Los Angeles. There hasn’t been a destination on my travels so far that people had so polarizing opinions about. “Don’t go there. I don’t like it.” – “Skip LA.” – “It’s so dirty. That’s not at all a shiny and nice city.” – “Just make it a brief stop.” – “Save the days for San Francisco.” were answers I got. Just one person immediately said that she loved LA and wished me a good time. A couple of others shifted their advise when I brought in that I would stay with someone I know and be mostly with friends from there. “Oh,” they said “then you will have fun in the city”. So in this confusing state of mind with just been pulled out of the Pacific I arrived in the city of Angels with no expectations at all.
I’ve been here now for nearly 4 weeks, settling and slowing down a bit, wearing my first pair of jeans after 5 months – that feels so so good! – and a couple of cheap but new shirts for the city. So many little things have happened but what to tell here?
Something about America
One new friend I met in Improv class (“What’s that?” you might ask but teaser! I will tell you further down the post.) asked me an interesting question: “What’s a big thing you found irritating, startling, remarkable about Americans or America that you’ve seen or experienced since you’ve arrived in the States?”
I remember while walking the dog in the park in my first days I suddenly realized how my brain and its view of the USA is influenced by the news, movies and media. An example: What back home would be nothing to think about makes me here come up with crazy thoughts. For example the differences between people. Hispanics, Blacks, Asians, Caucasians – I wouldn’t even think in these categories back home. But being here suddenly settles heavy on me and let’s me feel all the struggles, old and new, real or made up – why I’m thinking about this and what do I do with it?
After I told my thoughts I looked at him and asked in return what his thing was when visiting Germany. “Uh, nothing that dramatic. The nakedness. Like these huge billboard ads in Berlin on buildings or commercials on tv with half/naked women – nothing is pixeled. And it’s totally normal.”
Something about LA
I watch Hollywood Boulevard, tourists, street sellers and streets musicians as I push the wheelchair forward. A young guy asked me if I could give him a push as far as I have to walk. We’re rolling over the walkway, I adjust to the uneven curbs and pavement, the last thing I want to do is to topple him over, while we talk about LA and the many homeless young people here in Hollywood. I learn some stories and places to go. MacArthur Park if I want to get to a real Latin market. And that the cleanest free toilets are in the LGBT center just around the Chinese theater. “It’s awesome how many good services we get there for free,” he adds to his description as we turn around and I can see the familiar rainbow colored flags outside the building. I push him up the ramp, open the glass door and say my goodbyes while he thanks me and gives me his card to his Instagram. That is definitely a Hollywood tour you can’t book in the travel agencies.
The neighborhood I stay in with Bridget and her friend Jess is like you imagine it. Little houses facing the (palm) tree framed streets with more or less fences around their own yard. Every second or third house a small dog guards the property confidently. The road blocks in the streets tell stories of illegal street races. And the recommendations where to walk and where not to walk – “maybe don’t go more than a couple of blocks in that direction” – keep my thoughts aware and reflecting about this city, society and people.
In a quite expensive city like LA free things are even more welcomed. And free activists include the California Science Center with the – attention! – original Space Shuttle Endeavour! After strolling through the space travels exhibit and touching a space shuttle tire – the sign said so, I had to do it – and watching a short documentary how they brought the space shuttle to its place in the CSC I didn’t think it would affect me that much to see it in real life. But, man, was I hyper when I entered the hangar. All my Star Trek nerdiness was back. I was just staring at it in disbelief and happiness at the same time – too bad I didn’t take a photo of my face. I must have spent about an hour in that hangar. Maybe you can’t understand the excitement, maybe you do very well. But this was such a great moment.
In LA everybody drives. No one really walks. And you can drive to literally everything. So there’s a drive-through or drive-up option from McDonalds to Starbucks to even ATMs. I wonder if even IKEA has a drive-through here? But the lack of walks also means you get a pickup or drop off by your LA friends – like the quick and spontaneous happy hour reunion drink with Miranda in Culver City who I met on Barefoot Manta, Fiji, last December.
“It’s more difficult to make friends here because people just don’t walk,” someone in LA told me. Or the people you meet are more interested in networking than becoming friends. “It’s a crazy city”, I thought when I spent a whole Saturday til Midnight at work with Bridget because she had to finish an animation for a Super Bowl commercial. How privileged we are in Germany with the amount of free days, paid sick days, maternity leave and social insurances.
Watching the Super Bowl was also quite funny with everyone being less interested in the sport itself than being together. While I tried with a WhatsApp chat to Jenny and Shego back home to keep on track what’s happening in the game Bridget seemed to be by far the person with the most football knowledge in the room. A surprised side glance by me was replied with a dry “What? I grew up in Nebraska. It’s all about football there.”
Something about Hollywood
People who know me might have guessed that I would do something special and fitting for the place. And yes, two incidents brought to do a very Hollywood thing.
First my mum send me way too much money “so you can finally take acting lessons in one of the best cities for it, my preciiiiious.” Yes, she likes to make that Gollum joke every once in a while which surprisingly works in German and English. And then Bridget’s best friend Jess suggested that if I’m interested in acting and improv I should look up one of the classes at the Upright Citizen Brigade training center – which is THE improv school – and passed me the link. I didn’t know that at all and was more than lucky and happy to grab the last free spot on the two weeks intensive beginner course.
Even the tattoo appointment I would have had on the first day of class was rescheduled by my LA tattoo artist so that the way to do this step was free. Thanks to the Universe. Oh, and don’t worry, I got my new tattoo. Right now I’m writing these lines with the soreness and aftermath pain of a 4 hours session.
“Do you speak enough American to do that class?” my mother wrote me after I told here that I enrolled. Enough American. Why didn’t she write English? Is she referring to the accent? Or specific – slang – words? Well, that’s for sure. I got lost more than once in the following two weeks with words or brands I have never heard before. But the good thing: Getting lost in translation in class didn’t feel at all embarrassing thanks to y fellow mates and the class’ teacher. Even when I had to ask four times until I caught the sentence.
What you do in improv classes follows the routine of doing easy warmups, exercises and then be thrown into doing scenes. Fast and effective way of learning. The exercise on the first day I will always remember. One after each other we had to enter the circle, get a random question and then start a convincing explanation speech to the classmates in the circle. “Why is Gatorade blue?” – “How do they separate the whites of eggs?” – “How does sunscreen work?” made me feel I can totally do this so I jumped in the circle fourth just when I heard „What is Quantum mechanics?“ being thrown in my back. Oh my… – Well, I survived and got the additional hint of our teacher “If you have the German accent we will instantly believe you when you talk about science.”
Every day I’m now walking along Sunset Boulevard to either the UCB training center or the theaters and when I look to the right I can see the Hollywood sign rising upon the Hollywood hills which reminds me how lucky I am to be here and make this experience.
Something out of LA
A spontaneous road trip to San Diego should give us a free weekend of Los Angeles. One item on our long term “we need to do” list – we came up with this in last July – was going to the San Diego Safari Park “to see some big cats!” and have some decent tacos and Margaritas. Well, what can I say. We reached our goals, watched lions and tigers sleep and roam in their jungles and had a craft beer float – a stout with a scoop ice cream inside and cream on top. Don’t ask.
Recovered from it we ordered too much Mexican to eat and to drink in the evening in the old town of San Diego. Again. So we had to switch to lighter coffee and beer the next day.
Advise: When they ask if you want to have a small or medium Margarita take the small one. Medium is pretty large especially if it’s your second. Happy walk back!
Summary so far
In LA you can create incredible days. Go to improv class, freak out about a real space shuttle, cruise with electric scooters from Santa Monica to Venice Beach and end up in a Bowling Alley for the company’s yearly bowling party.
But the beat of the city can eat you up. And as I get to know more and more people here it’s easy to get lost in its addictions, values and the shine and shadow.
So between all these incidents I was happy to get some slow days and good beer at the local craft beer breweries. And it’s even more than fun to connect a German Brotzeit with a Weizenbier or Kölsch to feel a little less homesick.