From Denny's to Denny's I made my way to Los Angeles. Sometimes I'd throw in a prime rib at some steakhouse on old Route 66, but only when I was tired of driving and needed to hole up somewhere, sleep like I was dead. When I drove out there, the plan was to stay awhile, which I did, several years. You don't head out to tinseltown and environs without a few stars in your eyes or a loose cog or two, but those are pluses for anyone planning to make a life there. Everyone is "in the industry." Real estate is laughably expensive. Looking for a place to live is your first shocker. "Fixer-upper, million-five." Stayed with a friend in West L.A., did some freelance, got burned more often than not, old story out there.
Fell into a job by doing a Nokia newsletter, both designed it and wrote it--the guy looks at it, takes me to Dancer-Fitzgerald-Sample, says "Look at this." The ECD hired me on the spot. That was over in Torrance. After driving to work for a few days from West L.A., sitting on that freeway parking lot, I just moved over to Palos Verdes, up the hill from the agency. I found one of the few rentals there, a quiet town house, and settled in, happily. Got to work about 5am, left at 3pm, my MO for the rest of my life in the ad racket. The building housed the agency and a brokerage, Merrill-Lynch I think. The only cars in the lot at that time of morning were mine and the brokers. It was like four hours later in New York and they worked on the NY clock. So there we were every morning, nodding at one another as we entered the big glass doors, they heading for their ground floor office to the left, me to the elevator for my 7th floor office. An actual office with walls and a door, good view. And a typewriter.
Before that, however, I was a man of leisure. I walked the streets of west L.A. looking at the world through RayBans and seeing, again, the hand-tinted postcards I'd discovered in a shoebox at my grandmother's in KC. That L.A. was trim lawns, yucca plants, bungalows and red tile roofs, palm trees, sprinklers. I discovered meaner streets as well, looking for a warehouse downtown, where I could live and also drive my car and Harley into the living room, a minor dream of mine, one of many unfulfilled. I found a soldier-of-fortune bar. Some old eateries with chicken fried steak on the menu. A pawn shop with wonderful guitars on the wall and old Shure microphones.
Over by UCLA, in Westwood, I entered a dusty Egyptologist shop, where I bought two large plaster Horus statues with papers that showed they were made for DeMille's Cleopatra. I was, essentially, broke but these were must-haves, and I'm an optimist. Things'll get better. I still have these things, about 40" tall. And things did get better. I expected to see Sidney Greenstreet in a fez, there. Followed by Peter Lorre. Lauren Bacall pulling a curtain back in a nearby apartment window.
I took a screenplay course under Robert McKee, the legend, and watched a tape of Chinatown about 50 times, along with other movies. Sometimes I'd watch four or five movies in a day, for story structure. I did write some screenplays, one of which got me and a Beverly Hills ad-guy into a conference room with some portly individuals in good suits who said, "Trust me..." Got option offers for small amounts. Nothing ever came of it. Talk about an old story in L.A.
Then I got a tentative offer to write a book about Harley-Davidson's comeback; long story, but to shorten it, I didn't want to give up my ad job, and the pres wanted a business writer anyway. So that went away, too. As did a screenplay adaptation of an acquaintance's novel, when the agent passed away. So it went, but L.A. was, in the final lookback, hellaciously good to me. And I love it. And all that writing out there...great practice.