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I'm standing in line with 200 other people on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles. It’s 6 a.m. and still dark. This is a vacation?
Yeah. Because we’re not waiting for nothing. We’re waiting to become stars. We’re outside CBS Television City, hoping to be chosen for The Price Is Right, the longest-running game show (37 years) on TV.
Television fame is not all this 1950s-sleek yet homey part of L.A.―Wilshire Boulevard between Fairfax and La Brea Avenue, dubbed the Miracle Mile―offers. There’s good food, both pricey and inexpensive; good shopping; world-class art. All that, and the chance to hear the magic words― “Come on down!”―that will let you join Drew Carey on the Price Is Right stage.
The night before
“Be fun!” Ted Ott tells the 20 of us grouped on the sofas in the Farmer’s Daughter lobby. “Be funny!” Ott works nights at the Farmer’s Daughter hotel, a good base for your visit because of (A) its gingham-goes-chic decor, (B) its location across the street from CBS Television City, and (C) Ted Ott, who teaches hourlong evening classes for hotel guests on how to be chosen for The Price Is Right. “Dress like Next-Door Joe,” Ott says. “Nothing fancy.” I can do that! But as the Price schedule works out, I must wait a whole day before my chance.
Next: What to do on the big day
The day of
This isn’t as taxing as it sounds. Along with access to The Price Is Right, the other good thing about the Miracle Mile is that it has more fun things to do―all in close proximity so you don’t need your car― than any other part of L.A. This gives me a chance to rehearse my Next-Door Joe persona in a variety of settings.
The first stop is the Farmers Market, the rambling maze of shops and restaurants that’s been a landmark on Third Street and Fairfax for 75 years. It has everything I need for a happy morning, notably great newsstands and the Lotería Grill, which serves the best breakfast dish in the world: chilaquiles, the Mexican concoction of shredded tortillas and cheese and eggs. Note to self: After my Price Is Right victory, have Lotería chilaquiles shipped to me daily.
On the chance that my Price audition might require knowledge of cars, fossils, or fine art, I then hit the three museums that make up the Miracle Mile’s Museum Row. First comes the Petersen Automotive Museum, where I contemplate cars I might buy if I win big on Price. Then I walk to the George C. Page Museum, aka the La Brea Tar Pits, where mammoths and mastodons got stuck in glop 30,000 years ago.
Afterward, I head next door to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. LACMA’s enormous collection, from Rembrandt to Jeff Koons, is a little overwhelming, especially because I’m now brooding over what to wear on Price. As I study Tintoretto’s 16th-century oil, Portrait of a Venetian Senator, I wonder if an ermine-trimmed cape would impress Carey.
Over dinner that evening at AOC, I raise a glass of Monterey County Tannat and drink to my luck.
The big moment
Finally, The Price Is Right. It’s an endurance test: I wait in the predawn line to get an order-of-arrival slip that will let me come back at 9:45 a.m. to be in the studio audience―and maybe, if I convey sufficient “fun” to the contestant screener, compete on the show.
I do get into the studio audience, the applause sign blazes, and there’s host Drew Carey (who happens to be funny even outside the confines of your TV screen). “Come on down!” the announcer shouts, and here comes a woman from Michigan and a guy from Illinois. But not me.
I’m still happy. I didn’t get on The Price Is Right, but I did get to experience one of the best parts of Los Angeles. As we file out of the studio, I realize that the Lotería Grill serves breakfast chilaquiles all day long. So I’ve won big after all.