Here I am packing up everything I own for the second time in about six months. There’s nothing I hate more than moving, so doing it twice in way less than a year is causing me no end of agita. But what’s really bumming me out is the question that lingers over my head: has Los Angeles beaten me?
No, I’m not moving home. I am, however, moving to the Valley, which might be worse. Here’s how LA works: on the West Side of town there’s the ocean, and on the north and east sides the city is bounded by mountain ranges, which are really just big ass hills. The eastern hills represent the end of civilization; as far as I know it’s a radioactive wasteland once you get out there. On the other side of the northern hills is the San Fernando Valley; much of the southern part of the Valley is technically part of the City of Los Angeles – same mayor and everything – but the mindset couldn’t be more different. To put it simply, the Valley is the suburbs.
I’m not a suburban guy. I still don’t have a car, for one thing. But I’m also built as an urban person. I like cities. I like people packed together. I like it a little dirty, a little dangerous (to be fair there are parts of North Hollywood that are pretty filthy and fairly dangerous). When I moved to LA it never even occurred to me to look for apartments in the Valley. I wanted to live in Hollywood, or right by it. This is of course the tourist in me – I wanted to be able to one day say I had lived in Hollywood, the real Hollywood – but I was essentially right. Hollywood has been coming back over the last few years, changing from a skeezy hellhole into a much hipper place. I ended up not living in Hollywood but right next door, a mile away in Los Feliz, also a very hip place to be. Of course I moved into a low-rent part of that neighborhood, but I still found myself in a place that was impressive enough when I name dropped it.
At this point I have to say that yes, the hipness of an area is important to me. If you’re a lifelong suburbanite or rural dweller, you’ll never really understand this (unless you’re one of the right-minded ones and you long to get the fuck away from whatever cookie cutter development imprisons you), but there are essentially two kinds of young urban people: those who want to live in hip areas and those who want to live in cheap areas. Sometimes when enough people want to live in a cheap area and they all move into the same cheap area, they make it a hip area, but the basic drive behind choosing your urban location is either fiscal or social. I like to split the difference and live a couple of blocks away from the really hip area, where you can still get good rents. But having cool bars (the kind you can drink in, mind you, not the kind you’re ‘seen’ in) and amenities like decent eating and nice shopping, as well as people who might be in your same societal cohort – the kind of people you’d want to hang out with (ie, if I was a surfer I would want to be living on the west side not just because it’s convenient to the ocean but because that’s where all the people like me hang out) – is incredibly important to people looking for a hip area. Beyond that, though, is a certain aura that an area will have that makes it hip. In cities like New York and LA some of that aura can come from WHO lives in an area in terms of celebrities; when I was living in Brooklyn we were exceptionally proud of our local celebs John Turturro and Steve Buscemi, either of whom would be a semi-common sight in the neighborhood, but it was when Jennifer Connelly and Paul Bettany moved in and started using our local park that things got exciting. When Heath Ledger and Michelle Williams moved in… forget it. Of course when they split up and left the hood, that was a blow to the local self-esteem.
All of that is just saying that I am leaving a hip area for a decidedly unhip one. I’m moving into Studio City, and my new place couldn’t be any less in the Valley – I’m hugging the hill, and am ten minutes from Hollywood by bus, even less by train, but it’s still THE VALLEY. My move was a little unexpected and more than a little hectic, and after a couple of days of being stressed beyond belief and wondering if I would ever find a place to live at all, I got this apartment in Studio City. My friend Abbie put it perfectly: ‘I want to say congrats on finding a place… but it’s in the Valley.’
Here’s the thing, though: I think I’m really going to like Studio City. I have a nice apartment and I’m moving in with a nice roommate (yes, I’m 34 and live with a roommate. When I decided to leave New York I had to choose between Austin Texas and LA. Had I moved to Austin I’d be living like a goddamned king right now). More than that, after hanging out in the area and seeing what’s there, I realize that I’m trading perceived hipness and convenience for actual convenience and maybe dorkiness. Sure, my new area is so overwhelmingly white that I am uncomfortable*, but what’s available to me within one block of my apartment is mind-blowing. I live right off of what you could call Sushi Row, including the highest rated sushi restaurant in LA. The other night I ate at a sushi place across from my soon-to-be new apartment and it was just incredible. Plus I hear Keith Richards eats there. That’s pretty awesome. Also across from me is what appears to be a terrific bar called Maeve’s, once known as Residuals. It’s next to a comic store that attracts local industry professionals; Geoff Johns is a well-known customer. There are two Indian places in spitting distance, and an English pub where they have trivia night. I’ll be forcing my friends to form a trivia team with me.
That’s just a one block radius from my new place. I’m a half mile from Universal City Walk, so if I ever am down in the dumps and want to feel superior to the kind of people who think an outdoor mall is a Destination, I can walk there. Going west there’s a lot of cool places, ranging from Jerry’s Deli, a young star hangout, to a Barnes & Noble built in an old movie theater. There are more coffee places than I can shake my whole overcaffeinated body at (currently I go to a gas station for my morning coffee), plus places like Jamba Juice, which is the sort of joint I always tell myself I should go to more so I can be fit and healthy. It’s next to a Baskin Robbins, so I think you can see this plan is doomed already. And there’s a Ralph’s Supermarket a block away. Let me tell you why this is a big deal: with no supermarket in easy walking distance to me, I have lived the last six months in LA without ever – not once – cooking anything to eat. Not even microwaving. Not only is eating out terrible on your budget, it makes you fat like a big fat motherfucker.
And that’s just the stuff. I have a number of friends who live very near, and a number of people who I’ve been wanting to get to know better live even nearer. All of a sudden this move to the Valley doesn’t seem so bad. I don’t like to think of myself as an optimistic guy – I think optimistic people are chumps – but I do have to admit that this new living situation is looking fairly rosy. When my current situation began falling apart and as I panicked, my friend Rachel told me that things always have a way of working out for me. They do, it seems, and this is another example of that. While living in the Valley was never part of my planned California adventure, it might just end up being a wonderful part of it in the long run. Or you might see a new Advocate in six months where I do nothing but bitch and moan.
For you guys this means one thing only: for the next week I’m going to be scarce as I pack and clean and get ready to leave. And then things won’t get any better, since right after I leave this apartment I head off for Park City, Utah for ten days of the Sundance Film Festival. This is my first Sundance, and I don’t yet know how to approach it. I know that a lot of people go and spend 12 hours a day in movies, but that won’t work for me. I feel like you’re not giving the third movie of the day a decent chance. Apparently wifi is everywhere in Park City, so you won’t be totally rid of me, but my presence here will be reduced. In the meantime I’m psyched to know that Jeremy and Russ will be here to pick up my slack.
*I’ve always lived in neighborhoods that were mixed or where I was in the minority. I know this sounds like a wacky PC liberal thing, but I really don’t feel comfortable in all-white areas.