Apr 25, 2014

The good, the bad, and the 405

Photo by my kid
"This other Eden, this precious stone set in the silver sea, this earth, this realm, this Los Angeles." -- Steve Martin (and Shakespeare), L.A. Story

This past March, I moved back to southeastern Pennsylvania after twelve years of living in Los Angeles. When I went to the bank to transfer my account, I told the teller I'd moved here from Los Angeles. He said, quite seriously, "I'm so sorry." A couple of weeks later I was in a salon having my hair cut, and during the conversation I mentioned that I had just moved here from Los Angeles. The stylist said, and again, she was completely serious, "Why would you do that?"

There are many good things to say about living in Los Angeles. If you're a fangirl, there's no place like it. When I first moved there in 2001, I was in the grip of a powerful obsession with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, my favorite show ever. I visited way too many Buffy locations and went to several autograph events. I even went to a political fundraiser thrown by Joss Whedon and Hercules T. Strong that included many of the actors from Buffy, Angel and Firefly. It was practically orgasmic. I talked with nearly everyone.

I also got to see Buffy shot on location in the streets. Once, I stood five feet away from Sarah Michelle Gellar, who avoided eye contact and pretended I wasn't there. (Can't blame her. Even though I think I appear innocuous, I probably had "crazed Buffy fan" written all over my face. But hey, Nick Brendon talked to me. I couldn't have looked that crazed.)

It wasn't just Buffy fangirl stuff, either. A friend who was writing an article for a sci-fi magazine took me along to Paramount near the end of the run of Star Trek: Enterprise, and I got to assist while she interviewed Scott Bakula. He scolded me. How many people can say they were scolded by Scott Bakula?

Let's face it -- if you're not in Los Angeles, it's a lot less likely that you will drive home from work, glance over, and see Beau Bridges driving the car in the next lane. Or see Helen Hunt at the next table at a museum café, Hudson Leick from Xena in a coffee shop, or Don Cheadle at Trader Joe's. Once at work there was extensive shooting for a movie, but they didn't let us get close and didn't tell us what the movie was, and I eventually forgot about it. Months later, I was watching a sci-fi movie in a theater and suddenly I was at work, and I practically jumped out of my seat.

It's more than just TV and movies, of course. The weather on the west side of Los Angeles might be the best in the world: pleasant and sunny nearly all the time. People in other places talk about the weather, but people in Los Angeles talk about the traffic because the weather is nearly always the same. And there's a joke -- okay, more of an expression -- that there are four types of weather in southern California: earthquakes, floods, landslides and wildfires. It's nice in SoCal nearly all the time, but when it's not, boy howdy. Seeing and smelling wildfires is terrifying. If there are rain storms, the city grinds to a halt and the local newscasters act as if the world is coming to an end.

Newscaster: "And what a surprise this weekend when the weather turned unseasonably low. Here's Harris Telemacher, our wacky weatherman, with a report."
Harris: (interviewing a man on the street) "And when the weather dropped down to 58 degrees this weekend, how did you cope?"
Man: "I went to make sure all the windows were shut."
Harris: "And, what about your pets? Were they outside? What happened?"
Man: "Well, the cats were out till around ten. But it got a little too cold for them and they came in."
Harris: "The cats were out till around ten. But it got a little too cold for them and they came in! Well, that's how L.A. coped with that surprise low of 58 degrees that turned the weekend into a real weenie shrinker."
(from the movie L.A. Story)

There's so much other non-Hollywood related stuff to see and do, too. When I first moved to Los Angeles, I made a list of everything I'd always wanted to do while living there, and I did nearly all of them. My favorite place in Los Angeles is the Griffith Observatory, and I'm probably going to do a separate post about it. There's the beach and the Santa Monica Pier -- that pier has been in countless movies and TV shows. Even Fred and Gunn made it there.

Sara: "What did you have in mind?"
Harris: "Well, I was thinking of taking you on a cultural tour of L.A."
Sara: "That's the first fifteen minutes. Then what?"

Harris: "Some of these buildings are over twenty years old."

There's the Hollywood Bowl. There's Mulholland Drive and Topanga Canyon -- I loved Topanga Canyon. There's Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, if you like that sort of thing. There's the incredible Pacific Coast Highway, a ten hour drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco, which is absolutely breathtaking. There's all the Hollywood stuff, like the Chinese Theater. There are world class museums and amazing concerts. The local conventions manage to get great guests because most of the TV and movie people live in the area. I never did get to Comic-con in San Diego, though. And I always intended to do the Academy Awards red carpet someday, but never did get around to it. Oh, well.

Trudi: "He said it's the first day of spring."
Harris: "Oh, shit! Open season on the L.A. freeway!"

I'm sure there are places where the traffic is worse, but L.A. has to be in the top ten. Construction has been snarling traffic on the 405 freeway pretty much eternally. If a president or world leader comes to town, and they often do, streets and freeways are closed down, occasionally during rush hour. I once spent two hours trying to drive the seven miles from work to home; I think that was George W. Bush's fault. During my second to last week in L.A., they found a dead body on the 405 freeway at three in the morning and the lanes were closed. During my last week in L.A., Netanyahu was in town and everything ground to a halt.

For some reason, there are no dedicated left turn traffic lights on the west side, and there is rarely a break in the stream of cars. If you want to make a left turn, you have to inch forward into an intersection and hope that you can sneak through as the light is turning yellow. This strategy isn't as successful when a lot of people want to turn left; you can sit at a light waiting to turn left through cycle after cycle of traffic lights. It's ridiculous.

But if you're a car enthusiast, L.A. is sort of amazing. I mostly can't tell one car from another, but even I'm aware enough to notice the famous, expensive ones. I've sat in traffic next to a Rolls Royce. I got stuck behind a purple Masarati once when I went to my doctor, whose office is in Beverly Hills. And there are tasteful black limos everywhere. Every time I saw a limo in traffic, I'd wonder who was in the back seat. You can't tell, though. Darn those tinted windows.

(I once saw a stretch limo sitting in a parking lot with a "for sale" sign on it. That doesn't happen in the real world. My car pool partner and I joked about buying it. How much does a limo cost? Where on earth would we park it?)

Harris: "You know, you're really nobody in L.A. unless you live in a house with a really big door."

Do I miss Los Angeles? A little. It can be a fun place to live. I miss the weather, although it's certainly nice to have rain now and then. But I don't miss paying a fortune for a shabby one bedroom apartment, and a lot more for food, gas, insurance, pretty much everything. I don't miss the pollution and the eternal black grit that dusted everything.

Although I sort of miss, and this is weird, the billboards. In Los Angeles, nearly all of the billboards are movie or television-related. Right before the sixth season of Buffy, billboards with the words "Buffy Lives" were all over town. Did that happen anywhere else?


Josie Kafka said...

What a wonderful post, Billie!

I just spent 2 hours and 20 minutes coming home from work, so I...yeah, 405. But I spent at least 5 of those minutes looking up at the partly-cloudy sky and thinking about how beautiful partly-cloudy weather is. :-)

ChrisB said...

What a lovely post. Although I have spent a lot of time there, I am not a huge fan of Los Angeles. You reminded me of those parts of the city that I do enjoy.

Santa Monica Pier and Venice Beach are my favorites. No surprise, really, that this beach baby would be drawn to the sea.

sunbunny said...

Everything about LA seems so normal to me. I've never lived anywhere else (unless you count almost year I spent in Orange County). Billboards, Bentleys, Priuses, homeless people, always needing sunglasses, never needing a coat, two hour commutes. That's my normal.

Because I grew up here, I'm one of those 'never done the touristy stuff' people. Never been to the Santa Monica pier (shock! gasp!), never been to the Griffith Observatory (it was closed for renovations during my field trip years), never hiked up to the Hollywood sign, and I've spent minimal time in Venice (ick).

Chris, I find it funny that you say you don't like LA but you like the spots that are the most stereotypical LA. You really do need to get your butt back out here so I can show you the best of it. We have AMAZING museums, fabulous food, beautiful mountains, great surfing, and really, really gorgeous sunsets.

sunbunny said...

Josie - don't get used to the partly cloudily. We're back up to the high 90s by the end of the week. :(

Billie Doux said...

It was very nice to have my apartment windows open ten months of the year, to walk outside without a coat nearly all the time. But the sameness just got to me after awhile. I used to looonnnng for a good rain storm, and almost never got one. I'm getting one right now. It's gray, pouring rain and 50 degrees right now.

Maybe in a few years I'll long for Los Angeles sunshine. We'll see.

Suzanne said...

I enjoyed your post a lot Billie. My three uncles always lived in L.A. (two have passed away), so when I was growing up we went to visit several times. I have been back since as an adult. Of course, I adore it when I visit, but I have often wondered how it would feel to live there. I really think the traffic would bother me, and I might miss the seasons, having grown up in Pittsburgh and having lived in Cleveland for most of my life. However, this miserable winter made me have some second thoughts about my feelings about being a seasons person. :)

Josie Kafka said...

Sunbunny, you lived in "the OC" for a year?! I had no idea. :-)

My parents, who live in a well-maintained "Other Desert City" (as the sign on the I-10 describes it) are always horrified by the condition of LA's streets and highways. Every time they come to visit, the talk about how driving in LA is like driving "in a third-world country." I think of that exaggeration each time I have to swerve out of my lane to avoid a newly-sprouted pothole that could easily hide a full-grown armadillo.

HannahBanana said...

If I could count how many times my dad called me to ask about the weather and I replied with "sunny....72". The quotables from LA Story are hilarious but have such truth behind them. I always had a fascination with Los Angeles from an old Hollywood lovers perspective. So much rich film history that I could never get enough of. I fan girled and saw all the fun locations (Buffy's house, which I think is down the street from the My So Called Life house, which is down the street from the houses they used in the old Teen Wolf movie), Alto Nido apartments where Joe Gillis lived in Sunset Blvd....I'll never say that I hate LA. I love it. And this coming from an SF bay area gal. Love your site Billie, thanks for posting!

sunbunny said...

Josie - I went to school at UC Irvine for a year but it really wasn't for me so I transferred.

Oh the potholes, THE POTHOLES. I remember once taking Vermont I think it was and I seriously thought my car wouldn't be able to make it down the street it was so bumpy (although, to be fair, the car's shocks are terrible). And then there's Mulholland. New potholes after every rainstorm plus that one in the dip under that tree that is just always there no matter what they do.

Gavrielle said...

In New Zealand, Los Angeles is regarded as somewhere where you change planes for London, unless you're taking the kids to Disneyland. But when I had air miles I needed to use up and LA was the only place I could use them for, I found it had way more to offer than I had thought. What really surprised me was the number of amazing museums. Not like the vacuous stereotype at all! I really want to visit again and go to the Griffith Observatory and the Disney Concert Hall.