A couple of months ago, when I was taking my memoir writing class*, I began to write a piece about moving out of LA. I didn't get very far, and as my writing teacher pointed out, the piece "remains very sanguine - it doesn't give the reader a sense of what is at stake." That is the much more difficult part to write: the sad, scary part. It was easier to write the light-hearted bits.
But I thought I would put it up anyway and call this bit Part I. I still need to write the hard part, Part II. Hroo.
More and more, I am faced with undeniable evidence that I am an adult. I thought this was so after college, when summer breaks and cushy student loan checks were replaced with unpaid overtime and enough "insufficient funds" notices to wallpaper my stuffy studio apartment. But the real proof of my adulthood came a few years later, in my changed relationship with home improvement television shows. I can remember my parents wanting to watch something on TV about how best to insulate your house and me threatening to take a melon baller to my eye if they didn't change the channel. But now I spend so many evenings watching HGTV, I could evaluate your current insulation system, recommend three to four more efficient alternatives and install them myself by Monday.
I don't know which came first, my obsession with remodeling shows or my fantasies about owning a house. Either way, I spend most of my spare time watching TV shows like "Property Virgins" or reading articles about what it takes to get a mortgage now that we are in The Great Depression, Part Deux: now in technicolor! One thing is clear -- as long as I live in Los Angeles, my property virginity isn't going anywhere.
I've lived within the same 100 mile radius my entire life, with the exception of some months abroad in college. I have the kind of mixed feelings for LA that a person can ony have after more than 25 years in one place. When I fly into other cities, I press my face to the tiny window and blink quickly, confused by the green hills or blue rivers surrounding towns full of parks and baseball diamonds. I marvel at the luck of these townspeople and their ample access to fresh air.
As my plane descends back into L.A., I squint to try and find the end of the vast concrete slab that stretches from the coast to, well, perhaps infinity. Somewhere visible only by Google Maps or God. I always wheeze for a few days after I've been away, as my lungs reacquaint themselves with the smog. I bet if you were to peek at my lungs, they'd be the same color as the tangled freeways, the hazy air, the dry hills and the shoddy apartment buildings that make up this city -- a sad gray-ish brown. Or brown-ish gray, depending on the season... of which there are two. I hear some places have four seasons with charming titles like "spring" and "autumn," but here in L.A. we just have "fire" or "mudslide."
Of course there are things about Los Angeles that I love desperately. Recently I was running along the beach as the sun set in the distance over the Malibu hills. I was so overcome by the scene that I actually misted up and had to pause and pretend to tie my shoes while I collected myself. I marveled at the perspective you get from staring at the ocean and trying to comprehend how far away the other side is. I felt like a totally undeserving recipient of the universe's generosity, because how many people can just trot over to the Pacific Ocean whenever they feel like it? I felt like the geographical equivalent of a trust-fund kid.
However, since I lack an actual trust fund, I must survive on a salary of warm, fuzzy feelings, since that's practically all my non-profit job pays me. In order to afford Los Angeles living, I share a tiny, two-room, one-closet apartment with one fiancee, one cat, two bicycles and about 874 shoes. It's a little cramped, but it's only four blocks from the beach. The least expensive house in this neighborhood is a bargain $750,000 -- we're lucky just to be able to rent a sagging, smelly apartment here. So when I see a soon-to-be-homeowner twirling gleeful circles in a walk-in closet on my favorite house-hunting TV show, all I can say is, "SIGH."
About a year ago, my fiancee (then boyfriend) and I began to talk about moving. I've always felt that if I didn't live somewhere besides L.A., at least for a while, I'd be cheating myself. Even after so many years, I'm continually finding things that delight me about this city... wouldn't it be a joy to discover all the many fresh and delightful things about someplace new?
Whenever we'd travel to other cities, our inkling to move would become stronger. In San Francisco, visiting his brothers, I'd marvel at how much flowering and sprouting and blooming was happening, like, everywhere. "Babe! Babe! Stop the car! That magnolia tree is EXPLODING!" I'd screamed.
When we visited Austin, we were a half hour or more early everywhere we went. We'd become so accustomed to the L.A. habit of budgeting an extra 45 minutes for every excursion, we were confused when we didn't need it. You can get across town in 25 minutes? During rush hour? You can find a parking spot? In under 20 minutes? For FREE? We drove across town five times in one day, parking here and there, just because we could. Also, people smiled a lot there, and I can't help thinking that it must be easier to smile when you're not living under the constant threat of a parking ticket.
The grass was definitely beginning to look greener. Even more so when we discovered that in Austin you can buy a really cute house with a yard and more than two rooms in a really cool area of town for around $250,000. Like, you don't have to be an oil tycoon or a movie studio executive or a mobster to own a home. This concept is so confusing to me that I often have to nap after considering it.
The list of "pros" for moving out of L.A. was growing longer and longer -- getting away from the smog, the traffic, the expense, the attitude, the scraping by, the "scene" and getting into a real house in a real neighborhood with friendly neighbors started to sound really, really good. But one big fat "con" was the look on my friends' and family's faces when we told them we were thinking of moving...
*I know, I know - I'm only 28, and I'm not a former child star or recovering drug addict or anything, it was just for fun.