Friday, August 28, 2009

109 Days In - Playing Dress Up

My most commented on blog entry, to date, has got to be that about doing background work on film and TV. Following the written comments of “is it really such-and-such a film? How cool”, and spoken questions of “so when are you next going to be on TV?” I began plotting a follow-up blog mercilessly berating the whole process and letting you all know how tiresome the job is.

And this is true - the pay is minimum wage, putting me below a temp; the hours are unpredictable, so you have to discount any plans for the evening; often you wait hours and hours to be fed, or don’t get fed at all; you sit around for an age (tired due to the extremely early start) and then have to walk from point A to point B 50 times in heels.

My personal nightmare anecdotes are: scene filmed in the desert, that was set in autumn on the west-coast (so I was wearing jeans and a jumper in temperatures of about 40C); the background waiting area in a car-park next to a four-lane road in the middle of down-town L.A.; the background waiting area that was being noisily set-up as the next set - drills and electric saws abound; the obnoxious loud person who is not happy unless everyone is inadvertently overhearing her conversations (and she showed up on a second show I was on); the eight-hour wait for a 5 minute scene, with no food; having my trousers stapled because the wardrobe person thought they were their’s (I didn’t say anything as they were already annoyed in my direction); the all night shoot; sleeping (not very well) with rollers in my hair, getting up at 3am for the call, only to have the curls brushed out.

The nature of “The Industry” (as they call it in LA) is that hours are unpredictable, which I get, of course. But I can’t help thinking that all this would be more than bearable if you didn’t get such a measly cheque at the end of it.

But I am going to put my complaining to one side for a moment, because this week I got to do two period shows, and what does a girl like to do more than get dressed up and prance about?

First you have to go to a fitting. Mine was at an enormous warehouse of costume-hire. I was walked past bustles and bonnets, muddied war-uniforms and top-hats. I love theatre, and this place had me grinning from ear to ear within two seconds of being in there.

My first fitting was for a 1960’s secretary. The lovely wardrobe ladies try me in several outfits, gave me fabulous but uncomfortable shoes, and a gorgeous thick winter coat. I envisaged a hot day’s work, but it matters less when you know you will look just marvellous darling.

The second was for 1940’s; a less glamorous look, but just as much fun - oh and we got given nylons with the line up the back.

On the work days I look eagerly for my costumes and then head to hair and make-up. Second bonus of period pieces: you get the full works. I was worried at one point that my eyebrows might be completely plucked out, but the atmosphere was buzzing with creativity, and I just thrive on that. Over the two days I got two up dos, lots of bright red lippy, and even vibrant coral-pink nails.

The days were hot, the mornings early, and I don’t even think I was caught on camera for either of them - but hey, I had fun.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

104 Days In - Tourists At Last

I find it difficult to write when I am not content. Many find misery their muse, but I tend to huddle up in a corner and hope the world isn’t watching.

But while this past week has found me yearning for those I know and love to be closer, it has also afforded some actual busy living, some actual experiencing of Los Angeles.

When you do not have a “steady job” it is hard to give yourself real time out; there is always something you should be doing to further the pursuit of money. Thus, most weekends are spent just-finishing-this or just-doing-that, and when relatives phone wanting all the exciting updates of what this wondrous land is like, I am devoid of answers.

Finding ourselves in LA (me with an appointment in the a.m., Chris with one in the p.m.), we decided to officially play tourists for a day.

An impromptu idea from my husband took us up onto the famous Mulholland Drive. Built high above the city, it is an historic drive scattered with far-reaching views of hill and lakes to one side, and wide, straight boulevards to the other. Mulholland is the twistiest road in LA, and all the better for it.

We were actually on our way to the Getty Villa (formerly the Getty Museum, now fancying itself a little more special). In a city where many of the inhabitants I have met complain of too little culture, the Getty is a beacon of the arts. So taken with the outside of the building, we spend very little time looking at the exhibitions.

The curvaceous structure sits upon a high promontory (like Camalot, Chris perceptively notes) and you travel up to it on a specially provided floating-tram! Once I manage to get over the cheek of “free entry, but $15 to park”, the cool breeze and elevation above LA’s smog is invigorating and claming all at once. Unquestionably the highlight, the garden was designed by an artist, and it just works beautifully. I cannot really say more than that, but Chris luckily spent a good amount of time taking photos…

The building itself was what captured Chris, and he excitedly pointed out view after view of juxtaposing angles, and tried to do them justice with his camera. I am not known for gushing over modern buildings (being a lover of most things “period”), but the place is enchanting, and despite bustling with visitors, made you feel as though you were experiencing it quite alone.

I have some concerns that The Getty is the best part of LA, and that now that I have seen it I may as well go home, but it has also given me hope, in a city that for the most part is, architecturally, pretty ugly.

Friday, August 14, 2009

95 Days In - Driving the CA Highways

I passed my driving test yesterday; with Greencard, Social Security Card and California Driving Licence, I am now a fully fledged Legal Alien. I think I’ll celebrate.

About ten days after we first arrived, Chris and I both took the theory driving test. This I was not worried about, it was multiple choice (when is it ok not to wear a seatbelt: when you are just taking a short trip; when you are in a limousine; never), and I had three goes to pass before I had to pay again. Chris barrelled on and took the practical test the next day, in his dad’s car. I did not trust myself in his dad’s car, and was not yet comfortable on the roads full of gigantic trucks. So I waited until I was confident.

There are a few tricky things to get used to: driving on the right, looking over your right shoulder when you reverse (I still have difficulty with this one), getting into the left side of the car, not needing to change gear (we have an automatic - oh the laziness). The latter of these may sound like it makes driving easy, but I have scrabbled at the driver’s door more than a few times when wanting to speed up, and Chris’ boy racer genes are so embedded that he literally got itchy hands to start with; I would catch him glancing at the gear stick, an evil twinkle in his eye. If you read his “Allsop Blog” you will already know that it was this weakness that led to him, whilst trying to find 2nd gear, throwing our automatic camper into reverse on a hill in New Zealand. Luckily there are fewer people in New Zealand than in Milton Keynes, and therefore no traffic - but replace that deserted hill with a Los Angeles freeway and it becomes a whole new scenario.

There are no roundabouts in CA (well one or two in mall car-parks of all places) so the “four way stop” is the trickiest thing to grasp; basically whoever gets there first gets to go - kind of like a roundabout, but you are driving straight through each others’ paths, so who knows what might happen. Oh and you are allowed to turn right on a red light. This does kind of make sense, but LA drivers are so blinkered that accidents are bound to happen.

The test consisted of about 10 minutes driving round the back roads, and then reversing straight down a deserted street. Reversing round a corner, or out of a parking space, I can do; parallel parking I am pretty damn good at and three point turns are a doddle. But when do you ever need to reverse straight? Like potting the easy shot in a game of pool, it is trickier than it looks.

Suffice it to say that the driving test does not prepare you for the American freeway. In rush hour - which is pretty much all-the-time - the feed onto the freeway is controlled by lights: two lanes, one car per-lane per-green. The slip-road itself is not very long, and the freeways here are all like the M25, either a mass of cars moving at 70miles an hour, or not moving at all. So when the light turns green you must overtake the other car (going behind them is not an option, apparently), get up to speed with the roaring traffic, and then find someone who is aware of their surrounding enough to let you in.

This is, of course, Chris’ favourite part of driving in the US. He described it as “like rally driving”. He has never been rally driving.

Once you make it safely onto the freeway, the rules are “don’t slow the flow of traffic in your lane”. You can get a speeding ticket for that. And they are not cheap.

So you can overtake on either side (there is supposed to be some kind of rule to overtaking, but the roads are so full that…). There are five or six lanes most of the time, and, just to make things that little bit more dangerous, American-design cars do not have orange indicator lights. No. They use their break lights.
On a six-lane-wide road, brimming with vehicles that are slowing and speeding constantly, it is easy to mistake breaking for indicating, and after ten-minutes or so of thinking people left and right of you are out to crush your car, you become something of a nervous wreck.

Add to this the lack of lay-bys plus the concrete wall that hems the road in, and well…Come On People.

Something that the LA freeways do have is very wide lanes, and because of the overtake-anywhere-you-want rule, lane hogging is almost obligatory. We bought a car with cruise control (clever us), so it oh-so-easy to become a blinkered LA driver.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

90 Days In - Shopping In A Strange Land

The shampoo and conditioner that I brought from England ran out, so off I toddled to the local pharmacy. Chris’ Mom having provided us with all the general scrubs and washes so far, this was my first official visit to the store, and I thought I would just pick up a few things. If only it were that easy.

Once I have negotiated my way round the displays of garden furniture and hats, through the isles of sweets and to the back where hair-care is kept, I am confronted with row upon row of shampoo that I have never heard of. I am not super fussy when it comes to my hair, but I do like to know that it will be clean, soft and not covered in silicone. It is amazing what you take for granted, just living in the same place and slowly getting to know “things”.

After about an hour of squeezing bottles, sniffing liquids and reading tiny tiny print, I make my way to the toothbrush isle; “this should be simpler“, I think, naively.

The difference in products available, and American and British taste, made life most awkward when Chris and I decided to buy a car. I say (quite sensibly, I thought) “let’s buy a Ford”. They are made here, so should not be too expensive, and are reliable. So we look for a Focus five-door hatchback. They don’t sell them here. Here the Focus is a saloon car. Oh and “saloon” here is “sedan”, so that caused some confusion at the car-lot.

So we re-think. Suggestion are thrown at us: have you thought other makes - Chevrolet, Infinity, Scion. I am confused and just end up looking longingly at VWs, but they are stupidly expensive here.

As it turns out, the fact that the little zippy Ford Focus is not sold here as in its UK form is probably a life-saver. You have only to go on roads a couple of times before purchasing the biggest 4WD possible becomes the most desirable choice. It is not inconceivable that the vast majority of vehicles on the road could drive over a Smart-Car and not even notice. (I actually saw one plucky kid driving one here, once).

And what the deal with Hummers is, I do not know. One planted itself behind me yesterday, and I felt like I was being followed by Batman’s muscley and not-too-intellignet nemesis.

Liking hatchbacks for our general “throw stuff in the boot” attitude, and wanting something that may be able to put up a bit of a fight in a crash, we went for a Pontiac Vibe. Yeah, I know…

Just under “a car that won’t get crushed” on our list of requirements, came “air conditioning”. And it is a damn good thing too. But this was not evidently ever in question. The request was usually swept aside as if irrelevant and the salesman would proudly point out the “heated rear window”. Ok, but, as standard right? Wrong. Heated rear windows are a fairly new and exciting phenomenon in the American car market.

As amusing as it is to giggle at their quirks, life would sometimes just be much simpler if things ran here as they do in England: why can’t I buy Chorizo in it’s cured form (rather than raw and needing frying) in a country full of Spanish descendants; what does it matter whether I pay in “credit” or “debit” off my debit-card, when both ways take the money straight out of my bank account; and, please, is it really that difficult to make a chewing-gum packet that fits in my pocket?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

86 Days In - Little Lifeguards

As part of the “using my recession-given time to better myself” plan, I am aiming to be an Orange County fitness goddess. I doubt that I will achieve my aim, but the summer holidays are here, and there are golden, teenage bodies by the beach-bucket load to inspire competition.

Those of you who have never been unemployed should not underestimate how the simple exercise of getting yourself up in the morning and working through the day can keep your fitness levels up.

Digressions aside - the weather is now such that I can no longer jog in the morning (unless I get up at 5am, which I am not willing to do - not even for the perfect bottom). So I jog in the evening. This does not carry the same “it’s only 9am and I have already achieved something” satisfaction that morning exercise does, and there are often partying families still on the beach to watch me.
Nonetheless, I am secretly pleased at this turn of events, because anything is better than competing with the Little Lifeguards.

Pre heat-wave and school-holidays the morning run was a calm, cool and breezy experience. At this time of the day you meet old couples walking hand in hand by the waves; you get to see the set-up of the beach club, with beach-tractors pulling trailers of chairs, and the employees raking up seaweed. The cool air comes in off the sea and the seagulls chatter amongst themselves.

Hopefully I have built enough of a picture for you to be able to imagine my surprise, and then fear, when I spot a group of pre-teen totties dressed in matching red costumes (actually true) heading to the part of the beach that I run along. At this point I am still up on the cliff, and could abort, but I am stubborn, and have come this far. From my vantage point I can just make out the shrill cries of “come-on team” emitting from keen teenagers trying to earn a few extra bucks by leading a Summer School.

Yes. Summer School. The tikes choose to join this boot camp.

Some busy and important mother said to her little darlings: “which camp would you like to go on this vacation Junior and Taylor?” And they have screamed at glee at the idea of spending the mornings of their precious school holiday on a beach doing sit-ups.

As I continue down to the beach, fear turns to horror as the eager little bunch pause from their (somewhat further than mine) run. They are now waiting in my path, ready to snigger hatefully into their neighbour’s ear and point at the bright pink lady hobbling past.

By the time I am on my way back, they have done sit-ups, press-ups, star-jumps and run like lemmings into the sea. Then they skip off happily back to where they came from. I follow in their wake, relieved to have not been exposed for the fitness-fake that I am, and secretly hoping that they were as impressed by me as I was by them.

I doubt they were.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

83 Days In - Beauty By-The-Sea

An old family-friend offered Chris and me the use of her house while she was off in San Francisco. Her thinking was that when we do move into our own place, we want to know where we are going - not to be held up by making decisions at the last minute - allowing us to bolt.

This little trip also had the added bonus of giving us some much-needed alone time for a couple of days.

Her sweet little one-level house is down an airy, green, wide suburban street, just off the main hub of Belmont Shore. Belmont Shore is part of Long Beach, an area much closer to LA city’s work and parties.

But this is a trade off; the closer you get to Los Angeles (driving north from Orange County) the less beautiful the surroundings become.

Here in South OC, the small beaches of orangey-golden sand are turned over by crashing waves and held in by dramatic cliffs. Inland, the mountains and valleys hold a multitude of walks and views. By the time you get to Belmont, the land and sea are both flat. The beach, not cleaned by the tide, is deep and wide, covered in small pieces of debris that attack your bare feet. I try to paddle in the sea but the water seems intent on poisoning me. Out to sea the view is of oil rigs, cheaply “disguised” with fake palm trees; over to the right the cranes of the Long Beach dock loom in the haze.

Our first experience of Belmont Shore is a walk down the beach, and a decision is promptly made never to move there. But wandering back up the main drag, we pass cute coffee houses, Italian delis, boutique clothes shops, lively bars, family run restaurants…And we begin to get attached.

The area next to Belmont Shore is called Naples Island. For the most part this is made up of through-the-roof housing with attached docking for plush boat. But there are a couple of stretches of inland-bay beach, where families build sand-castles and splash about in the water. There may be no waves, but kayaks and peddle-os look just as fun, and the view is pretty and water clean.

So we decide that Belmont Shore can go on our “where we might live if we ever make enough money list”.

Lucky Belmont Shore.