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HERB BENHAM: LA for a day and I'm feeling OK

The palm trees in Beverly Hills have gotten huge. They're like the Jimi Hendrix lyrics, "Excuse me, while I kiss the sky."

I hadn't been to Beverly Hills for years but went recently for some tests. Tests in Beverly Hills can be an occasion because the setting gives it a festive air. Mix in a thumbs-up or -down from your doctor with some shopping.

Remember driving before GPS? If Beverly Hills was your destination, it was usually I-5 to 405 to Santa Monica Boulevard. Not now, not with Google Maps, Waze or whatever floats your navigational boat.

This trip was I-5 to 170 (Hollywood Freeway) to Riverside Drive to Coldwater Canyon and over the mountains dropping neatly into Beverly Hills. That's when I noticed the supernaturally tall palm trees (Mexican fan palms) that seem twice as large as when we lived in L.A. 40 years ago. The palms are as impressive in their own cool, L.A. way as the giant sequoias.

Beverly Hills is something, too. It's easy to be dismissive about it — "I'd never live there in 100 years even if you gave me a place" — but duh, you wouldn't live there because you can't afford it and no one is giving you anything, the least of all a $10 million, one-of-a-kind house in Beverly Hills.

Beverly Hills is fun if you're willing to check your country bumpkin, "I don't belong here" attitude for a day. Rodeo Drive, Canon, Beverly, Little Santa Monica Boulevard, North Camden. I fit right in with my freshly washed 12-year-old Jeep with my left arm hanging out the window resplendent with the telltale truck driver's tan.

Eight dollars and I can park all day? I love this place. Who says Beverly Hills is expensive?

The doctor's office was on the 11th floor, two doors down from the world's greatest parking deal on North Camden. I have a strategy in the doctor's office. Be nice to the nurses and staff because it might improve your karma when you are awaiting test results.

I asked the nurses how long they'd worked there, where they lived and what their daily commute was in an effort to stack up good guy points. I wanted them to know if they needed somebody to talk to, somebody with whom to share their joys and sorrows, Dr. Benham was open for business and accepting patients.

The doctor had a spectacular corner office from which you could see Beverly Hills to the north and Santa Monica to the west. He had two screens on his desk and a larger screen behind his desk if two screens weren't imposing enough. His office was so impressive that if things didn't go well I could always jump out the window and the Mexican fan palms would be the last thing I saw.

Tests concluded, the doctor sent me to another office near Cedars-Sinai Medical Center for a PET scan, which always sounds friendly and as if they might give you a stuffed animal or a $10 gift certificate to PetSmart on your way out.

After the tests, and before returning to the doctor's office for results, I walked across the street and ate at Nonna's Empanadas. I ordered two empanadas — mushroom and carnitas — and washed them down with a lemonade. Superb but they didn't have dessert so I walked to a liquor store down the street and bought a Reese's Peanut Butter Cups and a two-pack of strawberry Pop-Tarts. Should the test results not be favorable and they had to rush me into surgery, strawberry Pop-Tarts would take me home to Mama.

The tests analyzed, it turned out I would live to see another day. What better way to celebrate than with chocolate, so I walked a few doors down to Beverly Hills Teuscher, where I bought the best chocolate-covered orange sticks (chocolate-covered orange peel) I've ever had from a lovely masked middle-aged woman who gave me a free chocolate because she sensed my humble Bakersfield roots.

The key to a chocolate orange stick is not volume nor length but the quality of the dark chocolate and the sweet bitterness of the orange rind inside. It's worth a drive to L.A. to eat those orange sticks.

I took 405 home. Enough of GPS, I wanted to remember when. The drive was glorious. When it's breezy, cool and uncrowded, one day in L.A. can set you up for a while. Especially ringed with palm trees that seem heaven-bound.

Contact The Californian’s Herb Benham at 661-395-7279 or His column appears on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays; the views expressed are his own.

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