February 25, 2006

I moved to LA with little expectation and notions of traffic, smog and a downtown that nobody visits. I hoped for community, but expected fragments of life with friends. I hoped for beauty, but expected a layer of orange haze around the city. I hoped for true ueban dwelling, but expected to drive more than walk and that corporate America would still be a part of everyday life. I hoped to meet dreamers, influencers and like-minded people, but I expected to encounter the upper echelons of greed, selfishness and indifference. I thought to myself, West Coast good...LA okay. Southern California good...LA okay. As if LA was some "hazy okay" in the midst of a geography of beauty, charm and ample opportunities for recreation.

Boy was I wrong.

Sure, LA has it's flaws like any other metropolis. Our homeless population is higher than any other city in America. Our public transportation system is on the same level as Cincinatti's. Our freeways are overcrowded. Our Hollywood can produce mind-numbingly bad films. And the list goes on. But here's what I keep coming back to after six months in this gigantic, center of the universe city: it's flawless. Let me explain:

**True Urban Dwelling Potential. By "true urban dwelling" I mean everything that I wrote about in the previous post. Life with Friends in a shared community. Walking and/or biking to everything that enhances and sustains everyday life. Practicing local economics and avoiding corporations. By "potential" I mean that these ideas, virtues and practices are not guaranteed upon your arrival to LA. There are certain choices that need to be made about where you work, what community you choose to reside in and whether you'd rather spend your time driving or walking. I'm finding that urban dwelling constantly challenges my priorities. I think we're driven by three human needs: Friends, Purpose and Location (or if you're a friend of John Maxwell you might make the list more simple: People, Purpose and Place). My relentless goal of the last five years has always been to mix the three together. To live in an urban location that I love where I can do life with my friends and find purpose through my occupation, volunteerism and local politics. I came hoping for the "big three" to come together nicely, and so far, LA has been kind in regards to the Urban Dwelling dream.

**Resident Dreamers. I wasn't sure what to expect upon getting up close and personal with the people that make up LA. Pretentious? Greedy? Selfish? My cynicism was enhanced by the movies, reputation and a guess at what LA locals might be like. But again, I missed the mark entirely! Instead I have met all kinds of people who are generous, down to earth and full of compassion for others. We've also encountered a group of LA residents who are more than helpful when it comes to helping you make stuff happen. In fact, we haven't met one person who passed up an opportunity to help Kari "make it" in the film/television industry. Everyone has volunteered information, time and contacts - all to move her in the right direction. Here's the thing about the people we meet at work, in town, while hiking, through mutual friends -- hardly anyone is from LA. Most of our friends come from somewhere else. Boston, Utah, New York, London, Virginia, Michigan, etc. But the one thing we all have in common is that we moved to LA because we wanted to "make it" in the entertainment industry (film, television, media, sports, etc). LA is full of people who had the guts to pack up there bags and move across the country in order to pursue acting, singing, broadcasting, directing, producing, etc. So we're finding more and more that LA is full of like-minded people with guts to move house, a dream to make happen and a life of adventure. No wonder I'm feeling so at home here.

**Beauty...Everywhere. I always thought Colorado and parts of the Pacific Northwest had the USA cornered when it came to beauty. I pictured LA in the desert with some nice beaches. Dead wrong again. I'm telling you, after spending time in those places just mentioned, LA is just as good. Of course, we have white sandy beaches. But we also have snow capped mountains and rock structures that are out of this world. Mt. Baldy stands over 10,000 feet tall and it's literally in LA's back yard. There is even beauty on the freeways. From the 134 Freeway you can overlook downtown LA, Hollywood and Beverly Hills to the left and the Rose Bowl to the right. The 210 Fwy. rolls it's way alongside the San Gabriel Mountains. The Santa Susana Pass on the CA-118 is worth driving slow through. And have I mentioned the weather? Two weeks ago our temperatures averaged in the 80's. And I can't remember the last time it rained. Oh wait, it was seven weeks ago. A typical weather week reads: Mostly Sunny. Not even Sydney compares to LA's weather. It seems like everyday I'm admiring the beauty of LA.

**Hollywood: Force of Good? Yes, that's right. You can check all your Hollywood bashing preconceptions at the keyboard! I admit, my previous view of Hollywood and her films was smut, greed, stuck up actors and behind-the-scenes crews who didn't give a damn. And while these stereotypes are probably justifiable in some instances, I'm learning there is another side to Hollywood, it's actors and it's production crews. First of all, I never knew about all of these films that are made that never hit the giant cineplex in most local cities and suburbs. I never went to any art house or independent theatres. Now I work at one and watch film after film that stirs emotions in me that I didn't know existed. Hollywood is far from indifferent. For every three films that are purely for entertainment, there is one lurking around the corner with a serious message for our lives. And for every stuck up greedy actor, there is a George Clooney or Henry Winkler or Natalie Portman - actors and actresses are doing something with there power and fortune to make a difference in the world. I'm proud to live in a town that produces movies like "Good Night and Good Luck." And I'm proud to know scores of industry people who are kind, inspiring and doing there best to make a living.

**Recreation in Abundance. Wanna hear something ironic? I lived in freezing cold Michigan where the annual snowfall is measured in feet and where 4-wheel drives are actually used and then I move to SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA and I have to buy snow chains for my car. That's because 75 miles up in the mountains is a ski resort only accessible when you have chains on your tires. The reality about LA and the surrounding basin is you actually can surf and ski in the same day. Get this: On Wednesday of last week I spent the day skiiing in Big Bear Lake. 30 degree temperatures, mounds of snow, gloves and hat a must. On Friday, I spent the day hiking Mt. Olson 4 miles behind my apartment. 75 degree temperatures, 11.5 miles of majestic trail and shorts and a t-shirt. It's no wonder recreation enthusiats flock every year to the LA area. There is more to do than time allows.

Who knows. Maybe I'm still an LA virgin? Maybe any city would seem this good in the first six months? Maybe LA will grow old the longer I'm here?

Whatever the case may be, on this day, LA is flawless to me. I've lived all over the world and LA wins hands down. So cheers to this great flawed city...

February 13, 2006

I'm telling you, there is nothing better than living in the city [unless of course, you don't like lots of people, you prefer "acreage" or you're in the farming industry]. Now, when I say city, I'm not talking about just any populated metropolis, I mean living in the heart of it all. After all, most of Los Angeles still drives to the grocery store.

I always had dreams of urban dwelling. We sort of had it in Sydney. The train system was a common mode of transportation, and I often walked to work, but that doesn't come close what I have here in LA. So, let me divulge SOME of the delirious joys of city life:

Walking As A Way Of Life :: And by everywhere, I mean everywhere. I've averaged 23.95 miles a week of walking or biking over the last month -- that's 3+ miles a day of excercise. The act of walking is beautiful in so many ways. It slows you down (2mph vs. 50-70mph). It usually involves conversation (rather than a car CD player). You meet complete strangers and encounter local spots not visible from the car. Plus you get the added bonus of completely avoiding parking lots. Outside of the random eBay pick-up or a road trip, I honestly can't think of anywhere that I go that requires a car. Check out the distances to these every day places from my apartment building:
  • Grocery Store: 0.4, 0.7 or 1.3 miles away. Take your pick.
  • Post Office: 0.4 miles
  • Theatres: 0.4, 0.7, 0.8 or 1 mile way. Here you can take your pick from one mainstream, two independent or a cheap theatre.
  • Bank: 0.3
  • Metro Stop: 0.6
  • Church: 0.1
  • Gym: 1.1
  • Favorite Hangout: 0.8 to the bar/pool hall
  • Restaurants: All > 1
  • Favorite Bookstores: 0.4, 0.8
  • Thrift Stores: 0.6, 1.8
Friends Unplanned :: Our closest friends live 0.1 and 0.6 miles away. Our other friends live within 2 miles of us. Since College I've mostly had to "plan" times with friends. We had to look at our calendars and point to a date and time somewhere off in the near future. We had to "make time" in our life for friends. But in the city, when you live within shouting distance, it's different. Instead of planning the next event, we say things like, "I'm sure we'll see you tomorrow." It's no longer always a planning issue, instead we strive to do life together, which means getting together last minute and random times throughout the week. Need to borrow the car or some ketchup? I'll walk over in a minute. Need a babysitter for an hour? We're there. Need help moving? We'll bring some boxes. Wanna have a quick lunch at Tiffany's? I'll start walking in 2 minutes. Local, Local, Local :: . I always envied New Yorkers who could place every location nicely into a "village" or "district" or even give certain localities a nickname. South Houston St? No, I live in SOHO. But I'm less envious now. I've got Old Town, Paseo and the Playhouse District. I've got South Paz and the Lake and California corner. I used to know where places were like Walmart, Wendy's and the Gas Station. Now I know where streets are. Instead of meeting at Walmart, we meet at the corner of Euclid and Colorado. Where's that little secret Thai place? It's on Holly St. between Fair Oaks and Marengo. When I'm riding West I always take Union. When riding East, I take Green St. I know where the parks are, where the homeless hang out and where to pay my parking ticket. I've never felt more like a local than I do here...and that's after five months. Corporation Avoidance :: Okay, okay, not all of them are evil, but I used to depend on corporations for my survival. Walmart for groceries and everything else under the sun. Fast food for cheap meals. Restaurant chains for nicer meals. Popular retail stores for clothing. Giant electronic stores for anything electronic. If I wanted a book, Barnes and Nobles was it. Sure, I may spend a little more, but now I get to help the guy opening a new restaurant and support the small scale fruit market on Lake. My money used to primarily support "suits" and shareholdersis, now it primarily supports wages, rental space and moderate incomes. The only fast food I ever eat is from a small chain that has a reputation for high wages, generosity, employee appreciation and buying meat and potatoes from local farms. Sure, we still have a Hooters and The Cheesecake Factory, but at least now we have options. It's great knowing that the majority of your money is helping solidify and further the local economy. While my life and my money still have ties to corporate america (mostly through the internet), its not like it used to be.

So cheers to the city. And if any of this sounds appealing, our building always has a unit open. And I'm (seriously) serious about that.