Past bars and cinemas, the Marines walked in a cluster of clean-shaven heads. Hollywood Boulevard is a carnival on Friday nights, and these Marines drifted conspicuously through crowds of tourists, long-haired heavy metal devotees and punk rockers.
"There are lots of jarheads (Marines) here," said Lance Cpl. Bob Botos, 20, who had driven two hours from Camp Pendleton. "We come to Hollywood to buy some beer and get drunk."
"And look for girls," said Lance Cpl. Bob Barr, 19. "What's a Marine without a girl?"
A punk rocker in jack boots moved toward the Marines. He was ranting incoherently when, suddenly, he spun and slammed his fist into a storefront window. Boom! But the glass did not shatter.
"What a freak," Botos yelled. "Our job as Marines is to take care of freaks like that."
The Marine and the punk stared each other down, if only for a second. The punk was pulled away by a passing friend who insisted they meet someone named Santa. The Marines laughed.
"As long as we keep to ourselves," said Pfc. Tony Greene, 22, "we'll be all right."
Military men, if only because of their numbers, have become an accepted presence on the boulevard. Almost 22,000 of them came to Hollywood last year, according to officials at the Bob Hope Hollywood USO. At least, that's how many stopped by the USO. Probably another 20,000 bypassed the place and headed straight for the boulevard, USO officials estimate. That means as many as 800 servicemen can hit Hollywood on an average Friday night.
These military men are a visual oddity when moving among the boulevard's bizarre habitues--the rockers, drug dealers and homeless. Arriving on weekend passes from 21 military bases surrounding Los Angeles, the servicemen dress in a kind of forced casualness: T-shirts and out-of-fashion designer jeans, or clothes too trendy for their strict haircuts. They mix, if somewhat uneasily, with the Hollywood crowds.
"I'm constantly surprised by the numbers of military people who come through this place," said Todd David Schwartz, doorman at Club Hollywood. "You see them walking on the street. They have that all-American look, not the big-city look."
Dance clubs like Club Hollywood and the Krush Bar are favored hangouts, as are clothing shops and bars just off the boulevard. Said one bartender, "You get six of them in here and three of them are under age . . . you know."
A popular tattoo studio near Hollywood and Ivar Street offers a variety of military designs. A bulldog with the letters "U.S.M.C." beneath costs $54. Seventy dollars buys a nude woman in an Army helmet.
And a good number of the servicemen spend the evening simply cruising, stopping by a liquor store, talking to young women, yelling to buddies. Street regulars quietly tolerate these weekend intruders.
"The Marines? They come in here to get a pizza sometimes," said Andrea Navarro, 18, a regular at Greco's, a hangout for heavy-metal rockers.
Dressed in a black leather jacket and torn jeans, Navarro sneered at the thought of meeting a military man. "No," she said, "we don't talk to them."
One of Attractions
The Marine Corps, Army, Air Force and Navy all operate major bases within three hours of Los Angeles. Hollywood is just one of the attractions for servicemen bored with base life.
Universal Studios Tour, five minutes away, drew more than 100,000 servicemen last year, an executive there said. The beaches and Disneyland attract large numbers of enlisted men. Camp Pendleton is only an hour or so north of San Diego, so many Marines go there.
However, just as many go north to Hollywood. Marines from Camp Pendleton and other camps to the south and east, such as El Toro and Twentynine Palms, are the most frequent visitors to Hollywood, said Joan Jones, executive director of the Hollywood USO.
So many men from Twentynine Palms travel west that the Desert Stage Bus Lines schedules a route from camp to the front door of the USO. Marines step off the bus by 9:30 on Friday night, check into the Holiday Inn or a cheaper hotel nearby and head back to base on Sunday afternoon.
Army and Air Force officials said their enlisted men also favor Hollywood.
"We have a number of our soldiers that go down there, I couldn't tell you how many," said Lt. Col. Francis Pitaro of the Army's Ft. Irwin. "Have you ever been to Ft. Irwin? You know where Barstow is. You turn left at Barstow and that is where Ft. Irwin is.
"You have to travel three hours to get to Hollywood," the lieutenant colonel said. "But once you get there, there's a lot to do."
Not all of it is wholesome. Police and USO officials say servicemen can run into trouble with the prostitutes, pimps and drug dealers who do their business on and around Hollywood Boulevard.