Death on Rodeo Drive

So I find myself living across the street from Rodeo drive, one of those iconic American places that you file away in your nascent subconscious at an early age, listed under: Wealth; place of.  While my own internal fires of masculine greed have already begun to subside (though I don’t know if that comes from age, wisdom, or the sobering reality of my continued inability to ever have much money),  it is interesting to see the flocks who still stumble and gawk at this California Fatima, this last faint vision of a graspable meaning to life: “I purchase, therefore I am.” The older I get, the more the real world seems like a movie set or video game. The question then becomes whether that is a function of  a) my increased perception b) my increasing craziness, or c) the real world modeling itself on the imaginary worlds of the entertainment industry, real estate developers, and megalomaniac investors. I think that “c” is most likely explanation, and Rodeo Drive has certainly made its way onto my list of unreal realities. Think Mall meets Strip Club.  You are there to spend money; the security guards at Cartier size you up as buyer, tourist, or thief. I must cut a more imposing figure than I sometimes think I do based on my experience in Cartier. I was with a friend who actually is the type of guy that would buy a watch in Cartier so I decided to entertain myself by letting the Asian Milf saleswoman overhear me telling him that if he bought the watch he was looking at he “better leave it in the States and not take it down to Guadalajara” because he wouldn’t be safe wearing it in the streets.  “You are a professional soccer player?” She asked me;  I had on a bootleg soccer jacket from the downtown LA garment district. I guess it looked good on me. “Yes.” I told her. An excerpt from an article about a development in Dubai.

“Dubai-based real estate developer Damac Properties has announced the development of Akoya Drive, one of the longest shopping strip experiences in the emirate. Similar in length to ‘The Walk’ at Jumeirah Beach Residences (JBR) and inspired by Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills and Champs Elysees in Paris, Akoya Drive will stretch 1.3km through the Akoya by Damac luxury golf community, the developer said.It will include high-end food and beverage, retail shopping, and a host of family entertainment offerings, Damac said in a statement. “

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As you can see from the pictures, they did quite a job of mimicking Rodeo What fidelity. Perhaps replacement Rodeo’s will pop up in the same corners of the world that send the most patrons to the original; Moscow, Manila, Tokyo. Why bother with the fuss of flying to California when you can put an exact replica anywhere you want? It’s not as if Rodeo Drive is a real place anyways. It’s a recreation of an outdated fantasy itself.

Rodeo Drive Norma Desmond

The film “Sunset Boulevard” was released in 1950, and it already portrayed Hollywood and the glamour of cameras and “Fame” as an outdated mausoleum for the stars that had lived and created the very idea of “Fame” itself in the decades before world war 2.  “Being Famous” barely existed before the rise of early Hollywood.  Rodeo drive is strategically placed in the heart of Beverly Hills and just south of the Sunset Strip-geographies redolent with fame, celebrity and wealth, but a fake version invented in the late 60’s by city planners looking to boost the tax base. I was under the impression, as I imagine most people were,  that Rodeo drive had at least some tenuous connection to old Hollywood, that maybe the real Norma Desmonds themselves once shopped there.  But no, the first high end shopping on Rodeo drive didn’t open until 1967, when Fred Haymen opened Giorgio of Beverly Hills, quickly followed by Gucci and the ridiculously over-the-top Bijan which parks a 2 million dollar Bugatti sports car out front to draw onlookers.   So what the developers offer is not a community, but community without the messy business of real people and real history. An adult amusement park, Champs Elysees without the artists AND more shopping! But who really shops these days?

I never saw any celebrities, not even D-Listers, on all my sojourns; the few times I walked around pretending to browse at the shop windows I felt like I was intruding on a more primitive cultures’ sacred soil. A promised land that the Eastern European gangsters (I bet these guys shop on Rodeo drive), Arabian playboys, and Asian girl-women  that populate the neighborhood have braved many obstacles to arrive in. Men park their Ferrari’s in a manner not the least ironic; they put money in the meters and run in Bijan which touts itself as the “world’s most expensive store”, to grab a gift for the Mistress and the Wife at the same time. More than anyone though, are the hordes of picture taking Asian, European, and Heartland Americans taking portraits of each other standing in front of Prada or some Rolls Royce on the street.

The only store I saw much action in on the day I recorded the above video  a salon that had girls outside touting skin cream. I went in and listened to the spiel which ended with a sales pitch to sell me a jar of collagen cream for $595. “Tal”, the sales girl, countered my askance look by telling me that since she had done so well that day, selling $1,200 in cream to old ladies, that she would give me a break and go two for one. When she noticed me on looking up her snake oil, she told me that if I saw cheaper prices it was because they were counterfeit! So, Rodeo drive is just like your local mall; rapacious merchants, bored people wandering around, and the chance to waste money.

Maybe I’d appreciate more if I could afford to shop in Bijan. Then again, if I could afford that, I’d have better things to do than go shopping.