Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The Wrap: Day Five

Walking the Moebius Highway

Life finds a way at the St. Moritz Hotel

Friday morning at the corner of Sunset and Bronson, waiting for the signal to change. The Great Wheel has turned now, loosening winters grip as it grudgingly gives way to spring. Where darkness ruled this early hour three weeks ago, the sky is now bright. The entire intersection looks and feels different in this new morning light; no less grimy, but not quite so alienating and other-worldly. Across the street, the Spy Shop -- offering an odd blend of high-tech surveillance equipment and paintball guns/accessories for paranoiacs and weekend warriors alike -- isn't yet open for business, but the gas station to my left never closes, nor does the St. Moritz Hotel beyond, a low-rent establishment with a bar downstairs that used to be called “The Ski Room.” It’s been there forever – meaning long before 1977, when I fell off the turnip truck and rolled into Hollywood. According to one of my well-read crew mates on this show, D.W. Griffith once roomed at the St. Moritz during the planning stages of his celluloid classic Intolerance.

A quick Google search neither confirmed nor denied this, but given the hotel’s location in the heart of Hollywood’s studio district at the time, it could well be true. As two out of three reviewers will attest, however, the St. Moritz has fallen long and hard from its days of luring celebrity guests. A co-worker told me a story he’d heard in rehab a few years back. A fellow patient -– call him “Bob” -- wound up at the St. Moritz during the depths of his struggle with drugs and alcohol. As he lay there one hot summer night, half out of his mind, something big dropped past the open window and hit with a loud bang. Peering out to see what happened, he saw a newly-dead body lying amidst the trash in a dumpster below.

That was rock bottom for Bob – he got on the phone to his sponsor and began the long climb back to sobriety.

A very different drama unfolds in front of the St. Moritz on this crisp morning, where a very good-looking blonde and her young son emerge from the lobby. I'm more than a little surprised -- in three weeks, this is the first sign of life I've seen at this hotel. Mother and son stand together for a few moments, then she grabs his backpack and spins in a circle, playing keep-away. With a huge grin, the boy runs around his mother, that backpack just out of reach. Both are laughing hard by the time she finally lets him catch up with it.

This is just about the last thing I expected to see here at such a seedy outpost in East Hollywood: a happy domestic family scene. But I don't understand -- what the hell are an attractive young mother and her son doing here in front of the St. Moritz Hotel at 6:45 Monday morning?

The answer arrives as a yellow school bus rumbles out of the rising sun and pulls over. The young mother hugs her son, then kisses his forehead. He waves goodbye and climbs aboard. With the basso growl of a big diesel, the bus grinds away from the curb and heads on down Sunset.

Apparently this young family has been living here long enough for the LA school system to count the St. Moritz as a regular stop on the school bus route. This could be viewed as depressing -- a struggling family forced to live in the relative squalor of such a seedy neighborhood -- but I see a mother doing her best to provide some structure and thus a semblance of normal life for her son.*

In such an unlikely setting, I feel privileged to have witnessed this simple, magical moment.

The blonde turns and disappears back inside the St. Moritz, leaving me to ponder the circumstances that led her here... but the light turns green before my still-sleeping brain can grapple with the endless possibilities, and I head across Sunset toward the dark dungeon of work.

Wrap is pretty much the same on every show: dirty, dusty, noisy, and sweaty. While the rig is an act of creation -- bringing a highly complex and functional order from utter chaos -- wrap spins the entire process in reverse, destroying all that carefully crafted order in a return to chaos. Where last week stood a beautifully constructed, dressed, and lit set is now a warehouse of component parts: individual set flats stacked vertically and tied together on big rolling carts, tables laden with a flea-market cornucopia of set dressing tchotchkes, tubs full of grip equipment -- meataxes, teasers, and flags -- along with hundreds of lamps and ancillary lighting gear. By now, all our lamps and cable has been lined up in neat rows with quasi-militarily precision, there to be counted before return to the rental house.

Order becomes chaos becomes order again.

It's a juicer's lot to walk this Moebius Highway... but maybe that's everybody's lot in life: the eternal struggle to create some kind of order in a rough-and-tumble world where chaos is always banging on the door, and young mothers will do everything they can to bring their kids up right whatever the circumstances.

I won’t recall much about this week. Wrapping a show is an exercise in mind-numbing tedium and endless repetition, even with the added caution required by dealing with the arbor system. Breakfast and lunch breaks loom large in the daily narrative -- the hipster waffle place down the street (with a cute waitress who is doubtless a budding actress on her way to much bigger things), the friendly deli around the corner that makes such spectacular sandwiches, and the Mexican restaurant/bar run by a saucy tattooed blonde with a great smile -- but it's the image of that young mother and her son that will stick in my mind; the two of them sharing a private moment of giddy intimacy during the utterly mundane act of waiting for a school bus.

It all reminds me of a line from Jurassic Park, when Jeff Goldblum's character declares "Life will find a way." Indeed it will, and that gives me hope. In a world of low-budget everything -- a world that seems to be sliding closer to the abyss with each passing day -- hope is an increasingly precious commodity.

Our work on stage is all but done. We have one more day to send the last of the equipment back, then scour the stage floor and up high for any remaining gear before closing the books on this show. Next up is some badly-needed time off, I hope. Work is a good thing (even cheap-ass Disney work), but all work and no play makes this Jack a very dull boy. It's time to rest and recover before the next shit-storm of work blows in.

That storm is coming. I don't know exactly when or how hard it will hit, but it's on the way...

* As if life at the St. Moritz could ever be considered "normal."


egee said...

Great post (as usual). I, too, walk the Moebius Highway occasionally. Such excursions lead me to believe there is an order to the universe that asserts itself despite Man's determined efforts to render our world unlivable (be that physically or psychologically). Have a good week!

C.B. said...

Really like this post, specially the different perspectives.
It's a glimpse into a bigger picture, like a breath of fresh air.

The Grip Works said...

Beautifully written ... as always !!

Michael Taylor said...

Egee, C.B., Sanjay --

I think we've all done some time on that highway, with more to come. I wasn't sure if this one would work or not -- as usual, I'm too close to the forest to see the trees -- so it's good to hear you liked it.

Thanks for tuning in...

Anonymous said...

Just came across your blog. Thanks for mentioning the Ski Room ,was the first bar I hit when I moved here in 86. Cool characters and great stories of old Hollywood. Thanks for the memory refresh

Michael Taylor said...

Anonymous --

Glad you stumbled across this post, and that it resonated. And thanks for tuning in...