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Going to Nirvana via 'WaterWorld'

June 22, 2001|STEVE LOPEZ

It was a warm day on the cusp of summer, the sun like a great shining Buddha in the sky as four monks in saffron robes approached the "Mummy Returns" exhibit at Universal City.

I had followed the monks from the "Wild Wild Wild West" stage, past the "Blues Brothers" theater, and now we closed in on the Mummy. All my life, I have sought purpose and meaning. And so I wondered:

Could this be the path to enlightenment?

Probably not. The Mummy attraction is called the "Chamber of Doom," which is a far cry from Nirvana.

I discovered the monks while on a mission to find out what possessed the California Senate to pass legislation that would allow Universal Studios, its theme park and several other businesses to buy all their power from the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

I promise to revisit the monks later in this column, but first we have to get some news out of the way.

Universal, which currently pays bills to SoCal Edison and DWP, wants to be moved entirely into DWP next year. By a coincidence that probably won't knock you back on your heels, DWP has lower rates.

But that's not the motive Universal gives. They say it's a $afety concern. And who am I to doubt, even subliminally, that it's really about $afety?

Universal figures that DWP's energy supply makes blackouts less likely. Thus, its fearless leaders can avert the unspeakable horror of tourists getting stranded on the Jurassic Park jungle ride when the lights go dim.

You or I, had we wanted such a break from the Legislature, wouldn't have gotten anyone's ear.

Even several public agencies, including L.A. County and the Los Angeles Unified School District, struck out on a bid to go DWP all the way. An Assembly bill on their behalf got shot down, even though the savings could have paid for school books or benefited the poor.

But when asked to help Universal and a Target store, along with Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, the Senate voted in a landslide. It was 29-4, with no one suitably curious as to what a hospital and an amusement park were doing in the same bill. Now the matter is in the hands of the Assembly.

State Sen. Sheila Kuehl, who played Zelda in "Dobie Gillis" and worked on the Universal lot when she was an actress, put up the Universal bill. She tells me she thought the safety issue was legit. And she added that Universal would have to pay an "exit" fee for the switch.

But Kuehl and others didn't bother to ask Universal if, in light of the state's generosity, it would offer up a conservation plan. And here's another question:

With thousands of people on adventure rides and $100-million blockbusters being shot on the property, wouldn't you expect Universal to already have a backup power system in place?

The ET Adventure ride fritzing out would be bad enough. But would Universal honchos risk having the air conditioning conk out in a movie star's trailer?

Of course they wouldn't. And a Universal source tells me they do indeed have a backup power system. They contract with a company that has generators set up for this very purpose.

So much for having to go DWP in the name of $afety.

As the Buddha teaches, Universal should consider releasing its attachment to self. We are all in this power crisis together, and anyone who tries to save a buck by groveling before the California Legislature can only invite bad karma.

Which brings me back to my monks.

The park is extremely loud, with movie theme songs blasting you from every angle, and with unattended children screaming their lungs out. I know that in Buddhism, one must understand the universality of suffering, so maybe this is a training ground for monks.

They passed the "Mummy Returns" exhibit and headed toward the "WaterWorld" show. Why Universal would want to remind anyone of the movie by that name is beyond me, but I fell into line with the monks and we zigzagged through the entrance.

Mike, the lone American, said that he is studying to be a monk, and that his three colleagues were Thai monks visiting a Southern California temple.

They had essentially sneaked over from the temple, Mike said, because such a visit would be frowned upon. Understanding how they pulled off the special effects in "The Nutty Professor" apparently is not considered part of a life of mindfulness. But Mike said curiosity gets the best of some monks.

"I wonder how much energy it takes to run this park," he wondered as we took our seats.

I don't know the answer, but once the "WaterWorld" show got underway, I wondered if it was single-handedly responsible for the Western states' power crisis, if not global warming.

It was absolute mayhem for 20 minutes. Jet ski fumes, machine gun battles, fire fights, gas explosions, murder, debauchery. There might have been a napalm attack at one point.

Due to cultural barriers, I couldn't tell whether the peaceable monks were horrified or delighted. But I was personally traumatized enough to ask Mike if they had any applications.

On our way out, we passed the "Mummy Returns, Chamber of Doom" attraction, and a tourist with a video cam eyed the orange-robed monks as if they were park characters.

Good God, I love California.

The tourist asked if they'd pose, and they obliged.

Those are monks, I told her. Not mummies.

She studied them and said:

"They're not monks."

We are lost, Buddha. The path to enlightenment is lighted by dim bulbs.

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