Archive | November, 2013

It’s Turkey Lurkey Time!

28 Nov

Tonight we celebrate Thanksgiving in Las Vegas with a show and then a buffet! That’s right – we’re having our Thanksgiving dinner at 10:30 tonight at a hotel/casino just off the Strip. The producers of the show are treating us to it, which is lovely. Thanksgiving has never been  as big for me as Christmas – I’ve only been home once for it in the 12 years I’ve been in New York – and I usually have to work  a show that night, so it’s really not any different than any other day. Of course I wish I could be with my family – especially since my Great Uncle Ken passed away earlier this week – but I get to be home with them at Christmas. And besides…Thanksgiving at home has never been the same since the Great Pork Tenderloin Incident of 1997.

I had come home from college for the holiday and on Thanksgiving day we went to my maternal grandparents’ house in Lexington for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner – you know…turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, etc. I think we spent the night in Lexington and Friday morning we came back to Louisville with my very pregnant aunt and uncle in tow.

When I come home, there is typically a huge meal of fried chicken that happens as a welcome home dinner. My Dad makes some pretty amazing fried chicken and gravy (I mean, he did work for KFC for many years) and he likes to make it for me because he knows how much I love it. That night my parents made a huge meal for us: fried chicken, fried pork tenderloin, homemade biscuits, gravy, mashed potatoes, sauteed carrots, creamed corn, green beans…the works. It was delicious and, as usual, I stuffed myself. Dad typically makes enough chicken and tenderloin so he can bag some up and stick it in the fridge for “leftovers,” but between me and my brother, those leftovers are usually gone by the time the sun comes up. That night was no exception.

I love to decorate for Christmas, but my Mother hates it. She says it collects dust and puts off putting up the tree until the very last minute and then it comes down on December 26. Every single year. Now she hires a decorator to come in and put up the decorations, but they still come down on the 26th come ruin or rapture. Anyway, I decided I wanted to surprise my parents by putting up the tree while everyone was asleep – a little Christmas miracle! After everyone had gone to bed, I snuck a couple of pieces of cold chicken from the fridge and I set to work putting together our new artificial tree. My aunt and uncle were sleeping in my room upstairs, so I had been relegated to the sofa in the living room, which was just a few feet from my parents’ bedroom, so I had to be particularly quiet.

I got the tree up and laid down to go to sleep at around 3am. Almost as soon as I laid down I started feeling a little queasy, but I dismissed it as having eaten too much and I squeezed my eyes shut and put the thought of vomiting out of my mind. There is nothing much I hate more than puking – I’ve done enough of it in my life – and I will do anything I can to avoid doing it. After about 10 minutes of laying on the sofa, though, I knew there was nothing that was going to stop it and I ran to the bathroom in the hallway just outside my parents’ room.

The men in our family are…how should I put it?…”athletic” vomiters. Some might call our method of vomiting “violent,” but we’re just overachievers. We like to give it everything we’ve got.

The hallway bathroom had a pocket door – the kind that slides out from the wall – and as I was kneeling before the porcelain god, a hand came through the smallest gap that could possibly be made between the door and the wall and my Dad handed me a washcloth. It wasn’t long before I was able to sit on the toilet with the garbage can in my lap (mostly out of necessity – I wasn’t sure from which end the demon was going to exorcise itself next) and before I could even get myself cleaned up, I heard my poor Dad in their bathroom, which was on the other side of the one I was in, tossing his cookies, too. No…not tossing. More like throwing fastballs.

Five minutes later, I heard the door to my bedroom open upstairs and then the slamming shut of the upstairs bathroom door. Someone else was sick up there. It was turning into the pie-eating contest scene from “Stand By Me” – a veritable Barf-O-Rama.

I have never felt so sick in all my life. I was laid up in bed for the rest of the holiday weekend and got myself together just in time to go back to school on Monday morning. The culprit? The pork tenderloin. We only know this because neither my Mom nor my aunt ate the tenderloin, and they were the only two who didn’t get sick that weekend. My poor Dad has never lived it down, either. We tease him mercilessly about the Thanksgiving he tried to poison us all to death. Still, I’m thankful to have a Dad that is willing to cook a huge meal for me just because he knows it’s my favorite.

I’ve said it before – touring is hard. Being on the road for a major holiday is even tougher. I called my folks at around 2:00 Vegas time – 5:00 in Kentucky – and they were just about to sit down to Thanksgiving dinner with my grandparents, brother and the dog. I had McDonald’s for lunch. I’m glad to get to spend time with the company tonight at dinner, but I think we would all agree that it’s not the same as being with your nearest and dearest friends and family.

As I drove up to the window to get my cheeseburger value meal today, I was suddenly very thankful for a lot of things. I was thankful to have gotten to speak with my family, even if I couldn’t be with them. I was glad to have heard from so many friends who’d thought to include me on their “Happy Thanksgiving” texts. I was thankful for my job that has put me here and got me out of some pretty dire financial straits. I’m grateful to be surrounded by a company of people that I like. And I was very, very grateful to all the men and women who gave up time with their friends and family to make sure that people like me could be comfortable, fed and taken care of while they’re away from home. So “thank you” to the people at McDonald’s, to the front desk workers at our hotel, to the plumber who had to come out this morning to make sure that we all had hot water again; to the cooks, servers and support staff at the restaurant where we will be having our company Thanksgiving dinner… I think we often forget that these people are working on their holiday – much like I am. Flight attendants, airport staff, bus drivers, subway conductors, taxi drivers, wait staff, hotel staff, gas station attendants, police officers, firemen and women…I could go on and on. I am beholden to and grateful for these people because on the road I need them for my everyday needs and comfort. They are often taken for granted, so I thought I’d take a moment to recognize them.

And finally, I’m thankful for you for taking the time to read this. I hope you’ve all had safe, happy and trichinosis-free holidays!! (Don’t eat the pork).

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Viva Las Vegas!

27 Nov

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Greetings from fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada, where we opened last night at the new Smith Center for the Performing Arts. This is my first time to Vegas and honestly, it has far exceeded my expectations. Yes, it’s tacky and over the top, but it’s actually a lot of fun, even for someone who doesn’t drink or gamble. I always scoffed when people would say that Vegas was a family-friendly town, but the truth is – it really is!

Monday afternoon after we got into town, I met up with my friends Tom and Anthony, who just happened to be in town from San Diego. We met at Treasure Island and walked up and down the Strip, stopping to watch the water fountain show at the Bellagio and the volcano eruption at the Mirage, popping into various hotels and casinos just to look around and take some pictures. We then made the mistake of walking from the Strip to the Rio, which is a much farther walk than we had anticipated, and we had dinner at a buffet at the Gold Coast next door. The food wasn’t great, but the whole dinner was $14 a person, so we couldn’t complain and we were all completely stuffed by the time we rolled out of there. In all, we spent about 8 hours on the Strip, hitting most of the major casino/hotels. Tuesday I slept in and then went to the Luxor to go through their Titanic Artifact Exhibition, which was really wonderful.

I’ve always had a strange fascination with Titanic, but I’ve also had very mixed feelings about removing artifacts from the wreckage – especially pieces of the ship itself. It is a burial ground, after all. But the exhibition was tastefully done and with a great deal of respect and I suppose, much like animals in a zoo, seeing the artifacts up close made the story feel tangible and real, which hopefully encourages people to contribute to preservation and restoration efforts at the site.

The exhibit works chronologically through the Titanic’s history, from how it was built to now. You’re given a boarding pass as you enter with the name and a short history of a real Titanic passenger and then you make your way through the exhibit. There are replicas of third class (“steerage”) and first-class cabins with artifacts on display along the way. Midway through the tour, you come to a full-scale reproduction of the Grand Staircase (most of you will remember it from the movie “Titanic”), which is the only room in which you can take a photo. Actually, a staff member does it for you and you have to buy it if you want it. Or…take a screenshot of it like I did. Some of us are third-class steerage and can’t afford $12.95 for a digital copy of a photo!

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There is also a reproduction of the promenade deck, complete with stars and a slight chill in the air, much as it may have looked and felt on the night of the sinking. You soon walk into a room that is quite cold where there is a huge chunk of ice on display. You are encouraged to put your hand on this block of ice for 5 seconds to get an idea of just how cold it really was in the water that night. It is one of the most innovative displays I’ve ever seen and certainly gives you an appreciation for what those poor people had to endure.

Iceberg

The ship is deteriorating rapidly and I’m honestly not sure if its worse to disturb a burial site for the purpose of preservation and education or to just let the ship rust away to nothing. Part of the Titanic Artifact Exhibition is an actual section of the ship that was recovered back in 1998. “The Big Piece,” as it’s called, is a 15-ton, 26′ x 12′ section of the starboard side of the ship and it is glorious. I am usually a stickler for rule-following in museums and exhibits, but I have never been more tempted to reach out and touch something in my life than I was that giant hunk of Titanic. It was my one opportunity in life to actually touch the ship that I’ve obsessed over for years, but I was a good boy and didn’t. I didn’t even try to sneak pictures (mainly because I read that there was a lot of surveillance throughout the exhibition). I just spent some time with it, examining it and marveling at how huge this section of the ship looked to me, knowing that it was just a tiny section of something that has become larger than life. 

Big Piece

The Big Piece at the Titanic Artifacts Exhibition at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada

Big Piece Map

The green outline indicates where the Big Piece fit into the grand design of Titanic. To think that that small section of the ship is nearly 30 feet long!

The end of the exhibition is a giant wall covered with the names of every passenger and crew member on the ship, divided by those who survived and those who died. I was surprised to find how invested I was in finding out if my passenger lived, but knowing that he was 1) a man and 2) steerage, I wasn’t surprised to find out that he didn’t survive the sinking.

I didn’t intend for this to be another post about Titanic, but it was a big deal for me to be there. It was very moving. It fulfilled a lifelong dream to actually see the Titanic with my own eyes and it was totally worth the $30 admission price. If you have the opportunity, be sure to stop by the Luxor on the Las Vegas Strip to pay your respects to the Titanic and her passengers.

 

Who’s The Leader Of The Club That’s Made For You And Me? M-I-C-K-E-Y M-O-U-S-E!

22 Nov

Someone just had a birthday! He’s cute, sweet, funny, rich and incredibly famous. Those last two adjectives clued you into the fact that it’s not me, right? No, folks…I’m talking about Mickey Mouse’s 85th birthday, which was this past Monday! Can you believe it? He doesn’t look a day over 63.

My love of Disney and the Mouse started as a kid. As I mentioned in my last post, my grandparents had a lot to do with that, taking me to the movies to see re-releases of the classic animated features or to meet-and-greets with the Mouse himself. My parents spoiled me with dozens of Disney albums (remember LPs?) that featured classic Disney tunes or told the stories that we all know so well. I had Picture Disc albums of “The Lady and the Tramp,” “The Fox and the Hound,” which still breaks my heart, and “Mary Poppins.” I was a member of the Mickey Mouse Club and had a big pin to prove it. I used to Mousercise. Don’t judge – it was a thing!

When I was 8 or 9, my Grandmama and Popaw decided that we should take a road trip to Orlando so I could meet the Mouse on his home turf. My uncle, who’d just gotten out of a stint in rehab, and his friend were going to join us. The plan was to go to Fort Myers first, hitting the beach before we headed up to the Happiest Place on Earth. It was the first time I’d ever taken a major trip without my parents and honestly, I wasn’t terribly excited about it, even with the looming opportunity to meet Mickey and friends.

My Mom bought me a brand new (expensive) pair of Reebok high tops (that was a thing, too) and packed my case full of matchy-matchy Bermuda shorts and button down short sleeved shirts and we were off. On the way down to Florida, we got a flat tire somewhere around the Georgia/Florida state line. It was a real doozy of a storm, and I’ve always had a paralyzing fear of being caught in a tornado, and as my Popaw and uncle got out in the storm to change the tire, I sat in the front seat with my grandmother, sobbing and begging them to get back in the car before they were killed. They lived, of course – it would be inappropriate to write such a macabre story on Mickey Mouse’s big day – and we continued our trip down to Ft. Myers.

It was in Ft. Myers that I developed a distaste for beaches. It’s not the beach itself that I dislike – I think they’re quite beautiful – but the experience ruined me on beaches for life. We found a choice parking spot in the beach’s public lot and in my excitement, I ran ahead as my grandparents got the beach bags and towels and things and locked up the car. I was still wearing my Reeboks and my grandmother didn’t want me to traipse through the sand in them and told me to take them off and put them in the trunk of the car. Well, who had time to run all the way back to the car when we were losing precious time on the beach? Not me! So I took my shoes off and hid them next to a garbage can and ran back out to the beach. I hastily slathered on some sunscreen and headed straight out into the water.

Grandmama asked me several times if I had applied sunscreen – and I had – so I always answered, “Yes.” Had she asked me if I’d reapplied after being in the water, things might have turned out differently… We had a great time at the beach, running in and out of the water and building things in the sand, but all good things must come to an end, so we packed up our things and headed back to the car. On the way, I went back to my secret hiding spot to pick up my shoes. They weren’t there.

I immediately started to panic. My grandparents quickly caught on to the fact that something was up, but I was scared to death to tell them what had happened. It had never occurred to me that anyone might even find my shoes, let alone take them. My Mom had made such a fuss over how much the shoes cost that my first thought was, “My Mom is going to kill me!” and I started to cry. We looked all over Ft. Myers beach for those shoes, with my grandmother even going so far as to ask the people at the hotel (where my not-so-secret hiding place was) if she could dig through their dumpster to see if they’d been thrown away. The hotel wouldn’t allow it, of course, so we were forced to leave with me in tears and barefoot.

We drove to the nearest K-Mart and my grandmother bought me some cheap – CHEAP – sneakers (which lasted me forever, by the way) as I followed behind her, still sobbing and mumbling, “My Mom is going to KILL me!” I hated the shoes Grandmama picked out, but beggars can’t be choosers. We went back to the hotel to clean up before dinner and I calmed down a bit, though I was still certain my Mom was going to disown me when she found out that I’d lost my Reeboks. We went out to eat and when we came back to the hotel, my grandmother told me to get ready for my shower.

I started to take my shirt off and couldn’t get my arms over my head. I knew I was sunburnt – I could feel it – but my grandfather couldn’t understand why I wasn’t able to get my shirt over my head. He was, understandably, a little fed up with me by that point, and started to yank the shirt up over my head as I started to scream in pain. By the time he finally got my shirt off, my grandmother gave a little shriek (she’s a bit dramatic) and started to cry. On each shoulder were blisters that covered the entire tops of my shoulders and they were probably a quarter of an inch thick. I was still crying from the pain as my grandfather put in me in the bathtub and started pouring cold water over the blisters. My grandmother was still a blubbering mess in the bedroom. I guess I know where I get my excitability and inability to function well in times of crisis…

The next day we drove to Orlando. I have a long history of car sickness, and about the time we pulled into the hotel parking lot, I started feeling a bit green around the gills. My grandmother grabbed my sand bucket and I puked in the front lobby of the hotel. I’m classy like that. I felt better a few hours later, but my grandmother was still a mess. The next day we headed to the Magic Kingdom.

I don’t remember much about our trip to Walt Disney World. Mostly I remember wondering why all the costumed characters were putting their arms around me and patting me on the shoulders. I was wearing a red button-up cotton shirt, and the first character that patted me on the shoulder popped the blister and it oozed all over my shirt, leaving a dark red stain. And I cried. But at least I didn’t puke.

Me with Bianca (of "The Rescuers") at Walt Disney World circa 1984.

Me with Bianca (of “The Rescuers”) at Walt Disney World circa 1984.

The next day we went to EPCOT Center, which I also don’t remember well, but I do remember feeling much better that day. I vaguely remember riding the ride inside the big golf ball and Captain Nemo’s submarine ride, and I remember Figment, the little dragon. Other than that, I don’t remember much of EPCOT, either.

My mother obviously did not kill me over the shoes and I didn’t die from sun poisoning, but my interest in Disney ceased as soon as we got home. I didn’t want to set foot in another Disney park again in my life, and I was approaching the age where the animated features didn’t interest me much anymore. Like Wendy in “Peter Pan,” I was growing up.

In 2011, I was hired to sing in a concert tour of Disney music in Japan. I was incredibly excited to visit another country, but I really couldn’t have cared less about singing Disney stuff. I was a serious singer/actor! Who had time for that bibbidi-bobbidi crap? It didn’t take long to get wrapped up in that bibbidi-bobbidi goodness and at the first mention of going to Tokyo DisneySea, something that had been buried deep inside me for a long, long time got very, very excited. A few weeks later I got to visit Tokyo Disneyland. It had been more than 25 years since I’d been to a Disney park, and this time around I made sure I did it right.

The joy that I felt seeing the costumed characters – that I still feel – continues to baffle me, but it’s there. My friends Eri-san and Saya-san stood in line with me for 30 minutes to get our picture made with Mickey Mouse and throughout the day at Tokyo Disneyland, we stopped and took pictures with each character we met. They didn’t judge me – they loved it! I felt like I was that 8-year old boy again. We rode every ride, we ate tiny little Japanese turkey legs, we watched the Electric Light Parade, we sang “It’s A Small World” in our native languages as we went through the attraction and we went to our laughing places. It truly was magical and for the first time in years, I felt carefree and, as silly as it sounds, nourished.

My first picture with the Mouse! Saya-san (on the left) and Eri-san (kneeling) brought ears for us to wear.

My first picture with the Mouse! Saya-san (on the left) and Eri-san (kneeling) brought ears for us to wear.

This past May I was lucky enough to take my first venture to the original Happiest Place On Earth – Disneyland in Anaheim, CA, with two of my best friends who now live in San Diego. I arrived at the park before they did and I was like a kid in a candy store. I got my picture with the Big 5 characters – Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto – and I took my time marveling at Main Street, U.S.A., taking as many pictures as I could before Tom and Anthony arrived. Since that first visit, I’ve been to Disneyland and California Adventure five times with another visit planned the week before Christmas. It doesn’t get old. It doesn’t feel silly. It’s wonderful. And it all started with a mouse.

So, to my friend Mickey Mouse, I wish a very happy 85th birthday. I’ll never leave you again, and I know you’ll always be there for me, too.

See ya real soon!

Disney Character Collage

10 Things You Probably Don’t Care To Know About Me

16 Nov

So there’s this thing happening on Facebook now where someone writes a few things about themselves that no one supposedly knows about them, and if a friend “likes” the post, the writer of the post assigns the liker of the post a number. The liker is then expected to write his or her own post chock full of facts that no one cares about. The number of facts they’re supposed to write directly corresponds to the number the writer of the post that they liked assigned to them. Confused yet? It’s really much simpler and more unnecessary than it sounds, but I actually find it to be kind of interesting. Who knew that so-and-so’s grandfather was one of the motorcycle cops riding alongside JFK’s limo when he was shot in Dallas? How interesting that that person knows how to change the brakes on her car! As fun as these things are to know, I’m not sure that Facebook is the forum in which to share them. It seems more like a thing that one would share in say…a blog. Like this one here. As opposed to posting it on Facebook where everyone is forced to look at it as they scroll past it, you can choose to read this or not here and you never have to look at it again. No harm, no foul. So…here goes.

1. When I was 5 years old, my family moved to a little village outside London, England, for my Dad’s job. Dad was the international quality control manager for Kentucky Fried Chicken in the early 80’s and we were relocated to a village called Bookham in Surrey for two years. I started school at Eastwick First School, where on my first day of class we went out to pick blackberries. The next day we made blackberry jam as a science project. Our headmistress was named Mrs. Rump. I don’t really remember her much, but whenever I hear her name, I have visions of Miss Trunchbull from “Matilda.” We were required to wear uniforms at Eastwick, which I actually liked a lot and I looked very cute if I do say so myself. Our gym outfits were another story for another day. (Always leave ’em wanting more, right…?)

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Me in my Eastwick First School uniform.

2. I have a very healthy respect/fear of authoritative figures, though I hate to be told what to do and have no tolerance for abuse of power. I believe it is possible to be an authority figure without being a bully or condescending. The second I feel you’re taking advantage of your position or condescend to me, I start bucking up and getting sassy. But if there’s any chance you might be able to throw me in jail, I will probably cry and be as cooperative as possible (See Below).

3. I have been investigated by the FBI. It’s a long story that I don’t have the time or energy to go into again, so just read the post I wrote about it this summer. The One About the FBI.

4. I am absolutely terrified of “haunted” houses, but I am fascinated by haunted houses. When I was 8 years old, my next door neighbor’s dad took some of us to a local radio station’s walk-through haunted house and I haven’t set foot in one since. Again – another post for another day. I am, however, fascinated by houses that may actually be haunted by spirits…not by people jumping out from behind things with chainsaws.

5. I am nearly 37 years old and I have never smoked a cigarette – tobacco or otherwise. I’ve also never done drugs and I don’t drink alcohol. None of it has ever interested me. Honestly, if I’m self-medicating, I’d rather have a cake or cookies. Also, I’ve seen and felt the effects of drug and alcohol abuse on my family. I’ll stick to Twinkies and pie, thanks.

6. My love of Disney began – and was temporarily halted – by my maternal grandparents. My grandparents used to take me to see Disney movies at the cinema when they were being re-released in the late 70’s/early 80’s. Specifically, I remember seeing “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and being terrified of the Evil Hag. My grandmother also took me to meet Mickey Mouse at a mall meet-and-greet in Lexington. A few years later, they took me to Walt Disney World and EPCOT, but I was so badly sunburnt from our trip to the beach in Ft. Myers the day before that I cried and/or vomited my way through Orlando. It was 25 years before I set foot in another Disney Park and now I’m obsessed, reliving my childhood as I wanted it to be the first time.

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Timidly introducing myself to Captain Hook at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom circa 1986.

7. I am a self-diagnosed misophoniac. According to Wikipedia, “people who have misophonia are most commonly angered, and even enraged, by common ambient sounds, such as other people clipping their nails, brushing teeth, eating crushed ice, eating, breathing, sniffing, talking, sneezing, yawning, walking, chewing gum, laughing, snoring, typing on a keyboard, whistling or coughing; certain consonants; or repetitive sounds.” Sounds that are particularly annoying to me include people who eat as if they are chewing cud, clicking jaws, nail clipping, unwrapping hard candies and the sound of hard-soled shoes and heels clicking on tile or concrete in an otherwise silent environment. Specific, huh?

8. When I was in 5th grade, I threw up in front of the entire school. It was during our Christmas show. The principal had just gotten up to give her greeting and we had just finished singing an interminable holiday tune during which I found myself slightly swaying back and forth. At some point during her speech, I tossed my cookies – or, more specifically, the broccoli casserole they’d served at lunch – down the front of my new holiday sweater. And yet I chose to pursue a performance career…

9. When I was in 7th grade, I began working in the school cafeteria to get out of gym class. Connie Fisher and I were the only ones who raised our hands to get out of P.E. In my opinion, coming home smelling like spaghetti casserole and spoiled milk was way better than coming home smelling like sweaty gym socks and B.O. In 25 years, this has not changed.

10. I am terrified of tornados. As a kid, my Dad told me a story about the tornados that ripped through Louisville in the mid-70’s. He was on his way home as the storm was building and, according to what I remember from the story, he basically saved his family’s house by opening the door and regulating the air pressure. From that point on, I would lay awake in my bed at night during thunderstorms, worrying that we would sleep through the tornado sirens and be blown away. I would even make sure that my stuffed animals slept on the side of the bed nearest the windows in the hopes that, should the windows be blown in, they would protect me from the flying glass.

On that fateful trip to Florida (See No. 6 Above), we got a flat tire and my grandfather and uncle had to get out in the middle of a storm to change the tire. I sat in the front seat with my grandmother and sobbed, begging my Popaw to get back in the car because I was certain he was going to die in a tornado. Ironically, the first show I ever did was The Wizard of Oz and I played Uncle Henry. I was the one who had to run onstage screaming, “It’s a twister! It’s a TWISTER!” Even more baffling is the fact that I chose to move to Oklahoma City – the very heart of Tornado Alley – to go to graduate school, just three months after the huge tornado outbreak in Oklahoma in 1999. I’m either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid.

Happy November From Blah-Blah Land!

1 Nov

Hooray for it!

I can’t believe it’s already November. Of course, who would know it out here in L.A., where the temperatures today were in the low 80’s and half of West Hollywood was out in Speedos last night for Halloween. Apparently underwear and a cute hat constitute a costume in Los Angeles. Who knew? If I wore that, I can guarantee you it’d be the scariest costume you’d see all night.

I’ve traveled a lot in my life – I’m very lucky and grateful for that – but I have to say I’ve rarely suffered from culture shock the way I have here. Tokyo might have been a little more shocking, but only slightly. We’re coming up on the end of our second week here and for the entire first week I was taking public transportation to get where I needed and wanted to go. In New York, that’s no problem. In L.A.? Fuggedaboutit! I’m splitting my stay in two different places – one in a house in West Hollywood with some friends of my boss and the other place is a condo a few blocks away off of Santa Monica Boulevard. The owner of the condo is away for a year shooting a movie, so her place is empty. This is my first real stay in Los Angeles – ever – and while having my own condo in West Hollywood sounds amazing and glamourous (which sometimes it is), it’s also quite disconcerting and lonely being in a new town with no friends and no way of getting around. I’m 7 miles from the theatre and about 10 miles from the rest of the cast and crew’s company housing, which doesn’t sound bad, but distance isn’t measured in mileage here – it’s measured by time. Seven miles could be 10 minutes or it could be an hour, depending on traffic which, in my limited experience here, is almost constant.

I learned the hard way that certain buses that run express only run Monday through Friday and only at certain hours. I’ve also learned that I don’t like being on any corner of Hollywood Boulevard late at night waiting for a bus, but particularly at the corner of Hollywood and Vine. I’ve lived in New York for 12 years and honestly have never felt unsafe, but L.A. is a whole other animal. During my hour-long wait for a bus last Saturday night, I witnessed a young man being chased down the sidewalk by a cop and a small crowd of screaming people. The young man was thrown against a chain link fence and handcuffed while three other cop cars pulled up and blocked off the corner of Hollywood and Vine. Half the crowd was screaming at the guy being arrested and the other half of the crowd was yelling that the policeman was being unnecessarily rough with him. Two other people were subsequently arrested. I walked to Sunset Blvd. and waited for a different bus. By Monday I had a rental car.

I was hoping the rental would solve my transportation woes – and it has, for the most part. L.A.’s is a car culture and this city is so spread out that you really need one to get anywhere. As William Holden’s character Joe Gillis says in “Sunset Blvd.,” “If I lose my car, it’s like having my legs cut off!” Cars bring on a whole other kind of responsibility, however, that are a headache. Parking in West Hollywood is a nightmare unless you have a spot in a parking garage or a driveway, which I don’t, so that means finding parking on the street. As in New York, you have to be aware of the street sweeping schedule – NO PARKING THURS. 8AM-10AM, for instance. You can park there, but you’d have to make sure you move your vehicle before the designated time, and let’s face it – I’m a night owl and I am not getting up at 7:45 to move the car. There’s also a parking permit system in place in WeHo that gets to be tricky. North of Fountain Avenue you need a 6R parking pass, but south of Fountain you need a 7R permit. South of Santa Monica, you don’t need one at all. It’s very confusing and, since I was staying by myself, I didn’t know what any of it meant. Thank goodness my hosts live 10 minutes up the street and were able to fill me in on the whole system.

L.A. is also very laid-back in a way that is completely opposite from New York. People aren’t really in a rush to get things done, which kind of drives me crazy when I’m in a rush. You can take the boy out of New York… All of this, along with a few work-specific things, have put me in a bit of a funk since we’ve been here. I don’t know if it’s the time change or the non-stop sunshine or the flu shot I got last weekend, but I just haven’t felt “settled” here since I arrived, but I’m learning and adapting. I’ve already mastered the “pull into the center of the intersection to make a left turn and wait to go until the light turns yellow” move, which would get me killed in New York. I learn! I LEEEEARN! WAAAH WAAAAAAAAAAH!

She learns! She LEEEEEARNS!!

Things are not all gloom and doom and crazy shootings at LAX, though. I have managed to have some fun while I’ve been here. If you’ve been following my blog or Twitter (@JasonHBratton) at all (and why haven’t you been??), you’ll know that my idea of fun is slightly different than others’, and I’m totally OK with that. I’ve done some of the typical touristy stuff like walking up and down Hollywood Blvd. (in the daylight), stopping to take pictures of all my favorite stars’ stars on the Walk of Fame. I went to (Mann’s Grauman’s) Chinese Theater to snap pictures of all the hand and footprints in the cement. I went to the Griffith Observatory, where a good chunk of “Rebel Without A Cause” was filmed, and took in the amazing view of Los Angeles and the Hollywood sign. I went to the La Brea Tar Pits and looked at mammoths and saber-toothed cats’ remains and my friend Bert surprised me with a trip to Disneyland on Monday. So I have had some “traditional” fun, but I also spent about three hours looking at gravestones the other day, which I actually found quite fascinating.

Griffith Observatory Panorama 1

A panoramic view of Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles and the Hollywood sign.

As I’ve said before, I don’t generally get starstruck, but walking around Westwood Village Memorial Park was a bit overwhelming. Celebrity after celebrity is buried there – Farrah Fawcett, Truman Capote, Natalie Wood, Don Knotts, Eva Gabor, Donna Reed, Eve Arden, Walter Matthau, Janet Leigh, Jack Lemmon, Dean Martin, Heather O’Rourke (Carol Anne from the “Poltergeist” movies) and, most famously, Marilyn Monroe. It’s a pretty impressive representation of Hollywood in one tiny little cemetery. And now I’m eager to go to the Forest Lawn cemeteries where the REALLY big names are buried. I’m sure some people would think that’s kind of morose and weird, but it’s the closest I’ll ever get to these people, even if they are dead. My friend Joe is a big movie buff and he knows each and every actress to ever win an Oscar. Today I told him I wish he were here to go with me to these cemeteries to find all the stars and he said that it was one of his dreams to do just that. It was a much-needed reminder that, despite how challenging it may be, I am very, very lucky to be getting to travel the way I do and that I am living a dream life in many respects. DSCN8518

Marilyn Monroe’s grave at Westwood Village Memorial Park in Los Angeles, California

I have a list of things I have left to do here. The Museum of Tolerance is high on the list. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is another. I’d like to go to Santa Monica Pier, Malibu and Venice Beach and I have to get to Little Japan downtown. But not before I go back to Disneyland with my pals Tom and Anthony on Monday, lunch with Jill on Tuesday and four shows this weekend. Eek!!