Every once in a while, we send writer/comedian Megan Koester to do something awful, like spend the night in a $12-an-hour hotel or, as in today's installment, hang out at The Grove for the entire day on the Saturday before Christmas. Somehow she survived and tells the tale here.
[Photos by Megan Koester]
Saturday, December 20, 10:30 am: I have never taken an Uber before, as I have heard only negative things about the company and it's employees. That being said, my personal safety is worth less than the "free UberBLACK ride to The Grove, up to $150" promotion that is currently taking place. After a near-tear-inducing 30 minutes spent trying to use the app, my driver Hakob is en route. He texts me, "hi Megan can you send your adres?uber." I have already entered my address into the application. My alleged eight-minute wait becomes 10 minutes, then 12, then 15. I watch him overshoot my place on the map and directionlessly shuffle around the neighborhood like a mouse in a maze. What is this, Hakob's first rodeo?
He finally arrives, looking dazed, at 10:45. "Sorry," he explains, "I came all the way from Hollywood." I live in East Hollywood. The scent of cologne in Hakob's blacked-out Chevy Suburban is far too pungent for this hour of the morning; it begins to make my head hurt. According to The Grove's website, if I want a free ride back all I have to do is make a purchase of $450 or more. I will be Lyfting home.
11 am: Hakob drops me off with an emotionless, robotic "Have a nice day" as a pained young man in a concierge outfit opens the rear door of the Suburban and releases me into my home for the next 12 hours. Within two minutes, I've already boarded the trolley—you better believe I took one of the highly coveted top seats. "It's beautiful!" a woman exclaims about nothing in particular as she takes artless photos of said nothing with her cell phone.
An inane song about having a "Candy Cane Christmas" plays overhead as the conductor informs us that the trolley gives The Grove's guests a "nostalgic" experience reminiscent of Los Angeles's former streetcars. He then tells us we'll be making a midway stop at the Cheesecake Factory. The nostalgia is palpable. People ooh and aah as he points out the sites—the second largest tree in Los Angeles is here! Look, to our left! There's the new Diane Von Furstenberg store! Multiple riders photograph it.
11:15 am: The trolley ride is over. I am already intolerably bored.
11:20 am: I joylessly watch the fountain's "festive musical salute to the holiday season." When it ends, my fellow mall-goers applaud at the water, thanking it for its service.
11:30 am: A big announcement comes over the loud speakers—The Top Hats, The Grove's own proprietary "high energy dance troupe," will be performing a "magical musical extravaganza" on the trolley in five minutes! My prayer candle worked!
11:40 am: Where the fuck are the Top Hats? Time is money here—as I have no intention to shop, I desperately need entertainment. "Look," a guy says to his wife, gesticulating toward the fountain. "Water." A Christmas song performed by accused rapist CeeLo plays in sync with the fountain's endless, undulating flow.
11:45 am: Still no Top Hats. This is unacceptable. I lustfully stare at the bar above Nordstrom. Is 11:45 am an acceptable time to start drinking? It is Saturday, after all.
12:00 pm: I'm so bored, I actually start shopping. I come perilously close to purchasing a $25 bikini at Topshop because, in my altered state, I have convinced myself it's a "good deal." Good lord, Koester, keep it together! I think. You've only been here an hour and you've already lost your goddamned mind.
12:15 pm: In the plush, spacious restroom next to the concierge stand, I use The Grove's free WiFi to watch a live feed of The Grove's fountain, which I'm convinced exists solely to cheekily ask the question, "What drought?" An outrageously loud cover of "Let it Snow" plays amidst the screams of an infant getting its diaper changed. It is impossible to concentrate on anything but its screams, the music, and the diaper's rancid smell. The infant's name is Skylar.
1 pm: I take a brief sojourn to the Farmer's Market, where I stumble upon a horrifyingly festive site—elderly people singing and dancing to Christmas songs that have been "hula-fied." "Santa couldn't make it," the ukulele player tells the audience, "but here's his wife: Mrs. Claus." A white woman in a Santa hat slowly, awkwardly begins to shimmy to the unsteady melody of the ukulele player and drummer.
1:15 pm: GROVE PRO TIP: Don't want to wait over one American hour to be seated at the Cheesecake Factory? Skip the endless line, which is spilling out the door, and belly up to the bar! I order two small plates (one of fried cheese, another of warm asparagus salad) and a SkinnyLicious® Long Island Iced Tea. My friend Sam, who is lunching with me, mentions she has a Klout perk coupon for acai-infused alcohol. My face contorts in glee as I realize I also have one—and it's in my wallet. "Just get a cup from Coffee Bean and pour some in it," she tells me. "No one will know."
There is a Whole Foods across the street that'll take the coupon, and the idea of maintaining sobriety for the next 10 hours seems impossible. I can't get loaded at Cheesecake Factory, though—the Long Island, I was horrified to discover after it had already been served to me, cost $10.50. Which brings up an important question: Can I leave the confines of The Grove to purchase hooch to smuggle back in?
As I ponder this, a woman who looks like a Real Housewife of Insert Location Here approaches us and slurs, "I'm sorry, can I ask you a question?" Her well-manicured hand points at Sam's tater tots; she asks, "What. Are. THOSE?!?" "They're the stuffed potato bites," Sam answers. "Are they … amazing?!?" the housewife asks. "Yes," Sam solemnly replies.
2:15 pm: One hour and $25 later, I find myself slightly faded from the Long Island Iced Tea, wondering what's next. As Sam takes her leave, I watch an oblivious man almost behead the daughter he's carrying on his shoulders. An Ugg-booted preteen sits on the curb, silently sobbing. Near her, a jazz quintet in Santa hats plays to sparse applause.
2:45 pm: I check out the parking garage's digital sign, which informs me how many available spaces exist on each level. It is riddled with ones and zeros. I return to the bathroom; a woman is re-wrapping her wounded leg on the overstuffed couch. The bathroom, while well maintained, nevertheless smells strongly of female genitalia.
"I'm gonna get drunk and go to the American Girl store," I declare to no one in particular.
3:45 pm: In my ceaseless wandering, I pass an ad for the Top Hats. They apparently perform at 6:45 and 7:45 pm every evening, not 11:30 am like the earlier announcement promised. I am upset that I have been deceived, but grateful to have something to look forward to. The mall is reaching critical mass; it has become impossible to walk without getting run into by a rogue child actively being ignored by its indifferent parents. "Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom!" a young girl screams while frantically tugging at the hem of her mother's Boho dress. Her mother steadfastly refuses to hang up the phone or acknowledge the child's presence.
4:00 pm: I smoke my hourly cigarette with the Topshop employees on the outskirts of the mall; before me, a book published by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, entitled "Beyond Birth and Death," lies on the sidewalk.
An irate man in sweatpants yells at his son, "Let's go. I'm NOT shopping. I know what I want." He storms away in a huff, leaving the child behind in an ever-increasing fray. I find the source of the Krishna literature, a young man holding court with a group of wide-eyed dreamers. "So ... are these free?" a coed asks, investigating a book. "Yes! We're just asking for a donation," he replies. She hands the book back to him.
4:15 pm: The Grove's Rules of Conduct are posted on the wall that flanks my smoking spot; as abject boredom has forced me to smoke more than I usually do, I have committed most of the rules to memory. They are, in my assessment, being broken left and right. Non-service animals in sweaters surround me at every turn, most too large to comply with the "must carry dogs" rule. I quickly discover that there is a finite number of times one can see a dog wearing a festive sweater before one stops feeling anything, up to and including judgment for said dog's owner.
4:20 pm: The number and variation of covers of "Baby It's Cold Outside" I have heard cannot be quantified. My favorite, I decide, is the one by She & Him; I enjoy it because Zooey Deschanel is the one who takes on the song's predatory male role. In related news, I have lost my mind.
4:30 pm: I watch an enormous dog take a shit on the sidewalk outside Tommy Bahama, much to the horror of its owners. I realize the futility of even to try writing anything as funny as this visual.
My friend Dave meets me outside Tommy Bahama; as neither of us has ever had the privilege to enter one, we decide to check it out. I spritz myself with the brand's signature fragrance; I immediately regret doing so. It is pungent, and not in a pleasant way. Buzz waning, I finally cave into temptation and hit up the bar above Nordie's. Dave's drink is an inconsumable layer of vodka poured over a shot of lemon juice; mine has a needless red wine topper. Both cost $13.
5:30 pm: It's an unacceptable time to eat, which means it's time for my dinner reservation at the American Girl café. I smoke a cigarette outside, reeking of Tommy Bahama perfume, and try not to look like a sex predator as I wait for my dining companion.
A sign above the escalator in the store informs customers that, if they or their children are wearing Crocs, they should use the elevator. There are women here whose job it is to brush doll hair; I pity them endlessly. Heidi Klum and her daughter exit the dining room as my companion Veronica and I enter—I find her skin frustratingly luminescent.
We do not have our own dolls; as such, we must borrow loaners. Mine is African-American. Veronica's is, according to the excitable young woman who seats us, "a Latina!" Both have seen better days.
"I'm gonna eat the fuck out of those," Veronica says as a plate of piping hot, clearly canned, cinnamon rolls is placed on our table. We are surrounded by young girls, most of whom brought their own dolls, and their harried parents, who drink beers served in wine glasses. A miniature cup of tea is placed in front of Veronica's plastic Latina doll.
7 pm: After a wonderfully microwaved meal, we leave the American Girl store as artificial snow rains down on us. "Is it carcinogenic?" Veronica asks. "Probably," I reply.
7:30 pm: We are desperately in need of a drink, but there is—to our horror—no seating available in the Whisper Lounge. We instead go to Mixology 101, a bar owned by Planet Hollywood that has been featured on Extra. As an all-white band plays reggae in the corner, I peruse the drink menu; one concoction contains gin and whole milk. I am, while intrigued, too terrified to order it. My friend Allen meets us; he, like everyone else who has come to visit so far, asks if I've heard the news about the girlfriend-murdering cop killer in New York. It puts a bit of a damper on our otherwise festive surroundings.
8:45 pm: As I enjoy a post-Mixology-101 smoke outside of Dylan's Candy Bar, an elderly white woman shuffles by. "There's a lot of candy in there," she tells her companion. She is not lying.
9:15 pm: My visitors have both left; once again, I am alone. I take a wholly unfulfilling, Cheesecake Factory/American Girl café-induced trip to an unspeakably filthy Nordstrom restroom. Afterward, I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror—I look tired, haggard, broken. And I haven't even bought anything.
9:30 pm: I walk by a rather large menorah. It's a nice gesture, given that The Grove is located in the Fairfax District, but the fact that it's situated next to the enormous fucking Christmas tree (the second largest in the state!) makes said gesture feel hollow.
10 pm: It is, apparently, happy couple hour. I walk through a sea of them, smiling into their iPhone screens while pecking each other on the cheek, on my way to go smoke for the millionth time. I have been at The Grove 11 hours; the end is nigh. For all of us. Uh oh, I'm drifting into existential territory. Why are we here? Did our merciful maker, the reason for the season, put us on Earth solely to consume? Will we be remembered when we die? Wait—STOP EVERYTHING. "All I Want for Christmas (Is You)" by Mariah Carey has started playing. I love this song! My angst is immediately averted. Rick Caruso, I think, you are one sick and brilliant fuck.
10:15 pm: I have found myself, once again, smoking in front of The Grove Code of Conduct. Did you know "engaging in any unlawful activity or behavior" is not permitted in the Grove? Or, for that matter, anywhere laws exist? Meanwhile, the cop car that has been illegally parked in a fire zone since I arrived sits, unmanned.
10:30 pm: There is still a comically large line to take pictures with Santa. Don't these brats have a bedtime? I ask myself. The state should remove them from their parents' custody.
10:45 pm: I order my last drink of the night, a dirty gin martini, at the La Piazza Ristorante outdoor bar. As I soak in a "breathtaking" view of the fountain, two shrill middle-aged women to my left animatedly talk about what a bitch someone named Linda is. "Happy holidays," the bartender tells them as he lays down their tab. "Merry Christmas," one of them replies, making deep, judgmental eye contact. "Merry. CHRISTMAS." —Megan Koester
· One Depressing Night at the $12-an-Hour Snooty Fox Motor Inn [Curbed LA]