Flying over miles of flat, grey-brown squares and rectangles of existence, seeing no greenery or other symbol of beauty, I felt instinctually that I would be in for a challenging time in LA. It would be challenging, I thought, in that it would force me to grapple more directly with realities of wealth inequality, superficial values, material living, and jaded minds.
In a place where people visit simply to glimpse a celebrity or touch the pulse of fame in the air, I felt myself being pulled into a state of cynicism. Brief nausea waved over me, which I felt was a premonitory sense about the place, (though perhaps it was due only to the doughnut I ate for breakfast). I felt pride in that I was wearing no makeup, my hair was disheveled, and I was smelly and mismatched from a hectic departure earlier in the day. I felt, in contrast to my surroundings, abnormally real in my homeliness.
For such a supposedly nice city, LAX was not very nice. (Or, at least the domestic arrival terminals were not. I later found out that the international departure terminal was rather new and nice, replete with boutique and designer stores.) The terminal in which I arrived necessitated taking a bus simply to get to the main airport, like Heathrow in London, something you don’t see in newer and better airports with rail systems. But it sufficed, and I moved on to tackling the more formidable endeavor of getting around the city in long hours of traffic.
On appearances, other than the presence of a large Hispanic culture, which you see less in other places of the country, what struck me was that many people, especially girls, look much like they do back in the South. They are blonde and dressed cute, with a bit of sexiness. People have often asked me if the rumor is true that people in the south are more attractive than average; and, yes, I do believe this to be true. -within the US, anyway. And, from my experience, I also think this same stereotype holds for Eastern Europeans and Brazilians as well.
To be honest, when I arrived I hoped they’d lost my bag and I could simply be reimbursed and start over, having all I need on my person and in my electronics. For me, the bag and its 36 lb weight had become a reminder of my American indulgence and overbearing material attachment. That, and my recent indulgence in doughnuts, ice-cream, and chowder (see my posts for Voodoo Doughnuts, Fifty Licks, and Pike Place Market), felt rather gluttonous, to say the least.
I thought, on arrival, that LA would be horrible. I had many preconceived notions about the people, the culture, and the general theme of the place -like LA was a club and I knew for what it stood, and didn’t want a part in it. However, I realized after seeing most of the general areas of the city that this was closed-minded of me. LA is much like many other cities in the country. I suppose it took me walking around, driving around, and interacting with people to see that it is just people living in a place.
My first night I stayed in Santa Monica at Hosteling International, which was only about a block from the ocean and from many restaurants, shops, and attractions. I stayed in an 8 bed bunk room with two Scottish girls and a Brazilian girl, all of whom were in their early twenties. I’m not sure what I thought the Hostel would be like, exactly, but it turned out to be similar to my Freshman dorm dwelling, albeit quieter and more civilized. Everyone was nice and respectful of others’ space, seemed to clean up after themselves, and the halls were quiet by 10:00pm.
Now, the Scottish girls weren’t big talkers, so I spoke to the Brazilian, Maria Alice, and we became friends. I came to find out that many of the people staying there, like her, were going to an international language school about a block away. They were there for a month or so to study English in the states. I have seen many of these types of programs online and actually considered some abroad myself. So, Maria took me around to Santa Monica pier and to a good Mexican restaurant she had found previously. And it was nice, for a change, to have a shared experience.
The following day, while Maria was at school, I visited an old friend in Burbank. There is not much to do in Burbank, so we decided to go have coffee and then so walk around and have lunch at the shopping complex of Universal Studios. Something of note is that it was a peculiarly cold day in LA, one of which necessitated wearing a jacket! It was colder here than it had been a few days before when I was in Seattle. On this, the second, day, I had determined it is necessary to rent a car in LA. And once I was in and driving on the freeway, I felt liberated and knew it was definitely the right choice. Ironically, the Fiat I chose ended up nearly breaking down from some sort of engine malfunctioning later in the day when I had picked up Maria and was in traffic near Hollywood Blvd. I had to go back 15 minutes the opposite way in traffic and swap it at a nearby rental office for a Hyundai. It was a harrowing close call, as we almost did not make it there.
On another ironic note, it was really cold on this day in LA, and a little rainy in the morning, colder than the previous 3 days when I had been in Seattle and Portland. Seattle was actually the warmest and sunniest of the three!
I cannot say that my stay in LA was too eventful. I spent most of my time driving around. But in doing so, I was able to see many different areas of town – and in LA there are so many different and district areas of town. There are typical downtown streets that smell slightly of garbage and habitation. There are, of course, the mansions of Beverly Hills and Hollywood, the quirky and trendy areas of West Hollywood and Silverlake, the beaches and boardwalks of Santa Monica and Venice. Driving around I felt at some point or another I could have been in any place, from Florida to New Jersey to Texas. Although much of what I saw had a distinct American, Southwestern, and Hollywood feel, most everything was something I’d seen in one capacity or another in other cities of the US.
The one thing I can say for LA, though, is that I don’t think I’ve ever seen quite that depth and breadth of a mix, as if all big sites in the US were put together and stretched out over the sprawling city of Los Angeles. For that reason there is a uniqueness to it and a sense that there’s something for everyone, if you’re willing to drive around in traffic for hours to find it!
Therefore, I can say that my perceptions of the city were changed by experiencing it face-to-face, which makes me think this logical progression of feeling would likely apply to many other things for which one feels an instinctual aversion. Therefore, I think I’ll return to LA one day. After-all, there are so many different things to see and do that one could live there decades and not indulge them all. There is something to say for this, even if it says a smorgasbord of existential and experiential indulgence.