1:13a.m. In a car with two friends, pulled over, they on the phone figuring out which dimly lit alley we should take to get to another guy’s apartment. Downtown Los Angeles, just outside of the ring of skyscrapers that form the nexus of L.A. proper, is full of dimly lit alleys. Two garage doors were the only openings of a low rectangular building across from the street from us. They were sprayed with words I couldn’t make out. No other car had its lights on and no other car crossed the intersection where we were. As my friends were hammering out the lefts and rights to take, a collarless dark-gold German Shepard galloped across the street, eyes crazed and sparkling. It stopped abruptly, hunkered on its haunches, surveyed the area straight ahead, and lunged into the horizon with the determination of the predator familiar to anyone who watches National Geographic HD. A minute later, another dog, similarly singleminded, followed hot on the trail of the first one.
I had flown to L.A. for the weekend, and now, 2 hours after touching down, I was in Figueroa, in a street that had become the expropriated territory of rabid dogs. What did I get myself into???
Although the rest of the night involved carrying a new queen mattress and box spring from a truck up the stairs to that guy’s apartment, and taking the nastiest puff from a most makeshift of water bongs, I calmed down a lot. I got rewarded for my toil: the guy in whose apartment we were hanging out was a very good host. He let us use his netbook. He offered us green-white cans of apple cider, as well as trail mix. He caught me eyeing a box of spicy chicken wings and he offered those to me as well. They were too hot for me. I learned that one of my friends has had a huge crash on a hometown girl for years (how could he have kept it a secret?). I certainly learned never to smoke from a fishy-looking water bong. I got to pass some time with old friends without remembering what the heck we had been talking about for three hours. I felt I learned something that night. It was cushy landing in Southern California after all.
“You live your life driving,” a San Francisco friend said when she heard about my flying down to L.A. That was my experience, pretty much. You have to drive everywhere. L.A. is huggge. Beverly Hills? Its own city. UCLA might as well be. we drove 15 minuets to cover about 15% of the gorgeous campus. And they call the area around it Westwood Village. Village my butt. The area has its own several zip codes.
You get the feel of what people are like when they have to spend significant amounts of time in their cars. My L.A. friend and I, for example, approach driving slightly differently, as a result. I just get in the car and drive. My L.A. friend will not back out of the driveway until he’s completely down with the music, and he’s satisfied with the position of dashboard dials, the height of the seat, and the cleanliness of the windshield. I would have flipped out if I stood in traffic this long in San Francisco. My friend was resigned. We talked a lot in the car during the weekend. Might as well. Much of my trip was spent there.
And you go to the ocean in L.A. That was my second day. Santa Monica is its own city, and apparently the shabby-looking houses right on the beach costs more than a million bucks each, according to my friend. There’s a pile of zany people at Venice Beach, kind of like the Mission in my familiar, manageable town. We were going to hang in Westwood on my second night, but after spending 40 (whattt) minutes pathetically looking for parking there, we decided to cap my second night at a sports bar in Brentwood. Flatscreen in every booth, so you could watch the baseball game very closely. People were filing in and out, in cliques. Some mingling among cliques, usually guys attempt an infiltration into packs of girls. A lot of blondes, some tall, some not so much. Some drinking, not too crazy. The whole scene seemed surprisingly matter-of-factly.
L.A. is impersonal, and my friend knows his place in the metropolis. He knows the acceptable behavior in recurring social situations. He knows the acceptable routes to take to get certain places. He knows that to keep his job he needs to do his job, no shortcuts or complaints. For a city stigmatized as full of prima donnas, it seems full of people who know and obey their place.
Where are you going from here, in life, I mean? I ask him. I don’t know, man, he says. Is he happy? I wonder. He goes through his days, relatively smoothly. He got the routines down. Another friend of mine actually transitioned from one job to another. It wasn’t a clear-cut decision so much as a long, gradual, psychological departing from his current job, until his head was completely in something other than work for days at a time. Even then, it wasn’t like he was searching and interviewing non-stop. He sent in resumes here and there, “whatever came up, you know,” until one of them triggered a phone call from an HR person, which led to an interview and viola.
People understand here that living is a process. You don’t do things out of the blue. I wanted to go to Beverly Hills, also its own city these days, I remind you. Sure, my friend said. I wanted to talk to people there, hang out. Unlikely, he responded. I insisted.
“Get this through your head, they have no interest talking to you,” he said.
We settled for Google-mapping and having the “little dude” (my friend’s words) walk us through the streets of Beverly Hills. “Multi-million dollar homes,” my friend noted with each new screen. I didn’t think they were that impressive, for the most part. I gave up on going there.
“So what do you want to do,” my friend said.
“What real people do here.”
What? It got a rise out of him. There’s no such thing, he said. He counted the things people do in Santa Monica and Venice. We tried to walk through those places with the little Google dude, but he can’t go on the beach, apparently. “That’s bullshit,” my friend said. I was also miffed for the little dude.
We ended up taking a drive to Santa Monica and Venice, as well as Marina Del Rey. Then we just did In-and-Out for dinner and came back to watch Amadeus on DVD. Even though driving involves minimal physical activity, a whole weekend of it would get you as tired as if you’d gone to the gym.
My friends would not have the desire to dissect the young professional’s life as I do on this blog. It’s not what they’re about, challenging the status quo. Instead, they take comfort in what they like about it. In a way, the L.A. reality of long waits, curt conversations, admiration of ‘multi-million dollar’ homes, and a life amid millions of cold and complete strangers, makes one invariably live for the part of the glass that’s half full.
Maybe I should be more like that, I thought. There’s value in staying in line sometimes. Would I be able to do it? Not for long, I’m sure. Already the Monday after coming back, I found myself deep in thought about the dilemma of reacting to an overzealous MBAer who is too enthusiastic for his own good. Would visible irritation or cloying obedience get me through this problem? “Try to roll with it, see what happens,” my L.A. friend said in an email when I asked him for advice.