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On the Outside of the Oscars’ ‘Ring of Steel’ Looking In

Every Angeleno knows — and every tourist finds out — that spending time in Hollywood does not translate into hobnobbing with celebrities. For the three weeks of my contract job at the TCL Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, friends and family asked if I had seen any celebrities. Every time, the answer was no.

As my time in Hollywood drew to a close, I knew I had one last shot. The day before I left for home, the Academy Awards would be held at the Dolby Theatre, mere steps away from the Chinese Theatre and my Airbnb. All of Hollywood’s biggest stars would be on the red carpet. I couldn’t lose.

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I had been tracking preparations for the big event for over a week and a half. The city started closing down streets to prepare on February 29, and security was tight. This year, unlike previous years, large metal fencing was installed along Hollywood Boulevard from Orange Drive to Highland Avenue to keep Israel-Hamas protestors out. It was called the “Ring of Steel.” To and from my Airbnb, I saw orange and white barricades blocking traffic, around-the-clock security, construction and delivery vehicles coming and going, and mysterious large-scale metal structures being erected. By March 4, the 6900 block of Hollywood Boulevard looked like a FEMA help center, with long white trailers lining each side of the street and personnel tables set up underneath white tents to help direct the workflow. Huge sweeping cream-colored awnings were erected outside the Dolby Theatre, and the red carpet had been rolled out, covered in plastic to protect it from the constant foot traffic. As the week progressed, I noticed a stronger security presence and began to doubt if I would pull this off.

The day before the big event, my co-workers Jesiey and Jesse and I strategized. We planned to meet another co-worker at Superba Food + Bread on Sunset Boulevard at noon, a 19-minute walk. By 2:30 p.m., we would make our way back to Hollywood Boulevard to see celebrities arrive before the red carpet ceremony at 4 p.m.

On our way to the Dolby from lunch, we passed protestors marching down Sunset waving signs that read “Free Palestine” and “Burn Hollywood Burn.” We took a right and stopped at the corner of Hollywood and Highland, the closest the general public was allowed to the Dolby Theatre. Bystanders snaked along the Walk of Fame, craning their necks, taking photos, caged off by the “Ring of Steel.” As I peered around the crowd, I could see lines of red-blazered staff standing in formation, hands folded, bowties centered, awaiting instructions outside of the Dolby. Men in black suits waved shiny black Escalades with tinted windows through. It was showtime.

“Where do we want to set up camp?” I asked the group. We decided on the Snow White Cafe. Located about a half block from the Dolby, the Snow White Cafe is one of the last of the old hangouts from the Golden Age of Hollywood; the place where Dinsey animators grabbed a meal and a beer after work. Named after its large Snow White mural (painted by a few of the animators who worked on the 1937 Disney film), the bar is an odd juxtaposition of Snow White decor and sports bar vibes, an apt metaphor for the tourist trap that Hollywood Boulevard had become.

We ordered our beers and got a four-top near the entrance with a terrific view of where the red carpet began. As we sipped our beers, the three of us wondered which nominees we might see. I started getting updates on my phone about which celebrities were arriving: Ariana Grande, Christopher Nolan, Emma Stone, Paul Giamatti. “This can’t be right,” I said. All we saw was security staff who seemed to be waiting. “That’s a decoy,” said the bartender, who seemed annoyed “The celebrities usually go in around the back.” We paid our bill and headed up Yucca, taking a left onto Franklin Avenue. The Oscars were starting in 20 minutes, but we weren’t about to give up. As we raced toward the back of the Dolby, we saw women in glittery gowns and men in tuxedoes wandering around, confused by the additional barricades meant to ward off unwanted guests like us.

Still no bold-faced names.

“Those protestors are screwing our lives,” said an older woman in a green sequined dress as she angrily walked with her two friends to the back, all of them carrying their high-heeled shoes, frustrated at being made to navigate around the “Ring of Steel.”

We circled the block back to Hollywood Boulevard, hoping to get a glimpse of any possible late arrivals. “You can’t go nowhere,”  a grungy man with long hair said to his phone.

Still no celebrities.

At that point, we gave up. The ceremony was starting inside the Dolby, so we walked a few blocks to a burger joint called Stout on Cahuenga Boulevard and took our seats at the bar, where the Oscars ceremony was blaring on every TV. Watching the Oscars in a Hollywood bar is like watching college football in a sports bar. Everyone cheered when their favorite movie or actor won an award, laughed out loud at Jimmy Kimmel’s monologue, sang along to Ryan Golsing’s performance of “I’m Just Ken,” and made snarky remarks about Al Pacino’s awkward Best Picture announcement for “Oppenheimer.”

After the three of us finished our dinner and beers, we walked back to Hollywood Boulevard, imbued with a last glimmer of hope that we might still see some celebrities. But it was not meant to be. Instead, we passed exhausted-looking Oscars staff members and seat-filler attendees in their fancy attire, all relieved that a stressful night was over except for the parties. I said my goodbyes to Jesiey and Jesse and walked back to my Airbnb, ready to crawl into bed.

Am I disappointed I didn’t get to see any celebrities? Not as much as I thought, because I got to experience the Oscars in a way that many people could never imagine, right in the heart of Hollywood.

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