Stepping out from behind the Orange Curtain

Last week Dave called me up and said one of his clients had given him tickets to a movie in downtown LA. He and Becky couldn't go, so he wondered if Nathan and I wanted them. Of course I said yes, not even caring what the movie was, because it was showing in one of the old movie palaces on Broadway. I didn't really know what that meant, but I love LA history, so I jumped at the chance to visit a historical place. So Nathan and I headed over, getting there a little before 7. We got off the 101 at Spring Street, and the first thing we saw was a homeless person's tent on the sidewalk. Not too unusual, but the tent had graffiti on it. I guess the graffiti artists are really getting desperate for wall space in the city. After getting lost looking for the correct parking structure, we parked in Pershing Square and walked down 6th Street to Broadway, and into a part of town I'd never been to. It's the heart of the jewelry district, and it's a crazy mix of beautiful old buildings and ratty little shops selling gaudy jewelry and cheap clothes. And there were TONS of people walking around.

The movie was Rebel Without a Cause, which I had seen, but not since about 10th grade. It was a fitting movie, because when Nathan was in 8th grade a teacher reprimanded him for something in class, and Nathan talked back, and the teacher said, "Nathan, you're a rebel without a cause." Which is, of course, about the coolest label you can give a 13 year old boy. The teacher meant to bring Nathan down a little, but ended up totally boosting his status. Anyway, after using a serendipitous red light to cut into the enormous line, we were ushered into The Los Angeles Theater. It was built in 1931 at some outrageous cost, and then finally shut down in 1994. It's kind of fallen into disrepair, but it's still really cool, and they're working on restoring it. It looked pretty much like the picture above (minus the video games and the metal detectors on the stairs). Really gorgeous and huge, with two balconies and, in the basement, what used to be a playroom with a carousel for children, and the restrooms, which are works of art in themselves. It was interesting to see it all. I wish I'd been around back when going to the movies was a glamorous event and the area was upscale and beautiful instead of rundown and sad. We had a good time, and the movie was great, much better than I remembered. I don't think I really understood it when I was 15.

My parents came over to watch Judah that night, and before we left my mom was looking at the brochure Dave had given us about the show. It included recommendations of places to eat in the area, and my mom got all excited because it listed Clifton's Cafeteria. It's been around since the early 30s, and she said my grandpa used to take her there to eat when she was a little girl. She was glad to see it was still around, and urged us to eat there if we had time. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.

So this morning I went to my parents' house with Judah to hang out, because we had nothing to do. My mom has the summer off, and my dad, being semi-retired, has Fridays off. We were sitting around trying to come up with something to do. I suggested Ruby's in Newport, but that got nixed because it was too far. A while later my mom suggested Clifton's for lunch, and that got the green light. Suddenly, LA was closer than Newport! Amazing. So we loaded up in my car, since I was confident that I remembered how to get there. And I did. Seeing the tent with its graffiti was proof of that. We parked and walked a few blocks, and located Clifton's, which is so trashy looking from the outside. Inside, it's absolute kitsch paradise.

It's designed to look like the coastal redwoods near Santa Cruz, complete with fake trees, fake bears, and a real (though man-made) waterfall. It has walls lined with those 1950s era landscape photos that are mounted on light boxes, and a prayer chapel on the second level with a neon cross on the roof. I loved it. The food really is cafeteria stlye. You grab a sticky plastic tray and move it along a metal countertop, grabbing anything that appeals to you. It felt like going back in time, with all the vegetable choices and jello salads and macaroni and cheese and fake mashed potatoes and gravy. I think the only update they've made since 1935 is the soft drink machine and the many flavors of Horchata they offer.

After much deliberation, we chose our food (between us we had chicken, ham, an enchilada, mashed potatoes, rice, corn, peach pie, and tapioca pudding) and took it up to the second floor, where we could look out over the whole place. It's huge. The largest public cafeteria in the world, in fact. We gave ourselves a tour after we ate, then wandered back out onto the crowded streets, Judah walking next to my dad, holding his hand. Cutest thing I saw all day.

It's been a fun impromptu history week. I've loved the trips down memory lane, even if the memories mostly belong to other people.

No comments: