When Ronald Reagan was honored at an exclusive country club cocktail party here recently, Dean Martin drove up to the gate in a yellow Rolls Royce only to be turned away by a Secret Service man because he didn't have a ticket and wasn't a member of the club.
"I think I'll just turn around and leave," said Martin with a smile. "Tell Ronnie I said, 'Hi.'"
Southern California. You really can't believe it until you see it. It's not just the movie stars. There's been a string of 80-degree-plus days here while much of the rest of the nation has frozen. On Christmas morning, people were sunning themselves and swimming in the ocean. Or, they just wandered around in shorts or cooked out in their back yards. "Laid back" is a nice phrase, but somehow it doesn't even come close.
Near Reagan's house, high on a hill in Pacific Palisades, the air is filled with the wonderful perfumes of blooming flowers. Everywhere there is lush semitropical vegetation and the bitter-sweet, dusty smell of eucalptus trees.
At a Reagan transition staff house, near "the governor's" house, you look out from a redwood deck over white stucco walls and red Spanish-tile roofs to the Pacific ocean beaches and across 50 miles of industrial plain -- buildings of downtown Los Angeles, 10-lane freeways, endless suburbs and aerospace complexes.
But up here in the northwest section of Los Angeles near the sea, there is a stillness in the air broken occasionally by the chirping of birds. A reporter dozes in a deck chair, waiting for something to happen. In front, Secret Service agents guarding Reagan's driveway joke with network camera crews sprawled on the curb in the sun.
Inside the staf house, a few secretaries type correspondence. The press spokesman on duty, Dana Rohrabacher, is on the phone discussing one of his film scripts with a friend. Reagan is in his house. Only a corner of the his deck is visible through the trees and shrubs.
Except for his wife, Nancy, he is alone much of the time. Aides go up and back with papers from the staff house. Economists, potential appointees and others visit from time to time. Reagan is said to work on the phone. A secretary who went there to deliver some flowers the other day reported that Reagan was sitting there reading. Whole days pass without the president-elect leaving "the residence."
"It makes me want to be rich and Republican," quips a Reuters reporter, Barry J. May, who is stunned by the entire California scene.
Here, from another reporter assigned to stake out Reagan during the long, slow holiday season, are a few scenes of the president-elect and the sunny land from which he comes:
The way the press gets the news is to follow Reagan when he goes out to his personal meat locker or ear doctor or whatever. More press is waiting at Reagan's destination. When he arrives and gets out of his limousine, the press shouts questions, and Reagan answers for a few seconds or even a few minutes.
Much of the time you can't her what is going on, so reporters huddle around their tape recorders later trying to figure out what was said and what each word might mean.
When Reagan visited his ear doctor on Dec. 22, word had come out in Washington that the appointment of John R. Block to be secretary of agriculture was held up for some reason. So the reporters started shouting at Reagan about Block:
Reporter: "Is there some problem with Mr. Block for agriculture? Is that why there was no secretary named for agriculture today?"
Reagan: "It just could be the process, uh . . ."
Reporter: "He is your decision though, is that right?"
Reporter: "Mr. Block's your decision?"
With that, Reagan wheeled and went into the doctor's.
Wire service reporters raced to the phones and filed Block confirmation stories, but nobody was really too sure what had actually been meant and later we quizzed Reagan on it again when he emerged.
Said Reagan: "I don't want to jump the gun here." To a question asking if he hadn't earlier confirmed Block as his choice. "Well, maybe I was in a hurry to get in to the doctor and away from the press if I did."
Block was, in fact, appointed later.
Joe Holmes, one of Reagan's transition spokesmen, shook his head: "He's not s'posed to let those things out the bag until they're announced." Chick and Chili
Chasen's on Christmas Eve: Reagan's favorite restaurant. The waiters are gentlemen; the decor old, burnished wood and leather; and the clientele largely movie stars. Chasen's started as a street-corner chili stand, and chili is still on the menu. But now they serve it one careful spoonful at a time from a copper chafing dish.
Gavin MacLeod, of television's "The Boat," is having dinner in one corner with his family.
At another table, with his wife and family, is Nathan Shapell, a big-time California home builder, a multimillionaire, a Jew who came to America from the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and founded a real-estate empire in the sun.
Shapell is a short man with a friendly smile. Asked about Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he was, he pushes up his suit coat and shirt-sleeve, and there on his left forearm in a hideous blue blotch are the tattooed numbers 134138.
Shapell is a big man in California -- the chairman of the commission on California state government organization and economy, a quasi-governmental agency known as "the little Hoover commission," which tries to ferret out waste in government. Casper W. Weinberger, Reagan's defense secretary-designate, was the previous chairman.
Shapell is a Democrat, but he likes Reagan. When he talks, there is a quiet steeliness in his eyes and voice, and you can get a glimpse of the quality that helped him survive Auschwitz.
Shapell is for efficiency in government -- "You betcha. Organization, economy and efficiency. . . I voted for Ronald Reagan without any hesitation and without any shadow of a doubt, because I felt that the country under the leadership of Jimmy Carter -- and particularly the people he surrounded himself with -- was going down so fast."
Shapell says that if Reagan wants to have a national Hoover Commission, he'd be glad to serve on it as long as he didn't have to leave California. He came here in 1951, and like everyone else, he came for the sun and the way of life. "Oh God, in those days there was no smog, the weather was gorgeous, orange trees, lemon trees. . ."
His wife, Lilly, also a survivor of Auschwitz, says they tried and rejected the dark cities of the east -- Detroit and New York. "The houses here were light," she said wistfully, "blue, pink and yellow. . ."
They still are. The Coffee Entrepreneur
Josh Burns, 8, lives next to the Reagans. Daily, he sits at his soft-drink stand in his driveway and sells soft drinks to the press and Secret Service people for 75 cents. Coffee is also 75 cents. Josh is a businessman through and through. "When I was 5 I was selling my toys," he said.
His father, Ron, 33 is a real-estate attorney who moved his family here from Philadelphia six years ago. "This is the most modest street in the area," Burns says, noting that Sylvester Stallone lives down a bit lower in a more ritzy section and has armed guards on duty at his gate.
Houses in the Reagans' area sell for anywhere from several hundred thousand to several million dollars. In fact, half a million would buy a very modest house there. The Reagan house, at 1669 San Onofre Drive, which they built 30 years ago, is ordinary enough except for its wonderful view and location.
Burns said houses in the area rent easily for $7,000 a month. The Secret Service is renting a house on the other side of the Reagans from the Burns home. The Reagan staff pays $5,500 a month for the $800,000 house they occupy across the street from the Reagans.
The Reagans are thinking of selling or renting their house while they are in Washington, an aide says. It's a terrible inconvenience to the neighbors to have the press and Secret Service around all the time, and the Reagans can always use their isolated mountain ranch as a western White House.
Burns is asked why he moved to California.
"I took a business trip to New York City, and the guy I met with took off his watch at the beginning of the meeting and laid it on the table. A week later, I came out here on a business trip and this time the guy I met said, 'Say, why don't we take a walk outside while we talk?' I realized the guy in L.A. wasn't a soft touch or anything, but he was able to do business on a humane level.
"It took two years to arrange to come out here, but we've never regretted it." Palisadian Price Wars
Basheyba -- the one-name Washington real estate super-agent who wears nothing but yellow, who drinks three glasses of orange juice at every meal and who sold the former Nelson Rockefeller estate on Foxhall Road in Washington for development -- is here in California to invest and to find big investors for the Washington area.
"I don't believe what's happening here," she says. "Foreigners are driving up the real-estate prices incredibly. Koreans are standing in line to buy houses at $500,000 each, and if they wait five minutes, they lose out. If you go to your car to get your checkbook, the house is gone.
"A man in Newport Beach called me the other day and said, 'I have nothing but diamonds, and I want to buy real estate.' I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
"People are walking around with suitcases full of money, and if some nut puts a three-bedroom, one-bath house on the market for half a million, they pay it. That drives all the houses in that block up to the half million range. People here have so much money, they don't care. I've seen it happen. It's madness."
What appears to be happening here is that land is scarce -- at least land you can build on, and people who already own real estate tend to hang on to it. yThat, and the monied foreigners and the general population increase, drives prices sky-high.
The classified real estate section in the Palisadian-Post, the weekly newspaper for Pacific Palisades, contains phrases like "$579,000 rustic dame" and "reduced to $575,000."
Springing off the page at you are a couple of homes listed at $97,500 and $79,950, until you read the fine print and realize that these are in a trailer court. Just Mist
There is smog here, and fog and dust, in various combinations at different times of day. The smog part isn't bad this time of year. This vast valley has always been this way: the Indians used to call it "The Valley of Smoke," but now it is worse.
The fog can be nice, a mist rolling in from the ocean in the late afternoon, causing wonderful things to happen with the sunlight. You get a hazy effect, and the long slanting rays of light somehow lend a drama and intimacy to the landscape that we hardly ever see in the East. The No-Spokesmen
Reagan's visible staff here is an amazingly congenial crew. Like Reagan himself, they're likable people. You don't get any sense of hard-line ideology from them. Rohrabacher, the 33-year-old scriptwriter who works as a press aide, will go so far as to admit he is a "libertarian conservative," but doesn't seem much interested in discussing politics after that.
Another press man, 27-year-old Dave Prosperi, has a master's degree in business from George Washington University. Lanny Wiles, 37, is a good ol' boy from the South who looks like Billy Carter and who does Reagan's advance work -- preparing an advance for the president-elect's trips to church, the ear doctor and so on.
But the real star is Joe Holmes, 52, a thin ex-Hollywood press agent with hollow cheeks, a mustache and a hangdog look that says he has seen it all. Holmes is Reagan's "West Coast spokesman," which is fine, except that he has mastered the art of hardly ever saying anything.
After a while, you catch on. It's fun to talk and joke with him, but pointless to ask substantive questions. Usually Holmes just plain doesn't know.
The other day when Reagan visited his ear doctor, Holmes rode all the way downtown with him from the residence. Everyone in the press wanted to know what Reagan had said during the ride.
Nothing, was Holmes answer. Then he added: "He did a hell of an imitation of Jimmy Stewart on the way down: 'Uh . . . uh . . . uh . . . Ron. . .'" Armaments in Attendance
Reagan's Sunday motorcades to church are real productions. Black-suited motorcycle cops stopped the traffic on the freeways for the president-elect and his wife to pass, while a Secret Service "battlewagon" -- a station wagon loaded with machine guns and other armaments, follows the Reagan car closely.
Then come the press cars, some police cars and finally a police SWAT van with officers armed with shotguns and M-16 automatic rifles. A police helicopter provides air cover.
During any "movement" like this, the network television cameraman on duty stands up on the tailgate of the press station wagon and trains his camera ahead on Reagan's car. It is an obligatory emergency watch.
At the Bel Air Presbyterian Church, a modern structure on the desert hilltop, the Reagan's sit inconspicuously near the back. They have gone to this church for 15 years.
Donn Moomah was a two time All American linebacker at UCLA before entering the ministry and is the pastor. In his service just before Christmas with the Reagans in attendance, he says, "If politics is not the answer, then what is? Love!" The O. & W. Options
Rep. Pete McCloskey (R-Calif.) is having breakfast at the Bel Air Sands, a very nice hotel on Sunset Boulevard where the press, Secret Service and Reagan staffers are putting up. Is he here to see the "O. and W." (for "oldest and wisest," a moniker for Reagan) everyone wonders?
No, Mccloskey isn't here to see Reagan but is down from his San Francisco area district to drum up support for his own proposed Senate race in 1982. What is surprising is his enthusiasm for Reagan. McCloskey is a liberal Republican who broke with Reagan over Vietnam nine years ago and finally endorsed him only last September.
"It's his people," says McCloskey, a rugged-looking ex-Marine with gray, bushy hair and a gravelly voice. "I think he can run the country in a six-hour day better than a guy working a 12-hour day who can't see the forest for the trees. Reagan can make decisions in a six-hour day getting options from able and gutsy people."
McCloskey agrees with Reagan appointee David A. Stockman, designated to head the Office of Management and Budget, that Reagan has only a few months to make some splashy economic moves and get the country back on the right track. Through Justin Dart, he has forwarded a plan to Reagan that would have Congress pass a law cutting all discretionary government expenses and many top executive salaries by the same percentage that government expenses exceeded income at the end of each fiscal year.
Among the things cut would be unemployment compensation, welfare, Social Security, food stamps, revenue sharing and the salaries of the president, Congress and top government officials.
"I'm excited about the next six months," said McCloskey. "I want it to work." Mud in Your Eye
Lanny Wiles always wanted to go to Chippendales discotheque in Los Angeles, where they have female mud wrestlers on Tuesday nights. The joke during the campaign as the everyone would get together and go after they won. Last Tuesday, the show was spectacular at Chippendales. The wrestlers all looked like Miss America in their scanty bathing suits, and when they wrestled they got all slick with the mud, and it was very sensual. They had names like "Sweet Savage" and "serpentina" and they appeared to make a genuine effort to pin one another. Drunken men threw money to the edges of the mud pit where they fought, and an NBC camera crew was there filming it.
Wiles didn't make the show last week but plans to see it this week. Warm Thoughts
For the record, it should be said that when you first meet Reagan in person, you are bound to be struck by his great personal warmth.
One woman correspondent put it this way: "The first time I met him he stood there and said something like, 'Golly.' It occurred to me he was really a nice man. He was so warm and friendly." Rollses and Jams
What is really unbelievable here is the way people drive, and the attention lavished on automobiles. People drive like madmen -- fast and unforgiving, not as bad as Bangkok but probably worse than Paris. The traffic jams are monumental. At 3 p.m. the day before Christmas, when everybody was trying to get home early, a helicopter-borne radio announcer, surveying a thousand square miles of jammed traffic below, declared a "gridlock" -- so many cars on the road that virtually nothing was moving.
Everyone seems to have a special message on their license plates."A1 FLIRT" said one at Reagan's church. "ARRGGH" declared another parked not far from Reagan's house.
On Sunset Boulevard and in the ritzy shopping district along Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills, where you need appointments to get into some of the stores, the Rolls Royces and Bentleys are thicker than Mercedes in Washington. They've got old beautifully rehabilitated cars there, classics with silver pipes sticking out and names you've never heard of.
The Bentleys here are cream and gold and baby blue and all the colors you seldom see on fancy cars in Washington. The other day, there was a two-tone brown Bentley with a cowboy hat in the back seat parked off Wilshire in front of a cafe that was obliged to post the message: "Open to the public." Salmon at the Sands
Ron Ely, who played Tarzan for many years and who replaced Bert Parks as emcee of the Miss America pageant, appears regularly for breakfast at the Bel Air Sands restaurant, where you can have a smoked salmon omelette and champagne brunch by the pool. A woman who said she was the daughter of Irene Dunne also was there one night. She said she had composed a soft-drink jingle. Teed Off
After Reagan made that country club appearance where Dean Martin was turned away and where the O. and W. received an honorary club membership, four well-dressed men were having lunch at the Bel Air Sands and one was heard to say, "Oh shoot, I don't even think he plays golf, and now we'll have to deal with cops and Secret Service people all the time." a