When I did my post about New York last month, a friend of mine suggested that I call my series on other cities “On Other Places Which I Have Loved.” Truth be told, that was my original intention…before I realized that I would want one day to write about LA.
The story begins in Japan about 5 years ago. I was living in a small town called Hadano, about 72 minutes outside of Tokyo on the Odakyu Line. Every Saturday I would ride the train into the big city, go to my favorite all-you-can-eat Indian buffet in Shibuya, walk around Yoyogi Park and Harajuku, meet up with a friend or two for dinner, then hit up a club, and either take the first train home at 6 AM, or wake up in a love hotel bathtub, minus a kidney.
One weekend was different. I did not find myself out exploring the wild Japanese bright lights big city, but instead spent the weekend in my favorite internet café—Club Sega, where you can sleep (and do other things) in the padded cubicles and drink free strawberry milk to your heart’s content. But this time I was not playing World of Warcraft for hours on end (was WOW even around 5 years ago?), instead I was frantically racing to finish, print, and send out all of my law school applications. I don’t remember why I was in such a hurry, but I remember spending many, many hours in that Club Sega, doing it all at once. Finally, I finished the apps, printed out copies, grabbed my backpack and headed out to the train for the ride home.
When I got into the train, I noticed that the guy standing next to me was an American, probably in his 50s, wearing a Boalt cap. I got excited and told him that I had just sent off my application to Boalt. I wanted more than anything to get into Boalt (which, for you young ‘uns reading this, is now called the “Berkeley School of Law” or something like that). At that point I had spent 8 years away from the Bay Area and was ready to go back. Stanford was a long shot for me, and I knew it. Hastings was a fallback—and I had heard it was a corporate lawyer factory and I certainly didn’t want to end up working in a corporate law firm after school (ha!). The man, having graduated from Boalt over 25 years ago, still looked back on those days fondly, and talked my ear off about his alma mater, giving me plenty of unsolicited advice (as lawyers are wont to do) about what I had to do when I was student there. It was a sign—I was destined to go to Boalt.
But I didn’t get into Boalt. So I went to UCLA.
I never really gave LA much of a chance. How could I? I’m from the Bay Area. We hate LA. We see Angelinos as everything we are not: fake, shallow, superficial, snobby (I mean, in a bad way…not like our SF snobbery, which is justified and fun for the whole family), stupid and boring. We hate their smog—we much prefer our fog. We think their traffic is a joke, as we’d rather save the planet and get some exercise by walking or riding our bikes. As my aunt once put it, “The problem with LA is that there are no good places to eat and the city has no charm.” Oh, and let’s not forget how much we detest the Dodgers.
It’s funny—baseball aside, people from LA really don’t hate SF. I recently watched a Bill Maher clip in which he went off on Republicans from the “heartland” for always hating on those “elites on the coast,” while you never heard Jerry Brown talk smack about those horrible Midwesterners. It’s similar—mention “LA” to a San Franciscan, and you’ll get a groan, or maybe get slapped (at least that’s what usually happens to me); mention “SF” to an Angelino, and you’ll get an “oh, I like San Francisco, I think I’ll visit there again soon.” This is not because Angelinos are better people than San Franciscans. This is because they recognize that our city is vastly superior to theirs. Duh. Or, if I may bring us back to fifth grade, “no doy hicky.”
Unfortunately, I’m a deeply opinionated, cynical asshole, and I had pretty much already made up my mind about LA before I got there. However, I had a long talk with an Angelino friend of mine shortly after I arrived (I allow myself the occasional Angelino friend), and he basically laid it out: LA is a big city, and no matter who you are, there’s something for you hiding in there somewhere, amongst the farmers markets, Pink Berries and swimming pools. On his advice, I set out on the quest to discover “my LA.” It took me over a year, but I eventually found an LA I didn’t despise.
A major step was moving away from Westwood after my first year of law school. Although Westwood was convenient for school, I can’t imagine it being a remotely enjoyable place unless you’re a UCLA undergrad student. There are three bars in Westwood: one is actually a Mexican restaurant, one is a shitty crowded sports bar, and one is the Westwood Brew Co., where, as my friend put it, “no single person has ever gotten laid.” I think there were three things I liked about Westwood: the Indonesian restaurant, Diddy Reese (an amazing cookie/ice cream shop), and I can’t remember what the third one is now.
I had a friend who owned a condo in Hollywood and wanted to lease it out while she spent a couple of years in London, so at the beginning of my second year I moved there. Located just off Hollywood Blvd., right by Runyan Canyon, it wasn’t exactly convenient for school, but the neighborhood certainly had character. In my building everybody was Russian, Jewish, gay, or some combination thereof—and that really sums up about half of the buildings in Hollywood. The other half were the “hottie houses,” where you could only get an apartment if you were really hot. The building next to mine was a hottie house, and there was a first floor gym with a giant window looking in so when you walked by you could see all of the really hot girls and muscle-bound guys working out, and know that the residents of the building were much hotter than you and those with whom you lived. These hottie houses were filled with aspiring actors and musicians—no, really, that’s not a joke—and they couldn’t have leases any longer than 6 months because all of the residents quickly learned that just because you’re hot, it doesn’t mean that you’re going to be successful in Los Angeles. The ubiquitous moving vans really made driving down my street a pain in the ass.
Every now and then, usually when waiting for the bus, I’d strike up a conversation with one of these young-and-hopefuls. I literally heard, “Yeah, I moved here about three years ago to work on my music, and, like, nothing’s happened yet, but I just got a new agent who used to work with the Edge from U2, and I’m pretty sure that this year things are gonna really take off…”
Yeah, you heard me correctly back at the beginning of that last paragraph. I did say “waiting for the bus.” I took the bus to school every day, in brash defiance of the LA vehicle-driving mentality. I owned a car, and used it on weekends when I had to (which was pretty much all the time, as very little in LA is accessible via public transportation), but during the week I tried my best not to contribute to the awful traffic, pollution, laziness, and superficiality that comes with LA’s car culture. I was very fortunate that there was a direct bus line from Sunset to UCLA. The ridership was about 25% UCLA students, 75% Mexican maids living in East LA and working in Beverly Hills. I also took the subway to K-town for my internship. Yes, there’s a subway in LA. If you live and work near one of the 3 places in the huge city that it services, I highly recommend it; it’s never crowded, even during rush hour.
Hollywood also had the “walk of fame”—you know, where people come from all around the world to take a picture of Bill Cosby’s name written in the sidewalk. There were the Hollywood clubs, which I avoided like the plague—places designed for rich men to hook up with uber-attractive, vapid women. I’ll acknowledge that seeing these young, hot wannabe starlets in their tiny tight dresses and high heels stumbling drunk down the boulevard late at night was fun, but these clubs were a simply pathetic scene. Any time bottle service is involved, I want to find the nearest studio exec (or, if we’re in New York, I-banker) and punch him in the face. Not that I need bottle service to get that desire.
Although this might not exactly sound like my scene, at the very least it was somewhat interesting. I enjoyed living as a sort of “resident alien” (if I may compare myself to Aristotle), sent as an observer of a bizarre sociological experiment: what happens when you tell a bunch of hot, naïve kids from the Midwest that they’ll be rich and famous if they move to a incredibly dirty, gritty, disgusting part of California?
But other than making fun of my residents, there were some things about LA I genuinely liked. There were some great burger joints: Umami Burger, Father’s Office, and 25 Degrees at the Roosevelt Hotel, to name a few. There was the dive bar down the street from me called “Coach and Horses” (a.k.a. “Crotch and Herpes”) where I once saw Scott Ian of Anthrax—a pretty sweet celebrity encounter, if I do say so myself. I loved going to the Cat & Fiddle on Sunset for Sunday jazz. Supposedly Morrissey sometimes made an appearance there, but I never saw him. However, there was no shortage of Morrissey-obsessed Mexicans, with their pompadours and Mozza tattoos. It’s a whole thing in LA—Mexicans and Morrissey. This clip pretty much sums it up:
I also liked some of the hipster-ish places like Los Feliz, Silverlake and Echo Park in the eastern part of LA (note: these places are not East LA—just like you don’t live in Harlem if you go to Columbia). Wednesday night Dub Club at the Echoplex remains one of my favorite nights out of all time, and Thursday nights at Little Temple were pretty dope as well. Oh, and I liked that Polish bar in Santa Monica, and going to Zanzibar if the music was good, although I’d never to go the beach in Santa Monica because let’s face it, it was absolutely disgusting. And what was the name of that really cheesy sports bar in Culver City, that had karaoke 4 nights a week? You know I loved it—but I’m pretty much a sucker for all things karaoke.
I think the episodes of Mad Men when Don went to LA kind of sum up the whole mystique of the city: a magical place where the weather is always good, you can get good oranges, everybody is good looking, and nobody ever works. It’s as though the city takes its motto from L.A. Story: “Little girl, let your mind go and your body will follow.” And honestly, I can see the appeal of that kind of lifestyle—it just isn’t for me. I will take my SF fog and intellect over LA’s sunshine and flakiness any day of the week.
In summation: LA has great weather, and there are some good restaurants, bars, and museums (I know I didn’t mention the museums before, but just trust me). Unfortunately, you have to get stuck in traffic for an hour to get to these places, and once you get there it takes another 20 minutes to find parking, and once you finally find parking and enter these places, they’re filled with Angelinos. I did find my LA…but then I got the hell out there as fast as I could.
Oh, and fuck the Dodgers.