There are few places more surreal than Los Angeles. The Antarctic, maybe. The moon, perhaps. Now, it’s been awhile since I’ve visited the moon and the Antarctic, well, I’ve seen pictures, but they have one big advantage over L.A. – tougher gun control. And the exchange rate isn’t as bad. However, Los Angeles wins in the employment department. Everywhere you turn, people are working, quite a feat when the temperature and sun conspire to turn every waking moment into a happy siesta. You can’t be a Canadian television writer and not think about Hollywood at some point. The film and television industry in Canada doesn’t take you seriously unless you’ve slogged it out south of the border, regardless if you worked on execrable nonsense or not. If you’re so good, why are you not in L.A.? goes the thinking. It’s 2006 and we still think this way. I make the obligatory pilgrimage once a year, just to say, "I’m in L.A.". (I still put an L.A. address on spec scripts. Has gotten me a few gigs up here, I'm convinced.)
In L.A., people in Mercedes, BMWs, Porsches, Rolls Royces and less modest vehicles cruise the palm dotted roadways, all in a hurry. Either they’re going to work, are working in their cars or are going home to work. Even when they’re not working, L.A people work. Waiting is work, the hardest work of all. And right now a friend of mine is toiling away at nothing.
This friend, who I’ll call Ricky because that’s his name, has just wrapped his own television pilot. Right now he’s experiencing what is known as "being on the fence", the time between wrapping the show and waiting to hear whether or not the network will pick it up. If they decide it’s a go, Ricky, the actors and other assorted creative types will be employed for at least a year. If they pass, Ricky will have to fall back on the film projects he’s been neglecting. Either way, he doesn’t have to punch in for the night shift at the local sweatshop.
At the corner of Beverly Glen and Sunset, Ricky and Johnny, the star of his show, pick me up in Johnny’s BMW. I’ve never been in a car that talks. I’ve been on public transportation where people talk to themselves, but I’ve never had an inanimate object engage me in chat. Johnny’s BMW told him where to turn, how fast he was going, how good he looked. All the while, Ricky has his cell phone pressed to his ear. He’s not listening to the talking car, he’s clinging to his agent’s hope for the show. I hear things like "being in New York for the up fronts" and "start up in mid-season". Ricky has an agent, a manager and a lawyer handling him. No wonder he’s twitchy.
As a distraction, we go see a movie at Century City. Even a non-stop-Dolby-surround-sound-40-edits-a-minute film is not enough to pry Ricky off the phone. He bites his nails and nods intensely to the voice at the other end. It must be rough being a successful Hollywood screenwriter/show runner. Your manicure bills must be murder.
Back at Ricky’s chic abode, perch high in the Hollywood Hills, we settle in to watch hockey. Ricky gets CBC on satellite and is temporarily mollified by Ron Maclean. Ricky is Canadian by birth and American by necessity, as are most Canucks down here. Ron can’t distract Ricky anymore from the ringing phone. Ricky probably wouldn’t notice California sliding into the ocean at this point. He’s on the fence, on the phone. Ricky analyzes his caller’s every nuance, searching for meaning behind every pause or modulation of tone. Will the network order 13? 6? Anything? He’s driving himself crazy.
There’s nothing I can do except help myself to Perrier and go stand on the deck. The view is dizzying – Los Angeles sprawled below, in all its beautiful and harsh complexity. What better place to have your innards twisted by anxiety than this heady locale, the scent of lemon and eucalyptus invigorating the breeze. But I don’t think I’m cut out for the L.A. life. I’m too socially conscious, too modest, too Canadian. Besides I don’t know what to do with my tax rebate, let alone millions. I'm one of these freaks who actually loves winter. That’s what industry executives up here fail to factor in – some writers and performers choose to stay in Canada because it’s home. It’s sane, balanced, and one of the world’s best kept secrets. Sure, I won’t make millions of dollars, but I’ll make tens of thousands of dollars, enough to buy a metropass in Toronto. Sounds good to me.
I've decided to live through Ricky and his Hollywood success, while enjoying medicare up here. Besides, the L.A. Kings? Nobody but nobody cares about hockey in California. Or medicare for that matter...