Before we go for a drive on the freeway, here is some background on my evolving LA relationship:
My very first foray through Los Angeles was when I was around 8 years old. I “saw” it from the freeway as my Dad drove the family down to Disneyland. Despite living in LA since 2008 this is still the last time I went to the happiest place on earth. I remember liking the tea cups and getting lollipops shaped like Mickey ears and getting the crap scared out of me on a very dinky roller coaster I didn’t want to go on. That’s about it.
The next very brief visit through Los Angeles was a trip to UCLA right before applying to colleges. My Dad was again in the driver seat and I mostly remember UCLA looking preppy and my Dad giving a homeless woman $5 at a stoplight. I also visited UCSB that trip and at that time the UCSB campus and area pretty much kicked UCLA’s butt in my mind.
Despite my newfound UCSB dedication and love (that’s where I ended up going to school), while I was in college in Santa Barbara I went down to UCLA to visit high school friends. I still didn’t feel particularly enamored of the city, but really all I saw was Westwood.
Freshman year of college one of my closest UCSB buddies decided she wanted a weekend in Los Angeles for her birthday. We spent most of the time in Venice Beach and Santa Monica. Kind of funny we went to a school on the beach and we drove further south for more sand, but my friend is much more a beach person than me and I guess beach culture in Venice Beach is a special kind of beach culture of its own.
My true appreciation of Los Angeles really first flickered while I was in England. I studied abroad in a program with a bunch of other UC students. One of the students went to UCLA and we became friends through our mutual love of food based adventures. I told her my stereotypically Northern Californian perspective of Los Angeles (a negative one), but she was convinced I would love the place if only I gave it a chance. I’m pretty sure the great food in LA was part of that argument. I was skeptical, but I told her ok, I’ll be more open minded when I get back to the states.
I got my chance to be more open minded at the end of college. Back in the lovely beachy town of Santa Barbara (or more properly Isla Vista, the student community next to UCSB) things started to feel a little constricting. I still loved school and had a great time with friends, but after a year gallivanting around Europe I needed some more adventure. The Santa Barbara area is gorgeous, but it felt too rich and too small.
At this point in time my friend’s sister had recently started going to med school at UCLA, so all of a sudden we had a place to crash at the end of the 90 minute drive down the 101 to Los Angeles. We started heading out to LA once a month to volunteer with a program called Reading to Kids. We’d head down south on Friday afternoons, hang out around the Westside, and then go to the outskirts of downtown LA early Sunday mornings to read and do book themed crafts with elementary school kids.
After Reading to Kids we’d play tourist, and I think it was around this time that I ran across Grand Central Market. Grand Central Market’s a big food market with stalls and small restaurants nestled inside the ground floor of a historic building in downtown LA. It’s been around town since 1917 and I’m a sucker for anything old, especially if it involves food. (When I start to feel food obsessed I just compliment myself on my great caveman survival instincts, because a passion for food has got to say something good about your priorities for existence, right?)
Los Angeles became the place of escape and adventure that Santa Barbara was not. It was exactly where I wanted to be.
I looked on craigslist for open rooms. Graduation was nearing, I had no job lined up and absolutely no idea what I was going to do with myself, other than the fact that whatever I was going to do was in Los Angeles. It was a combination of being more familiar with the Westside and finding a good priced apartment with some recent UCLA graduates that led me to Culver City. My foray into escape and adventure had begun.
(P.S. I recently stayed up way too late for the first time in ages because I couldn’t put a book down. The giant bags under my eyes today are thanks to Kristin Newman’s What I Was Doing While you Were Breeding. Her tale of her travel and man escapades after getting out of a 6 year long relationship when she was 26 hits way too close to home (RIP LDRC), but in a good too close to home way. (Like in a I hope I have some international escapades in my future way.)
The tale of my relationship with Los Angeles is slightly incomplete without talking about how my relationships with the people of Los Angeles fit into the physical landscape, but this is all a little too fresh to go Newman-style on that part of my city experience. This is mostly just a super narcissistic tale of my relationship with Los Angeles. You and me city, you and me.
I do have another project which will remain buried in my hard drive for years and years (and years) from now that involves fictionalized short stories based on (boy) relationships I’ve had throughout my life. I’ve written an introduction (about a boy I obsessed over in kindergarten) and one set in an apocalyptic future (because the last few weeks of undergrad can feel really apocalyptic) and they are pretty cathartic. If there are still blogs in 2050 I might share these then. But for now – Los Angeles off the 10! Next exit: Crenshaw.)
Great story about your journey to LA. Most people who love this city have one, and I’m so much more interested in the stories told by people who lived within the closest proximity to LA versus those who come from out of state.
I have to ask though, why the title, “…Los Angeles becomes less of a wasteland”?
Good question! When I was a kid the people around me seemed to often refer to LA as a fake and polluted place, but my personal experiences with the city made it seem much less like a geographical and cultural wasteland. The title does sort of imply that LA is still a wasteland to some degree, so it’s a bit flawed, but it’s the first thing that came to mind and I just ran with it.
Thanks for reading and commenting! 🙂