27.08.2003 - 28.08.2003
“Another Mai Tai?” the bartender asks me. I am sitting at the bar in Trader Vics, Beverly Hills, California. The bar is in the front room of the restaurant attached to the Beverly Hills Hilton. The room is very dark with a long wooden bar. The bar is decorated with thatching, colored lights and pictures of the South Pacific, attempting to instill a feeling of being in Polynesia. Or at least, what people at the start of the space age thought Polynesia should look like. It is a sort of Gilligan’s Island version of Pacific austral islands, the type of place where women wear grass skirts and coconut bikinis, and where a witch doctor would appear wearing a giant 5 foot long masks.
I order another Mai Tai. The Mai Tai, invented at Trader Vics and described (on the Trader Vics website [www.tradervics.com]) as “the bracingly refreshing rum cocktail created at his Oakland restaurant in 1944 and introduced to the Hawaiian islands in the 1950s.” The drink comes in a tall glass with lots of ice and a stir stick topped with (what else) a Polynesian totem, rendered beautifully in brown plastic.
I wander outside, and am momentarily blinded by the sunlight. The bar was so dark, and without windows or clocks it was hard to determine if it was day or night. Getting outside, I am reminded that it is late in the day, around 7 o’clock, and the sun is low in the western sky. The air is warm and dry, a beautiful night for walk. I wander down Rodeo drive, looking into the windows of shops with impossibly expensive merchandise in the window.
A convertible Mercedes Benz pulls up beside me. A man gets out of the drivers seat, tall and blond, wearing a pastel pink polo shirt, a pair of open-weave slip-on shoes and a yellow sweater tied around his neck. He opens the door for his passenger, a tall blond woman who has had so much plastic surgery that the original skin from her face is probably somewhere around the crown of her head. I stare at the man, wondering why someone in 2003 would have chosen to wear pink pastel and jauntily tie a sweater around his neck. He would have looked in place on Miami Vice in 1985, and not here in the present.
Everything in Beverly Hills seems out of the past. Most of the people living here are old and rich, and maybe that’s the way they like it. Living back in the past, full of bars straight out of 1950 or clothes in the style of the 80s. I walk past a cigar bar where people enjoy cigars and bourbons, which is also a thing from the past in California. The law says that smoking is illegal in restaurants and bars, but somehow this cigar bar exists, either ignoring the law (pretending it is still the past) or with some sort of exception (actually turning back the clock).
I return to my hotel, the Beverly Hills Hilton. Merv Griffin, who is most famous for his talk show from past decades, owns the Hilton. He has decorated the hotel with pictures of him and famous celebrities, mostly shots from his show. Many of the celebrities pictured are now dead, or (even worse in Hollywood) old and irrelevant. Instead of the glamour and excitement that the pictures are meant to convey, they just give the hotel a sad and fading air. Living in the past, just like the rest of Beverly Hills.
One night we drive out to Santa Monica and head out to the end of the pier. We watch the sun go down, slipping off into the ocean, and then have dinner under the stars in the warm night air. Santa Monica is full of life, the pier filled with locals and tourists, both the rich and the poor. Cars cruise up and down the beach strip, and people wander around on foot. Forcing a cliché upon the difference between Beverly Hills and Santa Monica, one would be tempted to say, “they feel like they are a million miles apart.” But it is not distance that exists betweens Beverly Hills and Santa Monica. Instead, I would say that they feel like they are decades apart.