Cruising down the Sunset Strip at an L.A. press junket

By Ethan Stanislawski

The following is a transcript taken at 3:27 a.m. PST on February 10, 2007 at the Beverly Hilton.

Right now I am drinking a 375ml bottle of Perrier Jouet champagne, priced at $42. I’m watching the Bulls game on ESPN HD on a plasma screen and using precious ethernet at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills. Think that’s it? Hardly; I still have about $65 to spend on the budget I have been given by Warner Brothers.

I woke up at 2 a.m. CST Friday, after what I had expected to be a one-hour “nap” I began at 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, only to learn that not only had Anna Nicole Smith been discovered dead while I was asleep, but that the article was the head story in the national section of The New York Times. How fitting that this would be the day I was to go to L.A. I then pack profusely, only to discover that I had left my backpack in the dining hall more than 12 hours ago.

Eventually it gets to 7 a.m. when the dining hall opens and I get my bag. I leave for O’Hare via the 55 and the Green and Blue lines, only to learn that my Chicago college press counterpart in the press junket has arrived in O’Hare at 8:15. (He is an adorable homer from Columbia College who has never flown alone before today.) I get to the gate five minutes before the plane boards (after both my toothpaste and body wash have been confiscated), and fully absorb the homerness of my counterpart. Much to my surprise, I don’t fall asleep on the plane, but instead follow my original plan, which was to read the entirety of Portnoy’s Complaint in a defiant act of New York neurosis.

We take a cab from LAX to the Beverly Hilton ($50 which my counterpart paid due to my lack of funds, to be reimbursed at a later date), only to learn that the room I had been promised was in fact not registered. Thus, I am in L.A. for no longer than 20 minutes before I am broke and homeless. I eventually find the press room for 300, whereupon I play the PSP version of the game (and kick ass, mind you), only to learn that I do, in fact, have a room, and have about five minutes to get settled.

After nearly losing the only state-licensed ID I have on hand (god forbid I be stuck in the Beverly Hilton), I board a van for Fox Studios with America’s best and brightest college movie critics. They promptly begin to compare penis sizes in the form of paper circulation and how much they get paid for their papers. (Considering I get paid nothing, I was simply left to feel superior to the conversation.) We then get out at Fox Studios, walk around ridiculous drama masks carved into a hedge, past a few teamsters cooking massive steaks, and into a screening room to see Mira Nair’s The Namesake.

I get to brag by mentioning that I live next door to Nair and that her son carpools with my brother to school, and then the movie starts. I enjoy the film greatly, and nearly break into tears at some moments, but at the end, see just what the finest and brightest critics have to say: in short, not much. They talk about the film’s length and discuss plot points that would win them points on an identification quiz, but little else stands out.

We are then transported to Century City, to a much larger screening of 300, with a mix of critics and people lucky enough to be given passes. The movie is quite badass, in an obvious but honest kind of way, and yet the finest and brightest talk about ripping off other movies and the cheesy dialogue as if that weren’t the point. Upon our return to the Hilton, I politely decline dinner invitations and meet up with my friend Daniela, a former U of C-er who transferred to USC. The presence of a U of C personality, and mind, was quite reassuring after the best and brightest, and we drove to a pretty bitchin’ diner called Swingers. It’s like a Clark’s run by vegan L.A. hippies, except that steak is a possible side order (for real). I get steak as a meal, thank you very much, and get a shake that surpasses pretty much anything in New York or Chicago. And it wasn’t even fi-dollah (being a New Yorker, I thought I would need $26 in my hand).

We then do something that others only dream of: drive around L.A., Hollywood Boulevard, the Sunset Strip, and the Pacific Highway in a convertible with the top down, searching for the American Dream (OK, it was a Volvo convertible, but give credit where it’s due). I see the Kodak, the Grauman’s. I see the stars on the street (though wasn’t in a particularly I’m-ready-for-my-close-up-Mr.-DeMille kinda mood, it was still fun to see), as Daniela and I reflect on everything from WoW to Jack in the Box and In-and-Out (which actually exist! I thought they were the stuff of lore), until, at 1 a.m. PST, or 25 hours after I awoke, I find myself cracking open a $42 bottle of champagne and looking for more ways to spend money. After a day in this town, I guess I can concede that there are more cultural advantages than being able to make a right turn on a red light (although that is a pretty sweet advantage).

Look for Ethan’s extended coverage of 300 and The Namesake in the March 6 issue of the Maroon.