The nearest place to the hotel to eat is Mel’s Diner. Buddy, Brian and I drift down there in an effort to stay awake and head off the looming jet-lag as much as by a desire for a Mel’s 3-Deck Club Sandwich.
Hollywood has fully mutated into a tourist theme park. Grauman's Chinese Theatre has been swallowed up by the Ovation Hollywood shopping mall, a piece of instant architecture that covers half a block and insults the street on every conceivable aspect with three-storey-high digital billboards—I assume there are football pitch sized screens on the roof directed at passing aircraft. The Oscar’s are in town and there is a covered catwalk the length of an entire block on Hollywood Boulevard guarded by an army of security staff who have nothing to do but stand around the structure trying to look purposeful. Every piece of spare asphalt has a TV truck parked on it. Thankfully we will be in Phoenix with 300 miles of desert between us and Hollywood when the madness unfolds on Sunday night.
Mel’s Hollywood Drive-In wants to seem like it has been there since 1947, but actually opened in 2001 which explains why the dining experience is that of eating on a recently constructed film set. Anything now remaining of the City of Dreams has been torn down and replaced or spruced for the tourists and looks so like new that it makes no difference. But then again, any concept of ‘authentic’ Hollywood is completely fucking absurd in the first place.
Justin has had the same idea as us and wanders in five minutes behind us and we all order some kind of diner cliche; Fried Chicken, Reuben, Steak Sandwich. There are a couple of the LAPD sitting at the counter and another four join them while we eat.
Post-flight and pre jet-lag, no one at our table is remotely capable of engaging conversation. The cops are right in my line of sight and I distractedly people-watch them as I eat my ‘Mel’s Famous Haven Sandwich’; they all have great haircuts, their uniforms all fit like Saville Row suits and their shock-and-awe side-arms and the myriad of other military looking equipment that festoons them looks like it was made to co-ordinate in the military industrial complex department of Gucci. They are super polite to the waiters and to each other. It’s hard to imagine them making ever handing out a speeding ticket never mind making a drugs bust, but I suppose that working for the LAPD is a job for life and maybe South Central LA has changed a bit since the nineties. And, I suppose, the rozzers policing this block of Hollywood during Oscar’s week are probably hand picked for different qualities than those battalioned in Watts to keeps the Crips and the Bloods in line. As they leave they very naturally line up like a rock band for a photo for the staff.
The creeping sense of verisimilitude that Mel’s is instilling gets more intense with the dawning realisation that the reason these look like they might have been chosen by a casting agent is because they were chosen by a casting agent: these aren’t hard-bitten cops out to protect and to serve the incoming Academy Award’s nominees—these are the cast of some cop show on a night shoot fresh out of the costume department. That’s why the shiny new radios are silent, why the weapons look like they have never been fired, why there isn’t a line of LAPD cruisers out front, why they were all so unbelievably polite. Is everyone in Mel’s, everyone in Hollywood, actually an actor reading from a script for our benefit? Sleep deprivation drives us back to the relative safety of the Holiday Inn Suites.