After this week's slightly jolting event I realized that I would probably be one of those schmucks who dies first in a disaster movie.
Shortly before lunchtime on Tuesday, while trying to manage my inbox which had been flooded with Hot in Hollywood emails and blog requests, my chair started to move on its rollers, and then it was my desk. Last time I checked, I hadn't had a shot of tequila since breakfast, so either I was still drunk or...ah yes, I live in California.
My coworker, a SoCal native, immediately dropped her phone and ducked under her desk. Our bosses ran to the doorways of their respective offices as if they were being choreographed in some unsettling musical number.
Our cement floors were frickin' moving. Major whoa.
And me? I stayed in my seat watching it all unfold, a huge bullseye painted on my skull for any falling slab of concrete or splintery wooden beam. For a few seconds I was unintentionally playing with fate. My mom would have been proud.
The epicenter was in Chino Hills, and for those of you not familiar with the topography of Southern California, that's where Ryan from The OC was from, Land of the Sizzler, the Wifebeater and the Ghettorific Low Rider.
Minutes later, local TV stations were breaking in with news of the quake ("A 5.8er, considered 'moderate'"). CNN showed the same water pipe break at an intersection somewhere I never dare to drive through. A CalTech geologist, who could have been the butcher, younger sister of John McCain, was the star of a press conference ("Let me take a look at my chart and explain to you what happens when the earth quakes"). Yes, do give us yet another sixth grade-level Earth Science lesson, lady, because it's not like we don't get this every time a quake hits.
Then the IMs poured in: Did you feel that?...Holy Shit...OMG...Our building is swaying...That was f**king crazy!
My first significant quake resonated with me (my first two had taken place a few years back during the wee hours of the morning), and my fetish for disaster movies suddenly became a little too real (1979's Meteor, starring Sean Connery and a Russian-speaking Natalie Wood, is still the shiz). However, like most Angelenos, Tuesday's little tremor was quickly forgotten amidst the phone calls, emails and deadlines that bombarded me throughout the rest of my day. Still, it was a fleeting reminder of how vulnerable we can be in a situation as uncontrollable as this one.
And for the record, the next time the ground shakes like that, I will run for cover - but it won't be under no Ikea piece of plywood.
Frak me, it's another Comic-Con.
Last year, as some of you may remember, I attended Comic-Con in San Diego with no idea what to expect.
This year: I was prepped and ready to take it all in. Armed with my own personalized press pass (that's right, The First Echo was on assignment for HOT IN HOLLYWOOD...booyah!), I was set to face the chaos. Bring on the Battlestars, Boba Fetts and Boy Wonders.
If you'd like to check out my 2nd annual experience, please, TAKE THE TRIP.
You'll need more than SPF and So You Think You Can Dance to help you make summer last. Download these babies, and you'll be guaranteed to have a ball that'll keep you screaming like Mary Murphy 'til Labor Day:
1. "Stamp Your Feet" by Donna Summer
2. "What You Got" by Colby O'Donis
3. "Magic" by Robin Thicke - Love the brassy horns. Love the groove. The attempt at choreography however...
4. "Sweet About Me" by Gabriella Cilmi
5. "Too Many Questions" by Sam Sparro
6. "Green Light" John Legend feat. Andre 3000 - The male Alicia Keys kicks it up a notch with this up-tempo ditty co-starring Outkast's crazy cat.
7. "The World Should Revolve Around Me" by Little Jackie
8. "I'll Be Lovin' U Long Time" by Mariah Carey
9. "Ten Thousand Nights" by Alphabeat
10. "You Know What" by N.E.R.D.
11. "Cobrastyle" by Robyn
12. "Best Best" by Missy Elliot
13. "Violet Hill" by Coldplay
14. "Giggling Again For No Reason" by Alanis Morissette - She's finally swallowed that jagged little pill and gone slightly techno with this easy, breezy track about the joys of escaping...from anything.
15. "Give It 2 Me" by Madonna
16. "Beating My Heart" by Jon McLaughlin
17. "Hold My Hand" Akon feat. Michael Jackson
18. "What Planet You On?" by Bodyrox and Luciana
19. "Butterfly" by Jason Mraz
20. "Never Gonna Give You Up" by Ashley Tisdale - I hesitate to put this piece of pop treacle on here (it's one friggin' guilty pleasure), but who cares? At least it'll hold you off 'til HSM3 drops in October.
*Note: Unfortunately, Oprah does not make a cameo in this blog.
All of my life I have only known the East Coast and the West Coast. Never have I had the opportunity to experience the Middle.
Growing up in New York, and growing up again in Los Angeles, I've only known the Middle to be the Land of the Cornfield and Culture-Deprived. And Chicago? All I knew about the Windy City I learned from John Hughes. And Adventures in Babysitting. And Perfect Strangers.
Crash a parade and dance on a float while lip syncing to "Twist and Shout"? Check. Pose as Abe Frohman to get a table at a swanky establishment? Check. Break into a skyscraper to find Thor?
"Thor's my hero."
My long Chicago weekend started with two hours of sleep, something I obviously wouldn't recommend. My layover in Minneapolis was a blur of magazine racks, souvenir stands, coffee ads and flight-status monitors. Flying in, I caught fields of green, houses with angled roofs, three-laned highways and a quaint-sized metropolis in the distance. The West Coast had officially gone bye-bye.
Two hours later I landed at O'Hare. From there it was a shuttle to the Blue Line and a train ride to Logan Square (first impression: slightly Bronxy), where I grabbed another bus which took me to the intersection of Diversey and Clark.
I was staying with an old college friend in Lincoln Park, an adorable subsection of the city known for its gentrified streets, gorgeous brownstones and hot young denizens. Jen lived off the busy Clark Street (how cute, you only have one lane), right behind the hoppin' Mickey's Bar and Patio, where they apparently "have the best spinach artichoke dip you'll ever have."
There was no time for naps. I dropped off my luggage at the apartment, and Jen gave me a rundown of the hood as we walked to Dominick's, a local grocer, to get me a 3-day pass for the L trains and CTA buses ($12 if you're wondering - totally worth it). From there, we hopped on the Brown Line to my first meal in Chicago - the Flat Top Grill, popular chain where diners are allowed to fix their own bowls of raw veggies, rice, noodles and meat, choose from a variety of sauces, and watch chefs stir-fry the shit out of it.
Then it was a hop on the downtown bus for a quick drink and some good old-fashioned blues at Blue Chicago, where we befriended our spunky server, Erica, a San Diego transplant and singer of the blues herself (she's performing at B.L.U.E.S. on Halstead next week, fyi). One rum and Coke later, we were both ready to head back to the apartment and crash for the night.
"I went to Chicago, and all I got was an expensive tube of toothpaste."
Saturday started after a blissful nine hours of sleep and a strong iced mocha from Caribou Coffee, a more country-cozy version of L.A.'s Coffee Bean. A two-mile walk down the scenic Lake Shore Drive (think: Storrow Drive in Boston or FDR Drive in Manhattan) took us past shirtless volleyballers on North Avenue Beach, joggers covered in SPF and dogwalkers getting their daily dose of cardio with their prized pooches.
Water Tower Place marked the beginning of our walk down Magnificent Mile, Chi-town's take on Rodeo Drive (slightly more average-consumer-friendly). C.O. Bigelow was where I purchased my first authentic souvenir: an eleven-dollar tube of Jasmin Mint Marvis toothpaste (it happened to be on sale for nine). Lunch was downstairs at Foodlife, a busy marketplace with fresh produce and gourmet delicatessen delights. One barbecued chicken meatball and crabcake later, it was off to window shop along the retailers outside.
Brunch at Nookie's Tree on Sunday helped to relieve the enormous headache I had had after a pink-lemonade-vodka-fueled Saturday night at Roscoe's (FYI, do NOT get the $12 pitcher - sure, the price of six cocktails in Chicago is the equivalent to the price of one in L.A., but don't let that tempt you to order their deceiving, basement-brewed concoction). Seriously, my headache had been so bad the morning after, my eyes teared up and I was balled up on the couch as if a railroad spike was slowly being pushed into my temples. Major no-no. Lesson learned. I'm a dumb tourist.
Following our meal was a browse through the flamboyant Beatnix ("The prices are so good and the sunglasses are so plentiful, it's hard to get put off by any attitude coming from whoever's behind the counter"), where Jen purchased a glittered Spider-Man mask to wear at the upcoming Market Days festival. Then, it was a bus ride to the John Hancock Building that rocked me to sleep...Navy Pier, one big county fair overlooking Lake Michigan ("Really? It's only a lake?")...A scrumptious sushi dinner at Tsunami with the kid sister of an old elementary school friend of mine...Dessert at the new Molly's Cupcakes on Clark (Home of the best red velvet in the city...send my love to John Nicoladies and the trio of gals who helped me pinpoint the best frosting to add my end-of-the-day treat).
Monday started with some French toast at Meli Cafe in Greektown with Mary. Three hours were spent in the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC), where I admired the usual Impressionists (Seurat, Manet and Monet, oh my!) and was blown away by several modern installation pieces from early 90s activist-artists from New York City.
Downtown was more like Manhattan than I thought it would be, and its surrounding neighborhoods and cultural pockets felt very much like a Boston-San Francisco hybrid. The scenery was so layered, textured, something entirely different from the flat and palm-tree-riddled Los Angeles I have grown to love.
By Monday I was feeling the slight pangs of being away from home, away from my office, away from my bedsheets...away from my car. My pair of Reeboks were put to good use, adding at least six miles of concrete to their wear-and-tear (Pinky toe, meet your new blister).
At 5am on Tuesday morning I was riding the Blue Line once again, heading back to O'Hare where Northwest Airlines would return me to L.A. and plop me down in the middle of my currently crazy summer schedule: HIH meetings, writing deadlines, film festival screenings, Comic-Con preparations...my franchised life is going into overdrive...to be continued...
In the meantime, a slideshow of my Chicago travels, if you will:
Chicago - July 2008
*And for those wondering: Yes, I had me some deep-dish pizza...along with a foodgasm.
Gotta promote literacy somehow!
Like any other 14-year-old boy growing up on the East Coast, J.J. Salem aspired to be...the next Jackie Collins?
And he succeeds admirably with TAN LINES, an unabashedly trashy, guilt-full novel about three women and the secrets, sex and murder that accent their already scandalous lives.
Allow me to give you a sample of the opening: "There are eight thousand nerve endings in the clitoris, and this son of a bitch couldn't find any of them."
Danielle Steele, this ain't.
Make sure to pack this next to your SPF as you head out to Malibu or the Hamptons this weekend. You can thank me later.
*Thanks to my new friends at St. Martin's Press for the summery goods.
Happy Birthday, America.
We celebrate our country's independence from Britain (and Hollywood extraterrestrials) by firing up the grill, stuffing our faces with red, white and blue-frosted cupcakes and burning ourselves with illegal yet pretty explosives.
America and I have had many different celebrations over the years. From 1996 to 1998 I fried my skin under the sun at the parking gates and ticket booths at Playland Park in Rye, New York, my first summer job I grew to dread by the time I was a senior in high school. It was mandatory to work on the summer holidays, and I had missed out on the family barbecues and beach blanket time with friends. The worst 4th of July was my second summer at the amusement park. I worked a late shift and came home in a shit mood, starving, sunburned and staring at the Macy's holiday broadcast through a black-and-white TV set in the kitchen while scarfing down leftover chicken and potato salad.
I continued working for Westchester County Parks all through college, working the holidays and sticking my nose in the numerous paperbacks I would read on lunch breaks at the beach.
Then came Los Angeles.
2002 was the first time I actually got to enjoy the day off. All I remember is meeting up with BU alumni friends for an impromptu barbecue and then driving up Mullholland to catch the fireworks display at the Hollywood Bowl. In 2004, I was taken down to Manhattan Beach where, in the company strangers, I enjoyed the coastal view from the beach house rooftop of a friend of a friend's neighbor. 2005 was spent stuck in traffic on the 90 catching a few distant sparks from Marina Del Rey (last minute plan after grilling sausages on Doug's lanai at Maryland Manor). The year after that - sitting in the sand on Manhattan Beach with some friends and then later munching on unlimited breadsticks and salad at a nearby Olive Garden. Last year, a clambake in Playa Del Rey and a pretty awesome view of the Marina show. 2008: A pool party/barbecue in the Hollywood Hills followed by the same annual clambake in Playa Del Rey (this time minus the hike up the hill to catch the fireworks) followed by a late dinner at the cool Boulevard Lounge in West Hollywood.
I know I'll appreciate these records when my memory goes at the age of 90.
In a recent Empire magazine interview, Daniel Radcliffe says the new movie, HP and the Half-Blood Prince, has "a fair amount of sexual energy and drug parallels."
SWEEEEEEET. Finally, the term "magic wand" can be used as the dirty euphemism it's meant to be.
November 21 cannot come any sooner.
Ah, there ain't nothing like a Brooklyn-flavored summertime jam to get you pining for the 90s all over again.
Meet Little Jackie, formerly known as Imani Coppola (Remember her? The chick behind "Legend of a Cowgirl" in the late 90s? Yeah, didn't think so). The "Lawn Guyland" native is now older, wiser and apparently has new management along with a funky-fresh producer at her side (Boston-bred whiteboy Adam Pallin). The single's called "The World Should Revolve Around Me," a neo-Motown groove that may just be my new theme song.