sometimes you get the Hotel Bel Air

I was curious about the Obama Advisor Dude Who Could Dance*, so I took him for hot chocolate to the patio restaurant at the Hotel Bel Air, which serves as my neighborhood joint. I would prefer an actual diner, but you take what you can get, and sometimes what you get is a fancy hotel.

When the ex and I were visiting LA to look for houses — which took frequent trips over the better part of two years — we would stay at the Bel Air, which is very pink-pastel flower-garden Old Hollywood swans-in-the-stream romantic, whenever we got tired of the Mondrian, which is a sleek, modern, hipster/Eurotrash hotel on the Sunset Strip. It is also home to the Skybar, former impossible-to-get-into velvet-rope club which found a long and healthy afterlife after the A-listers moved on in the way they do. But now instead of Paris Hilton and Brandon Davis and whomever**, you’ll find reasonably attractive lawyers and real estate developers and entertainment people looking to meet and mingle.

Inside the Mondrian itself, after midnight, you’ll find other types from farflung countries, clustering in the lobby and valet area, discreetly, or maybe not so discreetly, asking around as to where one might find LA’s poison of choice.***

At the Hotel Bel Air, you will not find these people.

You wander instead into the country of decked-out, over-50 elite, chatting and drinking and lounging around a lush, wood-panelled room where the piano player takes requests (I always ask for ‘My Funny Valentine’, influenced by The Fabulous Baker Boys, which I saw about a zillion times in high school and college. Love that movie. Love Jeff Bridges), and where I once saw Michael Keaton chatting up a blonde at the bar. I enjoy that place and take many hapless friends there, warning them beforehand that we’ll be the youngest people present by two or three decades.

The Obama Dude — I’ll call him Greg — was not only the youngest person on the patio (he’s my age), he was the only person there who was not white. He looked at the wooden lattices draped with flowers, the uniformed waiters gliding around linen-draped tables, the pale stucco bungalows visible beyond the walkways. “I grew up around this,” he remarked, and I could tell from his tone and gesture that he wasn’t referring to the hotel but to the idea of wealth in general, “even though my own family didn’t have any of it.” His mother — “My mom is the bomb” — moved out from the midwest with her young son, determined to put him in the best school districts. He, decidedly not a rich kid, went to school with the really really rich kids. “Funny thing was, they wanted to be more like me and come hang out with my mom.”

This comment reminded me of a scene in the documentary Born Rich where one of its wealthy young subjects talked about how, growing up, he wanted to be middle-class, “because all the television shows were about middle-class families and it seemed like that kind of life was so happy and fun.” ****

Now Greg is off to D.C. to work in the White House, which has surpassed the expectations his own mother had for him. During our conversation his phone buzzed, and he apologized for taking time out to compose a lengthy text. “Work,” he said.

“I don’t mind,” I said. “I’m used to it.”

I spent the time eavesdropping on the booth next to me, where a man with a deep voice and posh London accent was talking about a production of Jesus Christ Superstar. Suddenly he lifted his voice and broke into song — sounding just as professional as any recording — to prove whatever point he was making. “Are you eavesdropping?” Greg asked, glancing up from his Blackberry and noticing my amusement.

“I’m a writer. We do that. Not necessarily for what people are saying, more…” I waved my hands the way I do when I’m too tired or distracted or lazy to think up actual words. “…more about, you know, how they’re saying it. The inflections and rhythms of different people speaking…Accents always catch my attention.” From his total lack of interest I could tell that — unlike a lot of other people I talk to — he has never wanted to write fiction.

* see previous entry a couple of posts down, about the Causecast holiday party

** I fell out of the club scene a couple of months ago, which means I have absolutely no idea where such people go now. But then of course I also don’t care.

*** I’ll give you a hint: it starts with the letter C.

**** As someone who grew up lowerish-middle class, in a small Canadian town where everybody seemed to live like I did, I understood in a vague kind of way that the truly rich do exist. I read about them in books and magazines and saw them portrayed in movies and TV. I just thought they lived on some faraway mythical planet. Which is not such an inaccurate description of west LA.

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