What I Learned In America – Part 1

I recently returned home after a three week trip to the States, my longest so far. I travelled to Denver, Los Angeles, San Diego, Austin and New York. Here’s what I learned along the way:


Following a deal late last year, I was invited by Advertising Production Resources (APR) to attend and speak at their annual conference. APR manage US$1bn of ad production spend per year for some of the world’s largest advertisers, handled by a team of around 140 specialists across TV, digital, print and social. Together, we’re launching a music licensing service primarily aimed at APR’s US client base whose collective music spend puts the UK market into sharp perspective.

I was struck and moved by the warm welcome I received from all at APR. There’s a uniquely American positivity with which new ideas and ventures are received. A strong tendency by people you’ve just met to say why it will work, rather than the more pessimistic UK response on why it won’t. I find that very inspiring.

The highlights of the Denver trip included a day trip out to the foothills of the Rockies to the legendary Red Rocks amphitheatre. Here I am with APR’s Luke Beauchamp and Rohit Watsa with the vast mile high-plain of Colorado behind us in which you can just see the towers of Downtown Denver over my right shoulder.

Within the city itself, I loved the 40 foot tall Blue Bear called “I See What You Mean” by artist Lawrence Argent at the Colorado Convention Center.

Be warned though if you visit Denver! The 5,000 feet altitude significantly affects how the body processes alcohol. I’m a self-confessed lightweight when it comes to drink, but found that even a small glass of wine produced a stonking hangover. Also know that the weather is volatile. I arrived in glorious sunshine and temperatures close to 30C. When I left, it was close to freezing and snowing. Summer to Winter in May, in 6 days.

Los Angeles

Following a week in Denver, I flew over the snow-capped Rockies to LA. A 1,000 mile trip, 2.5 hours in the air for barely more than $100 – The wonders of US internal flights. Americans use planes as we Brits use trains.

I hadn’t been to LA for 20 years, so it was a joy to return to Le Montrose in West Hollywood where I’d stayed back in 1997 when visiting Zomba LA in the 9000 Sunset Blvd building.

The stay in LA was mostly for fun, meeting up with one of my oldest friends from the UK, who flew out from New York for the weekend. Jeremy is a member of Soho House, so we walked to the nearby West Hollywood House for Friday night dinner. It’s a surreal place, populated exclusively by the young and beautiful, no doubt all looking to meet Hollywood power brokers. We felt very old and ugly while tucking into our sushi and it did temporarily reinforce the cliché about the superficiality of LA. However, the expansive view certainly made amends.

On Saturday morning, we drove out to Malibu for brunch at the Little Beach House. We arrived early to an empty car park, amused to find that parking one’s own car isn’t allowed. Valet parking is of course mandatory. Our rented VW Tiguan looked a very poor relation to the Teslas, Ferraris and Bentleys which filled the parking lot when we left later than afternoon. How strange to live in a town where a $200,000 car is run-of-the-mill. Nevertheless, I could certainly get used to this location for breakfast every day.

Later that day, we fought our way through the terrible LA traffic up to the Griffith Observatory which many will know from the dance sequence in La Land. Despite the swarm of tourists, it offers the quintessential views across LA and up the Hollywood sign.

The building itself is stunning and the planetarium exhibit is truly brilliant.

Looking out across LA at night created a wonderful sense of freedom – an “anything is possible” optimism no doubt experienced by so many before me. It’s sad that the land of the open road and the car is in fact clogged to such an extent that travelling about the city is deeply frustrating. Elon Musk’s plan to build tunnels under LA could certainly help.

On Sunday morning, we visited Downtown LA. When I first came in 1997 I was warned not to go there, but clearly much has changed in 20 years. Although there’s still significant poverty and a large homeless population, Downtown is undergoing a renaissance. Armed with my Lonely Planet, Jeremy and I took the Downtown walking tour starting outside the beautifully Gothic Ace Hotel on South Broadway, home of United Artists theatre.

Until I’d read up on it, I hadn’t realised that Downtown was the original home of the film business in the 1920s before the centre of gravity moved to more open spaces in Hollywood and beyond. There are many stunning buildings which had been left to crumble but are now being renovated to become loft apartments. I particularly liked the blue Eastern building.

We managed to sneak inside the lobby which reminded me of the Empire State Building – in fact you can see the similarity in the external design.

Downtown is clearly changing, perhaps it’s LA’s equivalent to the gentrification of New York’s Brooklyn. As the social cleansing of the world’s major cities continues, I wondered what will happen to the mostly Hispanic community who currently live in and around South Broadway. As media companies such as Warner Music relocate Downtown, will the local population be forced out as rents rise? That said, if I were to move to LA, Downtown would certainly be high on the list of neighbourhood.

Look for my next post on the second half of the trip to San Diego, Austin and New York.