It was a city you bemoaned, a grit fest of smoggy skies, clogged roads, and infinite traffic lights. “The people here actually stare back at you,” an East Coast friend confided in me, “It’s a bit unsettling.” That’s L.A. for you. We perceive. We judge. We internalize. For so long, that bothered you. You found refuge in the narrow, urban beauty of New York, the wide, self-important boulevards of D.C. Places where people kept their eyes to themselves. Everything about Los Angeles was so superficial, you complained. Juice cleanses were not the stuff of rumors, but in fact weekly occurrences among your rotating crop of friends. It was not uncommon to walk into a café and see three screenwriters typing away, an agent loudly proclaiming, “She’ll do the pilot,” on her phone. Coachella left school barren, the hallways whistling in the emptiness of teenagers whisked off to desert bacchanalia. Fads ripped through the city like lightening: first it was frozen yogurt, then spinning, then Birkenstocks. Sometimes you couldn’t keep up and asked yourself “Were harem pants last summer? Can I wear these jean overalls to dinner?” There was a line between chic and frumpy, which you were loath to cross.
But then you left for college on the East Coast, and it came into stark contrast for you. People muttered, “So typical L.A.,” under their breath when you let out an excited gasp watching a movie filmed near your neighborhood. You found yourself causally name- dropping that famous director, who also just so happened to be your best friend’s father. Not out of a desire to impress, but a nostalgia for what was. You could not stop shivering and suddenly wished you had appreciated the “seventy degrees and dry” norm of your childhood. And when you flew back on that airplane, home for Winter Break, you suddenly smiled when the cloud cover broke and you saw the concrete grid unravel before you, shimmering in the heat you so coveted and lined with the palm trees you had craved.
Los Angeles may be sprawling and incomprehensible at times. You don’t feel like a true Angeleno until you’ve moved 3/4th of a mile in an hour and a half of standstill traffic, a pink and orange sky melting into nothingness beyond the freeway sign. When you notice that the restaurant you just went to last week with your out-of-town friend is there no longer. When people clutch their dogs to their chests as if they were small infants, prized possessions with tiny matching sweaters. But there is no comparable feeling to walking amid the dusty, hushed silence of a Hollywood Hills trail at dusk. The roar of the freeway is the only sound, accompanied by the twinkling of a thousand street-lights and neon signs. Rounding the bend of PCH and a blast of pure sunlight glancing off the ocean just meters away. Catching your eye on a hidden spray of color gracing Melrose alley walls, murals proclaiming justice and peace. So exciting to feel a part of something, the local native that tourists wave at from atop double decker tour buses.
Los Angeles, upon closer inspection, lends itself to the eclectic and unique. Colorful prints stalk the streets, flea markets of trinkets and vintage resurrect themselves on Sundays, a never-ending line of red brake lights shines in contrast to the orbs of white headlights running parallel. The hills a dark hulk in the night, the only skyline between Century City and Downtown. Designer sunglasses tilt down, wide brimmed hats blow up in a Santa Ana breeze. In L.A., where people stare back, you’re noticed.