This was my fourth time returning to Los Angeles since moving to New Orleans in 2009. The first 3 times, I’ll admit I carried a bit of a chip on my shoulder, an armor against the things I left behind – like when you run into an ex. It was a little warmer than the last 3 visits but I still found myself in scarves, a hat, a coat and a blanket sitting out by the fire pit every night. The city hash’t changed that much, but I needed a GPS for the first time since moving. More extraordinary when I remember how much more time I spent in a car in L.A.
With a better attitude toward my former home of nearly 18 years, I was able to see the city as more than a collection of preening men and surgically enhanced women. The Jacaranda were in bloom and the city was draped in shades of lavender and violet. (However, the beautiful blooms hung over Porsches and expensive convertibles with impossibly beautiful boys or wealthy power brokers yacking on phones).
I’m happy to say the cars in L.A. have started to get smaller and better for the environment. I didn’t see one Hum-V the entire time I was there. Now it’s all about Smart Cars, Mini Coopers and Priuses. Good thing too because I never realized how spread out the city is. In New Orleans, it seems like everything is within 3 miles of everything else. In L.A., its 20 miles to get from the beach to Hollywood and another 10 to get to the Valley. I’m pretty sure I drove more miles in 4 days than I have in the entire year so far in NOLA. For darn sure I heard more horn honks. And gas is a dollar more in L.A.
The longer I’m away from L.A., the more some things strike me as funny. This time I noticed how many people wear workout clothes. In New Orleans, many many people ride bikes but none of them wear “cycling” clothes. In NOLA, many of us walk, but none of us wear sports gear to do it. In NOLA, many people are physically fit, but almost no one is “buff.” I pulled up to an intersection a block from my last place in L.A. and at least 20 people crossed the street coming down from the dog park and the hiking trails of Runyan Canyon. They were ALL in workout gear and more than a few looked like cover models for muscle magazines.
Having moved to Los Angeles from New York, I don’t think I ever noticed how aggressive people are when they beg for money there. In NOLA, someone might hold up a sign or politely ask you for change but most of the people looking for your cash on the street are busquing entertainers or con men who want to tell you, “Where you got dem shoes.” And they mostly have homes. There are homeless who might ask you for $5 to spend the night in the shelter, but they are genuinely asking for your help. In L.A. (especially in Santa Monica), the homeless were aggressive to the point of threatening. With no explanation of why they needed the cash and a scowl on their faces, they wouldn’t take no for an answer.
People are on their phones a LOT in L.A. I’m not even sure they realize how much stuff is going on right in front of their faces while they pay attention to people who aren’t in the room with them. Oddly enough, I heard AC/DC at least 3 times a day. No idea what that’s about but I did miss my NOLA music.
All of that said, I ate as many avocados as I could. I miss the quality and availability of avocados in California. (Good thing I have the Creole Tomato Fest this weekend to sooth my soul). And there’s a Trader Joe’s every half mile. I miss Trader Joe’s – a lot and often.
But the thing I miss most in L.A. is my old friends. I got to see a few of them and it was pure joy. I was in the city for some Q&A’s for my book, Know Small Parts: An Actor’s Guide to Turning Minutes into Moments and Moments into a Career (with foreword by Richard Dreyfuss) and to update my acting reel and get new photos by David Zaugh. Since work and friendship so often go together in L.A., I got to see some of my favorite people while getting work done.
But the best moments, the moments that reminded me of some of my happier moments in L.A., were those nights sitting around the fire pit in a zen garden in Laurel Canyon. I could always find a way to be happy in Laurel Canyon. Coyotes howled and rats ran along the fence line, but there were also hummingbirds and succulent bouquets and bamboos rustling in the (cold) breeze. There were steep hills and cute little homes and hugs from a 6 year old I’ve known since she was born.
When I moved to New Orleans, I found joy in putting L.A. in my rearview. The second I crossed the Louisiana line, I knew I was home. Within months of moving to NOLA, I was certain I would die on this soil. The longer I live here, the more loyally devoted I am to this place. But something in me has let go of the need to divorce myself from L.A. I lived in Los Angeles for almost 18 years – longer than I’ve lived anywhere else. It was my home. Maybe it never fit me quite right and maybe I never fell in love with the city, but like an ex who just wasn’t the right guy, L.A. will always hold a piece of my history and my heart.
Then I boarded a plane dotted with actors heading to “Hollywood South” and made my way home in time for the Oyster Fest. Amen.