LA gets a bad rap. A friend said recently, “I imagine that the people there are just the worst, right? Fake?”
Sure, Los Angeles is the town that brings us make-believe- where our favorite stories are produced and our least-favorite reality TV shows are filmed. Multitudes of people go there to “make it” and so few actually do. But, to me, that city is so much more than failed auditions and struggling souls. It’s where writers gather in living rooms to breathe life into one another’s work. It’s where dreams come alive, if only for small moments in time. Like for a kickass drum solo in an Irish pub somewhere south of Pasadena or a killer comedy set in a crowded bar.
I only lived in Los Angeles from 2010-2012 but it was enough time for me to leave parts of my heart there so I’d be forced to go back and collect them one day. I fled Baltimore, at age 27, with $35 in my bank account and no plan but to crash on a friend’s couch once I arrived. In two years, I worked at three different restaurants, traveled the Pacific Coastal Highway, and won $700 on The Price Is Right. I waited tables with servers who became family and a bartender who, years later, became my ex-husband.
In those short years, LA became a second home. A place where I grieved my parents’ divorce during grueling restaurant shifts, hikes in Griffith Park, (one) 4am yoga class, body surfing in the Pacific Ocean, and making out in parking garage staircases.
I moved back to Baltimore in 2012 for a job opportunity. I’ve gone back to LA a couple of times since then, but last week was the first time I had been back in four years. I went for vacation. For respite. To be reconnected with creative dreamers who have struggled, but kept at it, and are now paid artists.
I wriggled into a wet suit and surfed in Malibu. Sure, I threw up from swallowing salt water and got a charlie horse in my left calf while the surf took me down, but I eventually made my way to the sand. I hiked for miles in 90-degree heat while I shared my deepest fears and desires with a friend. I bought late-night tacos from an adorable old couple selling them out of their backyard for $1 a piece. I made friends with our brunch server, Eva, in a cute restaurant in Eagle Rock and now we’re pen pals. I laughed so hard that I completely lost my voice.
Cities can be anything you want them to be. Find the ones that make you feel most alive, the ones that make your heart burst open, and where you feel love beaming off buildings or lakes or highways or beaches. And when you have some extra cash in the bank, go there. Be present. Let it become your home away from home.
Erin is a writer, podcast cohost, and performer currently living in Baltimore, but tempted to move back to LA. You can follow her on Instagram and listen to her captivating podcast, Give Me the Deets.