When living there, the city of Los Angeles is at times a very stressful and cruel place, seldom offering the courtesy of a breath of air, and more often then not, hammering you into the ground until you can barely stand back up to go at it again. But the city does have some gems that, even for those who have had just about enough of this town, can make you love Los Angeles all over again.
That gem for me is a cozy little restaurant down on Pico Boulevard, nestled in an area of town that hosts a large portion of LA’s Jewish community. This little place is called The Milky Way, a little kosher restaurant that has everything from pizza to paella. It is a quiet little place that is seldom packed, something that honestly surprises me.
The Milky Way is home to a lot of things that would bring most people in. For one it is home to just about the best cheesecake I have ever eaten, and the menu is filled with such diverse treats that there is always something new to have. The service is friendly, and if you go back enough times, you will actually be on a first name basis with those who work there. But the crown jewel of the restaurant is the lovely Leah Adler.
Though we have only met three times and only talked twice, Leah is one of those people who just emanates an aura of positivity. This is a woman who enjoys life, enjoys her work and enjoys making people smile. The hostess of the restaurant, you are sure to see her whenever you swing by for a bite. She also loves movies. I mean, really loves movies.
This is evident the moment you take a trip back to the restroom, where the wall is lined with posters from her favorite film makers, the Spielbergs. Pretty much every Steven Spielberg movie is celebrated in poster form, not just the movies he directed, like Schindler’s List, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Jaws, but the ones he produced like An American Tail and Back to the Future. Even Big, written by Steven’s sister, Anne Spielberg, is celebrated here. Most might think this fixation on the family is odd, but it makes perfect sense when you realize who Leah Adler is.
She is their mother, and she is really proud of her kids.
It is sometimes hard to remember that people who make it big often start out in the most modest of ways. The Spielbergs spent much of their time in Ohio, with Steven coming to be in Cincinnati in the late 40s. Leah was a homemaker, and their father Arnold was a workaholic who spent much of his time away from home. Steven is one of four children, the others being his sisters Anne, Nancy and Sue. Raising four kids must have been quite a handful for Leah, who also worked as a restauranteur and a concert pianist. Even back then, the family was interested in the arts.
Steven has described his mother as much more of a big sister than an authority figure. Leah herself has said she was the kind of mother who would keep her kids from going to school in favor of a trip to get sundaes.
You can tell that right away when you meet her. I have never seen this woman frown or scowl, even though she needs a little help walking at this age. But with the energy beaming out of her, you could swear the woman is floating.
I first heard about her little restaurant from a friend of mine and toyed with the idea of going there for a little while. When my twenty seventh birthday came around, it seemed as good an excuse as any to finally walk through the doors of The Milky Way.
Let me start off by offering my continued praise for the food. I had a Thai fish fry, fried fish soaked in a peanut butter sauce. It doesn’t sound like the kind of thing that would go well with fish, but trust me it is amazing. My friends and I chatted about work, the future, some of our favorite movies, and life in general.
Of course the big moment was when Leah came over to our table. My slice of cheesecake was adorned with a single candle as she came over. She carried herself in a casual and friendly way, completely unpretentious and all around open. It took me some willpower to force the words out of my mouth.
“Hello Ms. Adler. How are you doing today?” I asked.
She just shrugged and said “I’m not twenty seven.”
I looked her over, and could immediately see it. Though her body was old and worn, there was a young woman in there. A young woman who loved to laugh, who loved to dance, who loved to play and loved to live. In all honesty, Leah is a much happier person than I am, and that alone makes her much younger.
So I, completely ernest, told the lovely Ms. Adler, “Well, you look twenty seven.”
Leah took a short pause before turning to her assistant and saying “Nice guy.”
Not sure if my comment made Leah’s evening, but her answer sure made mine.
My friends and I chilled out and chatted for a little while longer before taking our leave shortly before eight. As we were leaving, Leah’s assistant approached me and asked “Would you like to get your picture taken with Ms. Adler?”
I had of course been keen on the idea, but decided against it prior to my visit. Simply put, people are not props, and I didn’t want to get my picture taken with this sweet person for the sake of having myself look good. That brief exchange was enough.
But Leah’s assistant assured me it wasn’t a problem and Leah always enjoyed meeting new people.
So I was invited over to her table, where Leah was waiting. Upon seeing me, she smiled.
“I thought you’d never ask, kid.” she said with a chuckle.
Though her assistant needed to help Leah stay on her feet, Leah didn’t lose any of that enthusiasm that had already grown on me. I of course was pretty nervous. Putting my arm around her was strange enough. Lets face it, this woman is royalty. To even share a few words with her was a privilege, and here I was getting my picture taken with her.
It was a fine way to end the evening, and one of my best birthdays in a long time.
You better believe I still have that candle.
I have since been back to The Milky Way two more times, and every time has been a blessing. No matter how depressed I am feeling, or how hopeless my endeavors seem, this is a place where I can just let it all go and enjoy life’s simpler pleasures.
Perhaps that is what I find most alluring about the life of this family. When it all comes down to it, they are just good people, humble people, and people of principle. These are just a good happy family, something that is easy to miss when they are under the spotlight.
A pity, because that is the most important thing of all.