When my now-husband, Matt, and I started hunting for our first apartment together in Los Angeles, we looked at places that were, in L.A. real estate-speak, “adjacent”-as in Culver City-adjacent, West Hollywood-adjacent, and Beverly Hills-adjacent. In L.A. you’re always adjacent to something: to celebrity, the ocean, the big break. It’s part of the city’s seduction–the constant, tantalizing proximity to something better.
We wound up settling on a Miracle Mile-adjacent Spanish colonial with white stucco walls and arched doorways. When we first went to tour it, the owner showed us through a bright, high-ceilinged living room with 1930s details. “They could probably use a polishing, but they’re nice, don’t you think?” he asked, pointing to some Gothic silver light fixtures affixed to the wall. “I’ve actually had some problems in the past with residents stealing these things. They bring in a couple of hundred bucks apiece at the antique store on Wilshire and La Brea.”
It occurred to me that one reason previous tenants had absconded with his housewares was that he’d told them exactly where to sell them and for how much. But I kept this thought to myself. We signed the lease, emptied our bank accounts to pay the security deposit, and braved a few weekend trips to the IKEA in Burbank. We were home.
I never regretted our choice of neighborhood, located somewhere between the self-consciously hip Los Feliz/Silver Lake area and the vaguely douchey Westside. Our pad with the steal-able fixtures belonged to no distinct area. It was simply part of a cluster of old buildings from the 1920s and ’30s on a block adjacent to neighborhoods with real names. But there was a sense of substance and permanence to it, a kind of old-timey grace that felt rare in Los Angeles. At times you could almost forget that you were in the middle of a giant, throbbing metropolis. Then the blinking Samsung sign atop a high-rise on La Brea and the buzzing of police helicopters overhead would remind you.
Our building had no air conditioning, and in the summer we’d all throw our windows open to capture whatever stale breeze might be floating by. Living became almost communal. We could hear one another arguing, making dinner, making love. But we had an unspoken agreement never to acknowledge it. Only one of us, an aspiring actress who lived in the building next door, regularly broke the rules. She had a disconcerting habit of commenting on what I was watching on TV.
In a place as unrelentingly pleasant as Southern California, time can simply slide along unchecked. As I inched closer to 30, I began to worry that the seasons and years would continue to roll into one another with nothing to mark their passing. When I got an opportunity to move to New York City–a place that’s hard and cold enough to snap anyone back to life–I decided to pull up stakes.
Shortly before we left California, all the neighbors gathered outside the building for someone’s birthday. It was a perfect L.A. night–just chilly enough for a mini-bonfire, and everyone was contentedly drunk. Our neighbor Tanya, a professional dancer who occasionally moonlighted as the target in a knife-throwing show, had decided to test out an act that involved strapping metal implements to her fingers and lighting them on fire. At one point, Matt and glanced at each other, both thinking the same thing: can we really leave this town?
Then again, maybe it’s best to leave a place when you can still miss it.
I’ve always felt that cities are a lot like people. They have pulses and beating hearts. They can be moody. Sometimes they exceed your expectations, and sometimes they disappoint. My relationship with Los Angeles was never quite love. It was more like a creeping affection that rooted itself deeper than I ever would have expected.
I’m in New York now, but I occasionally allow myself L.A. dreams. In them, I’m always driving a car, blindly but not unhappily feeling my way through a labyrinth of streets and overlapping freeways. I start in East L.A., where bodegas line the streets and graffiti-covered bridges span the desolate Los Angeles River (really, riverbed), and make my way through the shabby industrial outskirts of downtown into a cluster of skyscrapers and sleek warehouses-turned-lofts. I continue westward through the crowded neighborhoods of Thai Town, Little Armenia, and Koreatown into Hancock Park and past my old neighborhood. Then I glide past sprawling mansions on expansive palm tree-lined streets in Beverly Hills and Brentwood.
I end in Santa Monica, where white people carting yoga mats clog the sidewalks, and the 10 Freeway, which spans the entire United States from east to west, deposits drivers onto the shore of the dizzying Pacific. In my mind, it is a quick journey (certainly faster than by actual car), but an emotive one. Perhaps we were right to leave the sun-soaked unreality of L.A., perhaps not. But in these moments I simply want to see it all again–to watch that cityscape unfold in front of me in its gaudy concrete splendor.
Meghan Lewit is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor.
*Photo courtesy of Guy: Jussum Guy.