I feel it the minute I get off the plane: the air itself is different. It’s warmer, drier, thicker, if the air was a tortilla chip it would be stone ground. I leave the terminal, look for my rideshare. I glance across the airport at the Theme Building, the midcentury UFO-with-landing-gear, whose restaurant closed a few months after I left this city in 2013. It’s then that the chorus swells with the noises I rarely hear in Portland: the car horns raise their frantic duck voices in harmony, I hear the nearby lilt of a family speaking Spanish and I smile. I’m in Los Angeles. I am home.
Los Angeles is everything people say it is. LA is shallow, LA is awful traffic, LA is that guy on Tinder you matches with you and never, ever replies. LA is a city of broken dreams and loosely made promises. Los Angeles is an acquired taste, if you like the taste of garbage. LA is that spoiled child that falls down and looks around to see if anyone is watching before starting to cry.
What I mean to say is: I love every inch of LA.
I moved to Los Angeles in the summer of 2001 from New Mexico. I was no stranger to large cities, having lived in Chicago for three years, but there was something impressive and endless about the sprawling city. There was something else, too: the local contemporary art museum was in the middle of an ad campaign where it cleverly placed art labels adjacent to mundane things like gas pumps, shopping malls, effectively turning the city into a gallery display (I still have a mug from the museum labeled “Habit, 2001 [Coffee in glazed ceramic]). I moved out with a few friends from Albuquerque with the intention of becoming actors.
While not at my day job, I went on auditions. I quickly realized that while I was prepared for rejection, I really didn’t *want* to be an actor. I did it because I originally thought it would be easy, and there were a million people there who wanted it a thousand times more than I did and who were a lot more talented.
Here’s the thing about LA: it is the easiest city to love, and hating it seems a bit lazy. Hate the traffic? Well, lately there’s a public transit system that’s improving every month and going more places. Hate people who are insincere and networky? So many people move to LA every month that it’s easy to find “your people” who are sincere and genuine. And hey, if you still can’t find a group of friends, then you can always join a cult.
After giving up on acting, I focused on my retail management career. At its core, the Los Angeles economy and social scene is a caste system. Hear me out: if you’re not in the film and TV industry, you’re serving it in some capacity. The entire city is geared to serve that industry, and it was easy for me to feel anonymous, even unimportant in that system. My creative drive faded and for years I devoted my time to my job and my relationships.
I was lucky in love in Los Angeles, which is often not the case. I found a six year relationship, and then a two and a half year relationship. The first was with a gentle, funny, beautiful man, and the second was with a sexy, energetic young guy. I didn’t really date that much in between these relationships, and I started exploring the single life after the second one ended but before I moved to Portland. LA is very much 11 or 12 different cities stitched together, since it has always had the luxury of growing and sprawling outward instead of upward. When dating, I realized that there were different guys for every part of town: was I looking for a West Hollywood guy? A Silverlake gay? Dating in Los Angeles was plagued with the same pitfalls that dating in any big city has; guys tend to make plans and then flake on them. Guys tend to be serial daters, they move on to the Next Best Thing very quickly. In LA, love is a hot commodity and rejection is served up on the daily.
I used to say that Los Angeles pushed me out like a splinter, but really it was a triple roundhouse that did it. I had a tough rejection I was going through WITH SOMEONE WHO DID NOT EVEN LIVE IN LOS ANGELES. Somehow this made me into a raw nerve. I heard an awful news story about how a homeless man was set on fire at a bus stop…and much to my dismay, I discovered that it was the bus stop I passed on the way to the grocery store every day.
The last straw may have been when I was in standstill traffic for the better part of an hour one day. The epiphany came to me like a thunderclap: it doesn’t have to be this hard. Cities so not have to be this hard to live in. Not every place requires so much effort. It was hard for me to admit that the city was hard and I was so, so soft at the time. Maybe I still am. Maybe softness is a strength, soft is its own armor.
I pulled over, parked my car, walked the rest of the way home. I got on my computer and started researching cities.
When people ask if I went on this trip for work or for pleasure it makes me cringe because doesn’t “for pleasure” make it sound like some sinister sex vacation? This was my first trip back to LA since I left (okay, so no it wasn’t. I came back for a short trip a few months after I left. It was for a boy, because of course it was. His head was full of mazes, and I prefer a straight simple path, so it was not a good fit. Later, I think I saw him on a Verizon commercial. Too bad he felt more like Metro PCS quality). It won’t be my last trip by a long shot. LA feels closer and more accessible than it ever has, and maybe it’ll always be my second home. Also, I fell asleep early one night and missed the chance to see some of my chosen family at Sacred Fools Theater, my old stomping grounds. I am a Dumb.
The plane takes off back to Portland and banks near the downtown skyscrapers as I say not a goodbye, but an “until next time”. I can’t quit you, LA, so I’m not even going to try to.