People come to Los Angeles from everywhere. And for the eight years I lived overlooking Hollywood Boulevard, it seemed like they all passed through my apartment.
I’m a pretty good roommate. I don’t care when you come or go. I don’t care if you’re a slob. I keep my own sloth hidden away in my room. I won’t eat your food, borrow your clothes, steal your boyfriend or stalk you–and that’s a promise. I don’t throw annoying parties, and the obnoxious friends I do have never come over. I am usually not home. You would love living with me. But during the time I lived in one of the most desirable and high-profile neighborhoods in LA, my roomie turnover was insane. I had about nine roommates in eight years.
They came from all over: Boston, New York, San Diego, Fresno, Seattle, Pomona. Kansas and Minnesota. Bright eyes, big smiles, full of hopes and goals about making it big in LA. One wanted to be a writer. Two were in school. Several were aspiring actors; one young woman was a comedian, interning at one of the studios. Two others were in the design field. All of them came to LA with starry visions and big dreams. They’d walk down to the star map kid on the corner, yell at him through his stereo headphones and buy a map, then drive all over the city and come back to tell me, full of great annoyance, that the map was completely outdated and the homes were all hidden behind vast hedges.
Most went home disillusioned within months…
One returned to Boston flattened by clinical depression; another fled saying she’d never return to LA as long as she lived. It was heartbreaking to see them come through and get munched like Tom & Jerry in the cat-food-packing plant. You know that one? With the conveyor belts?
I know of only two who stayed in LA and went on to follow their own paths here. To those who left, I wanted to say, “Stay! Give it a chance! There’s so much here–so much you don’t even know about, or see, yet! Turn away from those glaring Hollywood visions for just a second and look at the real world here! It’s beautiful!”…but they didn’t seem to want to hear it. Who knows: maybe they needed to come to LA, find their dead end, and return to their homes full of renewed appreciation for their lives left unfinished there. I don’t know.
Los Angeles is the great Dead End in the collective unconscious of America. In all its blunders, in all its brilliance, it embodies the hopes of America: a place in the sun. From early settlers to westward-ho pioneers, Okie dustbowlers to mid-century white-bread suburbanites, immigrants from around the world to wide-eyed wannabe starlets to rock’n’rollers on a vision quest: they all came to Los Angeles. We Americans started in New England and followed visions of manifest destiny as they danced west across the plains, through the mountains and deserts, and abruptly came to a screeching, toe-hanging halt here at the Pacific Coast.
There was nowhere left to go.
The United States is always on a crusade, and so, not content to quit here by the sea in Los Angeles, America launched itself globe-wide, beginning a tradition of imperialism that hasn’t yet seemed to wane.
But what if it HAD been happy to hang out here?
What if every American’s Big Dreams could be sated at the edge of the land, in the narrow strip of sunset coast? What if every hope-filled kid who came through my apartment had taken the time to take a deep breath, stop chasing illusions, and appreciate the effin’ view? It’s a helluva view. And I was right by Runyon Canyon. Now that’s a view.
What do you do when you hit the end of the road?
You either turn around, realizing the place you’re supposed to be is somewhere you passed on the way; or you realize you’ve arrived, full of appreciation for serendipity having brought you to where you are. LA is the great big proverbial fortune cookie (ooh! redundancy AND a pun in one sentence! kickass!) that reads “Stop looking everywhere. What you seek is right next to you.”
The gift I’d like to see LA give the world is the sense of having arrived. You Are Here. Congratulations. Take a load off. Drink a Sunset at Caf√© des Artistes. Eat a #13 Carol C. Special at Roscoe’s. Drive out to the ocean, where you can hang your feet off the edge of the earth into the sea’s Alaskan currents, and look up to see the real stars. Because those, in my opinion, are the best and only stars to gaze at around here.