It’s that wonderful time of year known as Pilot Season!!! The birds are singing, people are hopeful, all is possible! On a few of the stage mom groups I’m in, the following query is showing up quite a bit: “Heading out to LA for our VERY FIRST pilot season (eeeep! SO excited!). What are some fun things to do out there? (aaaaaaaagh! CAN.NOT.WAIT!!!!!!!) As a veteran of not one, but five total pilot seasons in LA, I thought I might address this topic.
Let me describe what actually happens on a day to day basis when you come to LA for pilot season. You are in a rented apartment/house with none of your own things, and none of your own people except other acting families that you may know that are out here at the same time, several of which you probably don’t even like because “They are CRAY CRAY!” Because you don’t have a life here, or roots, you end up doing several things in a continual loop: School; wait for auditions; marvel at how costly this city is; more school; prep for an audition; go on an audition; wait; take out a 2nd mortgage to pay for parking and groceries; more school.
I was bored just writing that so you can imagine how boring it is to live it. To combat this, you start reaching for other things to fill your time. The Santa Monica pier, The Getty Museum, The LaBrea Tar Pits. You do these things not because you actually like doing them, or would do them of your own free will, but because if you do not do them, you are doing nothing but school; wait for auditions; go on auditions; hold up signs asking for money on the exit ramp of the 101; edge toward insanity.
In the first couple of trips to LA, we were full of enthusiasm. We went to Santa Monica and Malibu (“Paradise Cove is SO GREAT!”), we rode bikes along the beach in Venice. However, we learned early on that doing anything in LA is usually a laborious affair because SO. MANY. PEOPLE., and our enthusiasm began to wane.
When I made them go to the beach (It’s a beautiful day! Let’s get outside!), the temperature on the coast was 15 degrees colder than in the valley. And the sun went into hiding. We sat on our blanket huddled in sweatshirts and watching all the smart people who had wetsuits swim. Fail. When we went to Griffith Observatory, (It’ll be SO interesting ya’ll, you can see the Hollywood sign!) half of the known universe decided to visit on the same day. It took us so long to get up the hill into the parking lot that we no longer cared about observing anything.
The phrase, “Come on guys! It’ll be fun!” began to terrify them because no matter what I tried to do to get us out of the house and experiencing LA life, by the time we found parking (epic feat), fought our way through the crowds (don’t these people work!?), and did the activity (I’m only pretending to have fun with this dumb activity), I would wonder why anyone leaves their house in the first place. Doing anything FUN in LA is FUN in the same way taking a toddler to Disney World seems like it’ll be FUN. In theory, it’s going to be the BEST DAY EVER! In reality, you wish you were dead by 10 a.m.
So when I suggested hiking Runyon Canyon because “it’ll be so fun guys!”, they were not fooled. They whined. They complained. They chained themselves to ipads. “Children! That is IT!” I raged. “I am so sick to death of you wanting to do nothing but stay indoors like a bunch of social recluses. We are going to get out of this house and DO SOMETHING if it kills all of us (foreshadowing). Now get your dang sneakers and slap some sunscreen on because we are hiking freaking Runyon Canyon!”
And now, here is my account of that experience:
I enlisted my two good friends, Shari and Angie, and their child actor moppets to join us, packed a backpack with three water bottles (we’ll only need one each, right?) shoved my two indoor children into the car and off we went. Except, like I said, whenever you say “off we went”, in Los Angeles it’s always just “off we sort of went,” especially when where you have to go involves Highland Avenue. Don’t ever, ever drive on Highland Avenue.
By the time we arrived, it was already noon. I had promised the boys Chick Fil A for lunch and we hadn’t even started hiking yet. My need to pee was met with the information that there are no bathrooms at Runyon, so I had to begin our hike with a side trip up a short trail behind a discreet cactus. The boys just rolled their eyes and started without me. “Shut up!” I yelled after them. “You pooped your pants every five minutes once upon a time!”
Once I drip dried, I was ready to roll and pretend I loved everything. “Ahhhhhhh!” I breathed. “Smell this air boys! Hear those birds? This is what we call nature!”
No reply. They just continued to trudge up the initial ascent, resentment wafting off of them in clouds. Of course Angie and Shari’s kids seemed to be straight out of the pages of Nature Walk, with their happy skipping and pointing and ooh ahh-ing, making me feel as though I’d failed the 4-H portion of parenting.
I shielded my eyes and looked up. “Good Lord!” I shouted. “Look at those crazy people up there!” We all looked up to the very very tippy top of possibility and saw several specks of humanity standing in triumph. It was so high I couldn’t even see the trail that led them there, but even from way down here, I could tell they were the type of people with 0% body fat that did this sort of thing with bags of rocks on their backs. Idiots. Seeing the apprehension on Matt and Macsen’s face I assured them that we would not be joining those wierdo earthy crunchies. We were from the suburbs, and would do the trail most recommended for families. A pleasant 1.7 mile route that was elevated enough to see all of LA and feel accomplished, but not so high that the air would thin. We began our trek and the boys, spurred on to greatness by Michael, a fun 18 year old boy that was living with us at the time, actually began to run. This left me to chat amiably to Shari and Angie about how the entertainment business made us want to kill ourselves. And then five words were uttered that changed the course of the day forever.
“I wonder where this goes?”
It was Michael, pointing up a steep rocky incline. Sort of a trail, in that you could tell people had climbed up there before, but where hand holds were necessary. “I don’t know Michael….” I hedged. “I don’t even see that on the map. That might be a little much for these little guys (me).”
“What!?” Macsen squawked. “Mom, I can get up there easy!”
“Yeah, it doesn’t look that hard,” Matt agreed. “Let’s do it!”
What was this? My PS4 addicted offspring were showing enthusiasm whilst outside? Not wanting to stifle this moment, I watched as they and the rest of the gang scrambled up. Grumbling, I holstered my now 1/2 empty water bottle and dug in after them. I gave birth to four children, surely I could climb a few rocks.
Dear God, my heart. By the time I reached the top of the ledge, it was pounding so hard that I literally thought this is what it must feel like to have a heart attack. But I felt accomplished aside from one small problem. There was no way to get back to the “easy trail” without climbing BACK down the steep rock wall we had just climbed up which seemed a treacherous move without ropes and caribeaners. We would have to find a different way down.
We continued on for 30 minutes or so, looking for said “way” to no avail. Angie, Shari and I huddled around our phones looking at the map of the Canyon, trying to figure out which way to go. We drained the last of our water, and the kids began to look irritated and floppy. With thinly veiled panic, I blurted out, “Look how high up we are guys! I can see the Hollywood sign way over there! Picture! C’mon, c’mon, c’mon! We did it! Yay! Everybody look happy!”
They did not look happy.
Finally, a rescuer I’ll call “nice biker boy” came by. I have no idea how one would get a bike up to where we were aside from dropping down from the sky.
“Where do ya’ll wanna head?” nice biker boy asked.
“Down,” I said.
“Oh sure, you just wanna follow the trail over yonder to those wooden stairs down there and you’ll be headed right down. It’s pretty easy.”
It was not pretty easy. There were steep declines that were almost harder than the inclines. Macsen’s feet went out from under him and he scraped his hands all up. There were narrow passages where the rock wall fell off sharply into the ravine below. Anyone who fell off was not coming back up. I can’t be certain, but at one point I think I spied an unfortunate hiker laying listlessly at the bottom. He waved feebly at me as if to say, “It’s ok, I know it’s too late for me, you go ahead.”
Every time I would think this has to be the last little bit here, we would round another corner and be faced with yet another rocky crag of desert wall. It was like ground hog day, but with hiking. We had no water left, my legs were literally shaking like I was withdrawing from heroin. At one point I shouted, “I DID NOT ASK TO SCALE KILIMANJARO!”, fruitlessly to the sky.
Hours passed. The sun beat down. We reached yet another peak and all stood silently contemplating our imminent death. I leaned my head back, raised my water bottle to the sky and tipped it over. One lone drop fell in extra slow motion to the gaping maw that was my parched mouth. I looked down and saw the exact spot where we had stood when we started and saw people looking up at us like, “Who are THOSE crazy people way up there?” Yeah. Hi. We’re dumb.
Finally, FINALLY, hours later, we reached the main path where we had started in the first place. We straggled back to the car, defeated. We had planned to get lunch with everyone but it was now dinner time. Also, we no longer wanted to be around each other. Like the survivors of the Titanic, we scattered, not wanting the continual reminder of what we had endured. Oh, we say we’re still friends, but I’m not sure.
When we reached the cool air conditioned quiet of our rental house, the boys flopped down on the couch, electronic devices a balm to their weary, overtaxed spirits. I let them. Tomorrow was another day. We would live to fight again.
After all, we still hadn’t done the Hollywood sign.