"You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave!" Thanks to the Eagles (Don Henley, Glenn Frey, Don Felder and Joe Walsh) for their sentiment expressed in their hit Hotel California. This might be the anthem for Laurel Canyon.
The place conjures up images of glamour, mystery, the occult, sex, drugs, rock and roll. Who can deny the lure associated with living the counter-culture existence in the center—the very heart—the anvil of Hollywood?
I'm not talking about the genteel Valley stretch of the canyon road of Sears, Kinney Shoes and the ice-skating rink that becomes a proverbial dust bowl in Sunland. I mean the rugged, winding, verdant, dangerous road that can cause cars to hydroplane down the swiftwater causing them to careen and plummet down the flooded roadside as if cursed by the God Olympus from above.
Why did the Army Air Corps establish a giant movie studio on top of Lookout Mountain? Were the denizens of the canyon being watched? Was someone spying on the notorious Wonderland Gang (the biggest cocaine ring operating west of the Mississippi)? Laurel Canyon, more than any other place has always attracted talent, creativity, secrets, magic, mystery, energy and music, music, music...
I can't count the number of times I've driven over the hill to Sunset or Melrose and zoomed by the Laurel Canyon Country Store, always meaning to stop and see what it's all about. Today I did it. I stopped and parked and went inside.
I ask the man at the cash register, "Who is the owner?" The man smiles and sticks out his hand, "I'm David and this is my store." I ask David about the legend that the inhabitants of Laurel Canyon have a "picture day"—is it possible?
David points to the upper walls of his store—there are at least a dozen huge photos showing hundreds of people. He explains that indeed it's true. Picture day is very festive. It happens one day at the end of November. The latest edition is proudly hung over the entrance.
I ask David what a typical day is like? He says that Steven Tyler usually stops in for his morning bagel followed by other regulars, mostly musicians and actors. People like Esther Galil, Jeffrey O'Connell, Katharine Bosch, Judith Dryland, Spike Steward, Shawn Juliet. I meet Esther and some of the others. I ask what's so special about this place? She immediately says, "I love the hugs. We're musicians and we need to be hugged and loved."
After perusing the deli case, I order a chicken salad sandwich and proceed to sit outdoors on the great patio. I enjoy the warm ambience despite the sound of zooming cars whizzing by on their way down the canyon. David stops by to show me Jim Morrison's house behind the store on Rothdell Trail—sweet little abode with a bell near the top.
He reminds me that the restaurant adjoining his store is a marvelous Italian called Pace (PAH CHAY). It opens at 5:30 p.m. for dinner. I promise to return soon. I ask David, "Do you live around here?" He shakes his head, "No, I live in Beverly Hills." I reply, "David, good for you!" He looks skyward and says, "God bless America! In my 25 years of owning this store I've never had one day of trouble. It's a blessing."
On my travels through Laurel Canyon, I've also come across some disturbing stories, which I'll elaborate on in another post. This encounter was joyous and I'm happy to be able to spread the good news. Thank you David and all the other regulars who welcomed me so warmly. I love the laid-back, bohemian, easy-spirited atmosphere and, most especially, the warmth.