Reflections on living in Los Angeles

It’s been about 18 months since my last serious post on the blog, something I’ve asserted time and time again that I was just on the verge of rectifying. But, you know, Tweeting takes up SO much time.
So living in Los Angeles for nearly two years now, my perspective on living here has evolved a fair amount. This blog entry should make a good contrast against the previous post. I’ll mirror the topics from that post somewhat so they make a matched set.

But first, a caveat. I live in Santa Monica, which I’ve discovered is not really Los Angeles proper. When I first moved here, I thought of the entire region as “Los Angeles”. But Los Angeles neighborhoods differ a lot, so while being in Santa Monica might seem like a minor difference it actually does have major lifestyle implications.

On driving

When we first moved to LA, I worked at THQ, and boy did I do a lot of driving. From Santa Monica to Agoura Hills is about a 30 mile trip, and it can be handled two ways: on the freeways, the 405 and the 101 (all the freeways here are “the something”, don’t ask me why), which takes between 40 minutes and 60 minutes in the morning; or up the PCH, the Pacific Coast Highway, which takes a very reliable 50 minutes. At night the freeway route is highly variable, from 35 minutes to 90 minutes, whereas the coast route is still… 50 minutes.

To give you a clearer idea of how I coped with nearly two hours of travel time each day, let me show you some illustrations. Here’s a picture of a daily commute on the 405:

Traffic on the 405

And… here’s a trip via the PCH, through Malibu:

Malibu Beach

You can guess which direction I usually drove!

When we first moved to Los Angeles, people said “be sure to live in an area you like!” This seemed like bizarre advice – it’s a big city, lots of things to do, certainly we’ll drive to wherever we find we like to play. But noooooo… don’t think like this, it’s a trap! One thing you can count on in LA is that the traffic is pretty miserable. We’ve gone on frustratingly slow two hour drives to the Hollywood Hills (12.5 miles away), and one hour drives to LAX (just 8.5 miles away). The longer you live in LA, the more secret passages for travel you will find – but in general, just stay off the freeway and you will be happier. The side effect of lousy LA traffic is that MOST of the time you will want to hang out in YOUR neighborhood, because the alternative is to jump into the lousy traffic.

But hey, we live in Santa Monica. The world we’re in, the west side of the 405, has a very different feel from the rest of Los Angeles. Over here it’s beaches, palm trees, mild weather, less traffic, less pollution… but if you live here, don’t pretend that you’ll ever see your friends who live “on the other side”. It’s a universe away. Frankly it’s probably easier to just talk to your friends on Skype then pretend you’re going to ever brave the traffic to go see them.

On food

I still really miss the restaurant culture in San Francisco. There’s a vibrancy to the restaurant scene there, and creative restaurants up and down the price scale. Here in Los Angeles, we’ve got some great high-end restaurants, but the mid-range and casual is pretty rough. One entertaining thing you CAN do here in LA that doesn’t work as well in San Francisco is to go to a high-end restaurant and watch all the snooty patrons: the wannabe Hollywood agents on their cell phones, the skinny models who don’t eat but spend their entire dinner preening, the Beverly Hills Housewives, etc. It makes the “no changes” policy on a lot of menus suddenly much more understandable. I wouldn’t want to try to appease a lot of those people either!

There are definitely foods that suit LA and once we figured out what those were, we ate a lot better for cheaper. Want a salad? You’re in luck! How about sushi? It’s very fresh. Indian? Uhhhhh noooo. Pizza? Maybe, if you are in the know about where to go. Italian? Well, mediocre Italian is everywhere here. But good Italian is a little harder to find.

Where we live, it’s just a few blocks to a couple Starbucks, a Peets, and two very good local coffee joints. There are two awesome salad places. We’ve found a great calzone, and after much experimentation a decent Indian take-out. So now we’re getting by.

But the bread here is nowhere near as good as in San Francisco. When you think about that, it makes sense. How would all those aspiring actresses fit in their skinny jeans if the bread here was amazing?

On weather

What can I say, the weather is gorgeous! I loved the dry heat in Agoura Hills, and even the marine layer in Santa Monica in June (“June Gloom”) is great, it reminds me of summer in San Francisco. Well, a little. Most of the time, the weather in Santa Monica is a perfect 70 to 75 degrees. It’s amazing. If anything though, there’s a little TOO much sun here for me. I know. Blasphemer. Once in awhile, I do appreciate a nice rain.

On Los Angelenos

The one trait that most defines LA for me is not the traffic, not the food, and not the weather. It is the self-centeredness. Many people in Los Angeles are IMPATIENT. They are IN A HURRY, and you are IN THEIR WAY. If you’re on the road, beware of people barging into your lane. At the store? I’m sure she cut in front of me so her organic kefir wouldn’t spoil before she got it home. In a restaurant, you just have to feel sorry for the staff with the customers being so NEEDY. You didn’t step on the gas quickly enough at that light? *HOOONK* Hey, you forgot the lemon for my bottled water! And don’t forget the straw this time! Whew.

There are certainly nice people in Los Angeles. But it feels like an accomplishment when you manage to find where they are hiding. There’s a secret club of nice people. With a secret handshake. Whenever I meet someone genuinely friendly, I want to just give them a hug for not succumbing to the general LA impatient vibe.

On pollution

Did I mention the pollution yet? No, I guess not. Well, after a while you stop noticing. It’s just like that perceptual adaptation experiment they did in the late 19th century that flipped the world upside down, people’s brains adapt and eventually they think it’s normal. Now when I travel places without pollution the sky seems egregiously naked.

Reversing goggles

Actually, out here by the breezy beaches of Santa Monica, the pollution isn’t so bad. Attending E3 this year, downtown, I was sneezing black again. But here where the marine layer tucks us in at night, yeah, the air may not be great, but it is certainly tolerable and we even get an occasional sea breeze. That feels like a win here in LA.

There were days driving back home from THQ on the 405 that we’d crest the mountain pass and then descend into multiple layers of pollution. That made us feel so awesome. Breathe deeply!

In summary

I’ve come to the realization that Los Angeles is basically New York. It’s a big frickin’ city with a wide variety of people and tons of things to see and do. But New York is compact and dense – whereas Los Angeles is sprawling and full of strip malls. New Yorkers are impatient, and hey so are Los Angelenos. If only we had a reasonable transit system here. You know how much it costs to take a cab home from downtown LA when you’ve had a few drinks? Probably more than you spent on the booze. So seriously, live in a neighborhood that you like.






3 responses to “Reflections on living in Los Angeles”

  1. archie4oz Avatar

    It’s amusing to hear people talk about pollution that didn’t grow up in LA during the 70’s or 80’s. The air then makes the air nowadays look like Aspen. Of course my mother would say the same thing about the 50’s and 60’s… 😀

    Also, while Southern California in general is car-centric, you should get on a bicycle and ride around the city more. Gives you a whole different perspective (not to mention learn the public transportation system, it’s better than what a lot of people give it credit for).

  2. NealSega Avatar

    100% agree with your thoughts. I ended up in Marina Del Rey (just down the road from you), and found that I didn’t want to leave my neighborhood, except to venture into Santa Monica. I was lucky enough to meet some great people down there, but was horribly disappointed in the general population. I was lucky to work in an entertainment-related industry, which was such a focus for the entire area.

    On the food side, I would also say that the availability of good, authentic Mexican was a real plus ; )

  3. Spencer Avatar

    Once you figure when it’s safe to drive, the city is awesome. And if you get bored with a neighborhood or scene, you can easily pick 10 others, and by the time you go back it’s all new again. Maybe the same in NY, except we lack the academic accomplishments to put on the pretentious attitude. One more thing – I hardly ever here someone from LA measuring ourselves against other cities – I kind of believe that’s because we don’t care!