L.A. You’re OK

…well, parts of you are. Ok look. I’ve badmouthed L.A. quite a bit. It’s something you grow up doing in Chicago. Some of it’s pure pride in the best city on the planet. Some of it might be a blue collar thing. “L.A. is full of fake people who care about how their faces look, now how hard they work like us” or something like that. Cameron Esposito recently framed it like this:

"I grew up hating L.A. too. It’s such a dismissive city. So segmented and cutthroat. There’s no sense of community and no culture and the people are vain and vapid and made of cars and Botox. Unless you’re a movie star or a Kardashian, find a different place to live. Because in L.A., if you’re a normal person, you ain’t shit.”
She’s from a different part of Chicago than I am - a part my side of the city also has strong opinions about - but it’s a perfect summary of the overall sentiment of the city. I’d add how I thought it's muggy, smoggy, and the traffic sucks. Oh, man. THE TRAFFIC.

When I first visited L.A. back in 2005 I had a preconceived hatred. And honestly, my experience actually validated my distaste. It was muggy, smoggy, the traffic sucked. Oh, man. THE TRAFFIC.

Even my opinion that everyone lived in some fantasy world was validated, when the band I was there with took me up into the hills to a friend of theirs house. I mean, mansion. It was a mansion.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I got to swim in a ridiculous resort-like pool and eat amazing food, all while absorbing various tour stories from Grammy-winning band and their Grammy-winning friends. I held actual Grammy statues. It was awesome.

But it wasn’t reality. This is not how people live. This was not like any backyard barbecue I’ve every attended and likely not like one I’ll ever attend again. These people live in some fantasy. I would stop through L.A. 2-3 more times over the next few years. Some people showed me around. I did some touristy stuff. I ate some pretty solid fish tacos. I sat in traffic. Oh man. THE TRAFFIC.

I left, happy to do so.

So when I decided to go back to L.A. yet again to visit an old friend of mine, I told myself “Well, you’re going to hang out with Jeff. So, just focus on that.” Then I watched an episode of The Layover with Anthony Bourdain. He opens the episode with similar laments to those above. He’s a proud New Yorker. Of course he hates L.A.

But over the course of the episode, as often happens on his various shows, Bourdain starts to be reminded that there’s actually quite a bit that he likes there. He visits some cool places, with some cool people and in the end ponders if he actually could manage some semblance of a life there. I believe the final sentiment was still “yeah, probably not”, but watching him try to enjoy himself and thoroughly succeed in ways I like to enjoy myself with the kind of people I enjoy in the kind of places I enjoy, I decided “well okay. Let’s go in a bit more open minded this time. Plus, Jeff’s cool, so he probably does cool things with cool people in cool places.

And guess what. Jeff does cool things with cool people in cool places. I ate great hole-in-the wall Mexican food. I saw a place where TV is made. We hiked. There was drinking. All in all the way people live their lives in his neighborhood isn’t a whole lot different from where I live. Replace talk of who's working on what show now with who's at what tech startup now; and celebrity sightings with mountain lion sightings; organic food with organic food and it’s really damn close actually.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time. Now, that had a lot to do with my company. Jeff and I go way back and share some great memories of making films together in high school. Even if he lived in a ‘hood I couldn’t stand, odds are I would have loved catching up with him anyway.

But he, like the folks Bourdain spent time with on that episode, succeeded in reminding me that anywhere you go, you can find something to appreciate - and that people make a place. If you’re open to that idea, you can be pleasantly surprised and have some pretty great times.

All that to say - L.A., you’re ok. But you are muggy. And you are smoggy. And your traffic sucks.