Best Portal to the Midwest 

Wednesday, Oct 4 2006

Best Portal to the Midwest

L.A.’s best intersection has become a crossroads for one of the city’s great and most transient tribes. These brave, often pale-skinned specimens walk through Hollywood Boulevard and North Las Palmas Avenue in familial packs of three to five. While they move slowly, their heads swivel from side to side, wary of their unfamiliar surroundings.

They are tourists. Midwesterners. My people.

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Of course, the folks who pass in front of my car as I wait at the stoplight aren’t all Midwesterners, but I like to think they are. Every week, I get to observe what seems to be a real-life cast of characters straight out of a John D. Voelker story. I tore away from the Great Lakes region a year ago, ostensibly to put myself in unfamiliar crowds. Now, I find enjoyment in watching my clan in Tinseltown for a short visit, subjecting themselves to the oddities of CityWalk and TV tapings.

The kids usually lead the pack, trying to keep a few paces ahead of their oh-so-lame parents. The young’uns, middle or high schoolers, try to not look impressed — which isn’t too hard on what must be a disappointing Walk of Fame. A few restaurants, chintzy stores and tattoo parlors? You can see that on Cedar Street in Lansing. Sure, there are no stars on the ground back home, but do these kids care about seeing “Mary Astor” stamped on the pavement?

Behind them is Mom, who insists she’s having a good time, but doesn’t like how that smirking gutter punk is eyeing her daughter. Bringing up the rear is the Old Man, who’s forgotten about the kids and is busy looking at every shop sign, every star, down every street. He invariably carries a camera or camcorder.

And then there’s me, waiting for the light to turn green and feeling nostalgia for the Rust Belt. If you get me going, I’ll tell you why Detroit is going to hell, why Cleveland needs to chill out, why Chicago is nothing more than a Big Ten meat market. But when I see these people, my people, all that bluster fades. Who has time for ranting when a bit of the old place is walking through the new?

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