Thursday, September 02, 2004

LA Stories (Prologue)

“You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”
I suppose that it’s safe to say that the locale in which one comes of age remains a special place throughout their lifetime, and that would probably be the case no matter where you go. However there’s something special about the Hotel California. And just as the Eagles only implied as to it’s specific location, I’m sure it has always been easy to figure out that the place I’ve always referred to in general terms as “SoCal,” is specifially, greater Los Angeles. This is where I spent six days last week, and these are the stories I have to tell about them.

I lived in and around Long Beach for twenty-two years, from the burbs to the projects and back again. I worked in the San Fernando Valley for the last five years before we moved to Nashville in 1992. For those who aren’t completely familiar with the geography of LaLa land, Long Beach is one of the Greater LA’s largest suburbs, located about 35 miles due south of Downtown Los Angeles. It’s the largest city in the “South Bay Curve,” located at the bottom of the peninsula, which frames the western border of the LA Basin. The San Fernando Valley, home of the “Valley Girl,” lies northwest of Downtown, and is the area in which much of the entertainment industry and bedroom communities of the LA megalopolis reside.

I grew up in Long Beach, from the 8th grade on, but worked in and around the Valley during my Record Industry career in the mid 80s to early 90s.

There is no doubt that moving to Nashville was one of the best things I ever did, for both my family and myself. We have all benefited from the change in venue. But just as Don Henley’s lyrics indicate, you can check out of the Hotel California, but you really never leave. There are few people that I’ve ever met who grew up in LA and moved to another part of the country, that don’t still miss it tremendously. Why is that? Two words: the weather. There is something almost metaphysical about the Southern California climate. I’ve never quite been able to put my finger on it. I think it must be its combination of warm of sunshine with the low humidity and the cool Pacific Ocean breeze. For me, it just injects an inexplicable sense of well being deep into my psyche. It has affected me that way since my first visit there in 1967, when I was eleven years old. I felt so comfortable, so at peace, so at home. Perhaps there’s something about the angle of the sunlight, I really don’t know. However there’s got to be something that continues to draw people to this one little area of the country; this sprawling patch of paradise which the locals dubbed the City of Angels over two hundred years ago.

I agreed to move to Nashville, but only at the insistence of my wife, who didn’t grow up there and had no serious ties to the area. All she knew was that we weren't making it financially, that it wasn't a safe place to raise our kids, and that she was tired of the struggle. I never wanted to leave. This was home. This was where I felt significant. This is where I wanted to make my mark.

But it just wasn’t meant to be.

The good news is that where I am now is truly a better place on so many levels. I'm truly happy here in Nashville and have no regrets for having left the Left Coast. But I do have tremendous respect for those who live in Los Angeles and really live as opposed to the many who merely survive. I’ve always said, it’s a great place to be if you’re single and have a lot of money, but it’s hell to raise a family there, so god bless ya if you can pull it off successfully.

Not long ago, I stumbled across a web site of quotations by the immortal Samuel Clemons, AKA, Mark Twain. I was amused to find a reference to a 1950s Reader’s Digest article in which Twain was unofficially credited with coining the oft-used phrase, “It's a great place to visit but I wouldn't want to live there.”

He was referring to Los Angeles.

For the purposes of this story, I tried to relocate that web site, so that I could provide it as an interesting link, but unfortunately it didn’t turn up on any of my searches. However, just as interestingly, I found other references to the Twain and that phrase, but with a twist — the key words were reversed. These other sources reported the Twain quote as, “It's a great place to live but I wouldn't want to visit there.” I really had to laugh, because when you stop and think about it, those two similar approaches to saying the opposite thing are both completely appropriate in describing life in LA, the only difference being whether the person talking is a visitor or an actual resident.

Los Angeles is a wondrous place, but can be a little intimidating. While it may be a bit too fast-paced for some, there’s always something exciting going on. But unless your last name is “Trump,” anyone would consider he cost of living there exorbitant — and becoming more so, seemingly with each passing year. Yet tens of thousands of people are more than willing to spend in excess of forty per cent of their monthly income just on housing and a car payment. Not only do you have to survive in LA — it's extremely important to look good doing it.

But enough sermonizing. The fact is, if you live there, LA is the only place on earth. It’s the kind of place that once it gets in your blood, it just takes over. That’s the way I felt for the 22 years I lived there; and last week I got hooked on the feelin’ for six days more.

I was fortunate enough to see and do just about everything I had planned, and a few more things that I didn’t. This series will at least touch on all of them.

Next: Michael
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