It’s 1:07am, and I’m driving down Sunset Blvd listening to Dire Straits, “Skateaway.” Crumpled in my passenger seat is a paper bag full of crumb donuts. I am heading home from a new friend’s backyard, where we ate watermelon and sipped beer by candlelight. And I can’t remember why I ever hated Los Angeles.
You know she used to have to wait around
She used to be the lonely one
But now that she can skate around town
She’s the only one
No fears alone at night / she’s sailing through the crowd
In her ears the phones are tight and the music’s playing loud
She gets rock ‘n’ roll / and a rock ‘n’ roll station
And a rock ‘n’ roll dream
She’s making movies on location
She don’t know what it means
In the San Francisco Bay Area, where I’ve spent 25 of the 27 years of my life, Los Angeles is forever the butt of a variety of jokes. Too shallow or too crunchy, too smoggy or too gaudy, it often feels like our embarrassing, try-hard cousin that can’t seem to get a grip on reality. We see it as the kingdom of the Kardashians, the purgatory where overtanned lemmings with fake Prada sunglasses line up for 35 minutes to get frozen yogurt. An overhead map would reveal a bellowing cough of carbon monoxide air sludge hovering on Medusa’s tangled freeway system, with a cacophony of honks marking the collective frustration of crawling along in a vehicle that could, in theory, be going 160mph. In short, we feel too cool for it.
But I’m here to admit that I was looking at LA all wrong. Sure, there’s the traffic and the surreal celebrity aspect, but they are by no means the dominating feel of this sprawling, shape-shifting Southern California world. Instead, I’ve found here a more Lebowskian universe, one where there’s always a bowling alley open somewhere, where weirdos are welcome to indulge all of their lifestyle fantasies in a way far less pretentious than the freak show that is SF, and where it’s perfectly comfortable to be shopping for kitchen sponges at the 99¢ store at 2pm on a Monday. There is no rush, as there can be no rush. Time operates like honey being poured out of a jar in a slow, measured gallop—you’ll get there, but you learn to watch and wait. Everyone here likes to go on hikes, from my laced up friends who work at big-name studios to my thoroughly punk rock pals, and there’s space.
There’s space between me and the next person walking down the street, space for me to stretch on the living room floor, enough space in the 1-bedroom apartment we’re subletting that I have to shout in order for my roommate to hear me from the kitchen. There are floor-to-ceiling windows, scattered palm trees, warm breezes, taco stands, nail salons, and chihuahuas. I came home at 2am the other night to find half a dozen of my neighbors out in the street, shining a flashlight up a telephone pole to watch two raccoons fight to the death. It’s a place to make and tell stories. I can hear things off in space, echoing off the corners of different galaxies; I heard The Cars’ “Drive” softly from the distance at 4am the other night while I was sleeping with the windows open.
I know that it’s un-PC to like driving—whipping around in an exhaust-spewing thing when I could be biking or bussing or whatever. But I love riding in my car, humming along with my radio, looking for a diner that’s still serving when most of us are sleeping. I’ll soon be abandoning it for subways and leather jackets and bagels, but right now, this place ain’t half bad.