Postcards From the Edge? Not Exactly

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Texans were standing on arguably L.A.'s wackiest strip of turf and they had one question: Where were all the wackos?

Keith Sholar, 31, dutifully peered through the lens of his video cam, but on the wacko scale, there wasn't much to show the folks back in Houston. A couple normal-size guys pumping iron on Muscle Beach. Sweaty half-court games of hoops. A beach-side vendor with a pierced navel. (Except for the beach-side part, they've got all those back home.)

Where's the chain-saw juggler? Where's the roller-skating guitar player with the turban? And on this weekday morning of pre-June gloom, where was the sun?

"It's not what we were expecting," said Sholar, with girlfriend Tina Wilson, about their first trip to Los Angeles.

But this, after all, was La-La Land, where there's always a happy ending. The Texas couple just had to wait for the second act. "Later we saw that guy jumping around on glass [shards]," said Wilson, 30, who gave the performer $5. "That was pretty interesting. You don't see that in Houston."

In the couple's four-day stay in Los Angeles, they saw a lot of things they don't normally see in the Texan city in which they were both born and raised. But that was part of the motivation for this trip and several others, including ones to Cancun and Florida, that the couple have taken during their seven-year relationship.

"We've heard so much about Los Angeles and we'd never been there, we just thought it was time to go," said Wilson, an apartment manager and part-time real estate agent.

The couple began their trip West by flying to Las Vegas, where they visited for three days. "It was fun," said Wilson. "But everything there is indoors." Next, they drove to L.A. and stayed with friends in Oxnard. And from the get-go, their experience rarely matched the cultural stereotypes of Los Angeles.

First, traffic wasn't bad. Their rented Chevrolet Impala encountered no major traffic snarls even though they motored everywhere from Laguna Beach to Hollywood. "If people out there are crying about traffic, they should come to Houston," said Sholar, a sales representative for a home improvement store who is frequently in his car.

And L.A. drivers, like the denizens themselves, seem much nicer than back home--a region noted for its Southern hospitality. L.A. folks seem "laid-back" and "nonjudgmental," the couple agreed--nothing like the big-city meanies they expected to meet.

Then, there was the crime and grime, of which they found none and surprisingly little. They'd been warned by those back home to "just get out of there" if they came across graffiti. But once in Los Angeles, they found it "free of trash" and "very clean." There was hardly any graffiti.

"We'd heard a lot of stories about gangs," said Wilson. "But I didn't feel threatened at any time whatsoever. And as for homeless people," she added. "I think we've got more at home than Los Angeles."

Of some disappointment was the absence of television and movie stars. At least those in the flesh. The couple saw plenty of sidewalk stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but weren't terribly impressed. "I guess I wasn't really expecting to see stars walking up and down the street," said Sholar. "But it sure was different than what you see on television. On TV, there's always a big to-do about it, but I guess that's all for the press."

They think they may have had one brush with a celebrity, but they still aren't sure. "We saw this guy on a motorcycle driving very, very close to the [tinted] window of a limo," said Sholar. "I think he was a paparazzi."

The couple discovered they weren't the only ones who didn't measure up to the hype. They helped alter a few stereotypes of Texans during their visit. Yes, they did have to tell locals, we are from Texas and we don't have an outrageous drawl, we don't wear cowboy boots, we didn't shoot J.R. and we don't worship the current president.

"No comment on George W.," said Sholar. "We're not a bunch of hillbillies," said Wilson. "We just laugh at how [Texans] are portrayed on television."

But the pair did conform to the Southern stereotype of good manners. They didn't want to offend anyone by mentioning that, well, when a building in Hollywood was burning down, emergency trucks blocked their exit. "Our car was surrounded by firetrucks for about five hours," said Sholar. "But that's so negative. That's not what our trip was like at all."

They made the best of a bad situation and decided to hit the Ripley's and the Guinness museums on Hollywood Boulevard. And the extra time gave Wilson a chance to buy a "Best Daughter" award--shaped like an Oscar--for her 11-year-old.

"Los Angeles was just beautiful," said Sholar later from Houston, where the couple has resumed their favorite leisure activities of Internet surfing and fishing. "And with June gloom in, we didn't even see it with the sun on it."

"We're already planning another trip hopefully later this year," he added. "We want to see [the taping of their favorite show] 'Politically Incorrect.' "

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