It's midnight in the rain-pelted garden of good and evil, otherwise known as Hollywood. I'm at the 86 Lift bar entertaining a gorgeous gaggle of Southern bridesmaids throwing back for their girl, who is getting hitched in a couple of days. "We're all from Atlanta," chirps the blondest one. "Except Jenny. She's from South Carolina! You know. Where Obama kicked Hillary's ass tonight!"
I take a quick straw poll of the ladies knocking back cocktails like a Kennedy on this primary Saturday night and discover no consensus. One loves Obama, one digs Hillary, one wants McCain ’cause her “daddy was in Viet Nam” and two don't care to discuss it because they're being hit on by local guys with fast cars and faster tongues. “Take a picture with us!” screams the bride-to-be. “Los Angeles is so great. Do you just love living here? It's like a dreamland.”
Andre, the manager, sidles over to make sure everything's good. I've known the exceedingly gracious fellow since his days at the House of Blues Foundation Room. “Get Lonn and his friends anything they want,” he barks to the bartender.
“No, it's cool, Andre,” I say. “We're heading out. Kinda tired.” After-hours doesn't resonate like it did when I was a younger man.
Walking to our car parked around the corner, umbrellas at full extension, I pause midstride.
“You hungry?" I ask my friend Andrew.
“In fact, I am," he responds.
It's after 1 a.m. This isn't Manhattan or Chicago. The choices aren't as plentiful, though perhaps more obvious as a result.
“Let's go to Pinks," I offer.
“Yes!" shouts Andrew. "We'll have a dog and celebrate an amazing day in American politics."
Fifteen minutes later, with windshield wipers at top speed, we miraculously find a parking spot on La Brea, 20 steps from the entrance to L.A.'s venerable 24-hour, tube-steak institute. The clock on Andrew's dashboard reads 1:58 am. The weather is horrific. And yet there are at least 50 people standing on the sidewalk, waiting in line to order. Few have umbrellas or even proper rain wear on. I see two girls in halter-top dresses, no coats. Soaked and sexy.
The crowd is eclectic — white, black, Latino, Asian, teens at the end of a date, bag ladies, two long-haired 20-somethings in Avenged Sevenfold tees and a seriously intoxicated mother with her daughter and son-in-law. The staff takes the orders and prepares the food, confident and carefree as if they've been doing this since the Reagan years. I bet some of them have. Strangers in line are becoming fast friends, kibitzing with one another about food, music and that crazy presidential campaign.
“Should I get the pastrami dog?” slurs mom.
“Go for it!” someone answers.
Andrew and I take our seats inside and unravel our six inches of scrumptious salvation. William Shatner is staring down at me from the wall, one of hundreds of entertainment icons who have passed through the eatery since it opened seven decades ago.
I direct my index finger to Captain Kirk, knowing Andrew is a Trekkie like me, albeit second generation.
“Have you heard the CD of Shatner reading the Book of Genesis?” he asks.
I was born and raised here and have often damned my hometown for its image-happy arrogance, frozen-yogurt spirit and despairing lack of community. But tonight, as heaven wept, an African-American politician won and dogs were grilled, I felt proud to be both an American and an Angeleno.