Having grown up hearing nothing but negative, condescending things about the City of Angels, it took living here to see the city for what it really is: a diverse landscape filled with dreamers and doers.
Before ever having stepped foot in the city and county of Los Angeles, I knew it forwards and back. I knew its inhabitants and their shallow quirks, had seen their perfectly manicured lawns laying at the foot of a giant home outlined with palm trees. I knew the colloquialisms and had seen the vistas. I had a TV and had watched films, both of which had played a prominent role in shaping my perception and understanding of Los Angeles. I was sold an idea, a feeling about a place through second hand accounts and the composed images strewn about the landscape of film and television. We all live every moment of our lives with assumptions and preconceived notions. Some of that is evolutionarily built into us to keep us out of harm’s way, to prevent us from being eaten by bigger prey or mugged on the subway, but it can also affect our appreciation of unknown places and things when its origin is not meant to keep you from harm, nor is it based on experience but rather the result of bias, jealousy or plain old fiction.
Bitter cold winters book ending too-short humid summers is a warm pool for which the bacteria of geographic jealousy can gestate. That was my childhood experience growing up in Minnesota. Frigid winters that seemed never ending before letting summer slip through its icy grasp, trading in my layers of clothes for mosquito repellant in the hopes of warding off the swarms that descend upon Minnesota every summer. So the geographical blessing of Californians, particularly Southern Californians, was enough to instill in me a twinge of jealousy and resentment towards those that never had to pack themselves into snow pants while cocooned in as many jackets and sweatshirts one could wear. This is only natural and understandable, but that’s not to frame this as though Minnesota is a desolate dystopia encrusted in shards of ice that thaw only once a year for a very brief period of time. This isn’t about one place being better or worse than another. Those arguments are laughably constructed with personal bias masquerading as cold, unaffected fact.
I found Los Angeles by way of San Francisco’s windy, hilly streets. Before moving or even visiting LA, I had carried with me those aforementioned preconceived ideas of what the city was and wasn’t. It wouldn’t be long before the city’s alluring grasp wrapped itself around me like a coil. Los Angeles, once tightly concealed, began to bloom, showing its vibrant colors off to me. That’s not to say it was easy to forget where I had been and the memories created there, but LA was an entirely different city with different vistas and a different energy. After two years of living here, I am only now beginning to crack open the facile layers of LA and peer into what lay beneath with feverish anticipation. At first, its expansiveness was almost detrimental to my exploration of the city. With so much so spread out and covering so much landscape it was almost impossible to not get caught in one specific or adjacent neighborhood. As I slowly withdrew myself from the confines of my daily routine and began to unspool the ball of yarn that is LA, the preconceived ideas and snapshots I’d been sold – the ones that made up the very fabric of my views of LA – disintegrated. I saw its multicultural heritage in every corner of every neighborhood; the murals adorning the walls of city streets were seen as works of art instead of random acts of vandalism. Despite popular belief, Los Angelenos were passionate about art and not concerned with how “cool” they looked buying it. The city is comprised of all types of people from all walks of life and a lot of them are pursuing artistic endeavors, even if that means having to work a job they may not enjoy like waiting tables or working in a cafe. This was invigorating, inspiring, to me. It was also inspiring to be in a city that didn’t consider anyone over the age of thirty as “old.”
Yes, LA has freakishly beautiful weather 99% of the year, the people are beautiful, there are some really well-to-do folks roaming around, and there might be a celebrity or two, but that is a mere sliver of the pie that makes up Los Angeles. It is no more shallow or littered with models and modeling agencies than New York City and it’s no more expensive to live in than San Francisco or NYC. We are quick to make snap judgements and lay them down as the foundation of facts and this behavior has only become more prevalent the deeper social media is ingrained into our society. For me, nothing is ever exactly as it seems, especially on the surface. There is always a more nuanced and detailed explanation. But between tweeting, updating Facebook and seeing who is checking you out on Tinder, there seems to be little time for details that can’t be digested in mere seconds. Until we can approach people, environments and situations with a truly objective mindset, nothing will change. LA will continue to be the city of plastic surgery and empty-headed celebrities; New York city will continue being the greatest city on earth; San Francisco will continue to be the most progressive and carefree city in the US; and, any other slapdash opinion we could conjure will remain true until we pull back the guise that currently shrouds our view.
You can think whatever you want about LA. I know I did. You can pit New York against Los Angeles against San Francisco in a battle royale with the winner taking on the Northwest tag team of Seattle and Portland. But, in the grand scheme of things, doing that is silly and meaningless. Cities, like the people that inhabit them, are unique and different in ways that are obvious and not-so-obvious. I hated LA before living here. I had seen its phony citizens parading around their bourgeois homes verbally abusing the hired help. I laughed at their intellectual ineptitude and cringed at their nasal Valley Girl accents. My cynicism and jaded outlook on life had made me a contrarian. Had my wife, girlfriend at the time, not suggested we take a trip to LA for our birthdays (which are 3 days apart) one year while we were living in San Francisco, my mind would have stayed closed. Till this day, I would have been blind. Had I not been willing to set my ego and preconceived notions aside, I would have missed out. I would have never found home.
*Feature image via Sit Stay Read