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Summer Splash

Imagine the Possibilities

Gary Ross is the screenwriter of "Big" and "Dave," and the writer-director of "Pleasantville."


There is a stool at the bar of Pancho's restaurant on Pico Boulevard near the Santa Monica Freeway, where the sun streams through the door and hits you red in the face. Mix with beer and salsa and it is everything that a Friday afternoon in the summer should be. Full of possibility. Devoid of memory. An end and a beginning.

Let's get in the car.

Head east. Forget Horace Greeley. Tourists and New Arrivals go to the beach. Natives know that all the goodies lie inland. A drink at Cafe Pinot (700 W. 5th St., Los Angeles, [213] 239-6500) by the library while it is still dusk and the skyscrapers loom over you (purging themselves of their lawyers). Adjacent Maguire Gardens is the nicest public space in all of Los Angeles. Bunker Hill begins just across the street. Think Fante, Chandler, Bukowski, Towne. It's all modern now, but nothing sticks around this place. Almost time for dinner.

Tokyo Kai Kan used to be the oldest Japanese restaurant in L.A. Now it's one of the newest parking lots. Even if it's gone, you can still find Shabu Shabu (127 Japanese Village Plaza, [213] 680-3890) in Little Tokyo at a wonderful little place devoted to nothing else. Forget about sushi; you can get that at Gelsons. This is a whole different deal. Part meal, part facial: Bowls of steaming broth and platters of raw food arrive for a do-it-yourself orgy of paper-thin beef with vegetables. By the time you're done, you aren't just full, you're exhausted. You're sweaty and you have really clean pores.

There's a party up in Los Feliz and you feel a little skeptical, as if you might end up in a scene from "The Player" (everyone dressed in black with well-polished 'tude). You go anyway and find that the conversation doesn't matter because the house is a Neutra and the view is insane. Modernism from the '30s is lean and sexy (just like the wannabe voguing by the window). My wife hates her, but she blends in perfectly with the clean lines of the structure: plate glass, dropped soffets, stacked flagstone, neatly trimmed patches of close-cropped lawn. God, I love this city.

The alarm goes off at 8 a.m. My alarm is my 4-year-old twins: "Daddy-o!!!" Wipe last night's sake out of your eyes because you're going to the park. Not just any park. Lake Balboa Park (6200 Balboa Blvd., Encino) with its three-acre lake, fabulous playground, hundreds of ducks and coots and swans and a heron. Feed them Wonder bread and watch them fight for the crust. Capitalism in microcosm, and kids love it too.

In the afternoon, Dodgers tickets. This is church. The best modern ballpark. The only good modern ballpark because it isn't one of those stupid circles from the 1970s. It's a gorgeous sculpture of concrete and grass. Steep, with lots of decks, so you hover over the field. My son Jack is riveted on the pitcher, who must seem like Uberdad. Vin Scully wafts from radios in every direction like he's part of summer air. Dear God, take me now.

Grab a picnic basket from one of a dozen great restaurants and go to the Hollywood Bowl for "Magnificent Mozart" (July 8). Everyone is checking out everyone else's box while the sun goes down: Populism meets 19th century Vienna. Half a bottle of wine . . . sunset . . . Mozart. . . . Your mind wanders. . . . You don't even mind the jerk next to you who needs to conduct for his girlfriend. Because this is sublime and the music and the night air are just the right temperature. Randy was right: I love L.A. too.

Sunday morning, devour The Times--both of them. Real Estate ads for apartments in New York that you will never buy; Los Angeles Times Magazine and the garden section in the back. (Hey, maybe we should redo our garden.)

The kids want to go to the trains, which means L.A. Live Steamers (5202 W. Zoo Drive, Griffith Park, [323] 239-6500). It's a huge miniature railroad being pulled by real live steam engines. There are tunnels and a trestle bridge, water towers and switching yards. My kids get a little older. I get a little younger. What more could you ask for?

Food, maybe.

You go to the market. You walk the aisles. You start channeling a Sunday dinner. Lamb shanks? Braised lamb shanks with white beans? White beans and a really good wine? Let's invite some friends.

My wife smiles and shakes her head; I throw a lot of surprise dinner parties. I go to the meat section and she gets on the cell phone. We'll let it simmer all day. We'll let the smells waft through the house as the temperature drops and the weekend dies down. Endings can be good too.

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