus and park at Westwood Village, which strikes me as a cross between a campustown and a suburban shopping strip. We walk into a coffee shop and I order a Coke. Thirsty. No donuts though; we've got lunch in an hour. We walk around the streets of Westwood Village for a little while and look at a map with a big "you are here" on it. (No, I'm not there; I'm halfway across the country sitting at a computer. Did I just break the illusion for you? Pretend it's a crack in the space-time continuum.) There's nothing but a bunch of shops here. Neither of us have much of a need for a shop right now, so we decide to take off. We get on the San Diego Freeway (Interstate 405) and head north toward the San Fernando Valley. Traffic is light, so at least I don't have to write about gridlock. And Wade doesn't have to drive in it.
11:00 a.m. JERRY'S FAMOUS DELI, STUDIO CITY — We find the restaurant, a chain place called Jerry's Famous Deli along Ventura Blvd. in Studio City (I think). We actually arrive at 10:35, about 25 minutes early (like I said, traffic was easy). We walk around the area for a few blocks—your typical suburbanish somewhat busy road. Tim shows up also driving a rental car, on the account that his own car is in the shop. Is that important to the story? Nope, but at this point what is?
The three of us sit down for lunch. The menu is huge. There's so much on it I don't even know where to begin. After some consideration I go for the Philly steak and cheese sandwich, which I recommend to anyone who might find their way to a Jerry's. The discussions we have are the typical amiable stuff about what we all do for a living and how we like doing it. Would I bore you with such details? Not a chance. But I will say that some of Tim's little adventures as someone living in the Los Angeles area are pretty interesting. He has his own interesting connection stories to The Franchise, which earned him a tour of the DS9 sets in 1999. But I won't tell his stories; it's not my place. Tim's a nice guy. Lunch was pleasant, and I'm glad we got a chance to get together.
12:15 p.m. LUNCH OVER — Lunch is over.
12:30 p.m. VENTURA FREEWAY — We're on the freeway again.
12:32 p.m. VENTURA FREEWAY — We're still on the freeway. But I suppose one would expect that considering it's only been two minutes.
12:40 p.m. VENTURA FREEWAY — We're still on the freeway. (Okay, I'm really uninspired right now. Sue me.) Anyway, the freeway is stop-and-go and slightly annoying us so we eventually decide to get off and take regular streets rather than getting back on the San Diego Freeway. My notes are kind of sketchy here, but I believe the road we take (for a while anyway) is Sepulveda Blvd., which runs parallel to the freeway for quite a while. At some point we get off Sepulveda and take another street (possibly Sunset) and start heading southwest toward the ocean. The important thing here is that the roads we end up taking are pervasively winding and hilly and they're fun to take at 40 or 45 mph. The landscapes are pretty nice (as I mentioned two months ago in part one of this adventure). Unfortunately, there are no tanker trucks with which to add a large orange FIREBALL to the landscape.
1:05 p.m. INSPIRATION POINT, SANTA MONICA — We've stopped at this scenic site on the north end of Ocean Avenue. What's neat is the way the landscape drops off from here along Ocean Ave. to the next street over, Palisades Beach Road, which is probably a hundred feet below us, accessible by taking another nearby road (Entrada Drive, which we'll use shortly) down the hill and around. The view is so nice that I'm inspired to pretend to throw Wade's camera over the cliff, followed by Wade himself. (See, there's a reason this is called Inspiration Point.) Remember: Fantasy violence is a good thing.
1:30 p.m. SANTA MONICA MUNICIPAL PIER — The Santa Monica Pier is of course another one of those free tourism things you can see in the L.A. area if you're a tourist. It's sort of a pleasant thing to do on a nice day, like today. The pier offers a nice ocean view and you can see lots of people. Demonstrating that the world is a kind of small place, Wade and I run into a guy who notices my Illinois shirt and says he's also from Illinois. He's from the Chicago area, of course, because everyone from Illinois (except me) automatically lives in the Chicago area—or didn't you know that?
One question, though, about pier talent: Is the demand really that high for specialized talent in that so many people really want their name written on a grain of rice? Sounds cool, but how many of the artists doing it find that there's enough demand? Just wondering. I dare you to try to put "Jamahl Sandullah Epsicokhan" on a grain of rice. Triple-dog dare you.
The pier amusement park features a Ferris wheel. In addition to exploding tanker trucks, another one of Wade's and my sick fantasy action sequences involves a Ferris wheel collapsing in spectacular metal-twisting fashion. And in our action scenes we don't pull punches. There's no PG-13 version where a Ferris wheel collapses but everyone is okay. In our scene, people die. Lots of people. And then the critics lambaste us for gratuitous depictions of death of innocent amusement-ride goers, while the MPAA gives us an R rating "for intense graphic depiction of amusement park disaster." That's okay—we're going to play it exclusively in our own theater chain. The one we open after we buy out and close Midwest-regional GKC's lame-ass theater chain and revamp all their theaters with real stadium seating, bigger screens, all-across Dolby Digital sound, and an opening theater sequence that isn't inexplicably letterboxed out of proportion at some bizarro aspect ratio of like 2.95:1. Hey, a man can dream.
The pier is pretty cool, though. For the record, the Ferris wheel did not collapse while we were there. And if you heard that it did, we disavow all knowledge of such an event. We certainly did NOT capture it on digital video for subsequent use as movie footage.
2:50 p.m. VENICE BEACH — We drive south on Ocean Ave. for several miles until the street names change and we're somewhere in Venice driving parallel to the beach about as far west as you can be. Amazingly, we are able to find a parking space on a residential Venice street just a couple blocks from the beach, and we walk to the beach and do the obligatory thing of putting our feet in the cold but inviting water of the Pacific Ocean. I won't bother with details about the nice weather, the texture of the sand, etc., nor will I describe the view from Venice Pier, where fair amounts of people are fishing. I'm not about the physical details at this point (I want this mofo finished); I'll let the photos do the work.
I will mention that I vividly remember the pier from that scene at the end of Falling Down (1992) where Michael Douglas runs out to confront his ex-wife. James Newton Howard sold that scene with a musical score that I won't forget, but never mind. Interestingly, the structure at the end of the pier that appeared in Falling Down is no longer there. Must've been torn down. Relevance? Just a sampling of what went through my mind at the moment. Shall we move on?
4:40 p.m. "L.A. IS OUR BITCH!" — Here lies clear evidence that, at heart, Wade and I are juvenile, testosterone-driven fools who consider driving in unfamiliar areas to be some sort of victorious affirmation of manhood. After Venice Beach, we weren't immediately sure what we would do next and headed northeast in the general direction of Hollywood. So 10 minutes ago we decided we're going to see a 4:50 movie, and the question is whether we're going to get there in time. As we're racing down the freeway to get to Century City Shopping Center in just 15 minutes, we realize we're going to make it, so we declare that L.A. is our bitch. Yes, we actually shout out loud, "L.A. is our bitch!" Wade made me do it. Okay, he didn't twist my arm. I was a willing participant. And besides, L.A. WAS our bitch (and it was, after all, my idea to record the moment in the trip log).
4:50 p.m. CENTURY CITY SHOPPING CENTER — Time to kill a couple hours with one of the best of two-hour-killing standbys—a sci-fi movie. Specifically, the new release Mission to Mars. Unfortunately, the film turns out to be a major disappointment. Talk about good ideas badly executed. The pacing was way off, the crises were recycled from better movies (like Apollo 13), and the musical score was atrocious. The ending is one of those things that's supposed to be genuinely fascinating sci-fi at work to make you think, but like your average episode of Voyager the filmmakers assume the audience is stupid and can't figure out what's going on based on visuals alone; they're compelled to explain it all with lackluster dialog. I had high hopes for this movie. It had its moments but overall it was a real letdown. Rating:
7:15 p.m. SANTA MONICA BLVD. — After the movie we're driving back toward Hollywood when Wade's cell phone rings. Actually it doesn't ring. No cell phone (or any modern electronic phone for that matter) "rings," per se, but instead expels electronic bloops and bleeps. Wade's cell phone is one of those Nokia phones that can be set to "ring" a sound that resembles some sort of video game tune. Not a cool video game like Doom, but one of those old, lame-ass little hand-held LCD jobs. The kind you can't play in the dark. You know, like the Galaxian game where the aliens "move" by disappearing from one LCD preset location and appearing in the one next to it. And only has two buttons: one for moving one step to the right and another for shooting. But this game of course wouldn't be called Galaxian, because Galaxian is a registered trademark of Namco. Instead it would be something ripped off like "Galaxy Attack" or something equally corny. Not that any of this is relevant in the slightest in any way. That's the beauty of writing and not having an editor.
Oh yeah, the phone. As I mentioned in Day 1, there was a possibility Wade and I were going to get together with Joe Menosky for a drink today. I'd left a message on his machine right after Mission to Mars and it's now Joe returning the call to let us know that after a long day of Saturday script hammering with Brannon Braga he has decided to forego that drink. So it goes. He says maybe we can get together for coffee before we head to the airport tomorrow morning.
8:00 p.m. GRIFFITH OBSERVATORY, PART II — The sun has set in Los Angeles. (Y'know, that'd make a great opening line for a cheesy novel.) And once again we find ourselves arriving at Griffith Observatory, this time for a good night-time view of L.A. I take some photos, not really expecting that they'll turn out (and they didn't). The joke of this segment, if you care, is my comment that this place would make an ideal make-out location (and doubtlessly does), and then Wade and I embark on a sarcasm contest of seeing which of us can come up with the tackiest "romantic" line that one might use on a girl in these surroundings. We find that we're surprisingly good at this game. If I could remember any of the lines I might quote them here, but then again, maybe not, because they were really lame. But all in a spirit of fun.
9:30 p.m. WITNESS TO L.A. ROAD RAGE — As we drive back toward the vicinity of our hotel, we get our first experience of L.A. road rage when we witness a guy in an SUV as he gets out of his vehicle, walks up alongside the vehicle behind him, yells at that person, and then gets back inside his vehicle. And while we're on the topic of vehicles, can somebody tell me why it is gasoline prices in L.A. can swing 20 or 30 cents for the same grade of gas within the distance of one block? One gas station shows gas at $1.78 while practically across the street it's $1.55. And it's not like we had crossed city lines. Whatever.
And another thing: Being in L.A., it's interesting to note the type of cars varies widely from average to very expensive, though we noted that none of the expensive cars happened to be driven by Hollywood celebrities. We noted an expensive car driven by a Rich Kid wearing a backwards ball cap.
10:00 p.m. FRICTION ON THE EDGE OF DISSENSION — As we get hungry for a very late dinner, Wade voices the complaint that I have apparently not been carrying my weight for this trip while he's been doing all the driving. He wants to eat at a Mexican restaurant, and I can't tell him where one is. I retort that there isn't "Mexican restaurant" on the map. He accuses me of being non-observant. I tell him that I've been staring at maps all day and navigating. Eventually we decide to duel. We get out of the car, stand back-to-back, then walk 10 paces in opposite directions, turn around, draw our firearms and shoot each other to death, leaving our corpses to rot on the double center line of La Cienega Blvd.
We go back to the hotel and look through our (incomplete) phone book for restaurant locations. We swear never to stay in a Guesthouse Inn again after the desk clerk pretends not to have a phone book for us to borrow when we tell him ours is incomplete. Bastard.
10:30 p.m. CARRY-OUT FROM SOME EXPRESS BURRITO DIVE — After driving aimlessly for about 20 minutes, we happen upon some express burrito place. Cheap food, but Wade makes a mistake in his order by opting to go with a burrito that has the word "green" in it. He says he's ordered similar burritos in Chicago, but I quip that I would stay away from anything that combines the words "green" and "burrito" (unless it's a vegetable like green pepper or something).
We were tempted to find a liquor store and buy a bunch of beer and go back to the hotel and drink, but after not encountering one during the whole drive back to the hotel, we decide to say forget it. It's Murphy's Law, because earlier in the day we had noticed that we could barely go a block without passing a liquor store; now there's none to be seen. Heh.
11:30 p.m. CRASH IN PISSED-OFF MODE — Wade realizes his burrito is inedible, saying that it resembles the consistency of a green chicken-pot-pie. (You see, that's why I went with rice. At least that's safe.) Meanwhile, the Coke machine in the hotel lobby eats my quarter. Somewhat annoyed, we crash for Night #2, our L.A. self-tour now basically over.