# of pages revised: 14
# of literary mags submitted to: 0
# of days left to complete 2nd draft: 57
I have a new penpal. He’s the guy from okcupid who sent me the intriguing article about “Codpiece” a few weeks ago. (Yes, that’s the type of thing I’m looking for in a penpal.) This week he’s at a conference in Los Angeles and emailed to tell me how much he likes LA.
My go-to sentiment whenever someone mentions Los Angeles is a groan. “Horrible traffic. Horrible smog. Horrible people,” I say automatically.
But I think I’ve been unfair.
Let’s wind the clock back to January of 2000, which is when I moved to L.A. I was nineteen, and the research I’d done prior to the move involved flipping through a few books at Barnes and Noble and emailing some sisters of friends of friends who supposedly lived in LA. I was more concerned with the cross-country drive, and I guess I thought I’d deal with figuring out LA when I got there.
Craigslist didn’t exist back then to help with apartment searching, and I don’t think I really understood the geography of LA anyway, so my roommate and I ended up getting a place in a rather sketchy area of Long Beach. It had been advertised as a two-bedroom, but the second room (which became mine) was actually a loft over the living room, which meant I had no actual privacy.
We lived down the street from Snoop Dogg’s high school and a mile from the intersection of the 91 and 710 freeways, which forms the border between Long Beach and Compton. Just using your knowledge of rap songs should help you to understand that this was not the most wholesome of neighborhoods.
Also, upon arriving in LA, my car died a quick and violent death. So the first thing I tried to figure out was the public transportation system.
That led to me standing at a bus stop in Compton at ten o’clock at night, waiting for over an hour for my bus to arrive. It never did, so I ended up walking six or seven miles home past people dealing and/or doing drugs on the street.
After that, I went to a used car dealership and spent my entire savings on a car with no air-conditioning, no radio, and terrible gas mileage.
To understand my time in LA, you have to understand that:
1. I was very young and stupid
2. I was poor
3. This was the cusp of the Internet age
And I think these circumstances tainted my experience in the City of Angels.
In order to save money, my roommate and I shared a cell phone, which was such a terrible idea in retrospect that I don’t even want to speak of it. We splurged on dial-up Internet, but it was pay-by-the-minute, so in another attempt to save money, we had a rule that no one could use the Internet for more than fifteen minutes a day. I would get on the morning to quickly check my email, but I didn’t have time to surf the web for cool stuff to do, or maybe a better apartment in a less ghetto neighborhood.
These were the days before facebook, before Google, before GPS. I worked as an extra, which meant that nearly every day I was going somewhere different – to one of the studios in Burbank or Studio City, or driving to an on-location shoot in Pasedena or Manhattan Beach or God-knows-where. In order to get to work, I actually looked at a map. Specifically, I consulted the Thomas Guide, which was a giant book of detailed maps of LA county and the freeway system. I had to look up the street address in the index, find it on the corresponding small map, and then plot my course on the big map.
This led to me getting horribly lost all the time.
And being lost can be scary when you’re a nineteen-year-old girl driving around LA in a crappy car. It can also be just plain annoying, especially when you’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic with no air-conditioning and no radio and there are some Mexicans next to you in a truck interpreting your rolled-down window as an invitation to scream dirty Spanish pick-up lines at you.
To be honest, I didn’t have much fun in LA. I was only nineteen, so I didn’t hit the club scene. I didn’t have the money or the clothes for that anyway. I can only recall eating at a restaurant twice. I worked every day that I could, and when you work on movies that means a nineteen-plus hour day, so I didn’t have a lot of free time to go check out the sights. I went to Mann’s Chinese Theater once, and sometimes I went to Redondo Beach to lay out or roller-blade. But other than that, I just worked, went to the library, and hit the 98 Cents store in my neighborhood. I never even went to Griffith Park, home of the Hollywood sign.
And this is all just the little stuff. I suppose the big thing was that I was trying to make it in the film industry, and I didn’t really know how to do that. I started to feel lost and scared, and not just on the freeways.
I spent a lot of my time in LA being confused, bored, or somewhat frightened. But I don’t think that was all LA’s fault. It was the situation I was in. I was young, poor, and lacking information.
I’d like to go back now, eleven years later, with a little money in my pocket and a little thing called the Internet to give me advice. I want to give LA a fair chance. I’d like to see some fun tourist destinations. I’d like to eat at a nice restaurant and check out a club or two. I’d like to walk around in some neighborhoods where I’m not fearing for my life.
I think, given the right circumstances, I could like LA.
* * *
I realize that I have a habit of rejecting the place I’m living in, blaming the city for what’s wrong with my life. I did it in Williamsburg, and New Orleans, and again in DC. But I’m being unfair. It’s rarely the place itself that’s the problem. It’s the circumstances. Change the circumstances and then, perhaps, I can be happy anywhere.