ten years

by Sandra

It was a quiet anniversary, not particularly noted; but the end of May marked my tenth year of being an Angelino. Ten years feels significant. So many people come and go in that time. Some of my most cherished moments have taken place in this city, as well as a few of the worst days of my life.

When I arrived here, fresh out of college, I had aspirations to work in pictures, and eyes full of stars. Nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to face. The incessant car culture, an entire system built around automobiles and traffic with all the attendant rules, laws, tickets and fees in tow; the insidious health culture that would have you believe wholeness comes in the form of a green smoothie, two hours of pilates, and the perfectly sculpted body. Sure, I had gotten use to the idea of wealth-as-status, having spent four years in Dallas, Texas; but for a girl from a hick town in Oregon, it was all just a bit overwhelming.

Everyone’s transition is hard. It must be. Los Angeles is just not a natural state of mind. It took time to carve out a niche and find friends and feel settled. But the whole time I still resisted the city’s charms. It was so much easier to simply gripe about the traffic or the smog or the vapid industry types that seemed to populate every nook and cranny of town.

Then 2005 happened and that was a pivotal year. I thought for a time that I might end up living in New Zealand, but that didn’t happen. Then my dad got sick and I stayed in Oregon for a few months and considered moving to Portland to “start again.” But that didn’t happen either. So I came back to L.A. at the end of that year. I made my choice and I stayed.

After that I didn’t find it so hard to love this city anymore. I’d accepted her as my home and in return I think she obliged. My friend Corey acted as my sherpa, uncovering for me a host of hidden gems and uncharted territory. I learned a lot about Los Angeles during that time; my curiosity grew, and with it my heart overflowed. Sure, at times the sprawl seemed impossibly large and crushingly impersonal. L.A. lacked, and still lacks, the razzle-dazzle swagger of New York; nor does it possess any of the stately charm of Chicago, none of the awe-inspiring lushness of San Francisco. And while it seemed like a cruel mistress at first, she ultimately rewarded patience and dogged curiosity. I worked hard to earn her favor and L.A. opened up to me her vast, innumerable treasures.

Granted, it’s hard to find fault with a place when you find yourself sitting on an outdoor patio in the middle of the city, in the middle of February, sipping a beer and lemonade, while the sun shines down on you a perfectly balmy eighty degrees. Nor is it unpleasant to be in one of the cheap seats at the Bowl, surrounded by your friends, drinking wine and eating cheese, listening to the L.A. Philharmonic as they provide the soundtrack to the sunset, and you watch as the Hollywood Sign fades from white to pink to gray to black.

Palm trees silhouetted against an early morning sky; subterranean bars on the edge of Skid Row; the opportunity to dine at a world-class restaurant or a suspect food truck, or both on the same day if you want; movie premieres and Q&As with directors and actors and producers; Shakespeare in Griffith Park; having Venice Beach to yourself in January; the fragrant bouquet of eucalyptus and jasmine that assault the senses in the early spring. Korean tacos, movies in cemeteries, that drive along the beach from Palos Verdes to San Pedro, Sunday morning dim sum, reading a novel chapter-by-chapter at Skylight Books, catching a string of green lights late at night. I’m not ashamed to say that all of these things, and many more, have seduced me over the years.

That’s not even mentioning the vast array of people who have made Los Angeles even more amazing. Friends, roommates, artistic collaborators, fellow students, grad school professors, coworkers, even strangers. So many have taught me about movies and music and art and life and joy and sorrow; together they make up a diverse tapestry of life experience and philosophies.

And now it’s been a decade. I’m no longer in pictures. Now I write, furtively and often alone, burrowed away like a mole. And all the time I meet newcomers who have been here six months, a year, two years. I take pleasure in introducing them to the secret treasures I know and love. I relish the opportunity to pique the curiosity of others as they too learn to love this city. Love it or leave it, quite literally, is what ends up happening.

I still fantasize about leaving. I wonder about Portland on occasion. I imagine what it would be like to utilize that EU passport. I even toy with the idea of Missoula, Montana—maybe it’s a boring enough place to really concentrate on my work. But no, who am I kidding? Los Angeles is in me and I in it. And I have no plans to leave anytime soon.