So it’s been roughly three months since we made the move to Los Angeles. It doesn’t feel like that long, since we’ve both been keeping ourselves quite busy. But it’s been long enough for some of the things which seemed strange initially to begin to seem normal – or if not “normal” per se, just, expected.
For awhile I maintained a text file where I tracked the strange differences between San Francisco (where we moved from) and Los Angeles. But then, at some point, I lost it or accidentally deleted it. In a sense I suppose that’s appropriate… the differences don’t really matter any more, what’s important is the new normal and how we choose to adapt to it.
However, these differences do seem like a good topic for a nice long blog post. 🙂
Of course one of the first things people think about when they think of LA is… traffic. Okay, maybe the first thing is Hollywood, and the second thing is smog, but the third thing is DEFINITELY traffic. Our first experience of the pleasures of LA traffic was on our drive down in the moving van. It was about 11pm at night, and the traffic report came on the radio. WHAT? There’s traffic at 11pm? Sure enough, we ran into a bottleneck for awhile. There is nothing more enjoyable than bumper-to-bumper traffic in the middle of the night as you near your destination, bleary-eyed after six hours of driving. You can trust me on that. It is an unforgettable experience.
Of course LA is gridded with highways, vast six-lane-per-direction patched asphalt ribbons that still somehow manage to become jammed with traffic at all hours. People in LA refer to the freeways with a “the”, as in “the 101”, “the 405”, “the 10″… whereas in other cities I’ve lived we just call them out by name: “I-5”, “880”, etc. Not sure why there is that difference, but using “the” betrays you as a Los Angeles resident in many cities, so mind your use of particles.
In SF we barely drove, we only had one car between us and it lived the luxurious life of a garage queen. In LA on the other hand the thing most present in one’s mind while careening down a highway is how to maximize the amount of metal and air between you and the other multi-ton metal monsters that are driving like bumper cars, or perhaps lemmings running toward a cliff. Everyone moves so fast, so close together, while dodging the ever-present random idiots, that driving takes a high degree of concentration. I’m impressed with the people that are actually able to text while doing it!
An aside: Note that we aren’t living in LA per se, we’re actually living north and a bit west, in San Fernando Valley. But the area seems by and large homogeneous on the traffic front. And we drive down to LA proper quite frequently and experience very similar traffic entertainment.
On driveway dips
For some peculiar reason, many driveways in the area are absurdly sloped, and preceded with a deep gutter for the — rain? It does actually rain occasionally so I can only assume that’s why the gutters exist. However, it could also be a clever classist scheme which prevents Ferraris and Lambourghinis from frequenting particular shops.
Even in my car I find myself frequently dashing through turns across multiple lanes of traffic, and at the last moment jamming on the brake in order to prevent spearing my front bumper into the gutter-slope of an entrance driveway. It is always a very exciting moment indeed when the driver behind me eagerly follows my lead and attempts to match my highly velocity-variant move across oncoming traffic.
Our first voyage to the market was designed exclusively to acquire the fundamentals: bread, coffee, things of that sort. In San Francisco, fresh Acme Bread is king, and there are many other bakers warring for that doughy throne. At our local market in LA we found… Wonder bread, some other bagged bread, and a few “value-priced” fresh loaves apparently baked by the store itself but visually not betraying any significant differences. No yummy artisan breads from local bakers. We can only assume that the Atkins revolution has overthrown local bakers and taken over the surrounding area.
A quick trip to the coffee section yielded similar results. In San Francisco the coffee aisle is typically a vast expense populated by offerings from national and local coffee roasters, whole bean and ground – an enviable caffeine buffet. And you really shouldn’t be buying beans in a store, anyway, you should be buying them directly from a local roaster, so they are as fresh as possible. In our local LA market we found instead one rack of bagged ground coffee – mostly from nation-wide roasters – and a few open buckets of roasted beans, cheerfully sharing their delicious essential oils with the dry local atmosphere. How sad for a coffee lover!
On the other hand, the opposite side of the coffee aisle yielded a delightful array of waters: sparkly waters, minerally waters, flavored waters, “smart” waters, “oxygen” waters, all sorts of… water. There was in fact as much territory devoted to water in this market as one would normally find devoted to coffee in a San Francisco outlet. So clearly we need to become water connoisseurs in order to deal with this overwhelming bounty.
The food disparity continued when we visited local restaurants. Los Angeles certainly has many fantastic establishments, but we were surprised to discover that in many of these, the focus is on the diners – not the food. We’ve found a few wonderful places so far, but particularly remarkable have been the occasions when diners have ignored the wait staff’s eloquent descriptions of a meal, only to pause their cell phone conversations and ask “what’s this?” when lovingly-crafted plates of food arrive. The restaurants of the moment seem to more frequently be about looking good, not eating well. Well, for a majority of the patrons, at least.
The final food amusement in our new home is about drink. For some reason, most drinks seem to be served with a straw. Is it because of lipstick? Is it because lips that have been “augmented” don’t hold onto glass rims quite so well as thye do a round straw? It’s unclear. Yet, you’ll certainly have no shortage of straws if you visit local Los Angeles restaurants. But please – don’t drink wine with a straw, okay? It’s just… wrong. No matter where you live.
On the weather
Los Angeles is known for sun, sun, sun. Sunny beaches. People in bikinis. Sand, surf. And on this it certainly doesn’t disappoint! If you’re used to the rocky nature of northern beaches, you will fall in love with the sandy beaches of LA. Well, unless you really, really like walking barefoot on rocks as some kind of Zen exercise. The beaches of Malibu in particular are quite gorgeous. There’s nothing like having brunch overlooking the Malibu beach on a delightfully warm winter day. “Layering”, as we are used to in San Francisco, is not a skill that comes in very useful on an LA beach. Just a note to self: ditch the black clothes and invest in a pair of stylish sunglasses. This is a lesson I have toiled away quite hard to learn, just to share with you today. Tans are also recommended, however this is something I have yet to fully come to terms with, as I consider my computer programmer pallor a badge of honor. If you see me with a tan at some game conference, you’ll know I have successfully acclimatized to the local region.
One myth: it actually does RAIN in LA. I’ve been quite pleased to be presented with a handful of glorious downpours which have given me good excuses to hole up with food show marathons and adventure games. I imagine as we move toward spring these fantastic opportunities might “dry up”, as it were, but I’ll be one of the few who are sad about that.
A downside of the typically glorious weather, at least in our neck of the woods, is the incredible dryness of the air. We are investing in all manner of technologically-advanced goopy moisturizers, and I am drinking at LEAST as much water as caffeinated beverages now. In fact we recently bought a humidifier for our apartment, much to the great dismay of the one plant I have yet to kill: my Christmas cactus.
As a geek, one of the very enjoyable things about living in the San Francisco area is how the advertising world targets you. Big-eyed Zynga characters peer out of billboards pleading with you to send them your resume. Google ads taunt you with complex puzzles that could net you millions in stock options – if only you were smart enough to solve them! Oracle advertisements show off the speed of their next database revision – just for your next SaaS website! And hardware companies show off their next tera or nano thingamajig. It’s an awful lot of fun.
In Los Angeles it’s movies-movies-movies… and oh, lap bands! Do you need to lose some weight so you can make that next casting call? Well, don’t you fret: get a lap band! Your insurance will probably cover it! I’m not clear what it is yet, but I am fairly sure it has nothing to do with musical instruments.
The last most significant difference for me is the difference in rudeness level. It’s a subtle thing generally, until: random people cut you off in a market line, barge into your lane on the freeway, or harangue wait staff over forgetting the lemon for their water. It’s enough to make you want to over-tip, do the zipper rule on the freeway, and smile like a lunatic at everyone you pass by, just to try to balance the scales.
In San Francisco, you generally assume people are nice… and then you find an occasional idiot. In Los Angeles the reverse seems to be the rule. You generally assume people are idiots, and you get the pleasure of being surprised when someone is nice. Admittedly this is more of a “big city” issue, not a Los Angeles-specific phenomenon. It’s not too dissimilar from what you find in for example, New York. But it is a slippery slope – you might find yourself feeling that it gives you license to be an idiot as well: “Out of my way Hummer H2, I’m merging!” “Move your cart of Ensure, Granny!” I highly encourage you to refrain from these kinds of temptations.
All in all our move has been a good and entertaining experience. I continue to maintain the belief that in all places you will find things to love, and things to hate, and that typically you won’t know what these are going in. You have to keep an open mind when you move to a new area, and consider that there are new things you will learn to enjoy, and old loves you will need to leave behind. But jostling one’s habits and expectations can only be a good thing, as it encourages you to live life more fully.
Or at least, that’s what I keep telling myself when people cut me off on the freeway.
It’s been nearly two months since my last blog post, and that’s due to several factors. As I mentioned on Twitter and Facebook, I’ve started a new job as VP Technology for THQ. It’s a role I’m very excited about, and it took quite some time to move down to Los Angeles (from San Francisco). Another reason I haven’t blogged for awhile was this feeling of being “talked out”. After my time at Google I felt tired of communicating, which was a first for me. I spent so much time during my short stint there pounding out emails in the middle of the night, finessing messaging, and working on presentations to deliver at conferences. When I left Google I suddenly found myself needing some time for quiet, some time to think.
Now I’m sitting here relaxed yet displaced, in our temporary housing just northwest of Los Angeles, and having been to my first two days at THQ I’m starting to feel like my old self again. Moving away from San Francisco wasn’t exactly high on my list – I really enjoy the entrepreneurial vibe there, from the social games community in the city to the web-focused churn of Silicon Valley. There are always so many interesting things going on, and brilliant people trying to change the world around every corner. But in recent years it’s seemed like the people of MY games community, pushing the boundaries of technology and story-telling in games, had slowly moved out of the area. Studios had shut down in San Francisco, companies had closed in Marin, East Bay companies were encountering hard times, and publishers on the peninsula had downsized or moved away. I really enjoy mobile and social games, of course, but the hub of AAA games has slowly migrated away from the hub of technology innovation, to the center of entertainment: Los Angeles.
So I was already thinking, “Hm, if I ever had to move, it’d be either Los Angeles or Seattle.” (Seattle is where I grew up, and my family lives.) Peculiarly, the day I left Google, as I was literally driving out of their driveway, some friends in LA rang to see if I knew anyone who could do some game technology consulting for them. “Why, yes! Let me drive another 10 feet forward and then tell you a story…” Hm, fate calling! Soon after, I heard about the VP role open at THQ and we started having a chat.
During the three years or so that I did game technology consulting, what I enjoyed most was visiting studios and vetting them for publishers or investors. I’d get the chance to talk to the executives in the studio, as well as the directors of production, tech, art, audio, and design. I’d learn about their best practices, and share with them tips I’d learned as well. Then I’d compare the studio against the project or publisher or investor and highlight where the match worked well, or poorly. It was always so much fun to analyze the studio and see how it worked, and try to find ways to make it operate more smoothly.
As a consultant though, at the end of the day, you always walk away. As a consultant you don’t build up much over time except contacts and your own personal knowledge. What made me immediately interested in this role at THQ was the feeling that I could take all the knowledge I’d built up as a consultant, as well as my connections to the game engine, middleware, and console companies, and use it to help build up the company by doing what I enjoyed most as a consultant: analyzing studios and helping them make their games more fun, more efficiently. How could it get any better than that?
I talked with a lot of other really good people on the road toward joining THQ, at social games companies and mobile games companies, game engine creators and middleware manufacturers, as well as other large games publishers. But seeing THQ in the middle of a reboot, with a team of new yet veteran executives recreating the company by taking risks in AAA and casual titles, with a future roster of intriguing AAA titles on track, and a back-catalog that includes Company of Heroes, WWF, Red Faction, Homeworld, and MX vs ATV… it just sounded like so much fun.
So being here in LA – it’s kind of weird. I miss walking. I miss the fog. But I feel like, perhaps, I’ve found my people here. The place may be different, but the conversations are familiar: how do we make a really great game, how can we create an experience people haven’t seen before, how do we do it in on a budget, how can we finish it on time. And in that way, I have to admit, it kind of feels like home. 🙂