A Postcard from Tour: Los Angeles
Strange moments from the hustle
More tales from the road…
On a book tour your publisher usually books a “media guide” in each market. This is someone likely to meet you at the airport as you arrive, holding a copy of your new book. A kind of blind date, but really someone hired to squire you to appointments and make sure you don’t get black-out drunk and botch the schedule of obligations. Many of these guides are local authors or retired media folks. During busy promotion seasons they might shepherd writers, musicians, actors, whoever is making the rounds. Until recently media guides from across the country held a secret vote as to who was the most difficult celebrity to escort.1
This yearly vote ended when someone leaked to the New York Times that the most difficult writer for many, many years running was Deepak Chopra. At that the voting was discontinued. You want some cultural dirt? Sit in a car driving around Denver or Los Angles for several days with the same person who just drove Jane Fonda or Goldie Hawn for a few days, and the secrets flow.2
Among my favorite anecdotes came from a friend, not to name names, who escorted Jane Fonda on her tour around the Bay Area for her book My Life So Far in 2005. It was the first stop on her tour, and she spoke in public, then met a few readers and signed their books while the photographers flashed away. Then she got up to leave.
Here, my friend had to tell Fonda that this wasn’t like shooting a movie. You didn’t just do a few “takes” and go home. He pointed out the long, long line of people she’d have to meet. All the books she’d have to inscribe and autograph. He told me she looked stricken. It was obvious she’d not been told about this huge obligation… but then she’d rallied and done the job. Still, that guide told me he’d never seen anyone so frightened in that moment of realization. Then, in Kansas City, a book buyer spat tobacco juice in her face.
So now you know what a media guide is.
Which brings us to three quick media guide tales from Los Angeles…
Do you remember the television series L.A. Law? An actor who’d become popular as a reoccurring character on that show subsequently hit a career slump and began to work as a media guide. One year he met me at LAX, and we killed a day driving to bookstores so I could sign stock. At the lavish shopping mall The Grove we’d just left Barnes and Noble when he shoved me into a space behind some planters.
It was a quiet weekday afternoon, and he said, “Stay here.” Here was a little utility doorway between two storefronts. “Don’t move until I come back for you,” he told me. He pointed into the near distance. “Those are the Wayans brothers, and I need to chat them up for a possible job.”
At that he sprinted after the Wayans. He didn’t want them to see he’d taken work outside of acting. And I didn’t want to embarrass him, so I waited. My appointments ticked by, but when you’re on tour you become a kind of package that’s trained to follow orders. I waited in my cubbyhole for an hour or so. He came back grumbling, and we finished our day. Such is the hustle.
Another Los Angeles story…
A different tour, a different guide. This one was aspiring to become an agent for music and acting talent. She’d been a media guide for years, but she wanted to break into the big time. For days we drove around greater L.A. as she popped cassette3 tapes of different singers and actors into her car stereo. This was 2000? 2002? As each new tape blared, she’d shout, “What do you think of him? Should I sign him?” Or, “Do you think she’s a talent? What do you think?”
Somehow she’d taken me for someone who had connections (I don’t) and who could rush back to Barry Diller and declare, “I’ve found the new Kylie Minogue!” There it was again, the hustle.
Which brings us to Brentwood…
A different tour, a different guide took me to the Dutton’s Brentwood Books (now closed) where I signed stock. On the way back to our car we passed a vacant restaurant. We walked along side streets until we arrived at a gate in a fence, where she told me to look through. Inside was a plain path, just a patch of ground. Nothing special.
As I looked, she said, “That’s where Nicole Simpson and Ron Goldman were stabbed to death.” 875 South Bundy Drive. She explained that the closed restaurant we’d passed had been Mezzaluna Trattoria, where Simpson had eaten her last meal. It had become such an infamous tourist destination that customers had gradually stolen every fork, spoon, plate, menu—everything not nailed down—and the place had closed.
It was a strange book tour moment, not unlike a drive at 2:00 am in Dallas, when the media guide had announced suddenly, “John Kennedy died right…” She drove us over a large diamond painted on the roadway. “Here,” she continued. “He died right here.” Both that drab pathway in Brentwood and that unremarkable spot of blacktop in Dallas were places you’d never give a second glance. Such is book tour. Such is the hustle.
Now for the real reason we’re here…
This was all true, but it’s all a smokescreen to hide the launch of the Easter Quiz!
In the Comments below, please list physical gestures that are quickly and easily understood: nodding, head scratching, that stuff. Any of which can be inserted into a scene to help pace dialog. To underscore or undermine what’s being said. To give a subtext to the scene. Or just to remind the reader that the characters have arms, legs, heads, hands, feet, nipples.
The larger goal is to establish a library of gestures. Much like the library we created at Valentine’s to list ways of making a cognitive process seem physical.
One prize to a person. Please post as many entries as you’d like. At the end of this week I’ll choose my eight favorites. Those folks will each get a package of Easter swag.
These folks used to be called “media escorts” but that sounded a wee bit tawdry. In relation to films they seem to be called “talent wranglers,” which sounds like writers are livestock.
Room service waiters are also a font of good celebrity misbehavior stories.