If all the world’s a stage, Los Angeles is likely to argue that it sits in the centre. Not just because of the number of film studios, locations and talent it offers, but also because its streets are full of theatre.
It is a pleasant December evening in West Hollywood and I am on a post-prandial stroll through the city streets. I have spent the day directing a fashion shoot in the Joshua Tree national park and while the rest of the crew have dispersed to their various appointments, I have just finished dinner at the Sunset Towers hotel.
Trying to offset the meal and the three martinis that accompanied it, I am exploring the area near my hotel, the somewhat less expensive Standard just down the road.
It’s almost 10 pm and as I pass the forecourt of a Mobil garage on Sunset, a heavily-built man in a tight black t-shirt is working the forecourt.
He beckons me over.
It is clear he has nothing to do with the place but has chosen the location for its footfall.
He is, he tells me, a bodyguard and his name is Mr Muscles. I nod. It seems reasonable. “I’m living in a hotel that costs $95 a night and I already have $40,” he says, beaming with the sort of positivity found in infomercials. “Anything you can help me with would be just great.”
There is a pause as I consider this. I reach into my pocket hoping for a note of small denomination. As I withdraw my hand under the slight blue light of the Mobil sign, we both look down and see a $20 note. We look at each other and I hand it over.
Clearly grateful, Mr Muscles beams me a smile (he has perfect teeth) and hands me a card from a tight pile held together by an aging elastic band.
“This is me,” he says. “If you need a bodyguard, give me a call.”
There is another pause as we both consider this unlikely scenario.
“I was also in Spiderman — the first one,” he adds as if to reassure me my money is well spent.
We shake hands and as I walk on, he runs across the road to meet someone he knows.
I don’t generally travel for work that often, but when I do I like to try experience the places I get to go outside of meeting rooms, hotels and shoot locations. Walking is often a great way of discovering the soul of a city — especially when you get off the beaten track.
LA, of course, offer a diverse range of adventure on its well-beaten paths but its enormity also means there is a huge swathe of city — just as exhilarating — that remains waiting to be discovered by curious outsiders.
Driving back from the shoot earlier, Adrianne Herbert, the make-up artist, stuns me with her near-encyclopedic knowledge of almost all the city’s routes. Along the way back into the city she points out a succession of bars and restaurants that no outsider would ever find and all of which sound vital to visit. It would take weeks.
A few minutes after I say goodbye to Mr Muscles I find myself on Fountain Avenue — somewhat less grand that Santa Monica Boulevard — and inadvertently stumble into what appears to be a police raid.
From nowhere and without the fanfare of sirens, a number of police cars have stopped in the street in front of me, their lights flashing. Another drives around into an alley behind the four-story apartment building they seem to be targeting.
I approach a female officer, her hand resting lightly on the pistol in her holster.
“Is it OK to go through?” I ask. “You’re not about to draw your guns or anything, are you?”
She contemplates me briefly then shakes her head, distracted, and waves me through.
I quicken my pace but a few seconds later I look up to see a crowd of five officers has gathered a few feet ahead.
“Dude!” hisses one, his gun in the air. “What are you doing!”
“I asked your colleague if it was ok. I didn’t think you were drawing guns…”
Several of the officers look almost sheepishly at their weapons. The lead cop looks incredulous.
“Dude, just get out of here…keep going.”
As I pass they crouch down, awaiting action. I find sanctuary in a nearby grocery store where I tell the owner about the raid with great enthusiasm.
He shrugs with an expression that reads: “And?”
Inexplicably, I buy a box of Cheerios as penance.
The rest of my night walk, past car showrooms, antique shops, down-at-heel dime stores, the obligatory Starbucks, offices and only one or two actual homes, is rather uneventful.
I arrive back at The Standard to find a velvet rope has been applied to the entrance along with a doorman. There is a growing queue of very smart looking people patiently waiting to gain entry.
Inside the place is alive with chatter and music. Expensively-dressed people spill out to the pool area holding cocktail glasses while in a corner a DJ holds court. Everybody is young and dressed with casual beauty. Brigitte Nielsen appears, taking her troupe poolside.
Behind the reception desk in what looks like a converted fish tank, a female model in a bikini lies reading a book and listening to an iPod. She seems oblivious to the commotion and most of the people seem oblivious to her, apart from one or two who point and take pictures.
For a moment I contemplate another drink and trying to infiltrate the party, which is just another club night at the hotel. But even in my black linen suit and crisp white shirt, I am just not the sort. Nowhere near cool enough or beautiful enough or foolish enough.
Then, looking down the street at the palm trees and the lights, I wonder about taking a cab to one of the many bars Adrianne pointed out. Instead, I nod at the doorman and go up to bed.
There will be another show tomorrow.