February 25, 2006

Los Angeles: Flawed But Flawless

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...


pk said...

I've never heard such a sales pitch for a particular locality!

::athada:: said...

I'm thinking about doing one for Marion, IN.

No I'm not.

::athada:: said...

I think someone should write about that very mentality though (what I said in jest)... about moving to the "best" places. About to what degree "self-interest" plays in choosing a place.

jeff said...

I guess I'd like to hear about the people you engage with in psdna. i.e. who cuts your hair, the clerk at the local vegi mart, the artists in your nieghborhood...etc.

also what's being done to reach the homeless?

pk said...

You have a digital camera. Where are your pix of the city?

Josh said...

PK: I know, I know. I really need to get out my camera! I will say that it's less motivating because my camera is so old and takes disposable-like pictures. PS - The last picture was taken with my camera. :)

ADAM: Great thoughts! What if where you lived was like choosing who your friends were? Is it okay to prefer some people over others when it comes to sharing life together? Is it okay to choose one location over another based on some of the factors I talked about here? When is it okay to pursue "self-interest?" And why do acts of "self-interest" usually have a negative connotation with them? I think I might write a BLOG about what I think Jesus DIDN'T mean when he said "deny yourself." :)

Jeff: Good questions! As for the homeless, they live on my street. This brings the reality of poverty home every day. My church, along with others and non-profit agency's are tackling these issues. I'm still trying to find my spot in how I help. We have been eating together recently, I know this is helping them on one level.

As you can imagine, with all the walking I do and all the time spent in one community -- I get to interact with all kinds of people (except a hairdresser...my friends cut my hair for free). I would say my interactions happen on three levels:

1. My friends. This includes the core group of people I hang out with most.
2. My co-workers. After six months at the same job, my co-workers are becoming friends. We actually hang out now on occasion outside of work.
3. The places I frequent most. The more I become a "regular" at the Post Office, theatres, restaurants, book stores, etc - the more people I get to know and who get to know me. It's a beautiful thing!

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