Bunker Hill: A glimpse to the south, the filigree and narrow clapboards of century-old houses, eternal weeds . . . and the first smell of the day, clouds of charred meat from Barbeque King. Figueroa: Pre-smog-induced sinusitis, and even the cooking smells from not-so-great eating places don’t seem to stink yet. Passing buses smell like field trips, or adventure. Where old buildings have come down, empty lots recapitulate with vintage hollyhocks, roses, wild tobacco, fennel, weeds, trash. Douglas: Down into Echo Park, Barragan’s is whipping up breakfast. And a swirl of smells! Celaya’s baking bread. Ho Ho Fish and Deli begins a new day of putrid fish reek. Nayarit’s chips frying up for the lunch rush. The florist and Taix restaurant anchor the bridge over Glendale Boulevard, but the air is balmy with exhaust, pee, Burger King and donuts. Alvarado: The familiar fumes of Burrito King. Beans give way to patches of mint and cascades of morning glories, a psychedelic sheen of blue-violet as one passes Epitaph Records and Cafe Tropical.
Silver Lake: The frankincense of scorched coffee and decades of ground-into-the-street garbage. Crossing the street, one is greeted by a mingled bouquet of Mexican food (Corina’s) and laundromat effluvia. Bus musk increases, a noticeable nosegay that lingers near walls painted with the Virgen de Guadalupe. Micheltorena: Crack apartments and wet sidewalks in front of the cleaners, and a chemical toilet whiff pirouettes in your wake. An odoriferous produce place. At Millie’s, a mound of potatoes is grilling, but where’s the coffee and the bacon? Sensing the incompleteness, helpful poet Iris Berry extends her arm to sniff. Soap? “Irish Spring.” Maltman: More donuts, in a window, with faded icing. So much grease, and thoughts of low-paying office jobs. Sunset Supermarket, with the oft-repeated chord of soap, produce, crappy baked goods and putrid meat. This incense of defeat follows one, appropriately, past Glaxa and the Crest. Lucile: Rows of boutiques, with their spicy tinkling. At the pet store, the optimistic whiff of small animals and cedar shavings. A distant brushfire eclipses the geranium bush. More tacos. More donuts. Seems like all the Mexican eateries open early, and the fresh pots of beans smell good. Sharp sounds seem to meld with sharp smells, like the jacket of
a rifle shell. Brakes, parrots, orange peels, Lysol. A gust of tacos, magic ã supplies, exotic cigarettes, Barbasol. Sanborn: Still no hint of coffee. Lots of anonymous trash blowing up from Santa Monica Boulevard. Fountain: KCET and — surprise — more donuts, more hamburgers, and fertilizer. Will the essence of donut never disperse? (Are we doomed to navigate by fast food places, chain stores and big ugly junk?) Hillhurst: 10 streets, 10 stenches. Yet a few flute notes of laurel leak down from Griffith Park, gilding despair with fairy dust.
The intersection at Western (deemed most likely to host an accident) spews an impressive nebula of greasy funk — McDonald’s, Carl’s Jr., two supermarkets and lots of poor-running cars. The Metropolitan (Darth Vader) Hotel shares the breeze with Denny’s — efficient, eggy and piquant with freeway exhaust. But just north of here, numerous earthquake-ravaged empty lots grow shoulder-high with weeds — trees, really — antique roses, hollyhocks, jimson and eugenia, a pleasant chaparral spice that lilts over to Sunset, returning it briefly to its original Old Hollywood smell. Gordon: The Old Spaghetti Factory, smelling inexplicably like Doublemint. Vine: The Home Savings fountain makes a spray of eau de Drano ’n’ Liver. Cherokee: Crossroads of the World and the Weekly offices. Desolate workers festoon the patio with garlands of cigarette smoke. We’re right in Motel Alley — hundreds of ’em. Daily melodramas of drugs, sex and suicides are visible from the streets, as well as on the local news. The imagined smell of Pine Sol and side arms. Highland: Hollywood High, redolent with Carl’s Jr., McDonald’s and Beef Bowl nearby. Orange: In & Out, IHOP. No other smells are possible at this time. Please inhale later. La Brea: Same shit. Burger King, Pollo Something, Wendy’s, rivers of french-fry grease. More motels. Poinsettia: At Guitar Center and Sunset Grill, lemonade, pee ’n’ music biz. Stanley: A storm drain continually filling with water from a nearby fountain, creating a permanent rotting-jungle smell, though on a good morning it just reminds me of Pirates of the Caribbean. At Crescent Heights, the friendly smell of Wolfgang Puck’s barbecued-chicken pizza perfumes the resurrected Marlboro Man. So many famous places. The Argyle, the Riot House, the Comedy Store (Ciro’s), Pink Dot.
La Cienega: All I can smell are clutches going out from cars clinging to the hillside waiting for the light. Further down, Sunset Plaza: Oddly, no food smells here, just designer cologne and hair goo. From Turner’s Liquor, essence of bubble gum; from Duke’s, burnt toast, of course. Doheny: Hamburger Hamlet and the long stretch of Bev Hills. Miles of oleander bushes — would the owners have planted so many if they’d known that ingestion of a single petal causes instant cardiac arrest? Alpine: Dirty Disneyland, long-deserted, and a refreshing aroma of sun-baked weeds. Rexford: Mass watering of park lawns. Beverly Drive: The famous pink hotel, surrounded by beds and hedges and rows of nauseating flowers. By the time one reaches Whittier, the Boulevard is changing character, into a curvier, hillier, narrower race course — experienced via car, a stomach-churning thrill ride; by foot, a dangerous smog-and-laurel-bathed thrill ride. Close to UCLA even the sidewalks disappear, and ranks of oleander tower above dirt paths, punctuated by light blue plumbago. Pretty, but acrid. Veteran: Sidewalks reappear, along with lawns, fences, flowers that smell good. Bel-Air freshened.
At Sepulveda, at the 405, a halt. We know Sunset continues to its end, and we know what that smells like. The rest is, you know, ocean, bushes, blood trails — but no donuts. Between downtown and the Pacific Ocean; V, MC, D; reservations recommended.