Broken down, beer-bloated, beatnik writer Charles Bukowski described LA as being ‘like a crucifix in a deathhand’. “We are in a basin, that is the idea. Down in the sand and the alleys, this land punched-in, cuffed-out, divided, held like a crucifix in a deathhand, resold, bought again and sold again, the wars long over.”
I can see it here from my balcony at the Beverly Wilshire, high above Rodeo Drive; I can see the land he speaks of. It is strange looking at Buk’s point of view from this rarefied, lofty angle, but I can see it with clarity. The sprawl is legendary, but you can’t really understand until you’ve seen it. The lights of the city pan out as far as you could possibly imagine and that is only the beginning. This is just Western LA, beyond that there are cities within cities that pan out until you hit desert. This city contains multitudes. As the laureate of the lowbrow states, this is land that’s been broken up and mixed around. It’s ugly, but it’s compelling and mysterious; familiar, but with a sense of otherness.
The Beverly Wilshire is strangely familiar too. The original hotel was built in 1928 at a time when LA was incredibly a city of just 18,000 people. At the time, it was a structure of extraordinary opulence, with Tuscan stone and Carrara marble shipped in from Italy to complete the hotel in renaissance architecture style. Over the years the hotel has played host to a wonderful assortment of characters; like that other great rock and roll LA institution, The Château Marmont, some of the most iconic patrons moved in. Elvis Presley took a room for several years and John Lennon stayed for months when he was having a tough time with Yoko.
The hotel also hosted Vivian Ward and Edward Lewis in the 1990 blockbuster, Pretty Woman. This is the image that I have of the place before entering – soft focus with the nostalgic thrill of the late 1980s. Oh yes – big hair, bigger heels, red lipstick and the dream of a happy ending. This is where they took a suite, she flounced around and he treated her and charmed her and finally whisked her away from all the hideousness of the world.
The hotel stands on the corner where Wilshire Boulevard meets Rodeo Drive. This is the epicentre for LA glamour. Having waved goodbye to the Chevvy at LAX, we arrive in the back seat of a struggling filmmaker friend’s 1997 Subaru Legacy – a clapped-out old dog of a car. The entrance to the hotel is literally clogged up with supercars – a Bugatti Veyron pulls up in front of us. We hop out of the car, while Guy, feeling judged by the assorted car fanciers, revs the banger for all its might and soars out of the car park at (relative) speed much to the bafflement of the petrol heads.
Our room is on the twelfth floor and as mentioned above enjoys a rare view out over Beverly Hills and West Hollywood. It’s hot up on the balcony; LA has a thick, sticky, unrelenting intensity that hits hardest in the afternoons. We hide in our room with its deep carpet and creakily sliding doors. This is the sexiest of the Four Seasons we’ve encountered, the one that feels like it should play host to a glamorous hooker with a heart. The aesthetics are less modern, less polished, but more opulent. I like it; it’s a room you could really fall for. The bath is huge with more than enough room for two; the bed is sea of Egyptian spoils.
We order room service, don our dressing gowns and slip on to the balcony. It is dark now and the lights of Sunset Boulevard shine in the distance, they flicker and dance into the faraway night. Our journey is coming to its close and it hurts. 500 miles of adventure has come and gone. From the heights of Nob Hill and those rattletrap streetcars, through the beautiful coastal towns and the aching beauty of Big Sur, right through this megalopolis, this sprawl, this City of Angels. We sit here, high up above the low rise buildings, held like a crucifix in a deathhand and laugh out loud at the shimmering giddiness of it all.