Hiking to the Hollywood Sign


It’s become a thing with me to not make a big deal about my birthday – I just don’t. In fact up until a few years ago, I worked on my birthday because I felt like it.

But with this job giving me Personal Days and whatnot, I decided last year to take the day off and hit all the local eateries that were offering free birthday foods (I started signing up in November 2016 for every one I could find). It was fun but still just…meh.

So about a month before The Big 49, I had decided to do something different and something I had always wanted to do: hike to the Hollywood sign. It used to be pretty easy to access but over the years, the locals got tired of tourists and adventurers parking on the street and the sign was an easy target for vandals as well.

That’s no longer the case. It’s clean, guarded 24/7, and there is no longer parking on Beechwood Drive. Things have definitely changed.

Knowing this, I had to figure out a few things before I made my way up there, like parking and, you know, which trails to take. But once I did I was pretty excited to start my local adventure.

It took about an hour – typical drive time – to get to Canyon Drive, the place where the trails begin. And because it was the middle of the week I had no trouble finding a parking spot. On the weekend? Forget it.

So with my backpack strapped on my back, GoPro* mounted to a stick in hand, I locked up the car and made my way.

Before you venture in, there’s a map of all of the trails you can take in the area. It’s hard to believe this is in Los Angeles, right?

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The fire danger is always high around here

As part of my pre-hike preparation I had already looked up all the trails and marked my intended route on my Endomondo fitness tracking app so I wouldn’t get lost. Naturally, I took the longest route which is a little over 5k (3.22 miles). Because I’m a fool.

Need proof? Look at the picture below. This is near the start of the trail and you can barely see the sign or the radio/TV towers on top of Mt. Lee.

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I would get there eventually but oh, there are hills to climb. This was maybe just under a mile into the hike.

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It was about here when I learned something: hiking is not walking. I normally walk at a brisk pace and I started out that way but it sure didn’t last. I toned it down a bit for the rest of my trek.

The trails are clearly marked and that’s a good thing. A bunch of hills and valleys later, I came across this sign and took a little break for air and water. Just under a mile to go!

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While on the way up, I passed a few groups of tourists riding horseback on the trail. From what I could gather, they only stay on the dirt trails and don’t ride up to the sign – it’s much to steep for them. But wow, they are such majestic creatures, aren’t they?

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Here’s a little something you may not know. From a distance, the Hollywood sign looks all nice and straight but if you look closer at the image below, you’ll see just how misaligned it really it. In fact, the first O looks to be the farthest out of them all.

And hey, I’m getting closer!

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This is the final trail: Mt. Lee Drive. This wraps around and ends at the Hollywood sign.

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If you look to the right, you get a spectacular view of the valley. In the dead center of this image are a few studios including Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Animation, Warner Bros. Studios, etc.

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This plaque is sitting just before you turn the corner and reach the sign. The donor list includes Hugh Hefner and a handful of studios.

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Finally, just over an hour from when I started, I had reached my destination. And was it ever worth it.

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And did you know there was a lake up here? That would be Lake Hollywood (duh) and the Hollywood Reservoir.

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Here’s what all those towers look like up close.

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Life’s little moments are worth celebrating.

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Just after this picture was taken, I decided to have a seat and snack on the banana and protein bar I had packed. That’s when my phone rang. It was Mom calling to wish me a happy birthday.

“Are you at work?”

“Um. No. But you’ll never guess where I am,” I told her.

“Oh no. Where are you,” she asked, slightly concerned.

“I’m on top of Mt. Lee. I just hiked up to the Hollywood sign.” There was a moment of silence.

“Oh my…the Hollywood sign?” Her concern turned into a little bit of excitement once she realized I had made it and everything was fine. We talked for a little bit – definitely a surreal moment – before she let me go so that she could tell my brother to call me.

I finished my conversations and noshing on whatever snacks I had and made my way back down the trail. But if you think that’s it, you’re wrong! There was one more stop: to the Batcave (aka Bronson Canyon)!

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This is it, the one that Batmobile drove out of in the original Batman TV series. You can see a then-and-now on this Instagram post. The cave is manmade and aside from Batman, has been used in a slew of TV shows and movies.

Me, unkempt, in a cave. Because why not.

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But just because it’s manmade doesn’t mean you won’t find anything interesting in there. While I was walking through, a couple was pointing a flashlight into a small hole – there was a baby bat inside.

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The video I shot gives you a better idea of what we were looking at. I maxed out my zoom since I didn’t want to frighten the little guy.

So with that being my final stop, I was done. And in case you’re wondering what all the meandering looks like, here you go:

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The green line is speed; the gray line indicates elevation which started out at 646 ft. and ended at 1,696 ft. for a gain of 1,050 ft.

Here are the stats Apple Health gave me for the entire day:

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94 floors? Holy moly. No wonder I was sore the rest of the week.

If you’re ever in the area, by all means take some time and do this. The trails to the sign aren’t terribly rugged but I wouldn’t recommend wearing flimsy shoes, either. A good pair of running shoes ought to do the trick as would a few bottles of water and some snacks.

Oh, and definitely bring your phone for pictures (and a portable charger). The view from the top is worth every step you take.

All in all, it was a good time and something I would definitely do again. Next time I’d like to take a trail in to Griffith Park or Griffith Observatory, one of my favorite places in L.A.

The question is: what will I do next year for my 50th?

I have no idea, but there’s time to start planning.

—-

*I’m still in the process of editing the video on my phone. Steven Spielberg I ain’t.

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Depeche Mode Fan Takeover: The Jimmy Kimmel Live! Performance


As you read in my last post, I was chosen to take over Depeche Mode’s Facebook page last Friday. It was a blast but since there’s still a few months left in the year, I won’t get into details on how the whole thing works. I don’t want to give anything away.

What I will say is that I was contacted last Tuesday and I had honestly forgotten I entered the contest. Not only that, I was thinking that with all those entries and only 365 winners (some of them other musicians), what were my chances?

Pretty good, apparently. The folks in charge of the event emailed me and told me to give them a call if I was interested. Well duh, I was interested. So I sat on the patio at work and got the whole rundown of what was going on.

Their reasoning was simple: being I had gone to see them at Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2009, they thought I’d be a good candidate to see them again on Wednesday since they were the musical guests that night. I jumped at the chance and even let the coach of the company softball team know that I wouldn’t be at the game that night. And I have plenty of vacation time saved up so the time off was not an issue, either. More on our…team at the end of this post.

There were confidentiality agreements to sign, promises to keep, things to do. It’s pretty much like your on assignment for the band. Once all that was approved, I started writing my posts which came to about five total although not all of them were used.

Then came Wednesday, the day of the taping. I had to meet Depeche Mode’s management away from the throng of devoted fans hanging out in the alley, waiting to catch a glimpse of the band. I called when I arrived and they greeted me at the back door, meaning the parking lot.

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By the way, I didn’t drive. This is a shameless plug for Los Angeles Metro, my alternative source of transportation that I use whenever I have to go someplace in L.A. that is near a station. Never drive or pay for parking – go Metro!

Anyway, this would be the only picture I took because photography was strictly prohibited and this was mentioned on the confidentiality agreement. I’ve got a story on that later as well.

Once inside, I was given a purple wristband which meant I was more VIP than the other VIPs in the crowd, who all gathered in the Green Room during the taping of the show (we watched the taping on monitors). I just waved that band at folks and I was in. Ta-daaaa!

During the taping, I mingled with other fans and was greeted by Freddie Morales, aka Devotional Dave from the cover band Strangelove. We follow each other on Instagram and he came up to me and started the conversation – pretty cool! He was telling me about their upcoming shows and their potential setlist which includes some classic songs that I’d love to hear the real Depeche Mode play one more time. Great guy and you should go see them if they are in your town. Here we are after the taping.

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As we waited, a few of the band members – Peter Gordeno and the legendary Fletch – came out of the dressing room and chatted with a few fans. Didn’t expect that but there they were. Once they left, I was asked by management if I wanted to take my picture in the Jimmy Kimmel photo booth which was in a place that only those with purple wristband could go. Who was I to say no?

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The magic of the the Purple Wristband!

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It took a sequence of three and for the middle one I decided to make a stupid face for some reason. But as you can tell by the first and last ones, I was genuinely excited to be a part of this. Also, DM management took this shot of me that they used for Facebook.

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I ate hors d’oeuvres. I drank a few White Russians from the open bar. I mingled. I was as fucking Hollywood as anyone could get that night.

As the taping continued, I was notified by management that if I wanted a good view, they would lead me upstairs to the stage – and so I went. I was in the first group of people, all with their purple wristbands, and we got as close as we possibly could to the stage for the performance. Shortly after that, the others made their way up as Kimmel’s hype man got the crowd worked up.

After about 10 minutes, the band took the stage and the crowd lost it. If you don’t know, Depeche Mode has one of the biggest followings in Los Angeles and they are playing an unprecedented four sold-out shows at the Hollywood Bowl starting this weekend — not even The Beatles did that. We love them, the the crowd let them know. You could tell they appreciated it.

Unlike their 2009 performance, where they played a set of about eight songs, tonight there would only be one: their new single “Cover Me.” They did an off-camera rehearsal then after about five minutes, Kimmel appeared to the left of the crowd, the cameras went live, and he introduced them. This one would count and here it is.

In case you’re wondering, here I am in the yellow circle:

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A few notes:

  • I’ve been to my share of shows and I have to say that Dave has never sounded better live. Maybe it was the combination of a small venue with him not needing to strain his voice and the subdued tone of the song but either way, wow. He absolutely killed it.
  • If you watch the video closely, there’s a lady to my left and in front of me looking like she is covering her mouth. I let her squeeze by for a better view because she couldn’t see from where she was. The reason she was covering her mouth was because she was absolutely enthralled by the performance and almost in tears. Remember what I said about L.A. fans? Here’s your proof, and she was extremely grateful that I let her in. I’m taller and could see just fine from my angle.
  • After the performance, a few people tried to take pictures of the stage and when security saw them, they immediately approached them, told them to delete the photo, then delete it from their Trash folder – all while they watched them do it. They weren’t playing.

After the performance, I took my picture with Devotional Dave then lingered around Hollywood Boulevard for a bit. It was then when I was reminded of what a strange and surreal place Hollywood really is. I’m not here too often so I took it all in, looking around and just thinking “Wow, this really is a freaking weird place.”

Then I got on the train and went home, wrote about the performance for the takeover, and my day of working for Depeche Mode was complete. It was definitely fun.

Oh, and our softball team? We played tonight and lost again but I went 1-3 with 2 RBI against a whiny bunch poor winners who complained at the most minor things. Fuckin’ nut up and play. This is for fun and nobody will be taking home any trophies, so STFU and get on the field already. I yelled at them quite a bit as they complained, telling them to hurry up. Bunch of babies.

As for our team, well, I could be the father to some of the players and to hear they were tired after a 7-inning softball game really made me laugh. Here I am wanting to play two and there they were thinking about taking tomorrow off because they were sore. Look, I’m not He-Man but really?

Anyway…yeah! Working for Depeche Mode was something I’ll never forget.

Baby, You’re A Star


Sunday was a nice, blustery day so we decided to get out of the house and do a little bit of shopping – mostly window-wishing – at the local outlet.

As is the case with most outlets these days, the walkways are riddled with independent vendors trying to push their wares to anybody that passes. I had heard it said that these guys are the modern-day equivalent of pop-up ads and it’s true: they just keep pestering you.

But one booth wasn’t selling tennis shoe polish, laser-etched iPhone cases or fidget spinners (and I swear if I hear my kid say that one more time, I’ll scream). And unlike most of the booths, it was unmanned when we passed it.

What they were selling was a Hollywood dream to make it big in television and movies. It was a casting agency that specialized in recruiting children and teens for studios like Nickelodeon, Disney, etc. or so they say.

And it wasn’t until we were ready to leave when we were approached by the person who was running the booth. Apparently she thought we looked like a bunch of pigeons as she walked up to us, taking particular interest in Anthony.

She first asked if we were local. I confirmed her suspicion. Then the spiel began about how she was looking for teens age whatever-to-whatever to cast for shows on the aforementioned networks. That’s when I started to grin and then dropped the mic on her.

“Nah, that’s okay. I used to do background acting and…”

At the mention of “background acting” I swear that woman left a puff of smoke behind her and disappeared faster than Usain Bolt in the 100m dash.

Why is that?

There are a few reasons for her to not take interest in me or Anthony.

First, casting agencies in general. When you’re selling Hollywood to some slack-jawed yokel that doesn’t know any better, they will of course shovel out whatever it takes to make their kid a star. And that’s the problem: legit agencies will NEVER ask for money up front, and you can bet that this one was going to ask me for my wallet in order to get Anthony a few headshots that would be stuffed into an album of hundreds of others that already got bilked and still haven’t been cast for anything. For my casting file, my headshot was taken with a digital camera at the agency. That’s all they need especially if it’s only non-union background work. Speaking parts require SAG-AFTRA union membership and that costs money, something that you pay directly to the union and not the agency. Only then will you make decent money. Until then it’s minimum wage, baby. Except may for the monetary bumps for exposure to smoke, water, or the studio using your car in the background as well. Living the Hollywood dream? Hardly.

Second, I’ve seen what kids have to go through in this industry. For adults, it’s no big deal other than hustling for more jobs during your downtime between shots and there is a lot of downtime. For kids, however, it means having their parents on location with them, going to the on-set “school” between shots, and just long days that nobody that young should be put through. There’s never guarantee of when the production will wrap and if they have another shoot the next morning or get a callback for the current one, it’s a lot of stress for parents and kids. Kids also get hungry and antsy. This is why they are so hard to work with. It’s a miserable existence and a life I would never wish on any child. Believe me, it’s nothing like what you see on the screen or social media.

I can say quite confidently that those last two paragraphs are exactly what went through the mind of this woman as she ran away from me. She knew I had an inside track about the industry and didn’t even want to mess with me.

So sorry, kid. You’re not going to be the next big thing.

But you’ll always be our star.

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Throwback Thursday: Hollywood


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You know, just me and Ann standing atop historic CBS Columbia Square in the mid- to late ‘90s. So much to say about this picture, like:

  • Ann and I were both a little…heavier then.
  • She is most definitely NOT taller than me — she was standing on a box.
  • Capitol Records is on the left.
  • The Hollywood sign can be seen on the right.
  • I could never quite pull off wearing mirrorshades.
  • We stopped here, where my brother was working at the time, to take a quick tour before walking a few blocks to the Pantages Theater to see The Phantom of the Opera for the umpteenth time (and by stating that, yes, I do know the whole thing by heart).
  • If I remember correctly, we also chatted with the co-star of the show, Marie Danvers, in her rented Chevy Cavalier after the performance. It may not have been this time but we did in fact spend time with her and wow, she’s a fantastic, funny lady.

Sadly, the building fell into a state of disrepair and is now slated to be converted into apartments, retail, and office spaces.

And I can guarantee that at least one of those stores will be selling mirrorshades like mine – now considered “retro” and going for $250 a pair.

We Survived Coffeegeddon!


thumbnailThere have been a few scenarios in my life that couldn’t have been predicted by a psychic.

The first scenario involved me being in a white Ford Econoline van with two practically complete strangers, driving up Highway 71 from Arkansas into Missouri looking for alcoholic beverages and girly magazines.

Sound outlandish? Believe it or not, it happened in December 1993 when I was working for Wal-Mart and spent two lovely weeks in Bentonville – a dry county in the middle of the Bible Belt. I’ll tell you about it sometime.

The second scenario was when I found myself jogging up Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood in the morning with a used coffee maker in my hands.

But that’s exactly what I did today.

Today is National Coffee Day and to celebrate, The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf was offering consumers the opportunity to exchange their old coffee maker for one of their brand-new single-cup Kaldi machines (retail value of $179.95). The only stipulation was the your exchange had to have the cord still attached and there was a limit of one Kaldi per person.

When Ann saw this on Facebook she couldn’t decide if she wanted to go for a number of reasons. It wasn’t until late last night when she decided that it might be worth the risk of braving the heat and crowds to get close to $400 worth of coffee makers. And with a limit of 2,500 to give out between 11 am – 5 pm, we chose to leave the house about 8:45 this morning.

Driving through the Hollywood area is no big deal to me. I spent many days there as a teenager and know the place well enough to get anywhere. I knew exactly where the event was.

When we arrived in West Hollywood, we saw that the line was already curling about four blocks. To avoid the hassle of parking on the streets and putting money in a meter, we ended up paying $10 to park in the parking lot of The Viper Room. You know The Viper Room, right? Where River Phoenix OD’d? That’s the place.

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Once we parked, we had to lug both of Ann’s coffee makers up Sunset Boulevard and that’s when my surreal scenario took place. In order to get a new Kaldi, you had to get a wristband from one of the event organizers so Ann told me to go ahead of her and Anthony and reserve my place in line.

That’s when I left them behind and jogged up Sunset, fulfilling my surreal experience. I then crossed the street, got my wristband and held our place in line. This was the view looking west down Sunset Boulevard.

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There were still plenty of wristbands by the time I was in line so I called Ann and told her to take their time. They did. Ann got her wristband and we were both guaranteed a Kaldi machine.

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Then the wait began. And it was very hot with spots of shade but nothing we stayed in for an extended period of time. Also, for those who didn’t plan properly (like us), you had to stand or worse, sit on the sidewalks – not really recommended in Los Angeles. Fortunately, the woman in line behind us was nice enough to Ann borrow one of the two chairs she had packed. I stood the entire time. We chatted with her and her family the entire time in line and they were such great people.

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About the only things we brought with us were bottles of water and Gatorade and believe me, they came in handy in that heat. I later ran into a pizza place to grab a few slices to eat while we waited. It hit the spot but again, standing in the heat takes more out of you than what you can put into you. I kept the pizza box and used it to fan us down when we couldn’t find the shelter of shade. And when you can’t, you improvise.

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When the line finally started to move, we saw plenty of interesting things like Mel’s Drive-In

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…a heavily disguised Ford Escape test vehicle (the ovals gave it away)…

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…the KTLA news van since they were covering the event…

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…and then this, which happened right in front of us.

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A woman – sitting on the right in the light blue shirt – apparently had a case of heat exhaustion and needed the aid of Los Angeles’ finest. She was eventually taken away in an ambulance and the situation held up the line for about 15 minutes. The poor woman waited all that time and won’t have a thing to show for it. I hope the Coffee Bean folks can track her down and give her what she was waiting for.

After about three hours in line, we were inching closer to getting our Kaldi machines. Then we finally crossed the final street and saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

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We had finally made it. High-fives from the CBTL workers. Once we crossed the threshold we were directed to a table where we turned in our old coffee makers and were given a certificate for the new one.

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We then walked over to what looked like a wall of brand new Kaldi machines, gave our color preference (red, blue or silver), and turned in our certificate.

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And with that, we had our new machines and the wait was over. I tweeted when we got our machines and CBTL responded.

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Ann took the red one and we are saving the blue for a Christmas gift for some lucky person. Despite the heat, it was definitely worth the drive and wait to get something totally free – okay, in exchange for something old. The value of the machines also made it worth the trouble.

Whew, what a day! We’d like to thank The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf for offering such a fantastic deal. You put a smile on Ann’s face and no doubt will make another coffee lover’s face light up on Christmas morning. And in this tough economy where there’d be no other way we could even dream of buying, let alone giving, one of these machines, your generosity is greatly appreciated. You have definitely earned our loyalty!