Four years ago from last night, I was sitting in the lobby of Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta. The rest of my friends and even my family were all tucked into their beds after Independence Day celebrations. I sat in the airport lobby in an uncomfortable fake leather chair with my hands touching my suitcase, duffle bag, and two book bags, paranoid someone was going to steal a bag, a fourth of my life. The back of my chair was against a giant dinosaur skeleton and, with the exception of a janitor or two, no one walked through the sleepy airport lobby between 11PM and 6AM. It was the worst night of no-sleep I’ve had in my life because of a mixture of intense excitement and an uncomfortableness because of the chair. I was packed to finally make the moved I had fantasized about since I was five or six years old: I was finally moving to Los Angeles.
I had always wanted to live in Los Angeles. Growing up, I always wanted to be an entertainer, some sort of actor or performer type. For me, that meant Los Angeles, a land of palm trees and beaches and neon colors and spandex and, potentially, a muscle man shark riding a surfboard. This place was a myth that was reinforced in my brain as fictional non-fiction by way of Saved By The Bell and Mullholland Drive. I wanted to be a part of it, even if I had no idea what that meant.
I had visited Los Angeles once before in 2004, when my Aunt and Uncle invited me out for a month as a high school graduation present. That trip to this day defines the Angeleno that I am today. I remember they picked me up from LAX and we rode what seemed to be an endless tangle of highway. I remember noting there was a train (the Metro Green Line on the 105), the building from Independence Day was very tall (Downtown’s US Bank building), and the Hollywood sign was tiny. One of my earliest Los Angeles memories was going under the bridge from the 110 connection to the 101 and seeing the Echo Park CVS, which had a sign that read “LIQUOR” on side of it. I remember thinking, “Well, CVS doesn’t carry any liquor back home.” I discovered that Hardee’s out West was Carl’s Jr., that Hellman’s was Best Foods, that Kroger’s was Ralph’s. There was this magic and make-believe to the city, that anything could just be renamed and remade: the Outback isn’t where the motto “No Rules, Just Right” reigns–Los Angeles is where it reigns.
The city reminded me of Europe, a place I always wanted to live but was entirely too inaccessible for me culturally and economically. My Aunt and Uncle lived in Franklin Hills, its tiny streets very similar to the little roads in small Spanish or French towns. The Venice Canals were this little make-believe world of slender houses and imagined gondolas. Hiking up a mountain trail inspired intense fatigue but made me feel like Maria in the opening scene of The Sound Of Music. We went to some fancy restaurants and stores, I had sushi for the second time in my life, I got to use my Spanish at a store, I discovered “Vintage Clothes,” and even got got to meet Sarah Silverman, not once, but thrice. I walked to a lot of places and was in awe passing Nickelodeon Studios on Sunset and was even more in awe when I walked into Amoeba a few blocks away, throwing nearly $200 at them as I purchased obscure electronic music EPs and LPs I’d been reading about for years.
I left Los Angeles after one month in 2004 with a week left before college, lots of strange gifts, memories, and a tattoo of a nautical star I got at Atomic Tattoo. For the next four years, I practically counted down the days until I arrived in Los Angeles. I briefly entertained the idea of living in New York, which was quickly rationalized against as this is the town for film and television…and it has great weather…and the beach…and on and on and on. I returned to Los Angeles determined. Determined for what? I had no idea. I slept on my Aunt’s patio for a few weeks and eventually moved into a spare room, where I lived for a year. I spent my first few weeks working at an American Apparel and doing extra work for the film Hannah Montana: The Movie and the show Boston Legal. I eventually got a job in Hollywood as an assistant in reality television development. I didn’t have a car for the first six months I lived here and I was excited about everything.
Four years later, I’m still excited about everything. I don’t really pursue entertainment and Hollywood any longer and, thank heavens, I no longer work in the very jaded and often mean world of reality television. I do have a car now but I never use it, opting to bike, walk, or Metro most places I have to get to. I now am at an age and familiarity with Los Angeles that I am able to conquer just about everything. For the next year, I get to answer the classic Los Angeles question, “How long have you been here?” with the response, “Four fantastic years.”
The city has taught me a lot of lessons about life and itself in my time here: I am glad to be able to graduate from my introduction to the city. I learned that too much stimulation can be bad from the city banning monster billboards in 2009. I learned that the $15 seats at the Hollywood Bowl are only good if you don’t care about what you are watching. I learned that the hot dogs at Pink’s really are just OK. I learned that needing a car in this city borders on being a myth. I learned that, no, Los Angeles does not and likely will not ever have a cohesive fashion scene. I learned that, yes, there is a world outside of lame Hollywood scenesters and the like. I learned that Will Rogers Beach is my favorite beach and is the easiest to get to aside from Santa Monica. I learned that there is now a food and art and performance and architecture world blooming in Los Angeles. I even learned that hiking at Runyon Canyon is not as abhorrent as you would assume.
The most important lesson I learned and am constantly seeing is that you can be and do whatever you want in Los Angeles. The city has the drive of New York, the freedom of San Francisco, the sophistication of Paris, the weirdness of New Orleans, the homeyness of Atlanta, and the climate of Sydney. The people here can have their hands in multiple honey pots and really, really, really want to be a part of multiple pots. Everything about LA is magical tossed together with a work hard, play harder attitude that is within reason as, most of the time, you have to drive home from your fun having. Where else in the world can you find and quite feasibly live in charming buildings from the 1920s at an affordable price? Where else in the world can you live where earthquakes are like burps the city passes through without question? Where else in the world can you be within feet of makers and artists and actually be able to approach them if you wanted? Where else can two cars make a left turn on a red light after its changed and not get a ticket? Where else can you have city, sea, desert, forest, surburbs, plains, and more less than an hour away from you? Very few places, I am sure.
Los Angeles has made me a happier and healthier person. It is a city that forces you out to experience it and allows for you to be able to do your own thing, on your own terms. There is no stress in living here and there is never an abundance of worries. In four years, I’ve realized that there are no pressures in this city aside from the pressures that you put on yourself. Carefree isn’t a bad thing and good weather isn’t a bad thing: they are allowances that you can give to yourself if you want to. LA just seems to have a lot of luxuries, I guess.
A year from now, I’ll still be here scribbling yarns about Los Angeles and will mark down another year of being in this city. I know I won’t be going anywhere and, hopefully, I will have been able to convince a few more friends and family members to move out West. I get to live in the place that I always dreamed of living and it has yet to let me down. Time will tell what will come to our city and what will change in our city. However, as long as the weather stays the same and the people and places continue to be engaging, I’m reasonably certain that things will not be that different.