hello, hearters

I'm writing this in a room on almost-the-top-floor of the DREAM HOTEL in Hollywood. I’m all blissed out - showered, post-supper on the roof (more on that in a moment), waiting for the sunset, ready for a good night’s sleep in this soft cloud-like bed.

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This was an entirely unplanned “mini-break” (that’s for all you BRIDGET JONES fans).

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I was in Hollywood, doing research for my novel-in-progress MANHATTAN MOXIE, and couldn’t face going home to the same four walls I’ve seen for the past one hundred and thirty-three days alone in my apartment.

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Was this an unplanned MiniBreak?

Yes!

It WAS!

I can't believe I walked into the nearest hotel and said: “Do you have any rooms available for tonight?”

I’ve never done this before (and I’ve always wanted to).....

Did you work the writer angle?

No, I didn’t tell them I’m a writer (and sometimes journalist) when I checked in:

.....mainly because I’m on hiatus right now, but mostly because I was so tired and didn’t want to “perform” (it’s considered polite to take a tour with the management and then pitch a story if you disclose your status and my editors aren’t taking pitches during the economic downturn).

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During normal operations in Los Angeles, there’s NO way you could walk into a hotel and get a room, especially not in Hollywood. Maybe if you use one of those “last minute” apps - but even then, you’re not getting a bargain, believe me.

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But these are extraordinary times. They did have a room.

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- and so here I am, writing to you.
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What About COVID-19?

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Glad you asked.

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I was very impressed by the hotel’s safety procedures. Not to show off (much), but it reminded me of being in India, right after a terrorist bombing, and noting the extreme care the hotel in New Delhi took to ensure:

A: Those of us checking in on business weren’t carrying concealed weaponry, or bomb-making materials.

B: We felt safe staying in their hotel, because they were clearly taking security precautions.

It felt like that at the DREAM HOTEL in HOLLYWOOD - because, the terrorist today is a virus which is, at the time of writing (July 28th, 2020 in case you’re visiting us from the Future - and if you are, how did this All Turn Out in the End?), 16.8 MILLION people in the world have been infected with the virus (that we know of), and 663,000 people are no longer alive because of it.

Which is very - very - sad news.

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To ensure that no one gets infected (and/or dies) on their watch, the DREAM HOTEL has completely overhauled how it does business. It’s only recently re-opened, maybe a couple of weeks ago (and the staff looked suitably relieved to be back at work and earning enough to pay the rent). When I walked into the lobby, I followed the correct signs (stickers on the floor - in one door, out another) and a lovely security guard/greeter asked if he could take my temperature with one of those contactless infrared devices.

Cleared for entry, I made it up to the front lobby check-in desk and the equally lovely staff there (Kelly - a truly welcoming presence - and a man whose name I didn’t catch but he was a joy to chat with).

We’re all getting used to talking through masks and giving it the “big eye” action to show friendliness when smiles are hidden. But the plasma/plastic screens have an extra shield (which is great) to the voice (even when one is trained - and, let’s face it, most people working in hospitality are working actors when the roles are forthcoming).

I handed over the debit card - sanitized to within an inch of its existence by now - and got a bargain (due to the extraordinary times we live in); signed the necessary paperwork and took the room key card. Following the stickers on the floor I got to the elevator. I didn’t have luggage, (as I’d certainly not planned to be going to a hotel when I left the house this morning) - just my messenger bag. But I’m sure COVID rules mean one has to handle one’s own luggage (which makes sense).

At the bank of elevators I noted the signs saying only two people per car. When the doors opened, I was thrilled to see stickers there too - so you stayed a suitable distance from the other person going up.

My room was sealed like a crime scene - okay, exaggerating - it had a sticky-backed paper seal which I had to break to enter which confirmed it had been deep cleaned. Not only that, but the hotel sprays each room with CDC approved viral-vanquishing material and leaves it shut up for 24 hours between guests.

I’ve stayed in some fantastic hotels in my time: Beijing, Paris, Milan, Seoul and Taipei -

--- but I’ve never seen a hotel room stripped of all the amenities due to a killer virus.

Luckily, Kelly, downstairs, had warned me about this. And, being British, I had requested a kettle, milk, and tea bags, along with the robe, slippers...plus hotel-branded notepad and pen (I like to write on real paper from time to time, especially while watching reruns of THE BIG BANG THEORY in hotel rooms).

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Just so no one gets into trouble if mgmt reads this one day, they actually weren’t allowed to give me the tea bags and milk - those I got from the rooftop restaurant (heading there in this rambling anecdote soon) later on. Together with a cup and teaspoon. Because I’m British and we don’t drink tea out of paper cups, darlings.

But You Had No Luggage!

Ah yes, that is true.

But I’m something of a grown-up who is well-traveled so, without going into too much detail, I do carry certain necessities (mini toothbrush, toothpaste, moisturizer sample) in my messenger bag. My vanity days are behind me, so I didn’t mind appearing mascara-free in public after a blissful shower (two settings - hand-operated for hair washing and - OMG - rainfall - swoons).

Then, well, I did the university trick of wearing undergarments round the other way and airing my clothes out in the steam-filled bathroom. It’s not ideal. But it’s also not too hideous, just for 24 hours, especially if one (i.e. me) spends most of the time curled up in the deeply sumptuous robe while in the room itself.

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Talk About the View

Oh, wow. The view.

Here you go:

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It was lovely - both from the rooftop restaurant - can you spot the Hollywood sign?

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And from my room as sunset set in and the neon signs flickered on the hotels opposite and apartment buildings further up the Hollywood Hills when night fell.

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What Did You Eat?

I will confess to not having a huge appetite (unusually so) so I ate calamari (apologies to vegan readers) and red pepper hummus (houmous) with crudites and satisfyingly crunchy toasted pita bread.

Despite not feeling hungry, I feel it would be less than honest if I omitted the fact that I ordered (and ate) the molten chocolate cake. It was a small individual portion (with vanilla ice-cream scoop, and tangy fresh berries).

And yes, it was divine. Oozingly d e l i c i o u s.

Again - with more than a nod, if not a Proper Clipboard Approach - the rooftop restaurant had COVID-19 on the run (one hopes) with masks enforced until one was ensconced in between two perspex/plastic screens.

No menus - fantastically future-tech-wise - one scanned the QR-code on the table and selected the right meal-time offerings from your phone. Liked that (never felt good about sharing menus).

Shout-out must go to my server (I think her name was Sarah) who managed to be elegant, and kind, while wearing a face mask and face shield, and gave me enough tea, milk and cups to get through the night in case I wanted to write (which I did - update below the next part if you’re curious).

Why Were You in Hollywood?

Another great question.

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I’m not actually that sleepy so let me continue writing here to tell you why I was in the strange neighborhood ---

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----- with the Hollywood Stars’ names embedded into the pavement everywhere.

(it is odd, one feels naughty stepping on David Niven - even though, for some reason, he has TWO stars - why?).
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Well, I think I’ve told you about the new novel I’m writing now: MANHATTAN MOXIE.

The story is set in 1935 - and concerns LOTTIE LYONS, a young journalist.

Yes, it’s (somewhat) inspired by my own days as a rookie reporter on a national newspaper in London (mid-1990s, not mid-1930s ;) - and then my years in Manhattan as a digital media executive.

It’s now about 24,000 words (about a third of the way through, methinks - I’m aiming for 60,000 words) and Lottie (our hero) is about to take a train back West.

I know there’ll be some plot machinations that involve Hollywood. I’ve worked in Hollywood (for 20th Century Fox on THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA - a story for another time) but I needed era-specific “colo(u)r”.

During my recent research, the name Virginia Van Upp kept popping up (see below) - especially while I was looking through the digital archives at the Margaret Herrick Library (part of the Academy of Motion Pictures - yes, the people that give out the OSCARS).

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Then I found this.

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I thought I’d go to visit the building to see if it’s still there.

VIRGINIA VAN UPP

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Born 1902 (Chicago)
Died 1970 (Hollywood).

actor, film producer, author, screenwriter, movie studio executive.

Van Upp was extraordinary successful in Hollywood - starting out as a child actor in silent films and then working her way up the (probably treacherous and undoubtedly hard) ladder via script assistant, scenarist, casting director, to scriptwriter, producer and finally executive producer at Columbia Pictures in 1945 - this was a Big Deal:

Here's what The New York Times said on January 7, 1945 about her promotion.

Miss Van Upp's new berth is considered to be the most important position yet for a woman at a major studio. She will have the overall supervision and preparation and actual filming of twelve to fourteen top budget pictures to be made by Columbia during the year. Working under her will be several associate producers, all men."

the inference being that men - in those days - would have been shocked to their core to have a boss who happened to be female - how times have changed - or not.

During her time at Columbia Pictures Corporation, Van Upp partnered with Rita Hayworth to create her most famous role - in GILDA (1942).

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After Columbia, Van Upp become an independent film producer and an agent.

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Which is when she moved into 1605 Cahuenga Blvd.

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and the building IS still there!
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It was after peering through the doors (all locked up due to everyone - everywhere - WFH right now) that I looked up and realized the DREAM HOTEL essentially shares the same plot of land (the entrance is on Selma round the corner). I’m assuming the DREAM was built on the parking lot - and it was then that I thought:

I really can’t face going back to my apartment for the 133rd night in a row.
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This isn't me - it's Rosalind Russell, but the vibe is spot on.

I’m so used to traveling all the time, that this lockdown/quarantine/social distancing has been tough.

Of course I completely agree with the policy of Stay Home, Stay Safe, etc - and, counting my blessings, I’m not home-schooling children, or furloughed - in fact I have enough money to get by - I’m in a much better position than most, I know that.

But the sameness of the days has been driving me a tiny bit cRaZY.

So when I saw the hotel I thought: “Oh, how I’d love to be in a hotel room waiting for the sunset tonight.”

And here I am.

POSTSCRIPT

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It’s now the following day - almost evening (or late-teatime back in London) - and I’m home again.

It was strangely beautiful waking up in a room where I’d drawn the drapes tight shut (I never sleep in the dark but the lights from the surrounding buildings shone right into the room so I had to) and, for a moment, didn’t know which country I was in.

Due to COVID, the hotel had ceased room service (“in-room dining”) or breakfast.

This last one made me pause. I’m a VERY early riser and the thought of no coffee-and-toast at 6 AM was not a welcome prospect.

“Avocado toast is our most breakfast-y item,” said Sarah (from the rooftop restaurant).

“But what time is avocado toast served?” I asked, fearing the answer.

“11 AM.”

The loveliest thing is that Sarah didn’t blink an eye saying this and I’ll tell you why. DREAM hotel is in Hollywood - 11 AM is about the time most people (if they’re not on a movie/TV set in Atlanta or Toronto) in this part of town have their first meal of the day.

She caught my expression and asked what time I needed breakfast.

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I told her and she gave a small (not impolite, at all) gasp.

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Kelly on the front desk came to the rescue. Between them they said they’d rustle up coffee for me and I could find a take-out cafe (L.A. has still banned dine-in restaurants due to the virus) to get toast, eggs and maybe bacon, if it felt like a bacon-day (not many are due to healthier considerations).

In the end (bless you for still being here to read this) NOTHING was open nearby (like I said - it’s Hollywood - and not just that - Hollywood in the middle of the worst bout of unemployment - due to the virus - ever).

So I laced up my Doctor Martens tight.

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Pulled on my mask and walked up and over to Hollywood and Vine.

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Not the best of areas at the best of time and positively post-Apocalyptic right now due to the economic downturn, homeless crisis, and lack of a humane non-criminal solution to the Opioid and other narcotics epidemic.

In fact the security guard on the door of Starbucks could have squared up easily to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, if you get my drift. But he was very friendly and I got breakfast, and brought it back to the hotel.

Summing Up?

Yes, I am - right about now.

The best thing about staying at DREAM was seeing how it could be done, safely, when everyone follows the guidelines (and everyone did), in a time of COVID.

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The numbers in L.A. are still rising and staying in a hotel was a risk I probably wouldn’t have taken even last week.

But I was suddenly exhausted.

It’s not clear when (WHEN?) this is all going to end. It doesn’t look as if the virus has run its course through all the bodies it is using as hosts (horrible image, sorry about that). Many more people are going to die. There’s no viable vaccine on the horizon, as yet. And now I’m no longer a fancy executive in Manhattan, my current insurance is crap. So I’m unlikely to be at the top of the list to get it when a vaccine arrives.

What I’m trying to say is that what any of us can do, right now, is Carpe Diem. In a Carpe Diem (but following the rules about masks and no touching and the like) sorta way.

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sieze the day, if your Latin is rusty.

Which is why, if the work holds up, and my travel is grounded for what looks like at least six months, if not a year, then I’m going to take a MiniBreak every 8 weeks - or I’m going to go mad.

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Watch this space for more MANHATTAN MOXIE inspiration/research Hollywood-based trips!

/ENDS