May 5th 2023, Hollywood.

There’s all sorts of stuff rattling around my head as I turn off Route 1 heading north along the California coast and start cruising the Santa Monica Boulevard. Chiefly Ry Cooder and his cool but slightly edgy urban grime song Down in Hollywood . . .

They’re standing on a corner waiting for a sucker like you…
Down in Hollywood
Now, if you want to stay healthy just keep a-moving right on through
Be careful, don’t look back, keep moving, keep moving…

Like so many roads through US cities, Santa Monica Boulevard goes on and on and on and for the most part is terribly unremarkable. And then I see a corner outlet staring at me. It could be a trendy cafe or one of those super cool looking Scandinavian shops that sells notebooks, candles, reading glasses and other essentials for half nothing. But this one is called Just Food For Dogs. I have to stop. I mean I can’t ride past this one. Ry Cooder has been replaced in my thoughts by Evelyn Waugh and The Loved One.

Once inside Just Food For Dogs, I find myself chatting with Joe Ovalle who — ridiculously — just happens to be there at that moment. Ridiculous because he is the National Brand Ambassador for Just Food For Dogs. “Everything you see here is human grade,” he tells me. Human grade? “Yes, something you and I would eat.”

The shop is kind of in the shape of a V or an L — that is, there are two distinct wings to it. On the left, as one enters, is the kitchen-cum-food preparation area. It’s all stainless steel worktops and glass-fronted cooler cabinets. No one’s working in it because “they’re off today”: or “finished for the day” (I can’t remember which it was) but it still looks like the sort of very, very modern kitchen you’d expect to find behind the scenes in any top notch restaurant or hotel. The other leg of the place, as it were, is the customer service counter — “Hi. And how are you today?” — with a wall of glass-fronted cooler cabinets filled with vacuum-packed pouches of doggie food.

There’s quite the menu too.

The love of your life can dine on venison and squash, or lamb and brown rice, beef and russet potato, turkey and whole wheat macaroni, chicken and rice (bit passé, that one), or fish and sweet potato. And I have to say that the contents of every see-through plastic vacuum pack looked very tempting — nothing gooey, or that would have you thinking “I wonder which part of the guts, backside or brain that used to be?” The price per pack ranges from $10.29 for 18 ounces to $36.99 for 72ozs. Not cheap but . . .

“If you want your dog to live a longer, happier life, you’re going to invest in your dog,” as Joe put it. The company employs 17 vets and is totally “science driven” — or as he puts it “we don’t invest in marketing; we let the food speak for itself”.

And it seems sufficient number of Hollywood dog owners have heard the message. There’s a steady stream of them in and out of the place, and a steady stream too of delivery guys collecting pre-prepared boxes, presumably a few days’ supply.

Joe hadn’t heard of The Loved One. I must get it, he said enthusiastically. Somehow, I don’t think he’ll like it.

A little further on, SMB grows into Beverley Hills and, quite without warning one side of the boulevard is suddenly all residential. On either side of Rodeo Drive (I assume that’s the Rodeo Drive too) there’s a network of streets at rights angles to each other where the front lawns and sidewalks are manicured to within an inch of their lives. But, strangely given the addresses, the homes are not the squillion dollar a piece, over the top mansions I had expected. They were all modest enough two storey suburban houses, albeit in a hard-to-beat location (and roads that were lined with those extraordinarily tall palm trees you see in the movies) and they’re all beautifully kept, with flash cars purring in the driveways. But really, I’ve seen flasher pads in in parts of Blackrock, Foxrock and Greystones.

The boulevard careers on through West Hollywood and, at last, comes to the junction with Highland Avenue — my target. I turn left and trundle up past the Sunset Boulevard junction to Hollywood Boulevard and The Walk of Fame, where the pavement slabs are memorials to stars, some great and enduring, some long forgotten and some notorious. Each pink coloured concrete slab has a name in brass embedded in it and a symbol relating to the honoured person’s career — a TV or a record or microphone or cine camera. Where I stop, by the Hard Rock cafe, the TCL Chinese Theatre and the Dolby Theatre, there are ones for Matthew Broderick, Sandra Bullock, Simon Cowell, Peter Frampton, Jerry Lewis, Barbara Walters, Britney Spears, Antonia Banderas, Mario Lanza, and (who could forget) Bill Stern, Susan Lucci, and Billy Daniels, and (unfortunately we can’t yet forget) . . . Donald Trump.

“Why Trump?” I ask a bloke making a living out of taking pictures of tourists. “Aw man,” he says. “I just dunno. Hard to figure.” And then we see the little brass TV symbol under his name and suppose it’s because of his The Apprentice TV series.

A busker is strumming a guitar and playing Eric Clapton — droning on about cocaine, which I guess is situation appropriate. Another bloke in a Freddie Krueger mask and outfit is wandering about looking a bit disconsolate. Maybe it’s because Spiderman is getting all the attention from the kids (and hence the few dollars from their Mums and Dads for having his picture taken with them). Like, who wants to be seen with Freddie Krueger? Batman, accompanied by Wonder Woman, hoves into view and I take their pic. He’s is over to me in a flash, fist-bumping and “awesome biking” me. Wonder Woman says nothing. I ask can I take a photo of them close up. Sure, they say, and strike a pose. And then look for the dollars, which is fair enough. I open my wallet and, to my horror, see it’s all 20 and 50 dollar bills and Wonder Woman give a little squeak of joy. But then I find a five bill and heave a sigh of relief. They seem happy.

Just then a swarm of cyclists come down the boulevard — on both sides, completely taking over the whole road. Tourist busses and everyone else just have to stop and let it happen. There’s guys doing wheelies all over the place, and whooping and hollering. “What’s all this,” I ask one of them. “We’re just cycling man. That’s it, just cycling,” he says. Fair enough. . .

I want to get up to the sign — the sign — and it takes a while as I get lost in Studio City, where Universal, Warner Brothers and NBC all make their presence felt, but eventually I find Ledgeworth Drive which, with Mulholland, winds this way and that up the hillside to the oversized letters and is lined with (again) nice homes but hardly millionaire’s row. Up close, or as close as one can get, which is about 100 meters below them, the HOLLYWOOD letters don’t look as large as they do from a distance, which is a bit odd. The hillside is scrubby and arid. The letters are impaled into the hill on stilts and, above them is a cluster of masts and reflective dishes, I assume for phones and the like. A little way down Mulholland, there’s a patch of bare ground and some parking spaces and lots of people taking pix. I take one of a young woman having hers taken by a kid. She asks me to take one of them both on her phone. I do and ride off back to the coast. . .

Another one off the bucket list.