On Sunday I went to Burbank to take photos of a 25-year-old actor.
We met at Chili John’s, a “World Famous” landmark, now out-of-business, a spot of streamline slickness with a neon sign, all of its recent Covid signs still intact. Somewhere I had read that preservationists were fighting developers on this site but could not pull up any stories to verify.
It was Burbank so there were no people around, just an empty parking lot, spotless, without litter, tagging or anything vandalized. The rains had washed the skies. In the distance, past Glendale, sharp and clear, stood the eternal San Gabriel Mountains.
I got there before he did, and I walked along Burbank Boulevard where the cherry trees bloomed, and one specialty liquor store was open for contactless delivery. Through the window, I saw a $24 bottle of Riesling and moved on.
On Sundays, in Burbank, there are always old, spotless cars driving around. I saw a VW Beetle turn right.
After that notable vehicle sighting, the actor from Springfield, MO appeared.
He had just taken a Zoom acting class. He had long pandemic locks and beard and was quite chippy and happy with himself as he ran his hand through his hair and made goofy expressions with his face. He took out a guitar, which he doesn’t play, and he soulfully strummed it for our shoot.
He had a backpack, a wool driving cap, zip up boots, tight pants, overcoat, trim denim shirt. We shot some photos of him along the long white wall where its red painted parking in rear. He talked about his end days Christian friends from Missouri and trimming his chest hair and how he comes from the same town as Brad Pitt.
He said he was happy in Hollywood, happy to meet cool people, happy for people who were signing him up and taking him to Peru for work. I think.
He told me he had access to a super high resolution Blackmagic Production 4k Camera, and if I wanted to use it on some other day I could.
He left his stuff in the back, behind the store, and we walked up front to the sidewalk. I had no fear any of it would be stolen. But he went back to retrieve it and then rejoined me on the sidewalk where I directed him to slump down into the doorway and look down the street as if he were a tired, exhausted traveler.
We had free reign, with nobody nearby.
There was also no trash, no litter, no fast-food wrappers, no condoms, no homeless, no shopping carts; just an empty place all around, with store windows and shuttered businesses. After two hours, one masked pedestrian walked by.
That Sunday, Burbank was the Los Angeles that once existed, the hygienic wonderland of donuts and burgers and whimsical cars, chlorinated swimming pools, empty sidewalks and freshly washed streets. It was dead but it was a delight, and somewhere nearby I imagined a crew-cut kid with blonde hair and plaid shirt riding his Schwinn.
When I was done, I drove through North Hollywood and crossed back into chaos, filth and disorder, past an invisible wall between dreams and reality, past and present, Los Angeles and Burbank.