England was being kind, welcoming me with a bright, sunny afternoon, as I emerged from Terminal 3 at Heathrow and negotiated the pavements with my luggage trolley, which was laden with three large suitcases and two carry-on bags. I got into a cab and, as I headed for home, the sunshine went some distance to ensure I was happy and helped to curb any blues.
I had, as many times previously, just arrived back from a trip to Los Angeles. The Wykehamist is from there and, over the past few years, I have visited a lot. Other than places where I have actually lived, I know LA better than any other place I can think of. In total, I have spent weeks and weeks there – sometimes with Mini-Me, but most often by myself whilst my daughter travels with her father, The Doctor, or goes to stay on the coast with my mother and her husband. Despite my few years living on the east coast of the USA and being very fond of that part of the country, my heart really lies in California. Just don’t tell The Wykehamist – I have always loyally defended ‘the wrong coast’ in the face of his claims that I’m an honorary Californian.
The Wykehamist aside, I love LA. It’s as straightforward as that. It’s a great place and I thoroughly enjoy spending my time there. Many people are scathing towards La La Land and treat the city as a bit of a joke, full of self-importance and puffed up ego, far removed from reality, where naive wannabes head to the bright lights of the city, where the streets are paved with gold, desperate to be ‘somebody’ and not doing a decent day’s work in their life. A city where blond, Botoxed women with grating accents and obviously fake boobs hang around in cafes drinking skinny soy lattes with a shot of wheatgrass alongside their untouched plates of food dictated by the latest faddy diet craze. A place where all the men surf or are movie stars. Or both. And everyone has ridiculously small dogs.
To be frank, (other than the stupid number of handbag dogs), that view is simply wrong. There is a great deal to applaud about the sprawling city of Los Angeles and the huge and varied population of Angelinos. (Angelinos, apparently, not LA-ians, as I always assumed they were called).
The people of LA, as is typical in many parts of the USA, have an admirable work ethic. As a Brit, it’s easy to forget that Americans don’t get anything for free. Everything they have, they have earned, and everything they want, they have to earn. And this is especially true where the opportunity for you to achieve what you headed to LA to do is rare and prized. Everyday trades and businesses, from landscape gardening to hairdressing, to accountancy seem to, somehow, be connected to The Industry and it is well witnessed that the TV and movie-making business is fickle, disloyal, and quick to change. The only way to keep up is to work hard and be good at what you do. So, yes, whilst there is a huge cafe culture, a lot of hanging out, and a constantly moving social scene (why wouldn’t there be -have you seen the weather?) generally speaking, if you cut through whatever might seem superficial, Angelinos are a hard working bunch.
I had family visiting LA whilst I was there this time. They were en route to San Francisco, and The Wykehamist and I met up with them to show them a few sights and catch up. We were sitting having lunch in West Hollywood and my cousin, H., looked around and just started to shake her head, laughing.
“What on earth do they think they look like?!”
I followed her gaze and started to laugh, too. Because the weather is so good and attitudes are relaxed, clothing is casual. Sometimes, beyond casual. A woman at a table near us was wearing a very ill-fitting vest top, her grey-ing bra showing in full; an unshaven guy sat drinking coffee with a motorcycle helmet perched on the top of his head; no one was wearing a ‘proper’ pair of shoes; and any attempts to make a nod towards European fashion trends were disastrous. They mostly looked like they’d crawled out of bed and got dressed in the dark, hoping for the best. There is a fine line between casual and grungy, and most of them in this particular cafe were the wrong side of it. I tend not to notice that any more, nor the polar opposite you find in Beverly Hills – an area very near to trendy West Hollywood – where everyone (particularly women) tend to be, from an outsider’s eyes, too coordinated and overdressed, which has the effect of making women my age look ten years older. I was not impressed when I was given what she thought was a compliment by a shop assistant expressing surprise when I said I didn’t live in LA.
“Wow..You’re so put-together, I thought you’d be from Beverly Hills!”.
That’s not a good thing, that’s for sure. I went home and got changed.
Ignoring Beverly Hills, which is a microcosm of fascinating peculiarity, it’s most refreshing that the fact that what you wear does not define who you are in LA. You can go to a restaurant wearing what you like; no one is suspicious if you turn up at an expensive art shop or car show room wearing shorts and flip-flops, looking like you don’t have a penny to your name. Everyone is treated equally – there’s no telling who you might be, because there’s nothing to judge you on – it would be a dangerous game to assume someone was a time-waster just because they looked like they hadn’t slept (or showered) for a week. Millionaires like to wear flip-flops and workout gear, too. I totally love that attitude.
The Wykehamist and I walk miles around LA. It’s his protest against a city where the car is king and against what he considers to be abysmal driving. The first is true – you can’t get anywhere you want to go at the time you want to get there by using public transport. He and I took the Metro one evening to get to a hockey game at Staples Center. He’d never travelled on it before and, after one return journey, it was pretty clear why. I fear for the life of any of the locals if they ever come to London and try their luck on the Tube. They will get trampled to death before they’ve even made it down the first of the escalators, and if they make it that far, they’ll spend years wandering the linking tunnels and windy passageways, trying to figure out where they need to go. So walking is a great alternative, even if we do have to put up with odd stares when people assume we must just have had our car stolen.
As for the driving – I find it as hilarious as The Wykehamist finds it frustrating. To put it simply, it’s as if the cars on the road are being driven by the cast of The Muppets. It amuses me, no end. I used to drive The Wykehamist’s car around LA, but after a $310 speeding fine one time, and his car needing work on the engine after I had driven it another, he oddly seems keen to be the one behind the wheel these days and will happily take me wherever I want to go. I can’t imagine why.
Amazing food, easy going people, stunning scenery (if you look for it), oh, and of course, don’t forget the palm trees and the sunshine. That makes waking up in the morning instantly more bearable.
My most recent trip had been different from previous ones. I had gone to say goodbye. The eleven thousand mile round-trip for a dinner date had got too much for both The Wykehamist and me. Dipping in and out of a parallel life on another continent whilst holding down a job, being a mother, running a household, maintaining friendships and keeping tabs on my large family was becoming too expensive and impractical. I missed Mini-Me when I was away and there were other places in the world to visit on my Wish List. The same was true of The Wykehamist – he wanted to have the chance to travel to other places, too. On an everyday note, the eight hour time difference between London and LA meant communication was limited to texts, emails and phone calls either stupidly early in his day, or way too late in mine. Enough was enough. We wrote a Bucket List of Things to See In LA and I had a fabulous final two weeks – a jam-packed last hoorah.
We did things we either loved or had never done before. We dined at The Roof Terrace of the Peninsula Hotel and at the Sunset Tower Hotel; had Sunday brunch at the Hotel Bel Air; took a road trip (him driving!) to San Diego; went to Catalina island for the day; visited the Getty Villa; looked round farmers’ markets; had massages; I did a ton of clothes shopping for Mini-Me; we had lunch at the end of the pier in Malibu; took a studio tour at Sony; drank in Bar Marmont; ate burgers; walked miles, talking about how good it had been and how we felt about it all coming to an end.
At the end of the two weeks and after a 10 hour flight, I sat in the cab from the airport, getting used to everything outside the window being really small and the landscape being green, thinking about the 5500 miles with very mixed emotions. The post-LA blues didn’t seem in any way so bad as I’d experienced before. And it wasn’t just the English sunshine brightening my day.
I’d left The Wykehamist surrounded by packing boxes and rolls of tape. And I’m currently trying to persuade the local council to plant some palm trees here.
It hadn’t only been me saying farewell to LA.