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Jewish World Review July 14, 2000 / 11 Tamuz, 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Gable, Hepburn, Zanuck--you wouldn't find them at HOJO's -- BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. | All right . . . might as well just take a deep breath and go on in.

What can they do? Have you arrested for impersonating a cool person?

Thus, I stood at the entranceway of the room, worked my courage up . . . .

And, putting one foot after another, walked into the Polo Lounge.

Never been there before. There are some places in this world that a guy knows he doesn't belong, and I have always known that I definitely don't belong in the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Or, as it is invariably described, "the legendary Polo Lounge."

(Not that legendary counts for much out here. While riding down Rodeo Drive, I was told by another person in the car -- a Los Angeles resident -- that we were passing the legendary clothing store that appeared in the movie "Pretty Woman" -- the store in which the Julia Roberts character was treated rudely. The store itself, under its proper name, was not in the movie -- just the edifice, with a made-up name on a sign. But that's enough to qualify for legendary -- inside that legendary doorway an actor pretending to be a snooty clothing store employee pretended to be rude to an actress pretending to be a prostitute.)

Anyway . . . I walked into the Polo Lounge, waited to be told to leave, wasn't told to leave. . . .

And just stood there. Now what was I supposed to do?

The Polo Lounge has been famous for generations as the place where Hollywood deals and romances quietly come to fruition or go awry. Allegedly you can't even look around the Polo Lounge without seeing a Darryl F. Zanuck or a Clark Gable. Discreet, worldly, unshockable, the maitre d' and waiters of the Polo Lounge are said to be as vital to the power structure of the movie industry as are the studio heads and name-above-the-title stars.

(I have no idea if that is still really true. Usually by the time I catch up with something, it has already become hopelessly out of style and on the verge of obsolescence. Still, I figured if ever I was going to stride into the Polo Lounge, this had better be it.)

So I stood there, peering around, and for a second I had a feeling that it didn't look or feel the way it was supposed to. Then -- I literally slapped my palm across my forehead as this realization took hold -- I thought: Of course.

The phones. That was the biggest part of the legend: You could actually make phone calls from your table! The Polo Lounge and everyone in it was so important, the tables had phones!

A concept that is a little out of date. Every person at every table in every greasy spoon in America seems to have a phone these days -- usually clipped to his or her belt. So the old come-on is a little musty: Welcome to the Polo Lounge -- you can even make a call from your table! We have phones! (Most men and women who walk into the Polo Lounge today have at least two phones concealed on their person.)

I stared into every corner, looking for Douglas Fairbanks or Audrey Hepburn, but instead saw, at the bar, a motley group of individuals in semi-tank-tops, broad-brimmed hats and car-wash attire. A couple of very nice women from the L.A. suburbs, noticing my confusion, asked if I would like to join them at their table. Grateful, I said yes, and commented on the people at the bar.

"I know," one of the women said. "It's so L.A."

My thought was that it was really so Toledo, Ohio, Greyhound station, but then the bus station in Toledo almost certainly does not have the same prices as the Polo Lounge. I took out a second mortgage and ordered a round of drinks for myself and the two women who had taken mercy on me, and I thought I noticed something odd.

"Is this table shaking?" I said.

"We've just been talking about that," one of the women said. "We've never been here before -- but I swear, the table is shaking."

She called a waiter over. He first said he didn't know what she was talking about, but then allowed as to how there was some hotel machinery in an area just underneath our table, and that was why it was shaking.

"A little extra touch you get only in the Polo Lounge, I suppose," one of the women said, with optimism in her voice.

"You can get it for a quarter at a Howard Johnson's Motor Lodge," I said, fondly recalling the coin-operated vibrating mattresses of HoJo yesteryear. I looked around for Jack Warner or any of his brothers to see if they agreed, but they didn't seem to be present.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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