We gathered around the trendy coffee table, sipping on pink drinks in the airy East Village apartment when our host, the hobbyist bartender with a daytime job in finance, asked me at two in the morning and in all seriousness, what I like about LA anyway.
“I love freeways,” I snapped in his direction. The host choked on his drink, humored quite by my response.
“Well, that explains it,” he said to the rest of us, and we all laughed at the severity with which I made my point.
I could have stopped at snappy and severe; that would have been very Manhattan of me. But for the tantalizing spirit of LA that persists in my psyche, I felt a certain inclination to captivate the crowd, if not get lost before three. So I continued, going on about the freedom to go fast, the vastness, the luxury of space, the palms overhead, the rolling hills through bedroom windows, the sense of something new with every sunrise, the smell of SPF and the dry desert heat, the living on the edge of disaster, the chance to rebuild and reinvent, the friendly strangers, the fake smiles, the star-studded darkness, all the pearly whites…
By this point the host was no longer laughing, rather absorbed in his drink as he sipped, smelled, and studied its character, itching to talk flavor notes instead. The others, seemingly stuck somewhere near the edge of disaster, studied me as though trying to decide whether or not they had befriended a serious enough person, not saying a single word in the meantime. New York people will do that to you, will wait on the entertainment to proceed. As a die-hard LA
person, I had to be extra and explain myself: What I mean is, you have to appreciate the shameless dichotomies present, recognize the rarity of such extremity, to enjoy the ease of it all.
What I meant is, a note of levity and the ability to romanticize are just the things you need to survive LA and enjoy it, too. You have to engage with the city and humor its angels, real and make-believe. You can’t just learn to live with them, shouldn’t just go on in spite of them, huffing and puffing your way through the canyon about The Traffic, The Snakes, The Smog, the way people in New York snap about Slow Walkers, Sweet Talkers, Instagram Museums. If that’s the way you’re going to see things, you might as well pay half the rent for thrice the space; go somewhere with landscapes and politics you can buckle down and “learn to live with,” in exchange for some fresh air, or a little silence, or your sanity, or what have you.
See, in LA, people say “lighten up,” not “buckle down.” To last there, you can’t take yourself, or life for that matter, too seriously. To live in LA is to dream, albeit naively at first. To maintain a disposition reminiscent of the hopeful, hearty spirits of the youth and yet unharmed. That of those still untainted by the harsh realities of life, adulthood, career anxiety. LA is where that’s bound to happen, sure, eventually, over time. But it happens there in a slower, less in-your-face way than it might elsewhere. LA softens the blow. You have to be, if not ultra willing to subscribe to, at least respectful of LA’s refusal to be straight. There, everything is roundabout: the roads, the career paths, the aging process. Sure, we all look the same thanks to our to-die-for celebrity doctors, but we’re really just doing our best to stand out. You have to recognize the beauty in disarray and acknowledge the ugly in perfection; laugh at life’s theatrics and delight in the drama of living. You have to remove yourself from the reality of the situation and say things like “die-hard” or “to-die-for.” Even profoundly personal conversations overheard in LA have their way of sounding frivolous, if not superfluous. But that’s just the way we talk, isn’t it? With that
impossibly casual, utterly slow, drawn out sort of sound. LA takes no time, or all the time in the world to make a point. Either way, it is quite unbothered with hurrying up, making decisions, settling for seriousness, or staying on track. “To put it simply, I’m a fiercely independent, highly sensitive person,” I wrapped up, perhaps in defense of my city, perhaps in defense of myself, before taking a final sip of the pink drink and snapping at the hobbyist host, “LA can be good for that.”
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