5.01.2013

Julie Saddles Up

Remember when Lucy and Ricky packed it off for the country, once again altering the whole premise of the show? After a failed attempt at movie stardom and that troubled European cross-over tour, the Tropicana's bandleader was no longer Manhattan's hottest ticket. Aging vaudevillians Fred and Ethel shuffle stepped into that little Westport guesthouse, magically equipped to raise chicks and put down prize-winning roses. There was the wedding ring lost inside the brick barbecue, a ho-hum dinner dance at the local club, Lucy posing as a minuteman statue in the town square. Though suburban exile indeed brought the funny, it somehow signaled the franchise's disappearance into the sunset -- making one last gasp in a short-lived spin-off that had the tired foursome plutonium mining in Nevada.

Yes, time marches on (side note to Matthew Wiener!) and even the most compelling narrative may not survive being thrown into all-new territory. My story, for example, began with a plucky girl who abandoned a dream life as a travel writer to make her way in Hollywood -- only to board a non-stop thrill ride of heartbreaking yet hilarious near misses. My own heyday came and went, along with a river of starry-eyed friends and neighbors who packed up their yellowing head shots and moved in another direction. Over the years, I lost one little Hollywood bungalow to a greedy, foreign-born landlord and influx of gentrified West Side hipsters -- and fled another overrun by rats, possums and the random uninvited meth addict. 

Julie may have gone to Hollywood, folks, but you may now find her in nearby Burbank. While both the Disney and Warner backlots fan out alongside "Rancho Equestrian," horses, cattle dogs and the occasional goat on a stable boy's leash roam our streets. Likely dreamed up by the very same set designers who gave us the Ricardos' country spread, my converted barn features pine cabinets, beamed ceilings, a 50's era farm stove and a brick fireplace. I, too, garden and grill on the back patio. While I don't have a henhouse, this starkly quiet morning surely means the old guy down the alley up and murdered the local rooster.

Overrun with the city's fanciest horse folk, the sprawling equestrian center across the street hosts national shows, pre-stages the annual Rose Bowl, and offers riding lessons to the small children of now wealthy screenwriters with whom I went to film school. Frequenting the old school Mexican restaurant across the street is an odd combination of neighborhood families on horseback, the world's top blue grass acts, hipster followers of local indie bands and gay senior cowboys.

I used to think of the Valley as the place where David Hasselfhoff went to die after the whole drunken cheeseburger episode. Then again, this is the "near Valley," as my celebrity reporter friend Chloe and her imported English husband call it. They, too, have moved to the area dismissed in local parlance as "over the hill" -- although back in the day you couldn't get either one of them to venture farther west along Cahuenga than the discount parking lot on the wrong side of the Hollywood Bowl.

Maybe we're growing up. Given the cartoonish proportions of our imaginations, I think I can speak for Lucy when I say neither one of us ever imagined that happening. Though I may well have quieted down over here, I'm still very much in the game, count on that. This may be the outskirts, but it's the same tough town -- and you don't want to run around squawking too loudly about overstaying your welcome. Just ask the neighborhood rooster.

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