The other day an actress friend in LA told me she was a Lyft driver to make extra cash. She used to travel the world as a musical performer and dancer. Now she had a giant pink mustache attached to the front of her car and she carts people to and from bars, airports, restaurants, and auditions.
It seems there is no place more visibly divided between the haves and the have nots as Los Angeles. A city whose collective consciousness is firmly planted in the aim to reach immense wealth and fame, while those in the pursuit of this goal often live in poverty. Owning only a hope that one day some human will pluck them from the masses of waiters and dance teachers and handymen and Lyft drivers to have that shot at world-wide recognition, fame and adoration.
That’s a tough life to live.
It’s not just that Los Angeles seems to be constructed of a superior race of beautiful people, who spend hours exercising, shopping, getting waxed and lasered and plucked and bronzed and dyed.
But then there is the socio-economic divide. Yesterday when I was driving on Malibu Canyon Road, from the Valley to Malibu, I noticed more cars worth over $100,000 than I ever saw in twelve years of living in San Francisco. I was taking the kids to Malibu Country Mart–home to Diesel, one of the only independently-owned bookstores left in LA.
As we drove through the woodland canyon, passing estates and summer camps, parkland and movie sets, the kids asked why we don’t have a big house like their cousins. A gazillion answers floated through my head and I finally settled on a joke that they are scared to go to the bathroom in the next room alone, how would they function in a two-story four-bedroom mansion?
But I understood the query, the confusion. Why do some people have more than others? Is it luck? Determination? Focus? Why are some actors raging successes and others, like my talented friend, forced to drive strangers around? Why can’t my husband (a lawyer) and I (a college instructor/writer) afford to rent a place in San Francisco, or in a desirable part of LA?
I see how LA infects young and old with want. All around there’s evidence of life with so much excess. More than cars and beautiful clothing. As I wandered through the Country Mart innocently looking for a place to fix my glasses, I noticed that every store made me–a total non-shopper–desire some thing, even though we don’t have a place to put anything.
It’s easy to see how living in a culture like this breeds more materialism. Growing up here, I literally had to travel around the globe by ship to undo that shallow perspective on life. And now, back in Los Angeles, I have the urge to cover my children’s eyes to stop them from seeing how little we have by comparison. In San Francisco, it was easier to hide our modest way of living–sure we lived in a rented two bedroom flat with paint peeling off the walls, and mice coming to say hi every so often, but our friends’ million dollar two bedroom house up the street wasn’t that much larger than our flat, so our kids never noticed the difference.
Here it seems impossible to hide from them that by LA standards, we are a Have Not family–no house, no jobs. Yet, by our standards, we are rich with each other, as cheesy as that sounds. And so each night, right before the boys drift off to sleep, I whisper, As long as we are together, it doesn’t matter. I figure as long as I keep telling them that it will be true.