Part 4: In which Everest's Elijah Thomson tells New York stories to Southern Californians in pretend-Kentucky.
(Warning: asterisk-laden word ahead)
Hidden in the foothills of Griffith Park behind innumerable palm fronds and a pair of uninteresting Los Feliz apartment buildings, there is a great old Hollywood house affectionately dubbed "Rowena" by the inhabitants and their peeps.
Rowena was built in the roaring twenties in the style of Spanish haciendas, boasting white stucco archways, creaky hardwood floors and red clay roof tiles, the mortar somewhat haphazardly applied between the shingles. When originally constructed, recycled railroad crossties were used as crossbeams, casting a faint creosote scent throughout the interior. (I must admit, I quite like the carcinogenic smell, in small doses.) Though few can perceive them visually, the ghostly spirits of bygone actors and actresses roam the hallways, preparing for audition… and they are often famished.
Step outside onto the silvery sparkled concrete and gaze upon the azure waters of a peanut-shaped swimming pool with spring-loaded diving board. One might feel inclined to strip to the skivvies, take a dip, catch some sun — or, alternatively, mosey over to the covered veranda and outdoor bar for a freshly prepared mint julep or straight Kentucky Bourbon. Whatever floats your steamboat. This is LA… pretending to be Churchill Downs.
In addition to being the de facto headquarters for all things Everest (Russell Pollard lives here), Rowena is the location for an annual Kentucky Derby party, where female guests don large hats and flowery summer dresses, and their male counterparts dress up in suits and ties with a nod to prewar fashion. Patrons are placing bets on bluegrass-fed thoroughbreds, scouring the racing form like old handicappers trying to find their angle. Southern and soul food dominate the potluck cuisine, but since this is California, healthy and veggie options are certainly available.
In the early afternoon the sound of the bugle signifies the start of the big race, and someone shouts: “BETS ARE CLOSING!” Leigh Watson (of the Watson Twins), one of the co-hosts of the 11th annual event, excitedly announces in her genuine Kentucky drawl, “The race is about to start, y’all!” The Silverlake elite crowd around a sizable plasma TV set up in the veranda, clutching their claim tickets in palpable anticipation.
It's likely that 364 days of the year, most of these folks couldn’t care less about the Sport of Kings. But on the first Saturday in May, there was no finer sporting contest on the planet. Many could be heard making future plans to visit Santa Anita: “Dude! Seriously? Like, two dollars a bet!? Nine races, that’s like eighteen bucks for a whole day… Relaxin’ in the sun? Gettin’ drunk? Sounds like a pretty f*uckin’ dank way to spend your day, riiite?” Yeah. It does.
The afternoon faded into evening, and the few lucky souls who chose to put their faith on long-shot I’ll Have Another gloried in their full pockets. The horse racing had come to a close, and the party had been put on cruise control for a long ride into the night. Everyone grouped into conversation cliques with heavy rotation so as to visit with as many people as possible.
I answered questions, telling a hundred anecdotal stories about our recent stay in New York, often comparing the two cities and going back over the attributes of each place. Many in LA have spent a great deal of time in NYC, or have lived there for a spell, so I heard dozens of personal testimonies. Clearly, the citizens of Los Angeles have an affinity for New York, much in the same way many New Yorkers I met have an affinity for Los Angeles.
I heard a few New Yorkers tell this type of story: “The first time I ever went to LA, I thought, ‘Ayyy! This place is nice! Sunshine. Beautiful girls everywhere.’ I heard so many bad things about the gangs and the this and the that… But, I loved it there! Great vibe. Everybody seems so happy all the time… Rented a convertible, drove out to Malibu… did the whole thing… Loved it.”
It's true, what can I say? Both places are awesome. If you’ve ever seen the TV show Mad Men, you can relate to this idea: Within the Madison Avenue scene in its heyday, New York is portrayed in its most magic form. It’s obviously idealized, but there is a truth to the imagery. It's a representation of how we FEEL when we’re in New York City, out on the town in Manhattan, drinking straight liquor over ice. Even to this day, it still FEELS like the bygone era that Mad Men embodies. New York City actually lives up to its reputation ("It Never Disappoints").
Then, a couple seasons into the show, Don Draper travels to Los Angeles. Here the show captures the idealized essence of the Los Angeles experience, poolside at the Beverly Hills Hotel. Yes, it’s a common representation, but it’s how we want to FEEL when we’re in LA, in an idealized moment: Don Draper poolside. Hot chicks all around. Fancy cocktails. Happy. Contented. In paradise.
Ironically, the Kentucky Derby party at Rowena was one of those idealized LA experiences — one of those times you realize why LA is full of magic, too: The cool air and the warming sun. Swimming pools. Sun-kissed faces. Nobody has a real job, yet everyone is somehow making their way, doing what they love. I gotta admit, it's good to be home… but I'm gonna miss New York.
Corona Extra joins you in supporting WFUV and Everest, WFUV's artist-in-residence for April, 2012. Corona invites listeners to see a show, grab a Corona Extra and find their beach. Imported by Crown Imports, Chicago, IL. Corona reminds listeners to relax responsibly.