That was then…
Los Angeles was a conundrum to me as a kid. Growing up in an unincorporated rural pocket of the San Francisco Bay Area -- we got our water from an underground spring, had a septic system, and a "party line" phone that served three separate houses in our small valley -- I was raised to loathe the Dodgers (arch-villain nemesis of our Giants) and the Rams (who routinely thumped the hapless 49ers in those days), and the infamous pea-soup smog that hung over LA like a death shroud.
Still, LA was the home of Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm, and we had nothing like those legendary theme parks up north. Along with every other kid in America, I dreamed of going to Disneyland, and eventually did. When I was a very young teenager, my family spent a couple of days in Anaheim while my dad attended a convention in the area. After the first day, several of his co-workers gave me their ticket books (they'd only used the premium "E" tickets for the showcase rides), so I got to spend the entire next day -- from dawn 'til dusk -- by myself, riding almost everything Disneyland had to offer.
That was one great day.
Although I've spent forty years living and working in LA, it remains something of a conundrum. There's much to like here, but much to loathe. I'll concentrate on the good stuff first -- those things in LA that I really will miss once I've made the long drive north for the last time.
The Hollywood Sign
The iconic Hollywood sign sits high in the parched brown hills above the town it helped make famous. You can see it from just about anywhere in Hollywood, in good times…
(Photo courtesy of the LA Times)
(Photo courtesy of the LA Times)
...and in bad.
For a city that attracts so many drifters, dreamers, and transients, that big sign offered me a solid sense of place -- a constant reminder of where I was and why I came there in the first place. My only complaint is that the city has not yet seen fit to light it up at night on a permanent basis. C'mon, Hollywood -- put some solar panels up there to offset the carbon footprint, then install LED lighting to let it shine all night long.
(Photo courtesy of the LA Times)
As that crusty old curmudgeon Wilford Brimley used to say, "It's the right thing to do."
The Hollywood sign is one LA icon I really like, and it will always have a special place in my heart -- right alongside...
The Palm Trees
Before coming to LA, I was all too familiar with date palms and other stubby scrub palms so common in California -- stolid, dull trees that failed to ignite my aesthetic imagination in any way. But the boulevards of Los Angeles are lined with the impossibly tall, wonderfully graceful silhouettes of the Mexican Fan Palm -- Washingtonia Robusta -- that are for LA what giraffes represent to the Serengeti of Africa.
They're everywhere you look, growing up to 80 feet high, offering an elegant counterpoint to the endless billboards and visual blight that plagues so much of this city. These days, I'm surrounded by pines, Douglas Fir, Bay Laurel, and the occasional redwood tree, but will only see these tall, beautiful palms in my dreams -- and I'll definitely miss them.
Yep -- LA is a true Winter Wonderland...
If you come to LA and wind up living in the San Fernando Valley, the Inland Empire, downtown, or just about anyplace more than ten miles from the coast (a region that's increasingly unaffordable for anyone earning less than six figures -- and I'm talking about renters, not home-buyers), then you'd better love heat, because summer turns much of LA into the simmering cauldron of Hell-A. Hundred degree+ temperatures are increasingly common from July on into November, and with climate change ramping up, it will only get hotter as the years pass.
Hollywood itself usually isn't so bad, being that it's a straight ten mile shot (unimpeded by hills of any significance) to that cooler coastal air. Having lived there for all but six months of my years in LA, I very much appreciate that -- but although Hollywood is usually a good fifteen degrees cooler than The Valley, it still gets miserably hot for weeks at a time.
So be prepared, newbies. Unless you have the bank account to land an apartment in Santa Monica, Venice, Culver City, Westchester, El Segundo, Redondo, or Huntington Beach (forget Malibu or Palos Verdes, unless you're a trust fund baby or retired movie star), you'll be coughing up for a hefty air-conditioning bill half the year.
Ah, but all that changes when Winter finally rolls around. Remember watching the Rose Parade on TV from your snow-bound midwest or east coast living room every New Year's Day? The sunshine and clear blue skies you saw above Pasadena back then are the real deal, not Hollywood special effects. Sure, it gets a bit chilly every now and then, and -- contrary to a certain idiotic song that was inexplicably popular back when I was young -- it does occasionally rain in Southern California.* But if you grew up just about anywhere north or east of here, LA winters will feel like Spring Break.
Just remember, Winter is the good part. For most people in LA, Summer is the time to suffer... unless you're unemployed -- which as a newbie to Hollywood, you probably will be for quite a while. The good news is there's an easy cure for those sweaty Summertime Blues -- just hop in your car and head to...
If the Hollywood sign and palm trees form two legs of The Holy Trinity of LA icons, the third leg is the beach. Ask most people what they think of when you mention "Los Angeles," and you'll get at least one of those in response, and very likely all three. There are beautiful beaches all up and down the California coast, from the chilly waters of Northern and Central California to the lovely (and considerably warmer) beaches of San Diego -- but if you've just moved to LA to break into the film/television industry, the beaches of LA are right in your backyard.
Truth be told, the best SoCal beach I ever experienced was Black's Beach in La Jolla, well south of LA. I didn't realize it was a nude beech until we'd made the long climb down from the parking lot, but the water was warm, the waves perfect, and the beach spectacular -- I loved it. In my minds eye, I can still see a beautiful young woman who was out there in the water near us. We all dove under an incoming wave, then she emerged and gave me a big smile, shaking the water from her hair, the sun glistening on the spectacular curves of her gloriously naked body.
It was something like the girl with the white parasol moment in Citizen Kane, only in living color -- and much much better.**
Ah, to be young again...
La Jolla is a long drive from LA, though, and as you'll learn, proximity means a lot in this town.
Santa Monica Beach is nice, but usually crowded on a good beach day -- and one reason I head to the beach is to get away from the milling hordes of urban life. Besides, the last time I dipped in the waters off Santa Monica, I encountered great billowing clumps of yellow foam riding in on the breakers. Maybe it was nothing, or maybe it was sewage -- I have no idea -- but I prefer the beaches up Highway One a bit, far from all those urban toilets.
Like Zuma Beach...
or El Matador Beach.
There are plenty to choose from, so take your pick.
Remember, though -- just because a beach is miles from LA proper doesn't mean the water is clean. Surfrider Beach in Malibu is infamous for dirty water thanks to leaking septic tanks from homes of the rich and famous above the creek that feed into and contaminate the "lagoon" -- so be sure to check Heal the Bay's Beach Report Card for water conditions before you dive in.
There are several beautiful beaches near my current home -- much closer than any beach was to me in Hollywood -- but only one is truly swimmable. The water is much too cold without a wetsuit off the rest of those beaches, which also have the disadvantage of being patrolled by big, hungry Great White Sharks.
That'll be enough to keep me on the sand.
I definitely miss the user-friendly, warm water beaches of LA, but you can't have it all in life.
Sacrifices must be made.
* Not this winter, though, which has been the coldest and wettest in a long time.
** See -- this isn't just a trip down memory lane or some lame travelog: we're discussing classic films here...
Next: The food I hate to leave behind