The Cowarts go to Hollywood

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Editor’s note: Herald reporter Jen Cowart is traveling across the country with her family over the next several weeks. This is the fifth installment in a series documenting the journey.

Our arrival at Balboa RV Park in Van Nuys, Calif., signified our first lengthy stay in any one spot since we’d left Virginia at the beginning of July.

The park itself was the first of its kind for us – more of a small city than an RV park, with many of the RVs there to stay, rather than to travel as we were. We were shocked at just how many RVs could be parked in one small space, and we were thankful when the owner, Steve, was there to help back us in to our own spot.

Being so close to Los Angeles, the park was at the top of our price range when it came to all the parks we’d stayed at, as was the gasoline whenever we filled our tank in California. We would not be spending a whole lot of time at the park itself, so it didn’t matter how crowded it was, or what amenities were offered. The kids would be staying with their cousins at my brother and sister-in-law’s house in Marina Del Rey the entire weekend from Thursday to Monday morning, and Don and I would be spending most of our time there as well, although we’d sleep with the dog and frog in the camper at night.

According to the owner, Steve, Balboa RV Park housed some almost-famous people – those who’d once written a song someone had sung, aspiring actors and actresses, and makeup artists to the stars, including the makeup artist to Sandra Bullock herself, in addition to housing many people who were receiving treatment at any of the nearby hospitals. Scenes from “NCIS” and “Revenge” had been filmed there on occasion.

Although that was all interesting, we had our own plans for our visit to the area and it included some fun and exciting Hollywood-style experiences that might just top those fun facts. We had done the big-ticket excursions like Disney, California Adventure and Legoland in past visits, so we were opting against those types of activities this time around in order to spend time doing other things and utilizing that money across our whole trip, versus at just one destination.

That said, we were busy the whole time. On Friday morning we met at my brother’s for breakfast and headed off to Century City, where the Twentieth Century Fox studios are located. Both my brother Chris and his wife Nina work on the lot there, so I’d asked for a tour of the lot. In the past we had taken tours of other lots where he had worked, so I assumed this was a viable option for us. I didn’t realize that public tours weren’t normally done, and it made the private tour we received all the more exciting. For an hour and a half on Friday morning we were led through the lot, touring various stages and sets, sound studios, set construction sites, scenery locations, wardrobe archives, and bungalows where former stars such as Shirley Temple and the like had spent their time. It was completely fascinating as we alternated from seeing current sets such as the set of “Bones,” to seeing the places where Shirley Temple spent much of her childhood while she helped to resurrect Twentieth Century Fox when they were close to folding at one point in time.

We got to see Oscar awards up close, including one for “The Sound of Music,” a movie also credited with helping to save Fox all those years ago, and we laughed at the various shaped bushes we found throughout, such as the one shaped like Bart Simpson.

During our tour we caught a glimpse of the movie “Maze Runner II” being scored before our eyes. We stood outside the studio in silent amazement as the movie was projected on the screen inside and the orchestra played along. We were excited as we walked through the wardrobe archives, seeing the clothes that actress Kate Winslet and actor Hugh Jackman had worn in the movies “Titanic” and “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” respectively, and yet we were so sad to see the clothes Robin Williams had worn in “Mrs. Doubtfire.” To know that he had been living and breathing when he wore them, and was now gone, was a sobering thought. We were honored to be able to see them, knowing that such a talented actor from our time had worn them.

As our tour wrapped up, we thanked our guide, whose name also happened to be Chris, for his time and for his very thorough tour through Fox’s history. We had a very important appointment to keep for noon, followed by a special lunch immediately afterwards. My niece Maya was performing in a dance show for her summer camp, and living across the country, we don’t often have the opportunity to see any of the kids’ special events. As I watched her perform to “Timber,” I thought of the fact that when Caroline was very little, Chris had flown to Rhode Island and had made it in for her first dance recital. I was happy we could be here for this. At six years old, Maya was thrilled to see us in the audience, and my four-year old nephew, James, was happy to be cheering her on in the stands along with us.

Following the show, we headed out to lunch. There’s a famous saying: “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” When in California, you eat where the Californians do – at In-N-Out Burger. Known for their delicious burgers, fries and shakes, this was a must-have meal on our list of meals out when touring the country. We’d seen a couple along the way at other destinations, but we’d saved this meal to share with our family. Lunchtime on a Friday afternoon in Los Angeles is a busy time at In-N-Out, and we had to go to two different locations in order to get in the door. We ordered our burgers, fries and shakes, inhaled the scent of the food being cooked, and enjoyed every bite and every sip.

This meal would hold us over until dinner, and it was important that our bellies would be full and satisfied for our next big event – a real, live red carpet event presented by 20th Century Fox, Atlantic Records, and YouTube Space LA. We’d be attending the “Get Lost Get Found” Livestream Concert event at the YouTube Space LA location. The kids had been surprised that morning with our tour of the Fox lot, but they were about to be very surprised for this event as well.

This event would feature several live performances by singers we knew and loved, such as Vance Joy, who sings the popular song, “Riptides,” which happens to be a favorite of Maya’s, and others including Saint Motel, Nat and Alex Wolff, and Sam Bruno. Most exciting of all, however, this event was being held in honor of the release of the movie “Papertowns,” based on the book written by John Green, who is also the author of “The Fault in Our Stars,” and of just about every book Caroline has been reading on this trip. She is a huge John Green fan, and seeing him live and in person, on the red carpet no less, was a life experience that would rank right up at the top for her (right next to meeting Barack and Michelle Obama at the White House in 2012.) There would be a Q&A with the author and the actors and actresses, including Nat Wolff, Cara Delevingne, Justice Smith, Halston Sage and Jaz Sinclair. 

There would be YouTubers present, and lots of tweeting going on.

As we entered the building, we were given special event bracelets and fun sunglasses. There were opportunities to take some great photo-booth-type pictures that we could then email to ourselves for later, and there were big-boom-style television cameras and lots of paparazzi everywhere (not counting me). The room started to fill with fans. The stars arrived on the red carpet, and we went back out to watch the action. We were most excited when John Green arrived on the red carpet, and he posed with several of the actors and actresses from the movie as he made his way to the entrance.

We moved back into the room where the concert and Q&A portions of the event would be taking place. The lights went down and the big event began. As the concert took place, the singers wowed us with songs from the movie soundtrack, and the author and actors answered questions and made us laugh with some of their antics. We watched clips from the movie, and we took photos, video, and tweeted; we sang and applauded. We had an absolute blast. It was an amazing experience.

In an hour it was just about over, but for us, it wasn’t quite. Vance Joy decided to sing his popular “Riptides” song, which is not featured in the movie, and he decided to sing it right next to Chris, who happened to be holding Maya in his arms. With only inches separating them, Maya had her own, seemingly private performance of the song, and the YouTube cameras were focused in on her as she sang along with him. It was an amazing, exciting moment, especially as he glanced over at her during his performance, noticing that his littlest fan knew every word to his song.

As we reeled from the excitement of the evening and Joy’s performance, we decided to go outside and stalk the red carpet, hoping for a glimpse of the actors and performers up close as they left the event. We parked ourselves right at the end of the line, near the cars lined up to take them away. We figured if they left, they had to walk right by us, and hopefully we’d get a photo.

Sure enough, our patience was rewarded with a fabulous photo opportunity. Caroline was able to get a prized “selfie” picture with her favorite author, John Green. The smile on her face after that moment was absolutely priceless. We took our own photos on the red carpet once the stars had gone, and we headed home for dinner, on cloud nine.

Saturday was rainy, but it did not stop us from checking some of the more touristy items off of our list. The kids really wanted to see the Hollywood sign and get some pictures there, and we wanted to also visit the Walk of Fame and see the stars on the sidewalk, as well as TCL Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, where the sidewalk is filled with the autographs, hand and footprints of famous stars, past and present. We dodged the raindrops as we took photos of the autographed cement squares, seeing names from as far back as the 1920s and ’30s like Judy Garland and Shirley Temple, and spotted some of the more recent names such as Tom Hanks, George Clooney, and even Rhode Island transplant Anthony Quinn.

Sunday dawned a beautiful day, and we decided to visit the Getty Center, a beautiful and free museum of art. Our kids all enjoy art lessons at Cranston’s R&M Studios, and they’ve developed quite an appreciation of art and artists. We knew they’d love this outing. The indoor art displays are incredibly gorgeous, but the outdoor floral and sculpture gardens are equally as gorgeous. It was a perfect day weather-wise, and we were able to see the scenic vistas from the top levels of the museum. We brought our lunches with us and ate at the outdoor tables and chairs available on site.

It was a fabulous day trip, and a perfect way to wrap up our California visit. We were sad to see it coming to an end, and it meant that when we began our next round of travel, we’d be starting the trek back east, now heading to Rhode Island.

Although we were sad to leave our family, we were excited for some of the upcoming landmarks we’d be hitting along the way home, including both Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore during the next week. We knew that although this westward portion of our trip was over, our cross-country adventure was still full speed ahead.

For more information about our cross country adventure, check out my blog www.thewholebagofchips.com.

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