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Life Imitates Art, Imitates Life, Imitates Art . . .


The danger of being a Beltway luminary in Hollywood is this: Every time you turn around you may be confronted by a celluloid fantasy of yourself that can be a whole lot more captivating than the genuine article.

At a Miracle Mile party Sunday night, White House Chief of Staff John Podesta was heading for the bar just as the guy who plays the White House chief of staff on the TV show "West Wing" was hitting the Mexican buffet. The actor, John Spencer, and the high-level aide were to share a convention hall box during President Clinton's Monday night speech, and there was little doubt as to who would be getting more camera time.

John Travolta, who played Clinton in the movie "Primary Colors," toasted the president at a recent fund-raiser, which was weirdly reminiscent of that "I Love Lucy" episode when Lucy bumped into Harpo Marx while she was dressed like Harpo Marx.

At a fund-raising lunch of Democratic governors, Gray Davis introduced former President Carter as well as "Acting President Bartlett"--otherwise known as "West Wing's" Martin Sheen, who gave a very presidential wave, to considerable applause.

And as if to drive home the point, Sony President Mel Harris introduced an homage to politicians on film, including "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," "Dave" and "The Candidate," whose handsome protagonists might well bump Al Gore right out of the presidential race if they could only climb down from the big screen.

This Isn't Exactly the Kind of Reaction the Chamber of Commerce Had in Mind

One of the nice things about hosting a pageant that brings visitors descending from all over the world is listening to them rave about our hometown. In other words, we primped and spruced up and hung a bunch of signs and are now all primed to hear people from sticky Atlanta marvel over the beaches and the faultless weather. But as of Monday, the praise was not exactly pouring in.

David Worley, state chair from Georgia, did some convention business and then took his wife and kids straight to Legoland. His impression of the Capital City of the 21st Century: "It seemed to us asphalt contractors must make a fortune here. I've never seen so much concrete."

On her first trip to Los Angeles, stuck in a delegates bus as a huge demonstration shut down Flower Street, Latrice Sellers of Corpus Christi, Texas, wanted to know if this was anything unusual.

"Is this a typical day in L.A.?" Sellers, sporting a cowboy hat, asked no one in particular. It seems a California delegate told her that, in Los Angeles, someone is protesting something about every week. (That little Lakers eruption is promising to haunt us for a long time.)

The Road to Hell Is Paved With Good Intentions of Getting Around Town

In a cruel act of kindness, several delegates from small, faraway places have been sent into the City of Angels with nothing more than compact rental cars.

"How are they going to survive?" one convention volunteer, a recent USC grad, fretted shortly after attempting a two-car caravan from Dodger Stadium to Staples Center that resulted in three near- collisions.

"The exits were blocked off. It was hell," he said. And he lives here.

Getting around the Freeway Capital of the Known Universe could prove more difficult than getting Democrats to make nice the way Republicans did. It's easier to get a bit part in a major motion picture than it is to get a cab in L.A., and the subway is great, except it doesn't take you anywhere you want to go.

In fact, there are more languages spoken here than in any other American city, but even the locals are not always fluent in the parlance of transportation--as evidenced by an out-of-towner who asked her waiter in a posh bistro to get her a cab.

"Sure!" he chirped, and promptly brought her a glass of red wine.

The Medium Is the Massage--and the Reception Is Outstanding

The single great advantage to having a political convention in Los Angeles rather than Philadelphia, where the Republicans had theirs: In Philly, they gave away soft pretzels. In L.A., they give away cups of a Paraguayan tea guaranteed to leave you "balanced, relaxed, happy, and clear"--and free chair massages.

In the brand-new tradition of rubdowns that travel to movie sets--apparently pitching a movie treatment can be hell on the deltoids--portable chair massages are all the rage.

KHOU-TV anchor Lisa Foronda from Houston had that euphoric glazed look when she got off the chair in the media complex after 12 minutes of bliss that could convince a Texan to vote for Gore.

When crunch time comes, she said an hour before air time, "I'll just go with the flow. . . ."

Times staff writers Meagan Garvey, Greg Krikorian, Dan Morain and Richard Simon contributed to this story.

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