It’s been said that when you first move to Los Angeles that you’ll hate it, but if you stay for 18 months you’ll never leave. L.A. has been my home since 2004, really, because of college. But college isolates you from the harsh realities of a city, and masks you from the angst of “what am I doing with my life?”
Graduating from college in 2008 was no laughing matter, with the world economy dragging and a BA in Philosophy in my back pocket. Somehow, in a 24-hour period I managed to secure a job and find a reasonable sublet, lest I move back home with my parents and become a stereotype of my generation—condemned to be discussed in thousands of newspaper & magazine articles written by baby boomers in the subsequent years. So I moved into the second room of a duplex with a nice enough guy eight years my senior and began the painful transition of becoming a grown up.
These were tough times. During the day I worked as technical support, doing basic HTML/CSS web development work. At night for several months I worked to finish a project I’d started at my university job—building a rather complex, animation-filled, automatically updating digital signage system for a UCLA museum. The day work was boring, simple stuff, and further I had to deal with remote colleagues being threatened by my skillset and quietly trying to prevent me from rising within the company. The night work was stimulating, for certain, but brought the difficulty and self-doubt that comes with a project completely dreamed up and executed by only one person. And it also meant I was spending 12 hours a day seated (sometimes at a desk, sometimes on a squishy old sofa) with a computer, my young body aging faster than it should.
Generally unhappy with the state of things, the way my health was dragging and my job discouraged me, I turned against Los Angeles. If I moved to Portland, I thought, I could fully embrace the depressive rain and beer & coffee culture that seemed to fit my mood. And it’d be a fresh start, away from the anonymity of Los Angeles, the ridiculous need to drive anywhere interesting and fear for my life every time I went out on my new bike. Portland won’t be any different, my girlfriend assured me: “You have no friends there, and there aren’t jobs in Portland.”
Around this time in Los Angeles there was a monthly bike ride called C.R.A.N.K. Mob. On a Saturday night, around 11pm, hundreds of people would descend on Sawtelle, a historically Japanese street in West Los Angeles next to the 405. This in itself would be remarkable for a city that, as Michael Mann showed us in Collateral, can make you feel alone while surrounded by millions of people.
More remarkable, though, was that all these people were on bikes. And they were ready to party. The first ride I went on we spun down to Bundy, rode north into Brentwood, and cruised past the old rich that would be leaving dinner on San Vicente late on a Saturday night. Surrounded by five-hundred plus, some with boomboxes strapped to their bikes, or bright lights strapped to their wheels, or capes strapped to their backs, I make eye contact with a 50-something in a blazer leaving a $$$$ Italian restaurant looking on in awe.
Continue north on Barrington; pass Santa Monica airport; descend on Vons parking lot; a band plays; silly string; people dancing; beer; continue into Culver City; kettle korn; outside a warehouse stuffed full of people and a DJ; meet some people; keep going; too small 7/11 parking lot; sit on a couch in an alley; a hill, but it leads to the roof of Best Buy; jump roping; ride home slowly; 4 AM.
Los Angeles. Now a city filled with people loving life, helping strangers when they get a flat, a warehouse owner allowing 600 people to party on his property, no need for bike locks. C.R.A.N.K. Mob eventually stopped—too many kids getting drunk and crashing, too many people. I only went on it once more, but never have I found a more effective cure for what ailed me back then. Los Angeles on a bike, surrounded by friends and strangers alike, is a completely different place. Knowing that that exists—beneath the smog, the eight-lane streets, and every damn person but you owning a BMW—is reassuring.
Counting my collegiate years, I’ve now lived here eight years [ed: made it to nine!]. That first 18 months after college sure was tough, and dammit if I didn’t hate LA then. I don’t know where I’ll be in a year [ed: have moved to San Francisco since I wrote this], but Los Angeles: I’m sorry I judged you. Thanks for giving me what I needed back then. You’ve got your quirks, but I’ll be damned if you aren’t a great city.