Why L.A.?

“People just love to bash LA. People say it’s so pretentious, so arrogant, so this and that. But it’s truly a wonderful place. You don’t have to go to the places where that stuff goes on. You don’t have to go to Beverly Hills, you don’t have to go to the parties. You can live up in the Lower Canyon and live such a perfectly healthy, beautiful, fun life with all your friends. You can drive two hours one way and be at the Joshua Tree desert, two hours one way you’re skiing at Big Bear. Sure, it can get full-on and that’s why it’s good to get out. But it’s too easy just to say, ‘Nope, I hate it. I’m not living there anymore.'”

Heath Ledger

It was a common question I got that last year in high school: “You’re going to school in L.A.? Why L.A.?” The Midwest generally favors the east in the East Coast vs. West Coast wars. What they’d follow up with is, I’d figure you for a New York person. Or Boston.

Which is true. I also shared the same bias. But I had gotten rejected from Columbia. Besides, paying out-of-state at UCLA was still cheaper than anywhere in Boston. Actually, I didn’t really expect to get accepted anywhere worthy more than 150 miles from my birthplace, also my hometown. (I’ve been nostalgic lately on the house I was brought home from the hospital to, raised in and inhabited for the first 17 years of my existence – my parents are closing escrow on it this month.)

I had already decided I was going to UW-Madison on violin. And then, another possibility opened. No, not even two – just one. I had always thought I would go towards the city if given the chance, but I had never thought I would go west. All I knew was, I was thirsting for the city.

I arrived, and I remember requesting that I be shown downtown. “Downtown? Why downtown?” There was always a confused, if not contorted, expression that came with that inquiry. I don’t know, in all the cities I had been to, things happen downtown. It’s a simple concept – big cities are centralized. That’s what makes them big. Therefore, everything that’s worth doing or experiencing must have been downtown, in my mind.

Riiight. And if what people commonly think about stereotypical L.A. were actually true (centered around celebs, gossip, chintzy parties), this city wouldn’t be big enough for all of us. Truth be told, this place is spread out to keep all the different kinds of us sane.

My Texan best friend (not the Michigonian) and I were laughing about the phenomenon of the transplant. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a rareity to meet someone who was born and raised in SoCal and completely common to meet a transplant. But on top of that, I feel as if there’s some sort of connection amongst us. While we’re from so many different places, we have countless stories about how we decided to move out here and how we actually got out here. What we sacrificed and what we risked. And yes – what we’ve run away from.

And how we’ve never looked back on the judgment. “Why L.A.?”

Only a couple years ago, I had gone back to Wisconsin to visit my folks and, on Sunday, the church my family had been attending for years. I have to admit that whenever I go back, it becomes more and more apparent to me why I had left in the first place. It’s not something I’m proud of – I will always appreciate my roots. Though I will always be a Midwestern girl at heart and love the kindness, simplicity and down-to-earth nature of home, the pastor I had once been familiar with made the schism within me ever more glaring. After asking how I was, he asked how L.A. was – to which I replied “great.” I had heard what followed before.

See, I know that the traffic sucks. And I understand each city has its own vibe. But when people say, “I just don’t like the people,” I can’t help but raise an eyebrow. There are 10 million people in L.A. County so can you honestly say that you wouldn’t find one single person or even a handful of people worth befriending? That you couldn’t find one thing you would enjoy doing? Aside from how most metropolitan areas “weed” out newcomers with their higher cost of living and limited square footage (higher rent) – okay, yes and congestion itself – I refuse to relate to this. As opposed to what that comment might say about 10 million people, what does that really reflect about the person who holds that position?

I can’t help but think that when people have an impossible time relating to the fact that I chose to move to a commonly-thought-of-as-superficial city, they’re also concluding the same about myself. I wouldn’t say it’s not a prevalent issue to deal with, but once you let it overcome you (including the avoidance of it) then hasn’t it actually ruled you? It was an interesting time in Vegas a couple weeks ago with my girlfriends, meeting people who had flown to Vegas from the easterly parts, the expressions they had after finding out we were L.A. folk. The place which you are from is the second thing people learn about you, and for us it was like a sort of trigger of confusion. We saw the thought running through their heads, “Now, they’re from the Midwest … and the South … that’s cool. And why would they move to L.A., then…?”

Being open to people, to places, to things, to experiences where – yes, you can get hurt – means that you also get better at weeding out all the crap. That’s what it’s really about – tossing aside the crap to get to the gems and diamonds in the rough. And I wouldn’t deny there’s tons of crap. But if you aren’t open, you also aren’t open to opportunity. Being able to tell the difference save for generalizing about entire groups of people and being able to respect individuals as they are, I think, is a true opportunity we have here in this salad bowl. There is just so much access to so many different things. I really and truly believe L.A. is a port. A hub.

Anyway, I don’t know what I’m spewing. Far be it for me to advocate of giving L.A. a chance if you’re thinking of relocating (we’re overcrowded as it is), I’m really okay if you have written off this city. 😉 I am all about welcoming everyone, but it’s always happier if the ones involved can see the opportunity because they’re intent on taking advantage of it. You just need to understand the concept of opportunity first.