“I am not putting the place down, but living here can hollow one out. It is a hungry stranger of a city that fascinates, attracts, horrifies and repels minute to minute. It allows one to live in it for years and never feel like they have lived here for any period of time. I have been all over the world and no place makes me feel so incredibly alone at times as LA does.” – Henry Rollins
No matter how long you’ve lived here or when you arrived, on some level, it’s difficult to feel grounded in Los Angeles. Driving around the city each day, one reason becomes clear:
All of us are one left hand turn away from being completely lost. Not because we’re airheads, or ignorant, lazy or self-absorbed. We literally don’t know where we are. Los Angeles is 503 sq miles with 114 neighborhoods and most of us know like, ten of ’em and stay within three or four. We barely know the neighborhoods we’re in. I’ve lived here for almost 16 years, in Weho, Franklin Village. I had a house for 4 years in Atwater; I don’t remember the names of the streets five blocks to the left or five blocks to the right. My first apartment was on Fountain and Formosa. I know Detroit’s the next street east, then La Brea. I know Sycamore is one block east of that, but only because my therapist’s on Sycamore now. When I lived over there, I had no idea where Sycamore was. Looking West was like…streets before you get the Fairfax. Our immediate radius is clearer and then it gets progressively more generic as it branches out. I’m at the Starbucks on Beverly, next to the Chinese place with the lunch hour special that ends at 3:30, blocks, blocks, blocks, Vincent Gallo with man purse outside of Erewhon, blocks blocks, Fairfax Theater that used to have 3 dollar movies before it closed a decade ago, because all good things die, blocks, blocks, blocks, Beverly Center, Cedars, Beverly Hills, Police station from Beverly Hills Cop, traffic traffic, 405, mansions, mansions, ocean. In between, it’s a mush of familiar stuff that all kinda looks the same. We can’t know all of it. That’s too much info to store in our brain. As long as we get from point a to point b, that’s enough. But, that has an insidious effect on our psyche.
Page 596 – West Hollywood. We used to read this?
When I first got here, Before GPS, there was only “The Thomas Guide.” A 500 page, 4-way bound map that weighed 3 lbs. We all had this thing spread open on our lap as we drove around. I looked at it again the other day and it’s so freakin’ tiny! How the hell did I ever read that thing?! We memorized the pages that we used most (page 596, which covered West Hollywood.) When you drove beyond that page, you’d have to quick flip the book around while going 40 mph or you gave up and you just ripped out the pages you used the most. That’s just what you did. You kept your head down and stayed within the areas that you were familiar with.
Because we’ve all made that left-hand turn at 11:00 pm somewhere, down some dark street and said, “oh my god, I’m in Compton!” when we’re really somewhere in Culver City. We lock the doors, try to remain calm until we make it back to a freeway entrance or something recognizable and in a cold sweat, pledge to, “never get off Santa Monica Blvd again!” What other reason could there for the traffic on Santa Monica Blvd? It’s incredibly shitty and constant and yet, if you make that commute, you sit there on it, slowly killing yourself, making out your will, deciding who gets the dog. Why? Compton. That’s why the West Side has traffic jams. Well, that’s not true. We have traffic jams because we’re racists. Okay, No. We have traffic jams because we’re scared. We don’t have mass transit because we’re racists. But, we have traffic jams because we don’t have mass transit because we don’t want the East Side coming over, so I guess we have traffic jams because we’re racists. Wait, wait, wait! We are racists, but really, we’re scared because we’re separated from each other because this place is big and we’re lost. And that’s it.
Search Results for “Los Angeles Neighborhoods” Why’s Compton in there?
Now, GPS is amazing. We happily follow that green arrow along the line until we reach our “destination.” We’re so confident of it now, that we “facebook” and “snap” live feeds while applying doggie filters to our faces (who is the prescient genius that knew our secret desire to be labradors?) GPS makes us more adventurous. If I make a wrong turn, GPS gets me back on track. I’m more fearless, more open to uncertainty, more hopeful. I don’t know what’s ahead, but it’s gonna be good and then BAM! I hit a dead zone, lose the signal and my emotional foundation crumbles underneath me. It shakes a finger at me and reminds me that I’m still fundamentally lost.
It’s getting better. Trains are expanding. A new wave of folks are arriving with a more Metro aesthetic. We’re making progress, but it’s that feeling, that literal feeling of being lost that breeds a larger metaphorical feeling. It’s the reason behind that 2 am confession call to a friend after being here 3 years,
“I don’t know what’s going on, man. Where I’m going? I just feel so…lost.”
Yeah. Because we are.