Twitchhiker | Paul Smith's travel tales from here and there

Day 20 – LA story
23/03/2009, 22:48
Filed under: twitchhiker project | Tags: , , ,

Twitchhiker in Hollywood

The San Fernando valley woke up early on Friday morning, bathed in sunshine and the membrane-battering shudder of pneumatic drills. 7am is apparently an acceptable time to start ploughing up tarmac on the freeways of LA.

The night before, I’d taken advantage of Ben’s washing machine, so after rising from my mattress in the spare room, I slipped into my first set of fresh underwear in four days. In my experience, a day that begins with clean cotton against crotch is always likely to be positive and full of opportunity.

But not on this day.

Word had reached officials in New Zealand of what I was attempting to do. The email that was forwarded from them rated my chances of reaching Campbell Island – my final destination since the beginning of this journey – as roughly zero:

[Campbell Island] is an uninhabited island nature reserve 700kms off the coast of NZ. One of the sub-antarctic islands, it is actually a UNESCO World Heritage site administered by The Dept of Conservation.

It has no airstrip, and can only be reached by ship. It is three days at sea from Invercargill (at the bottom of the South Island). The only boats that go there are occasional fishing boats, and tour operator Heritage Expeditions – whose next trip to the island is in December.

As the island is so ecologically important, (even if he found a way to get there), he would need a DOC permit to visit the island (which he wouldn’t get in a week).

There is no way he’d get there by helicopter either. The only time we’ve heard of a helicopter go there is on a ‘daring’ rescue in 1992 when a DOC ranger was attacked by a shark while snorkelling off the coast.

I knew it was a UNESCO World Heritage site from day one; I didn’t know that’d mean a long application process if I wanted to visit. I knew it was a long way from New Zealand, but I hadn’t realised that no vessels passed by it at all. And I couldn’t wait until December.

The facts weren’t a surprise; I was more disappointed in the email’s tone. It was the first time somebody had told me I should expect to fail. That thought hadn’t really occurred to me until then. The email continued:

We suggest he sets his sights on another island – Stewart Island. Its on the way to Campbell Island, has about 400 inhabitants, and is also home to NZ’s newest national park. There are also lots of little islands off the coast of Stewart Island, including the Muttonbird (Titi)Islands.

No. Absolutely not. Stewart Island sounded all very well and good, but I couldn’t give up on Campbell Island yet. With nine days to go, I couldn’t suddenly move the goalposts – why would anybody continue to support me if I gave up and changed the rules?

So there I sat in Ben’s apartment, staring at the email, reading it over and over again, each time becoming a little angrier at its contents. I was going to get so close to that damned island, but just not quite close enough for it to count.

I’d worked the previous evening and throughout the morning up until that point, I hadn’t organised where I was spending my second night in Los Angeles and I didn’t much care anymore. I started reading through the Twitter traffic and immediately an offer chirped up:

Twitchhiker - LA offerI had no idea whether it was LA bravado and bullshit, or a genuine offer of tits and tinsel, so I accepted it without much thought and made arrangements with the host Patrick (@patricktoneill), before heading out into the city for lunch with Ben.

What’s surprising about LA is the lack of obvious razzmatazz. The city isn’t confined to an island like Manhattan and so can sprawl in all directions; there’s no need to build 50 story towers on every corner. Of course there are skyscrapers in Downtown, but they’re just simply corporate penis extensions that nobody visits outside office hours, and therefore don’t count.

Instead you drive down Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards, inbetween them on Fairfax and La Brea, and you find a collection of lazy squat buildings, plenty of them ramshackle in appearance. Film studios for music videos and commercials are tucked away amongst the residential streets, while the main thoroughfares are chocked with stores and restaurants.

Patrick turned out to be a 30-something year-old creative director with the advertising agency TBWA. Blonde hair, chiselled chin, disgustingly handsome – three qualities I’m sorely lacking, and so I hated him immediately. God, I’m such a shallow bitch sometimes.

We had a mutual acquaintence; Andy Blood at TBWA in New Zealand had helped me out before my trip began, and both had been working on VISA’s new global advertising campaign. I spent five years as a creative manager and how I would have killed for global brands like VISA to work on. Instead I was given carpet remnant warehouses and used car salesrooms; you’d find yourself in client meetings that made you wish a career in open-cast mining was still an option.

I wasn’t staying with Patrick that evening, he’d instead booked me into the swanktastic Chamberlain Hotel in West Hollywood. It’s worth making a point about my accommodation on this trip so far. I’ve slept on floors, airbeds, mattresses and sofas, and crawled between crisp linen in five star hotels. After three weeks, I’ve stopped distinguishing between the humble and the excess; it simply doesn’t matter. I don’t give a damn whether the next place I get my head down has a mini-bar or a view; comfort comes a distant third to sleep and work.

So I’ll tell you I stayed in a room that was vast and ornately decorated, in a blue ash sort of way. And yes, it had a power shower and too many pillows on a perfectly presented queen sized bed that was no doubt stuffed with the shorn locks of 1,000 newborn lambs. I didn’t care; it was a place to pass out at the end of the evening and that was all that mattered, frankly.

Patrick made good on his promise of parties, too. We drove to a New York Times Fashion Week event at Confederacy boutique, where a throng of people burbled outside about their latest projects, air-kissing one another and squealing in tones that had you reaching for a half-brick. They were all impeccably dressed, and there was me wearing that same sodding jumper and pair of stinking brown trainers I’d worn every other day for the past month.

As we mingled amongst the masses and I drank away my lack of self-confidence, there was a noticeable heightening of activity; people were swarming near the entrance. We’d been joined at the party by Eva Mendez and Liv Tyler – Hollywood had finally arrived in Los Angeles.

I made the mistake of tweeting the details, and of course the Twitterverse demanded proof. Balls. I wasn’t nearly drunk enough to ask A-list actresses for a snapshot and I’d have left it there, if Patrick hadn’t convinced me that Liv Tyler would be intrigued by my story, what with her hippie lifestyle and the like.

So I walked up to Liv Tyler. Liv bloody Tyler.

Hello, excuse me, Liv?


My name’s Paul – you don’t know me, but I’m hitchhiking around the world and-

Hitchhiking? That’s so cool! Nobody hitchhikes anymore! Tell me all about it!

Back of the net!

Really? Oh, ok, so I’m hitchhiking around the world using Twitter, and-


Yes, Twitter!

What’s Twitter?

It’s a social media network on the internet that-

Oh. Right.

Bollocks. Our world’s had collided and smashed one another to tiny bits. To be fair to Liv, she humoured me for a good couple of minutes longer and didn’t call security when I asked for a photo to prove the naysayers wrong. I was tempted to try and kiss her, but suspected that might be pushing my luck.


9 Comments so far
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What’s twitter?

Appropriate response for Hollywood actress is:

a. It’s this thing that Demi Moore uses
b. It’s like this super cool new way to talk to your friends on your diamond encrusted iPhone
c. It’s a social media network on the internet that…

Bollocks indeed!

Comment by wideawakewesley

OMG! That is a great photograph! I love it.

I mean the taxicab shot, cruising past the palm trees, of course.

Good work catching up on the blog. Personally, it sometimes takes me years to finish a trip report.

Comment by Skyring


This is all amazing to read about, and I am glad that you trip appears to have been a success thus far. I wonder though, how many times a day do you say/think/curse “What the hell am I doing?” You are moving so fast – when you have time to breathe!?

Are you considering your next trip yet, perhaps with no deadline and a goal of meandering wherever you feel like it?

Good luck!

Plymouth, MA, USA

Comment by Katrina N.

Well Paul, I will humble myself and eat my words. Although I’m an LA native, I thought you would have a dreadful experience there. I’m so glad I was wrong and still hope you’ll come visit Oregon sometime in the future. Stay safe! cb

Comment by Cindyl541

you’re pretty crafty. i digg the story. two Q’s.
1. why didn’t you bring me along the trip?
2. dude, come back to the Midwest? i’ll put you up.

i’m going to blog about you.

look forward to reading more.

Comment by Crista

This is the best post I think I’ve ever read — on any blog — ever.

Let me know if you make it to Chicago…


Comment by Kim@Galavanting

well done on the trip so far

Comment by harvey


Love the blog, your trip sounds awesome so far.
I guess you have made it down to our little country already – hit us up and we will show you how we do things down here in NZ!

Best of luck with the rest of the trip!

Comment by Auckland Bungy

At the risk of stating the obvious – Stewart island is still as far away as you can get from home, right? Really, picking Campbell Island, was that pure global positioning and scientific placement re: ‘as far away as I can get’? Does it have to be? I believe you can easily accept Stewart Island as the true closest point… just my 2 cents worth. Have been enjoying your version of the journey.

Comment by Trina

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