Thursday, August 23, 2012

Is Traffic in LA really THAT bad?

Before I left, I had one hundred identical conversations about it.

"So what are you doing this summer?"
      "I have an internship in L.A!"
"Oh cool...lots of traffic."
    "Eh, I'm sure I'll be fine."

Regardless of if that person had been to L.A. or not, he or she knew the condemning rumor, and  presented it to me with the same air of authority found in every city-summarizing statement.

New York: It's cool....sooo big.
Chicago: The weather there kinda sucks...huh?
Evanston: Oh...I hear that town hates you.

I think like everyone else who comes to this city...which by my everyone (In ten weeks, I have yet to meet ANYONE originally from L.A.), I was originally optimistic.  Surely if it was as horrendous as predicted, no one would live there at all, right?

Authors often liken a road to a ribbon. To borrow the motif, driving in L.A. is like driving on a fraying ribbon, caught savagely in the teeth of a sewing machine from the industrial revolution.  I expected the first week to fly by in a rush of novelty, but it dragged on, caught on the pavement for 2-3 hours a day.

The main fact is that traffic is relentless.  I drove 44 miles from my Aunt's in Newport Beach to Westwood, and the trip took me two hours, bumper to bumper with no reprieve, and that's the highway:  Six lanes across, few fortunate people going twice as fast in the diamond-spotted "CARPOOL LANE," while the rest of us solitary suckers switch lanes at a moment's notice, trying to jump into a lane showing ANY signs of movement.  There is literally nothing that makes me sadder than being at a complete stop for over a minute on a freeway where the posted speed-limit is 65 mph.  I reach this depth of sadness daily.


On regular streets, I assume it's much like regular city driving, the right lanes clogged as people try to turn where pedestrians meander, the left lanes backed up for streets waiting for one car to find a moment's pause to turn.  
One time, while Katie and I were "driving" somewhere, she commented on how surprised she was that motorcyclists were legally able to drive between the lanes here, a streak of black in between the lines of cars.  You can almost hear them laughing at you as they blitz by.....I responded that I didn't think it WAS legal, but who the hell could blame them?  It's just about the only way to escape the system.  

The traffic has really taught me about myself.   I have one gesture that I use countlessly in response to something obnoxious, throwing up my right arm in the air, then banging it back down on the wheel.  I have decided, that if by some strange circuitous path I wind up being the President of LA's Department of Transportation (who knows?), my first order of business will be commissioning a series of signs at the end of the right side merging lane where people always try to get ahead of the rest of us who have already merged reading: "You're a piece of shit -LADOT."

I think the key to not just surviving, but to thriving in L.A. traffic is have things to do...goals for the day.  Often times, I write raps, practice my Spanish or work on possible audition songs.  Sometimes I give myself a "contemplation drive" where I have the radio off, the AC on, and I just think for the whole hour it takes me to drive home from work.  I've checked out a book on tape to indulge in, but I haven't been able to get it from the library, because the hours are, ridiculously, from 11-4.  

So I guess to answer the question, is LA traffic really as bad as people think it is?  The answer is yes.  Is it survivable? yes....but I should also mention that Katie and I are planning on going to New York next summer.....


Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Hipster Sheep: My Day as an Extra

The Preparation

Being an extra is one of the single most ridiculous/eye-opening experiences a person can have, and if you ever have a chance, I strongly suggest doing it.

I was presented with the chance, a week or so ago to be an extra on 90210.  I had already been an extra on The Playboy Club, the terrible show that filmed in Chicago and was cancelled after three episodes, but I said "yes" anyway, because girl needs money and it can never hurt to spend a day on set.  

When you're an extra, you get your information by listening to "tapes," glorified recorded messages.  One tape has the instructions on how to get there, the other tape describes what you wear and how to dress, the third tape has the emergency information for the shoot.   According to my tape, I was supposed to be in Malibu (35 miles away from me) at 7:30 a.m ("don't be late.  They're very intense about start times on this show. You must have your voucher in your hand at 7:30") and I was to be camera ready, ("Hair beautiful, make-up perfect.  Ready to be on camera at 7:30").

So in the morning I prepared for my official  role as: Hip Party Guest, Group 2.  

The tapes demanded we bring multiple outfits for the costumers to choose from, so I packed my backpack and a small paper bag full of clothes.

Some thing that never occurred to me before I was an extra, is that on top of being paid less than minimum wage for the first 8 hours, you almost always have to provide your own clothes.  The company I'm registered with suggests always having a nice ballgown, cocktail dress, winter jacket, and Halloween costumes ready to go when a show calls for that dress.  The exception was The Playboy Club, because it was a period piece.

The Morning

I got there early, and stood around awkwardly with the rest of the extras near the breakfast food trucks; they sat in a clearing a few yards from all of the trailers hilariously named: StarWagons (so clunky!  Stars, in a wagon?  yeah right....that's like the clothing store DressBarn...whose terrible idea was that?) All of the girl extras were called to the costume trailer.  The backdoors of the trailer opened to reveal layers of clothing racks crammed into every space, a fold out ironing board, and shelves for jewelry and accessories.  The trailer was also equipped with carriage space near the wheels: roll out shelves holding crates of shoes, all labeled for gender and size.  

 I had gone dressed in what I consider to be my "hipster best" borrowed black boots, my blue and white striped high-waisted shorts and a black loose tank top.  The costumer didn't like any of it, and I changed into my heeled red boots and my sweetheart-neck, floral romper.   Something I have learned: DON'T BRING CLOTHES THAT YOU DON'T WANT TO WEAR FOR A WHOLE DAY.  WHY DID I DO THIS? I HAVE NO IDEA!!!   Like peasants farming near the castle, extras change in blue, Velcro-ed tents in the shadow of the trailers.  There were two, one for each gender.  

After that, I waited in line with the other girls to get my hair and make-up checked.  I do like this part of being an extra.  It's nice to get paid to have someone make you look good.  A man came out to check on the line of girls and see whose hair was truly "camera ready".  Seeing as all I had done to my hair was brush it, and my hair often resembles an unruly lions mane....I didn't make the cut. 

 The hair lady looked at it all, "gorgeous.  so thick.  Ash blonde.  What a great color.  Natural right" 
"Oh!  Well don't ever dye it.  You can't make this kinda color."
Well, that compliment alone made the whole day worth it!  Just kidding...but close.  All she did was straighten improvement that surely lasted about 2 hours, and then she sent me to the make-up side of the trailer, to a woman engrossed in a conversation with another.  I stood, waiting for her to check me....
        "Yeah, yeah.  Gorgeous.  You're good."

Then we were loaded into big 17 passenger vans, and driven away from our cars parked in the gravel lot, up to the top of a huge hill, whereupon sat a $25 million dollar mansion and vineyard, the place of filming.  The extras were dumped a little bit from the top, and were sat underneath more more tents and plastic tables and folding chairs.  Three fans were turned on, all of them with mist.  A lot of girls screamed.  "Oh my God!" cried one blonde. "Um...could we like, turn OFF the mist.  Jesus."  It's highly amusing to see an extra...literally the bottom rung, the dirt, the nothing, demanding things.  Also, I made sure not to associate with her at all.   

 A man named Louisiana, bearded, with sunglasses, a baggy shirt and jeans, addressed us.  "Welcome, everybody, to MY show.  If you have a problem on MY show, you tell me.  If someone's harassing you, and they're below me on the totem pole, I'll sort it out.  If someone's harassing you, and they're above me on the totem pole, you tell your agents cause I can't do shit."   (there is face looks more like this)  


"Here's how it's gonna work.  You wear sunblock.  You stay hydrated.  You stay quiet.  There's a woman up there, it's her job to yell at you.  I can't control what she does up there, just follow her instructions.  If you are fired on my show, I am the last person that you are going to see. If you have a problem, if you have a question, if you have an anything.  You come to me.  Alright, we got it?  It's gonna be a good day, folks. Just hang tight, I'll tell you when you're moving up."

When we do "move up" we have to walk the steep incline to the house, which was absolutely beautiful.  Three car garage, everything made of wood, stone and brown siding, a patio hugging the 280 degrees of the house to overlook the vineyards, all lined with glass fence, an outdoor living room and bar, an infinitely pool, a helicopter pad, and room enough for 100 people to throw a fake celebratory dinner.  Pretty damn impressive.  While the stars all hung out in the master bedroom upstairs (with their own patio, we could see them coming out from time to time) the extras were given plastic chairs and tents to stay under on the smallest slice of patio.  I didn't make it under the tent, so I wound up moving my chair 10 times to catch a shrinking shadow.

Then we met the yeller: the woman: Cathy.  "Okay!  Ladies and gentlemen!  Yesterday! We had a damn big problem on set.  People having glasses, forgetting glasses, putting down their glasses.  When we put you on set, you go get a drink.  When you get off set, you go over to those numbered tables over there.  You put your drinks down on a number.  We call you back on set.  Don't take other people's glasses, because then it starts this waterfall effect and suddenly, no one has the right glasses?  Get it! Good."

The Work

The first scene we were all giving a toast, but we instructed not to repeat any words of the actual toast, so I mouthed "Mischief managed."  I stood next to a small twittering blonde, an 18-year-old on her first day: "Oh my God!  I had no idea that the people on set were actually like...not talking."  She had a strong aversion to looking me or anybody in the eyes.  The guy in our trio was a ripped brunette who interpreted his instructions to "mime talking" as a chance to pantomime wild gestures to still communicate effectively.  Waving his hands around, pointing vigorously at different places we could walk, making a huge point of tapping me and the other girl on the shoulder and gesturing that we all clink our glasses together in a toast.  My reaction to him looked a little something like this:


Much like your family, you don't get to pick who you stand by on set, so you might as well be amused by them.

Afterward, we returned to extras holding, where I buddied up with a gay Black man, and instead of reading our respective books, we wound up discussing the life of extras.  I, as usual, wound up on my little doubt-filled rant about acting.  "But like...doesn't it freak you out that everyone thinks they're the one.  Literally, all of the people in this extras holding, think they're it, they're going to make it."

His response: "No.   Because I'm more than that.  I'm not just 'it,' I have something unique to offer to the world.  Something really different."

I almost debated with him; I almost took his sentences and throttled it: CAN'T YOU SEE IT'S THE SAME THING!?  YOU'RE JUST CHANGING THE WORDS! THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THINKING YOU'RE 'IT' AND THINKING YOU'RE 'SPECIAL' EQUATES TO NOTHING IN ACTUAL SUCCESS! And then, in what I like to think was a burst of trying to be a respectful, kind adult, I thought: You know what?  Whatever helps him sleep at night.  Maybe he is more special than everyone else here. and wound up responding with.  "Oh yeah, sure.."

Later in the day, a man came out.  "Hey everyone.  Just wanted to let you know that someone left their glass on the floor, and that if had been knocked over it could have been a lot of damages. So please, don't do it again.  I know it was just one of you, and really guys, you've been doing a great job so far.  So just keep it up and please try to be a little more careful."

Thirty seconds later, Cathy came storming onto our patio like a bat out of hell:  Well!  It just takes one bad apple to ruin a whole bunch, doesn't it?  Someone, and I don't know who it was, but if you know who it was, come tell me, left your glass on the floor and it was knocked over.  That's thousands of dollars, people!  Come on!  Be professional! I feel like I'm working with a bunch of 10-year-olds!  Jesus Christ!

First of all, there seems to have been some confusion in what actually happened, second of all, if there's anything I despise, it is being unnecessarily yelled at.  It reminds me of the years in K-8 where teachers would just lose it, on a day to day basis, yelling at everyone for this, that an the other, and as a're just not really sure why you're getting yelled at, because you're pretty sure you put your name on the paper, so you kinda zone out and work on your math homework so you don't have to take it home later.  So what I would want to say to Cathy is, "Well, if you don't want us to act like 10 year olds, dont treat us like 10 year olds." And that was the clever retort I created after a week of thinking about it.  HaHA!

The Lunch

The stars of the show were driven down the hill to get food then driven back up before we even were ent to walk down.  There's  lots of food on film sets, and I enjoyed my salad and my pasta and my grapes, there's always nice grapes.  And like the rest of the day, I wound up sitting with a bunch of random people who all spent most of their time talking about strip clubs.  When the conversation lulled, I asked:  "So?  Anyone watching the Olympics?"  Who knew that that was a terrible conversation starter?  How could anything bad possibly come from the Olympics?

Jonny Depp looking British guy with dark wavy hair and completely opaque sunglasses: "What's interesting about America, is that they only talk about their own athletes.  If you watch the Olympics in another country, they talk about everyone."

Ruddy-skinned guy with bulging eyes and muscles to match: "No. That's not true."
          Well, where have you watched them before?
             Did you watch them in German?
             Well then....see, it's very different.  In other countries the talk about everyone.
Well, why would Americans want to hear about anyone but Americans?
               See, you're just being like the stereotype.  Being what everyone thinks Americans are.  Self-absorbed, think they're the best.
 Well!  We are the world champions of not one, but two wars.

Natural blonde girl with slight accent on my left: "yeah...I don't really want to talk about that because I'm Russian."

!!!!!Well.  Awkward pauses plagued our plastic table.  I had certainly gotten us into this mess, so I had to get us out.

"So...has anyone seen The Dark Knight Rises?"  Thankfully, everyone took the thing.

The Work Again
Then, we returned to set, and got set to work again.  I was chosen to be one of the dancers in front of the musical guest of the week.  Although it would have been a great opportunity to show off my Liz Lemon impression, I decided to TRY to look cool, but I have a feeling that I will have failed miserably.   The direcrtor came out to fight with Cathy.

"We want to move one." He said, pointing to the three of us.  I knew they meant me, because they had already been whispering back and forth and pointing at me.

"Which one?" Cathy demands.  "That one?" she points at a different girl.

"No," the director counters, "THAT one!"

"Me." I say.  I am there, after all.

"SHH!!" Cathy cuts back.

Well, damn it!  At that point I was pissed.  And that was the moment that I felt reduced to a hipster sheep.  Forced to let yappy little dogs keep me on my path, make me feel like I wasn't anything but another sheep waiting to be sheered for my coat, instead of retaining my own, individual sheepiness.  This metaphor kinda works...but I'll admit it kinda doesn't.  I'll let you fill in the blanks!

The day passes, my Black friend further convinces me of his ultimate uniqueness.  Cathy yells at us to be quiet, and the extras are the ones making the least amount of noise.  One of the main girls on the show wearing a long white dress spends a good ten minutes flopped, butt in the air over a chair.  I beatbox for two of the guest stars, one of whom starts rapping.  Some guy asks if I'll try to be a couple with him to get on CSI New York.  Can I send in a picture of myself to his manager?  Although our heels are never filmed, we're all wearing them, and the heels have to be taped so we can cross.

One of the last conversations my guy friend had was with a knowledgeable Asian girl, dark hair wrapped in a ponytail.  Sensing her understanding of the film world to be greater than his own, he closed in.  All of him, leaning forward, converse shoes painted like the U.S. flag, jeans, a nice top and a headband wrapped around his head, he asked her how he could get an agent, and if she could explain to him what SAG really was.  

Thursday, August 2, 2012

The One with All the Adventures: I stole this title from Brooke

It seems almost ridiculous to suggest that there were events in my life prior to the Olympics....but there were one or two things that happened before the Opening Ceremonies, and so I’ll mention the ones worth mentioning.  

Adventure #1:
When going to see The Dark Knight Rises (for the first time .....) Katie and I were approached by a man who was handing out passes to a free screening of The Watch at the Fox Lot.  Well, Katie and I enjoy both free things and the chance to be on studio property, so we decided to go.
We got there early, as suggested, because they couldn’t guarantee seats.  We parked, and followed a crowd of people toward the screening theater, and eventually got at the end of a very long line.  Handing out pens and surveys was a woman wearing a terrible excuse for business casual: a cotton t-shirt stretched too tightly over her gut, a light gold suit with brown pinstripes, the pants nearly covering her black clogs.  She had dye-damaged red-tipped hair and a bag that swung as she stomped around up and down the line.  “Move to the side people, keep along the side.  Carts got to get through.  Cars got to get through.  Move aside.”  

I could not stop thinking about this woman...her attire led me to think of one of the rudest things I've ever thought, which I will now share with you: "It doesn't count if it looks that bad."  Ouch.  But seriously!  If you're wearing business wear to make a statement about how seriously you take yourself and your has to LOOK GOOD FOR THAT TO WORK! 
Anyway....nice cars and golf carts did take to traveling up and down the street (streets are names in Studios, because they’re just like mini-cities), 

A map of Fox Studios

and Katie swears that she saw Harrison Ford in a low black car driving past.  I missed it.  But what I didn’t miss were the parking spots next to us labeled:

                      MODERN FAMILY
                   RESERVED PARKING

Manny!  Manny! He’s only the most hilarious part of Modern Family.  There was someone parked there too!  Katie and I had a good laugh about how it was probably Manny’s Nanny parked there.

As we waited in line, dozens of reporters dressed very casually walked ahead of us.  When we got inside the lobby, I watched them check-in at a table, be handed a huge packet of information about the show.  “Remember the embargo.  Thursday night for online, Friday at 5 for printed press.”  Well it seems like rules like that might be one of the main reasons its so damn difficult for people to stay in print.  By having to wait another 12 hours, the review is hardly relevant, even if it’s “hot off the press”.  The lobby also held half a dozen Oscars for sound design, along with two single-stall bathrooms and a few coolers for water.  I took advantage of all of these.  
When Katie and I first set out on this Fox adventure, I was excited at the prospect of seeing a new movie.....after waiting in line for an hour, I decided just how ridiculous it was that we were serving as free market research...something I’m sure worth more than what a movie theater ticket would cost.
Anyway, the movie was terrible.  I was hopeful in the first 40 minutes, but the writer/creators were trying SO DAMN HARD, it was painful.  It was phallicphilic.  I don’t think there were 30 seconds of dialogue that passed that didn’t include swearing, or some R-rated allusion, or at times a few minutes of extensive R-rated, repulsive metaphor.  It was people working hard to match the new R-rated comedy genre, trying to earn the success of Superbad, Hangover, Knocked-UP, Bridesmaids, Ted....and abysmally failing.  After two hours in there, Katie and I bolted from the theater, wandered around the lot for a bit, peered into open soundstages, pretended to be big-wig executives...there was no security guiding us back to our parking odd (and useful!), and eventually made it back to our cars.

Adventure #2:
Michael Ferguson arrives.  I surprised him by getting the day off on Friday, so he didn’t have to sleep in my car as I worked, the poor thing was up at like 4 a.m. to fly out here.  So we spent most of the day napping and walking round Westwood.  Other adventures:
2a. Driving to Santa Monica Beach, finding the cheapest parking, and perhaps most exciting, I DIDN’T USE PAM THE GPS! 

            2a1. while at beach, Michael and I both applied sunblock to one another’s backs....and both our backs burned.  Clearly, our relationship is built on strong communication and Hammurabic principles.  

            2a2. We decided to get some Mexican food.  As we were sitting down, the woman asked us if we wanted chips and guac.  I said “sure!” because it seemed like a complimentary, bread basket thing.  Upon opening the menu, I saw it was NINE DOLLARS!  I then told the immediately annoyed waitress that we changed our minds on the chips.  Informed consumers = annoying customers.  Unfortunate.  
2b.  Driving to Malibu Creek State Park. This was my first time at any State Park because the Winters don’t really do the outdoors.  I’ve never been camping or hiking or anything, and this was my first taste.  My friend Molly said there was “cliff-diving,” so we thought we’d go.  It turned out to be a medium sized rock, not a cliff, into a tranquil pond-like place.  There were tons of people there, a man just sitting on a rock by himself, lots of clothes hung up in a tree, sitting in a folding chair, and watching. A group of high schoolers whose clear leader was the short boy who made fun of Molly all the time.  “oooh Molly!  What are you doing down there? Too afraid to climb up?”  There were some Black kids speaking in German, a group of tough looking Asian guys all eyeing a higher cliff....  It felt very literal American, all coming together at this watering hole, because water is a source of life...even though if you drank that still, green water, filled with slippery moss-colored rocks, you’d probably at least get some bad disease.  
I climbed up rocks for the first time!  We followed trails!  I saw an animal!  All the time feeling very safe and prepared with my Eagle Scout boyfriend.    

Nature!  But actually, this is Malibu Creek State Park.

It wasn't quite this green when we were there. Oh for those droughtless times!
2c.  I thought I’d show Michael Venice Beach, an area about as different from Santa Monica as it gets.
Santa Monica is a pristine. Designed in a perfect grid, the cars are only allowed to move horizontally away from the beach, the intersecting streets packed with shopping, dining, and street performers are pedestrians only.  The street performers are the greatest part.  I’ve seen, three kids singing original music with tambourines clearly connoted by parents,  a Black woman with her face painted to resemble a skeleton wrapped in yards of fabric playing castanets to her own music, country singers, folk singers, a couple dressed up like Peter Pan and Tinkerbell, and none of it would be complete without some people in bright yellow shirts and matching signs saying JESUS IS THE LORD, OUR GOD.
Venice Beach is mainly a line of shops on one side all competing to have the most offensive t-shirts, and the other side a line of homeless people selling their wares.  All of the people here are great: the “doctors” dressed up in bright green scrubs yelling “Get a Medical Card in just 30 minutes!”  A man in a huge poncho with a turban playing a string that was attached to his walking stick that apparently an instrument with a single string.  An Asian guy on his bike wrapped in a pink parka.  Girls selling sheaves of corn twisted into hearts.  A guy who had made signs out of cardboard and maker, and called his business “The Bum Who Makes Signs.”

This man was also there.  He is a great example of Venice.

The beachfront homes are considerably more run-down. I think it takes a special soul to live on Venice Beach.  A lot of the large glass windows were covered in bird poop.  There were a few places to eat, but  neither Michael nor I had a mustache, or could drink, so there didn’t really seem to be much of a point.  Instead we used Yelp to find....
2d. THE BEST ITALIAN RESTAURANT EVER.  I’ll have to ask Michael what the name of it was.  It was great.  I almost had a complete parking meltdown, however.  Parking is very stressful to me in Los Angeles.  Sometimes I don’t‘ want to go places, because I know that when I get there, I will have to find a place to park.  I think it might be emotionally symbolic of feeing like there is “no place for you there” and that the city and the world out here is just a “do it yourself because no one’s going to help you” attitude, just as no one will give up their parking spot for you....or something like that.
Anyway!  We finally, we parked in the lot of the restaurant, after waiting for the slowest family ever to trickle one by one from the restaurant into their Yukon with its lights on for literally 10 minutes.  Very stressful.  But I had Pillows stuffed with spinach and ricotta and basil...and it was awesome.    
Adventure #3: 
Saw the Dark Knight again. Where last time there was shock, this time there were tears.  Lots of tears.  Liked it more the second time, as well.  The best part about the Superman trailer is that it used Lord of the Rings music.    
Adventure #4: 
The Olympics...follow my Twitter.  My cover photo is the Fab5.  I’ve lost count of the cry count...does crying when the event actually happens and during the slow-mo replay of the event count as 2 cries?  I have no idea.  Just to clarify, I don’t just cry when the U.S. wins...pretty much when any country wins, I cry for that person’s incredible individual achievement.  Michael Winters is a rockstar because he made me an account on NBCOlympics so I can stream things live!  And I do.  Oh, I do.  

I love them!!! ahhh!!!!

Adventure #5: 
My roommates threw a party.  I met some guys who taught me how to salsa dance.  
Adventure #6:
Got In ‘n Out for the first time.  First time I actually ordered things on my hamburger besides catsup and mustard....I had forgotten that tomatoes and lettuce and onions came on hamburgers.  I now understand what the fuss is all about.  It was great.  

Yeah. This is it.  

Adventure #7: 
Went to Sandellas.  A great flatbread place near the Chines Theater where Meg, Silbs, Michael and I went when we were in LA this spring.  It was awesome.  
Overall, it was really great having Michael Ferguson here.  When someone visits me, the person acts as a benchmark by which I can judge how much I’ve assimilated to the area.  And based on how much I was able to show him around the area, I think I’m getting along here pretty well :-)
The End
Coming up, in next time I get around to blogging’s blog:
I go to the Council of 100 Women’s Networking Event, and learn, amongst under things, that adults are awkward at networking too. 
I’m an extra on who got to dance right in front of the camera....I’m sure it will turn out incredibly foolish.