Last month Facebook reminded me that three years ago we moved to LA. And in a few days, we will be leaving LA.
The day I found out we were moving to LA I cried. A lot. In public. I walked outside AT THE MATCHING CEREMONY and cried. It was embarrassing.
I cried because I knew LA was sprawl and crowded and smoggy and congested was not a place I wanted to live.
A decade ago I spent a year living in a small town in the Czech Republic. It was (is) landlocked, formerly of the Eastern Bloc, with cold winters, few English speakers, high levels of alcoholism, and weird, pickled food.
czech bar food
I loved it.
This past fall, my friend from Brno came to visit LA, and she became mildly obsessed with California. She couldn’t get over the beaches and the mountains and the culture, and about halfway through her trip asked me if I had liked living in Brno. I told her I loved Brno. She stared at me, baffled. “Why? It’s so boring!”
Yes, Brno is small and cold and dark. But it also has wonderfully warm people, cobble stone streets, and fantastic beer. It has a castle and bizarre local legends and an entire holiday culture that revolves around day drinking plum brandy made in people’s basements. Brno will never be Southern California, or San Francisco, or New York. But you won’t find stuffed crocodiles hanging from the ceiling of the Town Hall in any of those places either.
When we moved to LA I discovered that I was not wrong about LA. It is, in fact, congested. And smoggy. This afternoon it took me 45 minutes to drive 5 1/2 miles (which, if I’m being generous, is a distance that at one point in my life I could have run faster).
But when I stopped fighting, stopped believing somewhere deep inside that if I were angry enough about the traffic and smog that they would go away and started accepting the place for what it was, I began to notice things.
Like all the cultural landmarks:
And incredibly long, uninterrupted bike paths:
And quiet views:
And local spots:
It actually is the LA of the movies. The same way Brno is the Brno of Kundera. And Kentucky is the Kentucky of this dude.
Paul once told me that when he drove from Kentucky out to California for the first time and saw signs for Los Angeles, he got super excited. He said his whole life California had been some place that you heard about and saw in movies, it didn’t seem real.
One day in grad school as we made the trip from San Diego north and passed under the sign for the 405 to Los Angeles, something he had done dozens of times since that first trip, he said it still gave him butterflies.
When you are new to a place, or are visiting it, it is easy to pick up on the things that make it unique. The people, the food, the stereotypes…you see it everywhere.
The longer you stay somewhere, the less you notice.
You stop realizing that finding yourself in the middle of Ice Cube’s posse at the airport doesn’t happen in Kentucky. You catch yourself talking about The Valley and riding #murderoustrains that leave you stranded in Crenshaw or chatting with soap opera stars in your lap lane at the local public pool. You forget that eating at the best taco trucks in the world and trying to decode parking signs, or sitting next to a former teen heart throb that recently started a cult while at a fundraising fashion show for some cause that I can’t even remember isn’t the norm just anywhere. It’s so LA.
And when you can hold on to that, when you can remember to embrace a place for what it is, life is so much better.
So on those days when I’m sitting in traffic on the 405, dead stopped, sweating in a cloud of heat and smog, one of a million+ gridlocked cars, feeling the road rage well up inside, I roll down the window, look up at signs for Mullholland Drive or Inglewood or Hollywood, think of all the lyrics and movie titles and iconic images inspired by those places, envision all the celebrities sitting in that same traffic next to me, feel the sun on my face, and invite the butterflies.