How I Got My First Oscar

Hollywood, California —  I’m holding my first Oscar and I’m uncharacteristically speechless. The little gold man is heavier than he looks, but part of that sensation may be the short wire that secures him to the podium.  I smile radiantly, my partner Rick snaps two photos and I replace the statuette, ready for the next person in line to take his turn.

It’s pre-Academy Award week in Hollywood and the town is buzzing with construction crews and security guards.  I’ve already tripped over Jay Leno and Sly Stallone, or at least their stars, on the Walk of Fame along Hollywood Blvd.

Now I’m trying to reach Mann’s Chinese Theatre to gawk at celebrity handprints, footprints and autographs captured in the cement courtyard.  Traffic cones, fencing and temporary metal bleachers block the sidewalk.  We lean over the railing to see Kevin Spacey’s star buried under a thick coil of electrical cables and a crushed Starbucks coffee cup.

Mike, a tall, gregarious writer/editor is making a few extra bucks as an Oscar security guard.  We tell him we’re visiting from Toronto, and he dishes some L.A.  observations with a smile. Work here is unpredictable and changeable.  Strikes are a common occurrence. Everyone is very insecure. And yet even unknown actors can earn over $750 a day, plus residuals. Mike says he’s looking for a real job, perhaps in software sales, outside of the Hollywood circus.

He casually directs us to his buddies, who run tours of stars’ homes if we’re into that sort of thing, but we’re not. He points out some celebrity look-alikes ready to pose for a picture with us, if we’re into that sort of thing.  We’re not.  When he mentions we can have our photo taken with a real Oscar, my pulse finally quickens.

Four flights of stairs bring us to the top of the Hollywood and Highland Center.  In the distance, the iconic HOLLYWOOD sign hovers over a smoggy green hilltop. Erected in 1923, the whitewashed 45 foot tall letters originally spelled Hollywoodland and advertised a new housing suburb. Ironically, this historic site is now threatened by real estate development. L.A. Councillors and residents are outraged but may lose their battle to keep the view unobstructed.  I take a few photos and hope the Hollywood sign gets its own Hollywood ending.

After a 15 minute wait in line, we are allowed to enter a darkened foyer.  It’s taken almost four weeks to produce this year’s fifty Oscar statuettes. Sans engraving, they are exhibited inside several glass cases. A display shows how they are created. The base casting of the pewter-like alloy Britannium is electroplated with subsequent layers of copper to prevent corrosion and nickel to improve adhesion. Silver provides additional corrosion resistance as well as a shiny foundation for the 24K gold plating. A top coat of lacquer preserves the finish.

I move from this hushed shrine into a corridor where exuberant fans and screaming paparazzi compete for my attention.  It’s actually a film loop that simulates the red carpet experience but I pause to bask in the adulation.  Rick urges me onward. The long line to hold a real Oscar awaits us.

We pass the time reading lists of this year’s nominees. The family of five ahead of us pushes their stroller and hyper-active child at a snail’s pace.  Some people are photographed in groups, others singly but at least the line is moving.  A photographer will take pictures of you with your camera if you’re alone or don’t trust your companion to adequately capture your moment of faux fame.

As we edge closer, I notice some people actually kissing the Oscar. Not an L.A. style “air kiss,” but a real, full-lipped wet smack.  What I don’t see is anyone wiping Oscar down after this show of passion.

My moment in the spotlight finally arrives.  I take off my jacket and drop my handbag.  If ever I deserved an Academy Award for outstanding performance, it’s now.  I fearlessly grasp the sticky statuette with gusto.   Smile. Flash. Smile. Flash.

Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my hand wash.

This story originally appeared in the Globe & Mail but was subsequently re-edited.

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