I just got back from a weeklong trip to L.A., where we visited family and friends for Thanksgiving. It’s really an amazing city, though the driving does suck.
But…palm trees. Ocean breezes. Warm nights. Roses abloom in December. Hard to get any more romantic, which is one reason I made L.A. not just the setting, but also a major character in the Fast Lane books.
“But Dave,” you say. “How can you truly know L.A. if you’ve never lived there?”
First, I’ve visited several times. During these visits I’ve traveled far and wide—which is necessary because L.A. is wide and parts of it are very far from other parts—to see the sights, often accompanied by people who’d lived there for years.
Second, I still rely on those people for information about what, where and who’s cool.
Third, like everyone else on the planet, I’ve seen thousands of movies, TV shows and documentaries that take place in L.A.
And, finally, we here in Milwaukee have access to this amazing thingy called The Internet. If I need to know what Malibu looks like, I don’t have to jump onto a plane and fly out there—though I have, because we here in Milwaukee also have access to thingies called airplanes—and an international airport where they routinely land and take off!
Before I ever saw Malibu, though, I saw pictures that spurred me to envision mansions built into the sides of bluffs. Not so hard to do, since there are mansions in my humble hometown of Racine, Wisconsin. They overlook Lake Michigan, which would make a very convincing stand-in for the ocean if anyone ever filmed a Fast Lane movie there. So I have no doubt that a place like the ICE House—Fast Lane’s headquarters—could exist.
There is also no such place as Rev, a Fast Lane eatery that can be transformed overnight from a football-themed hotspot complete with neon goal posts to a synchronized-swimming-themed dance hall sporting a floor that shimmers like a pool. But there is a Beverly Hills, and we’ve all heard about its ostentatious pubs and dance clubs that cater to the stars. So I dress the wait staff in referee zebra stripes on the first night and swimsuits the next and voila. Whether you live in L.A. or Laredo or Lansing, Rev sounds like a place where the glitterati of Hollywood would hang out.
The goal is to get things right enough. Righter, at least, than a scene supposedly set in Wisconsin in one of the most popular TV shows of all time, The X-Files. Wisconsin has cows, right? And snow? NP. Just grab an establishing shot of a massive herd of beef cattle grazing on the open prairie with 10,000-foot-tall snowcapped mountains in the background. Other than the fact that Wisconsin has few beef herds, plains that are rarely larger than soccer fields and exactly no mountains—especially ones tall enough to be snowcapped year-round—it was highly convincing. When I mentioned it to one of my Hollywood friends, he said, “The people who made that show didn’t think anyone watching would know the difference.”
Even the people who live here? And people who don’t live here, but have actually visited?
The Fast Lane books aren’t travelogues—though my dad joined us over the weekend, and when I asked what he wanted to see, he said Malibu, because that’s where much of Palm Springs Heat and Malibu Bride take place. So we went to Malibu and, sure enough, saw mansions built into bluffs.
I like L.A. A lot. I’ve often wished I lived there, especially in winter. Milwaukee has its own charm—I’ve even heard visitors say so—but Frank Sinatra never named an album Milwaukee Is My Lady. So while the snow flies here, I’m glad I can sit in my attic office with the wind howling all around me and click off a scene in which the main characters of Fast Lane No. 3, San Fernando Dream, find a picnic place in the desert sun.