“Are you sure this is the right address?” asks the driver.
I recheck the printout, praying for an error.
“Yes, this is it” I say, disheartened.
“Be careful” he breathes under his breath as he pushes open his door.
I open the door and step out onto the uneven and heavily stained pavement. The driver hurries as he drops my oversized suitcase beside me, slams the door and speeds off. Five hours ago he complained he couldn’t lift my bag, now he nearly throws it at me.
Across the street is the ‘charming’ apartment I have rented off Sunset Boulevard in Central West Hollywood. The cracked windows of the vacant shops below are jailed by black iron bars. Under a rounded out hovel is a set of stairs covered in chipped grey paint leading up to what appears to be my new residence but it could just as easily be a crack house. In front of the old glass doors are dozens of hastily tossed flyers, cigarette butts and miscellaneous garbage. It’s almost dark and there is no sign of ‘Traci’ the girl I sublet this apartment from on Craig’s list. There probably is no Traci, and there’s probably no apartment either. This is probably a set-up, another Craig’s List horror story that will soon be made into a movie of the week.
The flight of 2000 miles took only three hours, it was the drive from Los Angeles airport to West Hollywood that took nearly double my flight time. The delay wasn’t due to the infamous Los Angeles traffic. It was because I thought taking a budget shuttle would be just as good as a taxi - at half the cost...
The shuttle company, who we’ll just call ABC Co. told me to wait outside under the city buses sign when I arrived. I couldn’t remove my luggage from the baggage carousel until everyone else had taken theirs because I had borrowed a suitcase and couldn’t remember what it looked like. By the time I made it outside there was no shuttle bus. I called their main line and they said the next bus would be there within 30 minutes. 90 minutes later it arrived. The driver was an older man who said my suitcase was too heavy and that I would have to load it myself. Then he told me to sit in the front seat because he would need directions how to get to my residence. When I told him I didn’t know because I had just rented this apartment he started huffing and puffing and tossed a map at me.
“You’re going to have to help me out in finding the place, I just moved here too” he grumbled.
That should have been my first cue to get out of the van and take a taxi, but instead I chose to ignore my instincts and silence my guts by telling them it was all ‘part of the journey’.
“Doesn’t this van have GPS?” I asked.
By the looks of it I’d be surprised if it even had a spare tire.
“Just read the map” he snapped.
Three hours later we ended up in a town called Pasadena, home of the Rose Bowl and nowhere near West Hollywood. By that time driver was telling me I needed to learn how to read a map and I was telling him that his company should invest in a GPS - we argued over who was dyslexic. It took us two hours to crawl back to Los Angeles in rush hour traffic to arrive at what I was sure was the wrong address, correction, I was praying was the wrong address.
Suddenly the concerns of a Doctor friend who had planted the idea of this apartment rental being a Craig’s List scam don’t seem so outlandish.
“Are you there yet?”
“What the hell is taking so long, Hollywood is only a 45 minute drive.”
“Can’t talk now, trying to read a map”
“Map? Who the hell uses maps? Aren’t you in a taxi?”
“Long story, everything’s fine, will call you when I arrive”
“I don’t like the sounds of this, just go to a hotel”
Some people come to Hollywood hoping to discover a celebrity sitting next to them at a café, and others come to Hollywood hoping to be discovered themselves. I didn’t come to Hollywood for either of those reasons: I came here looking for a literary agent. I didn’t write a screenplay, I didn’t even write a script, I wrote a book about Africa, specifically my African adventures in overcoming fear while volunteering at a Big Five game reserve. So why am I in Hollywood where there’s mainly acting, singing and modeling agents? It was the allure of palm trees, warm weather and the Hollywood glamour that brought me here – and the inexpensive furnished sublet I found on-line that seemed too good to be true. I’ve given myself 30 days to find an agent, they say finding a literary agent is harder than finding a publisher. I’m not expecting much success, but I’d rather be mailing out proposals in the sun than back home in rain.
The street is empty. 20 minutes ago Traci texted me saying she was five minutes away. I keep looking at the staircase for any signs of life – but there’s nothing. Spray painted on the steps in big black characters is .05 cent – even the vandals must be dyslexic here because surely they must have meant 50 cent?
An SUV with sun-faded black paint slowly creeps down the street. The driver is wearing a hoodie pulled far over his face, hiding his eyes. He parks at the meter almost right beside me. I try not to look at him as I’m trying to memorize the license plate – later this will be vital information to share with the LAPD. He must be the accomplice or perhaps this is ‘Traci’, the man who will beat me to a near death state then steal my traveler’s cheques. I tighten my grip on the borrowed suitcase, pretending to look like I’m waiting for someone else, while I text his license plate number to my doctor friend. If he talks to me I’ll pretend my name is Donna, not the Melissa they are expecting. Then I’ll call a cab and make my way to the closet hotel.
“What’s this?” It’s a text from the doc.
“License plate number, don’t delete”
“Wtf? Were you in an accident?
“Are you there yet?”
“There’s no one here, bars on the windows and I’ve seen three ambulances in less than 20 minutes”
“It’s a set-up, get out of there – now!”
Hoodie is still sitting in the SUV, his face hidden in the shadows bearing a close resemblance to the grim reaper.
“Are you still there? Get out of there now, call a taxi, go to a hotel” the Doctor’s texts are frantic now.
I can’t. I can’t just leave. I just finished writing a book about overcoming fear. I lived alone in a tent camp in South Africa – the country that boasts 49 murders a day. If I leave here now then I’m a hypocrite, everything I just lived and wrote about will be a lie.
“Talk to me, what’s happening? Did you call a taxi?”
I ignore his pleading texts.
“Listen to me you ignorant Swede, get out of there, I’ve got a bad feeling, I’ll pay for your hotel, please, get out of there STAT”.
The grim reaper gets out of his truck. I look down at my blackberry, watching him out of the corner of my eye, exuding aloof confidence the same way I did in Africa when trapped between two hormonal rhinoceros about to rumble – calm and assertive, ready to defend myself without challenging the predator. My insides are screaming 'Holy Shit!"
He walks past me and continues down the street. Perhaps I was being paranoid and he wasn’t the accomplice after all...or not. He stops at the street sign only 20 yards away. He slips his hand into the front belly pocket of his hoodie, my God, he’s got a weapon. It’s a gun, no – a gun would be too loud and obvious. It’s a knife, a knife is easier to carry and from that distance he could throw it at me if he had to, giving him enough time to steal my belongings before anyone noticed. Or maybe he’s going to force me into that horrible looking truck – I thought all the cars in Hollywood were supposed to be luxurious – this one’s a piece of crap, just my luck. He withdraws his hand, my eyes glued on it to see what this Craig’s list killer’s weapon will be. His weapon is…a pack of cigarettes?
He lights a cigarette drawing in a deep inhale of smoke. He’s assessing my from a distance, the way a lion does, in a moment he will attack, but like the gazelle, I too have a strategy for escape. He doesn’t know that in Africa I was pursued by a lioness, slapped in the face many times by the trunk of an aggressive cow of an elephant named Kittibon, and even looked into the jaws of a great white shark within inches of my face with nothing in between us but thin aluminum bars and fear. I’m not going to back away from a guy in a hoodie in Hollywood - not yet anyway.
“Are you in a taxi yet?”
“Stop texting me”
“I thought you were dead”
Hoodie-guy hasn’t shown his eyes yet, he’s good at his game, he’s acting like he doesn’t even know I’m here. He takes a few more puffs then flicks his cigarette into the middle of the street. I make a mental note of its location – later the CSI team will be pulling DNA from it. He takes a few steps towards me, this is it – this is the moment. He’s getting closer. He’s reaching for his hood and takes it off? He makes a sharp left and pulls open a door. I hadn’t noticed the door before. The sign above it says, The Actor’s Studio.
“Melissa?” a soft female voice calls from the stairs.
I turn around and see a frail, pretty thirty something blonde girl leaning from the front door.
“Traci?” I ask.
“Sorry I’m late, my yoga class went long, come on in” she says innocently.
And that is how I ended up in Hollywood. Within seven days of being here I signed a contract with a literary agent - from another state and haven't smelled rain since. I decided to stay awhile because pretty soon inspiration showed up and planted the seeds for book number two. Here we go again.
The Finding Dog in Hollywood Blog is a venue for my observations here in LALA land.