My best friend from college was coming to visit this summer. It’s the first time I’d seen him since we were in college. It was very exciting, and to get into the mood, I decided to watch ’80s videos on YouTube. This seemed like the spiritual equivalent of all those hours spent downloading ’80s songs on Napster, which tells you how long ago college was, I guess. Anyway, sure, U2; it’s not the ’80s without U2. Anything from Joshua Tree. Oh, hey, there they are on a rooftop, being shut down by the LAPD. Haven’t seen this one for a while. And . . . that’s the Hotel Cecil in the background, which has come up a lot in the YouTube videos I’ve been watching lately.
Los Angeles is like that. It is the twenty-fourth largest city in the world—the second-largest in the US. Yet, weirdly, it can be a strangely small town at times. Oh, sure the Hotel Cecil was already notorious in 1987. At least one murder happened there; Elisa Lam was one of at least a dozen suicides there, many from before the video was filmed. Richard Ramirez, the notorious Night Stalker I feared as a child, may have stayed there for a while. A murder actually happened in the hotel in 1964 that remains unsolved. All that is true. But it’s also true that the concert wasn’t at the Hotel Cecil, it was just near enough for the hotel to be seen in the video, and LA landmarks happen like that.
Everyone who’s lived there has stories about such things. Seeing filming, or running into celebrities while running errands, or just seeing places you know when you’re watching TV. My ex-brother-in-law used to react to my sister’s “oh, hey!” while watching TV with, “Oh, is that your mom’s house?” He stopped the time it was. I once deeply annoyed a friend with an outburst of, “Hey, that’s my dry cleaner!” while watching a tire commercial. The other day, I was eating out with family and learned that characters in the new Perry Mason live down the block from the house my aunt lived in when I was a kid.
And while watching it, I recognized a mausoleum . . . which also features in some of my recent true crime viewing. Which I read about yesterday morning, because I read an article about the same case on the day I recognized it on Perry Mason. Coincidence, sure—and there aren’t that many cemeteries in Los Angeles County, I’m sure, given the area became as populous as it did during the drive for large, out-of-town cemeteries. But it really is amazing how much you’re likely to keep tripping over things in LA.
It’s a company town, and I’m sure that’s part of it. There is, and you may have seen it, a map of where in California you can film if you’re pretending to be literally anywhere in the world. It’s not unlikely that the time my sister saw our mom’s house on TV, it was in the movie where it’s pretending to be Wisconsin. There are, no doubt, large parts of Los Angeles that are not well known for being filmed in. The reason you trip over all these places is that they’re filming in the same places over and over again.
Still, why? The Greater Los Angeles Area covers nearly 34,000 square miles. It’s part or all of five counties. Sure, it’s hardly surprising when cemeteries show up over and over. Or the La Brea Tar Pits. Or that gas station near my mom’s house that at some point stopped selling gas and just hired out for filming. But why has my mom’s house itself been in one major motion picture and one made-for-TV movie? What are the odds that Edward Furlong’s aunt’s house was in Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, before he and I were born? And yet here we are.
There is also a tradition, when I go to Renaissance faire, that I will run into at least one customer with whom I have things in common from LA. One year, a customer was wearing a T-shirt from a camp I’d gone to as well—and I know she went there, and didn’t just acquire the shirt secondhand, because we talked about it. Another customer and I turned out to have been born in the same hospital. This wouldn’t be surprising if I still lived in LA, if I had lived in LA any time in the last quarter-century. Then again, our own Son of Griff and I both have stories about the same museum exhibit. Because Los Angeles is just like that sometimes.