Remember the season finale of Mad Men when Don Draper goes out to California and he’s super lost about his purpose in life and where he belongs so he tags along on a retreat? Like a true New Yorker he’s all sarcastic and refuses to buy into the crunchy, granola culture-type thing and then he has a breakdown/breakthrough at the end.
I feel a lot like that after going to LA for the first time.
The only place New Jerseyans have the right to make fun of, along with our fellow Bridge and Tunnelers, is Los Angeles. All in good spirit and fun, of course — don’t dish it out if you can’t take it, right? (And boy can we take it from New Jersey.)
But after spending a few days in LA, something weird happened. Really weird. Like, Who am I and how do I process this? weird. I liked it. Like, a lot. In a I could totally see myself living here kind of way and I love how much cognitive dissonance it’s firing up in me.
I went to LA after spending a few days in Long Beach, CA for a conference with some of my coworkers. In my usual manner, I was teasing the SoCal city because it was impossible to go for a run without waiting 30 seconds for a traffic light to change or because the water was equally uninhabitable for all lifeforms, even after I’d traveled all the way across the country from the beloved “armpit” of the US.
When the time came to leave Long Beach, my lovely friend and coworker, Anne, drove me over to a good friend’s house who moved out to LA not too long ago. (By the way, driving with Anne is awesome because a) she’s one of the most interesting people to talk to, and b) she fully appreciated my overly-nervous, you should get into this lane now because you have to turn in five miles navigation-style.) Robyn, first of all, lives in the most adorable house with the most adorable cats and subsequently took me to an adorable vegan restaurant, Sage, for my first meal in LA. It was delicious.
Then Robyn and her husband kindly, and patiently, took me on a tour of all the touristy things I was dying to see, but too ashamed to admit: the Walk of Fame, Grauman’s Theatre, The Roxy, Beverly Hills (and various large houses therein), the Church of Scientology, et al. They then dropped me off at another good friend and coworker’s house, Spencer, who generously shared his home with me for a few days. In short, I’d say the catchphrase of this trip was “Fueled by friends.” (Side note: THANK YOU FRIENDS.)
Over the next few days, I spent some time at the Getty Museum, where there happened to be a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit. I’m a big Patti Smith fan and read Just Kids a few years ago, so I was excited to see an exhibit dedicated to Mapplethorpe’s work. Plus, the Getty is free, which is mind-blowing. There’s a beautiful garden in the middle of the villa where it’s extremely serene and filled with gorgeous views of the LA cityscape.
The next day, I was determined to spend the entire day at the beach. I grew up near the shore and spent at least a full week every summer at the beach in NJ with my family, so I consider myself a beach kid. Except I’ve pushed that part of me pretty far down in the past few years, only hitting the beach about once or twice a summer. Each time, I remember how at home I feel by the water and how much I love being exhausted by the sun.
I grabbed a cab to walk around the Venice Canals and then walked over to the beach. (Again, free!) I read for a few hours, grabbed some pupusas and horchata — a meal I haven’t had since my DC days — and walked all the way down the Venice Boardwalk, taking in the skateboarders, body builders, surfers, wanderers, and so on. It felt like heaven.
As a teenager, I watched Dogtown and Z-Boys relentlessly, worshipping the photography of Glen E. Friedman. With that singular tidbit in mind, I’d always thought I’d like Venice, but I never knew just how much I would. It felt like everyone was doing their own thing. I felt at home, buoyant, and happy. Later on, I full-on napped on the beach in Santa Monica, stumbled into a fantastic bookstore, and had a comical meeting with Robyn at Cafe Gratitude. (Pro-tip: always check if there’s more than one location!)
Visiting LA raised a lot of questions for me. I don’t know where I’m going next. I don’t have a lease or a set place to live at this point. I’ve made plans and changed plans for the next few months. I’m realizing that my values are changing and I’m not sure if where I’ve lived in the past fits the person I am now or who I want to be in the future. There were so many elements of LA culture that fit my priorities, the things I like, the things I want to do. Plus, it took me by surprise — I expected this sprawling, unwieldy metropolis with nothing but ugly highways, high-rises, and smog. Instead, I found beaches, good food, and good people.
These are good questions to ask. Who am I and who do I want to be? What’s most important in my life? How does the city I live in support that? How does it reflect those values? We develop relationships with our cities that grow and change, deepen or whither. I can’t help but wonder if part of the difficulty I’ve been having in choosing a place to live is because I’m holding on to old expectations. I still don’t know, but it’s good to have a few more pieces to the puzzle in hand.