This will be a sort of time capsule post- strongly laced with hostility for the place I cringe to call “home.”
I moved to Los Angeles 10 years ago today. I did not want to come here. And when I got here, I didn't want to stay. Not much has changed.
Work-related opportunities dragged me kicking & screaming from a city I adored (Chicago) to a city I was certain I never wanted to set foot in again. I had been here for a family vacation when I was a teenager. And then again for a few weeks in college. My opinion of this place was pretty similar to how it remains today. This is an exploitative, hot, dirty city filled with selfish people & some just okay scenery.
10 years has... not made me fall in love with this place (not sure if you could tell, so I just thought I'd reiterate). I've learned to be more or less content with it, but I'll never love living here. I know because anytime I fly in (especially to LAX) from any other place (even a place I dislike more than this), I have this sinking feeling. When I look through the little window & see the city laid out through the smoggy filter, I feel no sense of belonging. No warmth in my heart. No yen.
When I fly into Midway (get used to the comparisons because they're just gonna keep on coming), I feel giddy. When I stand at the baggage claim & I see all the Chicagoans in their discount Burlington Coat factory apparel, I want to hug them all & buy a round of Schlitz for the terminal. I feel some thundering of Midwestern patriotism pulsing in my chest. I feel pride in being plain, ordinary & prepared for the weather. These are my people. This is my tribe. What time do the Bears play? And more importantly, are they playing the Packers?
Even when I fly into KCI (my original Midwest home), I feel a tingling of comfort in not being a fish out of water.
In LA, I feel like a cast out. I'm okay with it because I don't want to buy into the bullsh*t. The day I do that is the day I stop being me. I'm not going to make my diet match any sort of trend. I'm not going to wear what's fashionable while it is fashionable (maybe I would have if I lived here in 1950). I'm not going to go to parties just to be seen. I'm not going to order a second $18 cocktail (especially if it's infused). And I'm not coming if I can't find parking.
And then there is the beauty thing. Advice to anyone who comes here: find a way to be happy with your appearance first. I didn't. The people here look like they are in a magazine ad. They are thin, fit, tan & impeccably dressed. I'm not talking about all the people. There are normal looking people here, too. But no one is looking at them. They're looking at the 20-something goddess who just walked in & ordered an avocado toast on 7 grain. The one who looks like she just left a Vanity Fair shoot. The one who can't work today because she has an appointment with her facial technician.
A lot of people here are trying to get noticed. Every waiter is an actor. Every bartender is a musician. Everyone wants to move up to a point where they can afford to schmooze at the Chateau Marmont. So a lot of people here are fair weather. Everyone is looking for the next best thing. I find it to be repulsively & sickeningly insincere. I once knew a short bald man who was in a healthy, happy relationship with an age-appropriate attractive woman. And he dumped her quite mercilessly. His reason? She wasn't “hot” enough. That's this town.
“But it's California!” I know. You want to see something impressive in the Golden State? Head north. Go to wine country. Go to San Fran. Go to the Redwoods. Go to Yosemite or Death Valley or Joshua Tree. Go sit on the beach in front of Hotel Del Coronado. Go anywhere else. People come to LA to see a f*cking sign. They hike miles to see a Goddamn sign. They almost get hit by a speeding Italian sports car so they can get a photo of themselves in front of a yes, iconic, but otherwise thoroughly unimpressive SIGN. Mt. Rushmore took 14 years to carve & though admittedly a bit corny, it is a jaw-dropping wonder when you are there in person. The Hollywood sign is no better on a postcard than it is in real life- no matter what your vantage point.
The mountains are brown. The air is brown. The ocean is... brownish-blue. The grass is brown. Except in Beverly Hills where they run their sprinklers even if a rare rain shower occurs DURING A DROUGHT.
Is the traffic as bad as people say? YES. NEED I SAY MORE? YES IT'S VERY, VERY BAD. ESPECIALLY EVERY SINGLE DAY. ESPECIALLY AT RUSH HOUR, EARLY MORNING, MIDDLE OF THE DAY, LATE AT NIGHT, ON HOLIDAYS & ANY OTHER TIME YOU THINK IT WILL ONLY TAKE 15 MINUTES.
Should I mention anything positive at some point?
I did have to come here to find my dog. So it had to happen.
I did have to come here to have a long distance relationship agonizing enough to know that I actually loved the guy & couldn't bear to live without him.
I did have to come here to find out that the movie business isn't for me. At least not the part where I can't be creative. Making movies written, directed & produced by someone else can be fantastic. But mostly I experienced things that made me question integrity, humanity & my own sanity. And that is precisely why I abandoned ship (I do not regret it by the way).
I did have to come here to truly appreciate Mexican cuisine. Sure, I had access to it everywhere else I've lived. But I was too busy with deep dish & BBQ. I know when Mexican food is bullshit now. I'm in deep. Gimme a horchata (easy on the sugar, not so easy on the cinnamon), a couple of pickled carrots so hot they make you weep, four tacos (two al pastor, two chorizo since you didn't ask) (maybe an asada or carnitas too depending on the establishment)- I'll be a happy gal. Follow that up with a Victoria or a Negro Modelo (f*ck Corona) & you've had the balanced meal of an Angeleno.
The further east I move, the happier I am. I started in Studio City. Then Los Feliz. Then Hollywood. Then Elysian Park. Then Echo Park. Now I'm in Cypress Park which almost no one has heard of (it's near Mt. Washington, Highland Park, Glassell Park, Eagle Rock, Chinatown, Lincoln Heights, Elysian Park, Silverlake, Frogtown, Glendale & South Pasadena). BUT IT'S A COMPLETELY SEPARATE (tiny, almost not there) NEIGHBORHOOD. I'm really scared that it's about to get cool. Echo Park got too cool & now I can't go back. Not even for the lake they finally reopened with the cute swan-shaped paddle boats.
Cypress Park has a humble, subtle character to it. It's rough around the edges, but pretty friendly enough once you know your way around. I've been here for 6 of my 10 years & this is where I've made my newlywed home out of what was originally a desperate need to house 4 people living in a 2 bedroom apartment. We rent what they call a “cozy” sized house with a concrete “yard.” With accessories, it's just about as ideal as any Barbie dream house. I like it a little more than okay. Especially since my very cool landlord living behind me finished his pool.
Our neighbors have accepted us. The old man across the street adores us. He asked his gardener to take care of the strip between our sidewalk & the street. He brought me a papaya a while back. He left us a case of Modelo the other day (& he shall now be known as the cerveza Easter bunny). Our next door neighbor gave me persimmons & some of the most frighteningly hot salsa I've ever scorched my mouth with. The very chatty security guy at the liquor store around the corner sometimes traps me by the mailbox. Traps me into a conversation about Marvel movies, that is. And I am so out of my depth that I can't bring it to a conclusion, so I just smile & nod. He probably thinks I'm nice. They're all terrified of my dog unfortunately (except the obese one-eyed chihuahua who will chase us to the front door if we cross his property line).
Every time we try to put up Christmas lights with a step stool, someone comes running with a real ladder. One winter we had a turkey patrolling our block (last seen December 24th, 2015). 4th of July is the best, though. The fireworks show comes to our front door. We bring lawn chairs into the street & watch as our neighbors compete for the honor of the loudest “ooh” & “aah”. It's a 360 experience that goes on from sundown to 2 or 3 in the morning. Like an Imax theater where little sparks land on you. The next morning looks like a war zone. It's September & I'm still finding little pieces of cardboard in my yard. They may even be from last year. This is something unmatched by Chicago. Yes I caught the little neighborhood shows in Pilsen or Albany Park. And that's what they were- little.
I'm down with the cacti & succulents. It took years of planting & watching “regular” plants die on me first, of course. I didn't want to accept that I live in the desert. But now that I have, I'm quite the lazy gardener & I have quite the magnificent desert plant display.
I've gotten used to seeing coyotes. I probably see at least one or two a week. I'm pretty good at spotting them though it's always kind of an eerie thing. The other day I was walking a pack of 6 or 7 dogs (yes, that's how I currently make a living) & one came flying past me at full sprint. It was only about 2 feet away & it startled the sh*t out of me. I've also had one run up right to my side while I was walking alone at night. It stayed in stride with me for about a block & then took off. I don't feel threatened, but I don't love the sneakiness. Wily bastards they are.
I will never get used to seeing mountain lions. I've only seen two, but that was enough. I did see one very adorably perturbed bear on the front lawn of a house I was exiting near Eaton Canyon. My SUV full of dogs were losing their sh*t, but he didn't seem to notice or care. He was half-heartedly swatting at moving cars as he bumbled down the street in no particular direction. It was pretty damn cool.
I do get very sick of the sunshine & 80 degrees. I'll take a brisk Chicago morning or a stormy autumn afternoon in KC any day over this bland weather. No, I don't appreciate it & yes, I take it for granted. EASY TO DO THAT WHEN YOU HAVE IT EVERY SINGLE DAY. GREAT FOR MOVIE CONTINUITY. NOT SO GREAT FOR YOUR MOOD. CAN I GET A CUMULONIMBUS CLOUD MAYBE? JUST ONE?
The weather does make it possible for old neon signs to survive decades of change, which is neat. If you've see that giant Arby's sign on Sunset, you can appreciate what I'm talking about.
The wildfires are scary. It is a legitimate threat & fear. It has come too close on many occasions. I don't live in an area that's likely to be set ablaze, but I am surrounded by it. The hill just east of us has been on fire. The mountains just north of us have been on fire. I've seen fire creep down to the freeway as I drive by.
The earthquakes are ever-present, but only according to science. I did feel a pretty strong one a month or two after I moved here. All the pictures fell off the walls & all the clothes fell off the hangers- nothing crazy. There's only been a few strong shakes that I've actually noticed since. If you sit on the ground while it's happening, you can feel a sliding, side-to-side motion. If you're near a doorway, you can see it bend & ripple. I hear the fracking quakes in Kansas are worse right now. We do have daily “Olli-quakes” when the dog needs to scratch an itch. Hardy har.
Was that enough semi-positive or at least somewhat informed, unbiased stuff to make you feel like my C- or more likely D+ rating of the City of Angels is fair?
Why do I stay? I married a DGA man. My fondness for him just barely tips the scales over my disdain for this city.
Who knows where 10 more years will find me. If you told me in 1999 that I'd be living in Los Angeles, I would think that made no sense at all. Where will I be in 2029? I'm hoping maybe it's Oakland. My husband & I visited recently... I was smitten almost immediately.
For kicks, here is a list of LA favorites made by a person who dislikes LA & hasn't put much effort into thoroughly exploring it, but has covered some ground over time:
Best restaurant(s): Nick's Cafe, El Grullense, Prado, Columbo's on Valentine's Day, Bar Ama, Red Lion, Tam O'Shanter, Dinah's (the one in Culver City), pretty much any non-hip Korean BBQ place I've set foot in, Umami Burger
Best food truck(s): Kogi, Tacos Zone, Tacos Arizas
Best bar(s): Walt's, Footsie's, Las Perlas, La Velvet Margarita Cantina, Monty Bar
Best beach: El Matador
Best hike: Sandstone Peak
Best view: driving Mulholland when you're not on a time crunch
Best place(s) to take your mom: Huntington Gardens, The Getty
Best place to take your dad: Autry Museum of the American West (specifically the bottom floor cowboy room)
Best thing to do for fun: Spend any amount of time at Shatto 39 Lanes
Best place(s) to kill time: Soap Plant/Wacko, Amoeba Music
Best time of day: I don't quite have an answer about the “best.” Maybe sunset? But I can tell you the worst is driving west on Sunset Boulevard at sunset. If you forgot your sunglasses or don't have tinted windows, be ready for temporary blindness.
Best place(s) to see a movie: Hollywood Forever Cemetery, The Vista, The Egyptian
Best actual impressive movie location trivia site(s): Malibu Creek (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, M*A*S*H & one or two Planet of the Apes movies), Vasquez Rocks (The Flintstones & any movie taking place in an outer space desert), Griffith Observatory (Rebel Without a Cause)
Best movie representing LA as I see it: L.A. Confidential