The most disappointing place in America

Visiting Hollywood Boulevard in 2004 was the first time I ever appreciated how anticlimactic traveling could be.

Some early September day eight-and-a-half-years ago I found out that Hollywood Boulevard, the supposed pulsating heart of Los Angeles' global cinematic legacy, home to the Oscars ceremony, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the place where all the awesome movies stars put their hands in the concrete, was a grubby, vapid and depressing turkey of a street.   

I've been back in Hollywood the past couple of days.

When you read this, I'll likely be en route back to San Francisco.

I've been having a good time, staying with friends, eating food and soaking up the sun.

I'm sunburned, which is nice.

Finding myself kicking around at a friend's place a few blocks from Hollywood Boulevard I decided to take a walk down memory lane this afternoon and see if it was as bad as I remembered.

And... again, I came away thinking that Hollywood Boulevard might not be the worst place in America, but it might be the most disappointing.

Let's put it this way: if Los Angeles is America's public relations department, Hollywood Boulevard is that public relations department's gift shop.

Does that sound fun to you?

I'm a defender of Los Angeles.

It's a much better city than most outsiders give it credit for.

Mostly for the reason that it is less a single city than a whole series of smaller cities jammed together into a massive space and linked by an epic labyrinth of freeways.

Out of all of this, as I was reminded again today, tourists still come to Hollywood Boulevard as a primary contact point with Los Angeles.

At its best, it still falls short of the worst parts of Auckland's Queen Street. There's actually nothing here that you're better off having seen in person.

The Hollywood sign looks over from a far off hill, somehow smaller, more insignificant and less stylised than you remember it. You can't even see it from much of the boulevard. 

The Hollywood Walk of Fame, which runs for two kilometres and is visited by a staggering 10 million people each year, is a collection of dusty, cracked, cheap-looking gilded tiles.

Taking it in is about as exciting as reading down a list of famous people on the Internet.

Disturbingly, ten times more people come to the Walk of Fame each year than the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which is the largest art museum in the western United States.

The Dolby Theater, where the Oscars are now held, sits a few doors down from the famous Chinese Theater, where the Oscars used to be held and the aforementioned concrete handprints of A-listers decorate the entrance.

On the Oscar's broadcast, stars walk the red carpet on Hollywood Boulevard, except the entire street has been done over with bleachers and scaffolding, so no one is focusing on the cheap souvenir stores, chain outlets and bad restaurants they've plastered over.

The theaters sit either side of a new shopping mall development, a few steps down from the corner of Hollywood and Highland, where a large Beyonce Pepsi billboard oversees the scene, very big brotherly.

The Chinese Theatre's concrete handprints are hard to read and look about as impressive as your standard construction yard graffiti. 

To me, there's nothing meaningful to engage with here yet everybody is trying to sell you something.

You could pay about $35 NZD to visit Madame Tussauds' wax museum, or about $25 to visit Ripley's Believe It Or Not.

If you're hungry, you could overpay at the Hard Rock Café for the privilege of eating a hamburger among Hollywood memorabilia.

There's a stack of shopping you could do that you could do anywhere.

There's an infinite array of souvenir shops, offering up the opportunity to buy a dirt-cheap plastic Oscar statuette or pay $10 to have a picture of you Photoshopped to appear as if you're standing next to George Clooney.

There are a whole whack of costume stores, which seemed odd to me at first, but made perfect sense when I stopped to think about it.

You could pay to have your photo taken with a guy in a crusty looking Spiderman suit, or someone pretending to be Darth Vader. You can't take a photo of them at close range without getting harassed for a cash payment.

Some street musician is going to try and sell you his rap CD and more than a couple wannabe actors are going to attempt to sell you on the merits of doing their particular Los Angeles star tour.

It's a flat, hot, dirty, unspectacular strip of commerce, stocked alternately with tourists and commercial vampires of various persuasions.  

Los Angeles is a playpen of beaches, culture, food and fun. Hollywood Boulevard is a dead spot and people haven't worked that out yet. Don't come here.

There's absolutely nothing fun and nothing worthwhile that can result from it, especially with so much so close by that you'd be better off seeing.

For a start, if you want to engage with the cinematic side of Los Angeles, the studio tours (I've been to Universal and Paramount) are a great way to see the sets and imagine how the sausage is made.

Hollywood Boulevard attempts to be the epicenter of the myth of the movies, but it ends up just an empty mess.  

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