Traveling in your own city never quite seems as foreign as when you hop on a plane and go exploring in say, Paris. But the summer of my sophomore year in college, I made the big bold decision that I would use my former hometown and explore the huge playground called Los Angeles—otherwise known as, helLA, Lala-Land, Lost Angeles, City of Animals, or Silicone Valley.
So what does one do when all the roads look the same, and there is nothing left to explore? When your backyard is the stomping ground for porno flicks? Where the oceans, dreamed about in rock songs, are polluted and carrying an unusual strand of Hepatitis B? Where the city is blanketed with smog so thick that there are daily warnings about not going outside your air-conditioned nightmare of a home? That was what I wanted to find out.
This city is supposed to have magic dangling between the Hollywood sign and the Santa Monica Pier, stringing from the aligned palm trees to the pockets of coolness in Topanga, Silverlake, and Venice. Yet, when my plane touched down into the clutter of LAX, I felt something completely opposite to magic beginning to take shape. This dullness, smothered in fakeness (with a shot of traffic) was making me see the source of my wanderlust all too clearly.
It took all the yogic training I could muster to remind myself that every world traveler needs to have a place called home. So I secured a Venice Beach pad and a part-time kickback job working as a gopher for an advice columnist. Venice Beach had it all and I was taking advantage of my location like a class of 13-year olds does to their substitute teacher. I could walk to a beach, a bar, three coffee shops that weren’t Starbucks, a farmers market, a newsstand, and I never had to deal with traffic. My mission was destined to be good…
But within the first month, boss lady went off her Prozac and began screaming AT&T for fun. I crashed her classic car. Someone stole the doors off of my under-1000-mile-on-it-Jeep Wrangler. The Los Angelinos on the Westside cut in front of you in lines, never listened when you told them how you were feeling, and stopped talking to you once they realized you couldn’t help them further their careers. I had relationships with all my friend’s answering machines. My dog died. And to top it off I promised the family I would join them for a Glen Campbell Fourth of July celebration at the Hollywood Bowl.
Figuring that I might as well make the best of home, before I swore to never spend a summer here again, I met my family at The Bowl. All dressed in their finest red-white-and-blue-I-love-America gear, I tried not to show my distaste for flag waving and patriotism on only one day of the year, by staring at my fellow compatriots. A pudgy black man in a flag T-shirt sat bedside a blonde-headed family eating PB&J sandwiches rhythmically. A Chinese teenager stood next to her Gap dressed family flirting shamelessly with a young Hispanic boy, while an old Chinese man in a Disney hat kissed his middle aged white boyfriend. There was an Indian man hugging a young Filipino woman, and a group of Mexicans holding American flags. I heard Japanese and Russian, English and Spanish, Chinese and German. Suddenly I remembered why my city was so special.
On every other day of the year there are neighbors that shoot each other for wearing red or blue. But on this day we were all colors, together, as one—the Jew and the Muslim, the Black and the White, the Mexicans and Asians, all celebrating independence, freedom, and the values our country was built upon. And as we all watched the fireworks boom above, and all sang “The Star Spangled Banner,” it hit me. People move from all over the globe to find happiness in California. It shouldn’t be that hard for little old me to be happy in LA…all I had to do was try.