“We like our rural property values,” he retorts with a laugh that says ‘Ah, how young you are and how naive.’ I am making the case for my new home city, Los Angeles. A city I am unsure I’d actually like to defend. But during these conversations I have no choice. I become LA’s champion, advocating for it, endorsing it in every minor battle.
Who is my enemy in these battles, you ask? They differ in age and intelligence, ethnic background and income level. But they have this in common: they live in cities where you can buy a reasonable family home for less than 600,000 dollars, where kids do not need to go to private school to get a ‘good education,’ where traffic does not clog the freeway like an artery--stopping you up until one day you simply collapse, your body tired of dealing with it all.
“How can you stand it?” they ask about the smog that makes our mountains seem encased in mist on an otherwise bold, sunny day. “Isn’t it hard to breathe? And what about the movie stars, everyone so shallow, drinking their green juice with kale-- how odd-- and going to yoga all the time-- men too, can you imagine grown men in yoga classes? It’s a city that just goes, goes, goes, no time for contemplation, isn’t that right? And I’ve heard that no one lets anyone merge in on the highway! A highway with seven lanes no less. SEVEN lanes. I could never drive on such a road.”
“And aren’t there a lot of “gay people” there, in Los Angeles? Not that I have anything against the gays. I mean, to each his own. But I just don’t know if I could deal with them, like, holding hands in the grocery store or, I don’t know, kissing on the street. It’s like, do whatever you want in the privacy of your bedroom, but I don’t need to see that. I will say, I’d love to be able to get Mexican food; I love a good taco. But I’ve heard the streets where the Mexicans live aren’t that safe at night anyway, so people can’t even go out to get the Mexican food. Is that right?”
I am too young to combat all this. I feel ill-equipped, inadequate. How do I explain that you’re a bigot when you think you’re anything but? How do I tell you that the very reasons you hate LA are the reasons I am having a love affair with this city? How do I convince you that the traffic and high housing values are worth living in the middle of this incredible vibrancy? That here, in the middle of this, I feel more alive than I do anywhere else? I live in the city where people writing scripts at Peet’s Coffee and Tea will be getting an Academy Award less than ten years from now. The city of SpaceX and Disney and Mattel. The city of imagination and creation and ambition and intuition. I live in the middle of it all.
So yes, my rent on my Santa Monica apartment is four times what my parents paid for our house on the coast of Maine. And no, I don’t have a backyard with a barbecue or a two-car garage, and I have to go outside to use the washer and dryer. But on the first of January I can go surfing under a blue sky, and my friends are all working on “passion projects” on top of their day jobs. We get pollo tacos on Tuesday nights and rock climb on the weekends. We live by the red rock clay of the Canyon and the smashing waves of Porto. Walk down the street and you’ll hear conversations in Korean and Russian and Spanish. The Birds of Paradise and bougainvillea decorate our street corners, and the roots on the trees in the Palisades are as large as my torso. I live in home of Joan Didion.