The Scalper Diaries: UCLA vs. Oregon at the Rose Bowl

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[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lLQlQByyvxw&w=560&h=315]

I got up and out of the house about 7 a.m. for a noon kickoff in Pasadena for the Oregon/UCLA game.

My drive time to LA can vary from 2.5 to 7-plus hours depending on whether the traffic monster is slumbering. Saturday mornings are about the only time the drive is bereft of having to stare idling at the single working brake light of a Honda Del Sol with Iggy Azelea shaking the door locks and a cross fit sticker across the bubbled back window through Oxnard. This day, most of greater Los Angeles’ 7.2 million cars were hungover from the week’s commute.

There were no slow-downs through Santa Barbara and I was making such good progress I couldn’t resist stopping at the adobe McDonalds right off the freeway in Carpenteria. I may eventually tell my children this McDonalds was an original California Mission and since the Catholic Church ran short of funds defending molestation charges they were graciously able to sell it to the benevolent fast food giant. It was refurbished and re-purposed with a double Coke fountain and display flat screens behind the order counter.

I’m a McDonalds-once-every-two-years kind of guy, but my browned- and car-seat-heated breakfast banana just wasn’t going to give me the right base coat for the festivities to follow. I went with the Sausage McMuffin with egg white and cheddar cheese, because I decided my mission to eat healthier starts with making good choices on the McDonalds breakfast menu.

As far as McDonalds go, the Carpenteria version is cleaner than a LDS romance novel and the workers there actually seem psyched or at least not with the paved-over look of the undead. This McDonalds ranks second only to the double-drive through and stone fireplace inside the Park City version right off the 80. No telling where one actually gets to live to afford to work at a Carpenteria McDonalds, but it’s my hope the Golden Arches closest in proximity to Oprah’s Montecito compound has some kind of housing stipend for its employees.

The egg white and cheese was a delicious call and I didn’t even know I was through Thousand Oaks …till I was actually through Thousand Oaks and keeping an eye for Laurel Canyon Drive exit. It was still shy of 9 a.m.

The licorice rope of Laurel Canyon gives me this sort of nostalgia for a pre-Manson-era LA simple and pure that no longer exists (or maybe never did). The homes bordering the road toe over the line of disrepair and are sliding off decayed foundations.

The thoroughfare, built as a residential street, now hums as any major arterial cut-through from the 101 would. In fact, the only traffic I encountered that morning was through the winding shadows cast over the cookie crumbs of Midcentury California. The steady whir of cars moving 20 mph above the posted limit made me feel even worse for any residents who attempt to sleep through 24-hour rush hour traffic sounds seeped through the walls of their melting Tudor and Spanish fortresses.

I pulled up to the hotel, a scarily effortless conversion of an apartment complex called Le Parc Suite off La Cienega. Sounds French and looks desperately in need of a fresh coat of paint. Permitted parking only was the order of the day on the street offsetting our online discount by the $40 extra for use of the hotel’s garage. My buddy, who’d flown in from Vegas, was already waiting curbside with a cab ready and so we jumped in and headed out for provisions.

Walking through the threshold and hearing the liquor store *beep* of failure was probably the most promising part of the day. The anticipation had come to fruition. The telltale smell of the establishment, a little dusty and stale and sad; a little bit of flop sweat and cardboard box. We procured some libation for the morning pregame and were off to the fairer pastures of Arroyo Seco.

Once at the Rose Bowl, our cell service went completely away. We slipped our phones in pockets and my buddy commented, “This is incredible.”

We graduated college in the late-’90s and there was this kind of implicit if-you’re-meant-to-see-someone-you’ll-run-into them mentality engrained in us. Besides, we had six pack of Mickey’s grenades that pretty much guaranteed we were the ones to know that morning.

UCLA/Oregon fans were about a 1:1 ratio. Oregon fans are upstart, pastier and more obnoxiously dressed. UCLA fans seemed almost apathetic, as if just being out in the sun is enough on game day. Because of the harrowingly difficult task of getting from Westwood to Pasadena (plus nobody really drives anymore, especially under 30) the student body of the home team was in sparse supply. Truly a school whose campus is a 90-minute drive from the stadium came of age in the freeway era. And I daresay those who flew PDX->BUR that morning had an easier time getting to the Brookside Golf Club to join the party.

We happened by a few friendly tailgaters. One guy, who commented on the Giants hat I was wearing, was a firefighter in SF and at the same station as this kid I went to high school with. One group of UCLA undergrads in line for the Port-a-Potty faked us into believing they’d never seen grenades before so we donated to their cause.

We ran into a guy we’ve known since Freshman year at Oregon. He was always money-starved and came from Eastern Oregon dirt. He hustled his way into financial services, drives a Maserati and lives in a flat overlooking the outfield of Petco park. Of course, he lets you know about it all too, but beneath his caustic and self-promoting veneer, he’s got the charitable heart of someone who’s had to work for every penny.

As the headline suggests, my buddy and I didn’t come prepared with tickets, so we were left to figure it out as the echo of car radios went silent and the corn hole throwers migrated into the stadium. After about a quarter and change of lingering in the post-apocalyptic world of the abandoned tailgater, (see: video above of impromptu wrestling match as we were walking around) we happened upon an adolescent selling some tickets. He wanted $5 per, but we talked him down to $5 for the pair.

The nice gate lady had to zap them twice and bend them around to get them to work. They were general admission tickets and we faked our way down to seats on the 45-yard line just eight rows up.

The scoring was furious if not a little unspectacular which is how all football looks at eye level. First Oregon shrunk the field down to its proper real-life dimensions and created the illusion of a high school scrimmage before calling it good with 42 on the board at the end of the third quarter. During the fourth quarter, UCLA decided to score three touchdowns in seven minutes but by then all the powder blue had drained from the stadium.

We wrangled an Uber ride back to the hotel. The driver—a former Quiznos franchise owner (three stores!) before hitting hard times and being forced to drive for the cab app company 6x/week for an average of 10 hours and $100/day less the 20 percent the parent company keeps for use of its technology—dropped us off for liquor store round two: This time it was a Colt 45 each. The swill tasted tinny, like someone burping in your mouth while you’re kissing.

We even plucked up a couple bottled water chasers to keep it going for the Giants/Cardinals NLDS game one. Watching with the sound down made it go by quickly in the confines of our le suite. An hour phone call with another buddy who was similarly ignoring the Fox crew by listening to the game on the radio from his Nashville basement also eased the pain Billy Dee’s beverage of choice inflicted.

Famished, we decided on an old favorite, the Rainbow Room on Sunset, for our evening destination. Some places in Hollywood NEVER change and the Rainbow is one of them. YouTube says more than 288 million people have watched the November Rain video, which means that many have also seen the exact booth where we enjoyed dinner Saturday night.

Over cheese sticks, we tried to come up with any reason that an album with tracks the likes of Nightrain, My Michelle, Anything Goes, You’re Crazy, Think About You, Out ta Get Me, It’s So Easy and Rocket Queen as the B-sides will ever get made again. There are 30 million units of Appetite for Destruction out there worldwide that say it won’t.

The Rainbow is still mostly a rocker establishment at heart as evidenced by our server who looked like Nikki Sixx circa ’86 and the crowd four-deep at the bar all hellbent for leather. But because of its proximity to the Roxy and the Comedy Store it’s home to aspirational industry folks of all stripes.

For the last half-century, LA has been a town built on these type dreams. Holding forth about who is more self-important just loud enough to be within ear shot is the true craft of its inhabitants.

Up until a decade ago, there was a modicum of hope that residing in LA meant you might get an album deal, star in a sitcom or write and direct a sleeper hit. But now that’s gone so I kind of wonder what all those people still trying to make it down there are really after. No, you’re not getting an HBO show. No, you’re not going to Sundance. Nobody’s buying scripts anymore. There are no more A&R guys. Like, the best you can hope for is getting on some ‘guess what STD I have’ dating show.

Either way, the Rainbow has delicious pizza and cheap Chianti and free drink tickets when you go in that you can use toward your tab, so I think we paid less than $30 for appetizers, drinks, a large za—with bread and eavesdropping thrown in for free.

We unstuck from our red leather booth and slunk into the night. The late-evening glow of Hollywood’s fluorescents was just starting to ignite the skyline candy colors. It did beckon. But by then the last 12 hours, much of it in the sun, had brought on the allure of a hotel bed.

We receded back into Le Parc Suite, with walls that can barely contain the dew of tears and years of shattered hearts of its inhabitants from days past. We finished our waters and fell asleep to the sound of the occasional girl screaming and brakes screeching somewhere in the near distance.

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