I lived in L.A. from 1983 – 2002–almost 20 years. I come back to L.A. for work every now and then, and it is always an interesting experience, one that fills me with mixed feelings. A lot of things have changed about L.A., but a lot of things have remained the same. Cities evolve. Santa Monica looks very different from the days that I worked here1. People seem to stay pretty much the same. On the east coast, if you tell someone you are a writer, the response if often the reasonable, “What do you write?” or “Have you ever been published.” In L.A. the response, more often than not, is “Do you have representation.” I hate stereotyping, but “Do you have representation?” is stereotypical L.A. for me.
Some things never change–or change so slowly that it is impossible in a human lifetime to notice the change. There is, for instance, the Pacific.
Through a quirk of memory, I can often remember where I was when I read a particular book. I can recall fondly, driving from the Valley to Pacific Palisades and sitting on a park bench overlooking the Pacific and reading William Gibson’s Idoru back in 1996.
I have worked at the same company for nearly 21 years, something virtually unheard of today. It’s funny how often I see TV shows or movies or commercials that take place at the Santa Monica pier. Folks: for 8 years, between 1994 and 2002, my office practically overlooked the pier. Walking home from dinner with good friends tonight, I took a detour and walked past the pier. The view of the entrance to the pier at night has been made famous by television and movies, but it is something that I look at with a wistful eye to the days when I worked in our Santa Monica office.
The funny thing is that I saw the Pacific ocean and the pier so often that I never really paused to enjoy them. They were tourist spots, much the same way I think of the Washington Monument and the Air & Space museum today. Walking by the pier this evening, with a crescent moon overhead, I felt like I wanted to knock some sense into the 22 year old version of myself, and say, hey, sure this may be something you see every day, but do you really see it?
When I worked in Santa Monica, my experience was tainted by traffic. I lived in Studio City, 20 miles from Santa Monica. It often required traversing the infamous Four-Oh-Five, and One-Oh-One. I’d leave the house at 5:10 am and get to the office at 5:30, making it in ahead of the traffic. But I’d leave the office at 5 pm and get home at 7 o’clock. L.A. seems glamorous until you sit in eight years worth of traffic2.
The thing is, I met my best friends in the world in L.A. I met them at Cleveland High School, in Reseda, California. 28 years after we first met, we are still friends I went to dinner with two of them this evening3. The friends I made living in L.A. made it worthwhile. The 2,200 hours of traffic I sat in over the course of 8 years was a small sacrifice for those friends.
Steve Martin’s L.A. Story was touted as the first great comedy of the 1990s when it came out4. For all its humor, L.A. Story is probably the best movie about life in L.A. that I have come across in the quarter century since it first came out. There have been great movies about L.A. before, and since, but none of them capture the spirit of L.A. the way Steve Martin did in L.A. Story. As Shakespeare once said (according to Steve Martin):
This other Eden, demi-paraside, this precious stone set in a silver sea, this earth, this realm, this, Los Angeles.
- There’s a train station that is almost finished where Sears used to be on 4th and Colorado. ↩
- Sitting in L.A. traffic not long before I moved back east, I once calculated that over the course of 8 years, I spent about 2,200 hours commuting. 2,200 hours is the equivalent of 1 full-time-employee for a year. A year. Think of what else I might have been able to do with that time if not for sitting in traffic. ↩
- At Santa Monica Yacht Club, in case you were wondering. ↩
- Writing that line makes me feel old. The first great comedy of the 1990s. The movie is 25 years old, gang. ↩