Saturday, March 22, 2003

California Native

I am a California native. Lest you get too far down the road of envisioning me romping on the beaches of Malibu and driving down Sunset Blvd in my convertible, I will qualify that statement by saying that I consider myself to be a northern Californian by birth and at heart.

I was born in Walnut Creek, a suburb of San Francisco. If you count living 33 miles away from The City and across the Bay Bridge a suburb, which I do. For years, I even had the same area code as San Francisco -- 415 -- the original Bay Area area code.

Growing up, the Dodgers, 70 degree winters and hobnobbing with celebrities were as foreign to me as to most of you. For me, it was the Giants, 49ers, rainy winters and foggy spring mornings.

However, for the past seven and a half years I have lived in southern California. I always knew that I would eventually end up here. I wasn't exactly clear on timing or motive, but the few times I would vacation or visit, there was a tug pulling me here. Not a yearning really, but a knowledge that this would someday be my home.

I believe I have adapted nicely to my new surroundings. The weirdness and weirdos are different, but unchanged, really. They just have different names. One has hippies on Haight and Ashbury, the other yuppies in Beverly Hills.

Being so familiar with both cultures has its advantages. I am just at home in one as the other. Best of all, it affords me the luxury of not being a slave to either or both. For instance, I don't have to be caught up in the narcisstic attitude of the southern half because I come from the more au natural environment of the north. Botox? Gah. I would never dream of doing that to myself and can unapologetically mock those who do. Driving? Surely you know we southerners invented the sport of what would to anyone else be an unsafe lane change at high speeds, but here is minimally required to survive.

I've had my fair share of reality check moments of needing to pinch and remind myself of where I am. Palm trees! Hollywood! Movie studios abound on every corner, not to mention stars. I can be just as star struck as the tourist from rural America given the right opportunity. And can act as though sightings of the rich and famous are just as mundane and ho-hum as all those palm trees.

For instance, on Thursday I was in Hollywood with Linda to see a preview at the El Capitan. Sounds cool, doesn't it? A preview in Hollywood. Aren't you impressed? (Okay, it was a preview showing of "Holes" for local educators. Since it's based on an award-winning children's book, they want to make sure that teachers will promote it in the classroom, etc.) We parked in the garage behind the Kodak Theater. Yes, where the Academy Awards will be broadcast from in two days. That block of

Hollywood Blvd.was blocked off to traffic since they were raising the catwalk, the 40-foot Oscar statue and a huge gold drape over the entrance to the theater that all the elite will enter in wearing their designer finery while fans and paparazzi ooh and aah over them on Sunday.

It was very cool to be walking on the same red carpet that the cast of Chicago will traverse. I would have enjoyed it more had we not been running a little bit on the cutting edge of lateness. There was no time to savor the moment. There were plenty of tourists, though, who not only were savoring but downright lollygagging and generally preventing me from moving as fast as I would have liked. I mean really. You'd think they've never seen Mann's Chinese Theater before and all those famous stars in the sidewalk. Okay, they probably haven't, but is that my fault? Move outta my way. Some of us are actually natives and have places to be!

See what a snob I can be with my dual citizenship status?

But I can't pretend that it's not a cool place to be. The first time I drove past the Walt Disney Studios with the huge sorcerer's hat marking the home of the animation building, and the seven dwarfs holding up the office building on the other side of the lot, well, I just thought it was the coolest thing evah.

One of my friends' and my favorite games to play is Mock Celebrity Sighting. You know -- pick a person out of a crowd who looks like someone famous. Playing that here nets the most interesting results. One night my friend Steve and I were outside the Ahmanson theater waiting to go inside. Steve said, "Look! It's Steve Allen." I looked, thought about it, and said, "Yeah, I guess I can see the resemblance."

Steve: "No, really. It's Steve Allen."

After I recovered from the whiplash the triple take had given me, I went up and asked for his autograph. He died three weeks later.

Other real star sightings I've had: Scott Bakula; Henry Winkler; Jay Leno driving one of his Harleys a block from my house, Penny Marshall; Jerry Springer (not really something to brag about) eating by himself in a booth at a 50s-style diner, trying to pretend he was a normal person, but getting mad when no one would acknowledge him; Brett Butler in the Macy's in Burbank; Bonnie Hunt; Kato Kaelin (in the elevator at my office building! Sure, I know he's more infamous than famous, but still...); and I can't remember who-all else right now.

Sure, I try to pretend it's an everyday occurrence, these occassional brushes with stardom, but it can be exciting. No matter how cool I think I am, I am not immune to the little shiver of delight that invariably runs down my spine in moments like these.

California. No matter which half you live in or which area code (did I mention I have one of the original southern California ones? 818. Yep, I'm cool.) you have, it's a good place to be.

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