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Scott Ostler

SUPER BOWL XXI : DENVER vs. NEW YORK : A Realistic Look at Land of the Unreal

January 20, 1987|SCOTT OSTLER

You've come to greater Los Angeles for the Super Bowl and its attendant festivities. You've come from Denver, or New Jersey, or Pocatello, Ida.

You've heard wild stories about the people and life style of Los Angeles. I can explain everything.

This is not written in defense of the city and its citizens, because they don't need defending, except in cases where formal charges have been filed. This is written toward better understanding of the city.

Take surfing, for instance. There are surfers all over the world, but most of them surf on surfboards.

In Los Angeles? Just last week two young men were arrested at Marineland, the aquatic park, when they sneaked in in the early hours of the morning and went surfing on the backs of killer whales Corky and Orky.

'Round and 'round the whale tank they rode, for about 25 minutes, fully dressed, wearing neckties and penny loafers (the surfers, that is, not the surf ees ).

"Hey, it's been a fantasy of mine ever since I was a kid," one of the surfers said.

He described the ride. "I was leaning back on the dorsal fin. Then, we were standing on the whales and surfing. I don't think we would have gotten caught, but my buddy was getting pretty loud. It was so much fun, it was hard not to laugh out loud."

That last sentence could serve as L.A.'s official motto. Or epitaph.

The two young men were charged with trespassing, because as yet there are no laws against whale joy riding.

The point is this: Innovation. Creativity. And some brain damage.

Within a year or two, surfers everywhere will be whale surfing. L.A. people's minds are just a click or two ahead of the rest of the country's minds. Two and three clicks, in some cases.

In many other cities, you can find soccer games and automobile races. In Saugus, just north of Los Angeles, you can find both sports in one. The Saugus Speedway features a monthly game of carball. Ten drivers, divided into two teams, ram their cars into a huge ball, trying to knock it into a goal. Sheer genius. These folks have taken two incredibly boring sports and melded them into a whiz-bang extravaganza.

And there are practical applications. The Highway Patrol could toss out a few hundred of the big balls onto the freeway each morning, increasing the alertness of drivers and livening up the daily commute.

This might cause some confusion to visitors, but confusion is a vital part of the L.A. experience. Reality is never easy to pin down.

Not long ago at Disneyland, for instance, a male tourist from England was arrested for fondling Minnie Mouse. I don't know how the man explained this to his mother or wife when he phoned home for bail money, but he told police he meant no harm. Hey, it was just a mouse . A cartoon mouse, at that. The man got off with a fine, I think. He was real lucky Mickey wasn't around.

Even the locals aren't always sure what's real. Last Halloween, a high school principal in Compton approved a fake announcement on the school PA system that the Soviet Union had declared war on the United States. You think the whale surfers had a big laugh, you should have seen these high school kids. Laughed 'till they cried.

What's real? There's a water bar in Beverly Hills. A swanky saloon where all you can order is different kinds of water. This is a marvelous idea. How many times has your wife or husband complained, "Tap water, tap water, every day! When are we going to go out for water?"

Some tourists hear of the water bar and assume it's a practical joke we play on tourists. Sucker 'em in, soak 'em $5 for an eight-ounce bottle of Ganges Light, then ask 'em if they want to buy tickets to do some whale surfing.

But the water bar is for real. It's such a great idea, I'm thinking of opening a bread restaurant. Just bread, all kinds. No butter, no mayo, no roast beef or pimiento loaf. Not even water. Just bread.

Some things, I have to warn you, are not real in Los Angeles. The air is not real, although sometimes small quantities of real air do seep in from the desert. We rate the quality of our air every day, on a smog-alert scale. I think the way it's done is Dick Clark stops people on street corners and asks them to rate the air. "I'll give it a five, Dick. I can breathe it, but I wouldn't buy it."

Our private airplanes are not real. We land them in swimming pools and on freeways. One man, aided by the wonder drug PCP, recently landed his airplane on his sister's house. If airplanes were real, we would not be able to do these things with them.

Our transit buses are not real. If they were, you would need a driver's license to drive one. It is easier to qualify to drive an RTD bus than it is to qualify to drive the Autopia cars at Disneyland. ("You must be as tall as this sign . . . ")

That huge doughnut perched on top of a small Inglewood doughnut stand, L.A.'s architectural answer to the State of Liberty, is real, although it is not a real doughnut.

The valet parking at the Beverly Hills post office is real, and so is the bird seed spiked with birth-control agent they feed the pigeons in San Diego.

Our sports are certainly real, even the carball and whale surfing and Tom Lasorda.

What about the Super Bowl, which is why you're here?

The Super Bowl, unfortunately, is not real. But it is an incredible simulation of a sports event, and if taken in that spirit, it is well worth the astounding amount of time and money you've invested to come out here and see it.

Have a Super day.

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