One year ago, after nearly 18 years in Los Angeles, I packed up a rental truck and moved my life to New Orleans. It was a leap of faith. I knew how to make a living in Los Angeles. I’d met friends there and 2 friends I’d known since high school moved there over a decade ago. I knew how to get around, where I liked to eat, and which doctors I trusted. I knew what to wear and what the cultural expectations were and I knew how dating worked there. About New Orleans, all I was certain of was that it was, and had always been, my favorite city in the world.
When I left New Orleans, it was around 80 degrees and gorgeous. When I landed in Los Angeles, it was dropping from low 60’s to the 40’s. The one thing I’ve always given L.A. props for is the consistent weather, 70’s and sunny nearly year round. But, I’d heard it was freezing in June, that it snowed in Malibu in August and that it was over 100 degrees in early November. The weather in Louisiana has been pretty consistently gorgeous this year.
When I lived in L.A. and would visit Louisiana, it was obvious the water in Louisiana was “soft.” I always felt like I couldn’t get soap and shampoo residue out, like I was left a bit oily. People who’ve come here to make movies this year have mentioned not liking showering here so I know it wasn’t just me but, honestly, the water feels normal to me now. I leave my tub squeaky clean. So, I was surprised to find that now the “hard” water in L.A. left me feeling waxy. I started wondering what other things I’d grown accustomed to in New Orleans, how many other things in L.A. would leave me feeling waxy.
My friend, Janell, picked me up from LAX along with her 2 small children. The kids, Colt, 19 months and Elle, 3, had both been sick the week before I arrived. Colt was coming down with another illness that involved a fever and lots of nose blowing when I got there. But, the kids love seeing the turtles and Koi fish at the shopping center in Calabasas so we headed to family-friendly Marmalade Cafe for supper.
Janell commented that, though I’d gone through many changes in the past year, her life hadn’t changed much so it felt to her that we’d just seen each other a week or so ago. Throughout life, most of us have had friendships that were interrupted by circumstance. Maybe your parents moved you from your best friend in fifth grade, maybe you went to college far from your childhood friends, maybe a job took you away from your hometown. When life moves a friend away, sometimes we stay in touch, sometimes we drift apart but there are certain friends that, no matter how much time has passed or whether you maintained the friendship, when you see each other, it’s as if no time has passed. I call these just add water friendships. All the reasons you connect are there before you meet and remain throughout life so that every time you find each other, the friendship is instantaneous. I went to L.A. to reconnect with those people in my life, to just add water.
I have no family in L.A. so I tricked myself into making sure I returned to see my friends. The doctor who did my cancer surgery in the early 90’s was my gynecologist, a doctor I have to see annually. Rather than find a new gynecologist in NOLA, I scheduled my annual with my doctor in L.A. As Janell drove me into Beverly Hills for my appointment, she pointed out that several shops had gone out of business. Even the $5 movie theatre that used to play second run films and midnight movies like Pulp Fiction was boarded up. Apparently, the declining economy has finally hit the West Coast. Throughout the week, I noticed blocks of retailers and restaurants closed on former shopping mecca, Melrose, as well as tony addressed Sunset Plaza. I’ll admit it was a little shocking to see the city unable to keep up appearances.
Angela, my friend since high school, picked me up from the doctor and we went to our favorite old haunt, Mel’s Drive-In.
They’d redone the patio in my 2 favorite colors, black and gold! Before I moved, they’d gotten new tables and chairs. Now they also had big flatscreen TV’s, ceiling-hung heaters as well as standing gas heaters with swirling flames in tall glass rectangles. I was delighted to see that my favorite server, Janet, was working. She was so thrilled by my visit, she couldn’t stop smiling. Gaddiel, the busboy, came around the corner and exclaimed, “It’s you!”
I worked hard to turn L.A. into a small town where people would greet me with enthusiasm. Many of my efforts were met with indifference, even disdain, but at Mel’s, I always felt welcome. It was great sitting at “my” table, eating a warm tuna melt on sourdough (not rye – Janet remembered!), sipping a refillable Diet Coke and watching the world on Sunset go by. Lots of people recognize Mel’s now, it’s in the opening credits of HBO’s Entourage. For me, it will always be the 24 hour, friendly home of the best shake in town, inexpensive, filling American meals like meatloaf or turkey dinner with stuffing, a place to sit and watch the parade of fancy imports and cherry muscle cars cruising Sunset, part 50’s doo-wop, part European sidewalk cafe. It was quite simply, my favorite spot in town.
But lots of people were already gone for the holiday and there’s that economy bugaboo. There were almost no cars passing by and even fewer people. As Missing Persons sang in the 80’s, nobody walks in L.A. One of the few pedestrians was a homeless man singing, “Oh baby, baby, it’s a wild world…”
Angela and I picked up her daughter, Julia, who’d just turned 4, and watched as she opened some gifts from a friend – a very fancy Rapunzel dress, the doll from Tangled, and a matching bag to carry it all. We dropped Julia and headed to the Valley to meet Janell for a drink. Janell had found us a new favorite place, Larsen’s Steak House on Ventura.
People in L.A. love to bash the San Fernando Valley. It’s hot and the pollution sits like a choke-inducing blanket. The “chic” don’t live there. To it’s credit, it’s more affordable and family oriented than the other side of the hill. I’ll admit that I saw the Valley as a place to shop, not a place to have a drink, but Janell got it just right.
Larsen’s sits in a shopping plaza and overlooks a carousel, but it’s all brown, fire-lit coziness inside. We sat on the outdoor balcony around a large round table. The centerpiece was a fire-pit, flames dancing in crushed glass. The menus lit up from within when you opened them. Janell said the food was good (though not cheap), but I can only attest that it was a fun place to sit and catch up with the girls.
Day 3, Janell and I headed to my other favorite L.A. spot, The Grove.
The Grove is basically a town center with shops, restaurants, a dancing fountain, a streetcar and an amazing movie theatre. They’re even filming the TV show, Extra, in the center of it all and TMZ keeps a steady watch for celebrities. The Christmas decorations were already up which meant it would (fake) snow every night while carols played. We had a terrific meal at another of my favorite restaurants, The Farm. I ate my favorite dish, the Ahi 3 Ways salad with a delicious warm ponzu sauce.
Then, Janell and I saw Burlesque at the Pacific Theatre next door. It was exactly the right movie to see together, part Flashdance/Show Girls/Coyote Ugly, part Chris Owens in New Orleans.
After a long day of enjoying life, we went back to Janell’s sick children and a fabulous fajita salad dinner cooked by her hero husband. L.A. may not be my home anymore, but my friends were accidentally conspiring to make me remember why I stayed for so long.