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In Which I Am Californified

My Very Own Lisa Cholodenko Movie

by Meredith Hight

I moved to Los Angeles a month ago. This means I know where to find the closest In-N-Out, a state treasure, but I have not yet mastered taking multiple freeways in one outing.

Why they are called freeways here, and not highways or the interstate, I am not sure. But then why do we call turkey breasts, turkey breasts - when they do not, in fact have nipples? I do not know. I do know you must say "the 10" or "the 5." You must not say "I-10" or "I-5." If you do this, you might as well be wearing bright white sneakers and take a tour of Universal Studios. I have noticed a few other things about Los Angeles, since I moved here from my hometown of Austin, Texas. I would like to share them with you.

Some of the stereotypes are, of course, true. Palm trees and sleek, black BMWs proliferate. Much older women wear True Religion cutoffs and flip-flops. Stopping into a “natural foods” spot means you may encounter such delicacies as spirulina pie and untold varieties of seaweed, straight from the Pacific Ocean. Sitting outside a cafe with friends last week, playing Scrabble in the late afternoon, we were occasionally serenaded by a tall, slender, older gentleman singing Frank Sinatra, wearing jersey shorts and a fedora and dribbling a basketball. At the table next to us, a woman was wearing Birkenstocks, knitting an orange scarf and reading Yoga Journal. Fortysomethings skateboarded by.

Though Austin’s slogan is "Keep Austin Weird," I will tell you in no uncertain terms that after spending one afternoon in Venice, it is all too clear that Austin has nothing on weird, compared to California. I am sorry, Austin.

The first thing to know about Los Angeles is that though it is sprawling, the city can essentially be narrowed down to the Westside and the Eastside. I have only been to the Eastside a couple of times, but this includes Silverlake and Echo Park and I can confirm that it is for hipsters. You must be very cool to live there, thus, I live on the Westside. I know about hipsters only because several years ago, I read the Hipster Handbook. And all the youngsters I met on the Eastside looked exactly like the drawings.

As the perpetual outsider, often introduced as “Meredith, the Girl Who Just Moved Here” I continuously feel, at random parties hosted, for example, by an academic with a former life as a Wyoming cattle rancher and lyricist for the Grateful Dead, or at fancy hotel bars like the Viceroy, that I am starring in my very own Lisa Cholodenko movie.

Cholodenko’s movies always involve two protagonists: the young, wide-eyed ingenue and The Scene, wherein artists, photographers and musicians drink and/or do drugs. Ingenue feels both out of place and inexorably drawn towards Scene:


These encounters lead to lesbian love affairs and/or entanglements. I am not a lesbian, but I am obsessed with “The L Word” on Showtime. All my knowledge of both lesbianism and Los Angeles is informed by this show.

That is how I ended up at Runyon Canyon a few weeks ago, having seen the episode where Alice and Dana go hiking there. And that is why I can’t wait to go to the Free City store in Malibu to buy a $100 t-shirt.


Being single, I have been forewarned about the boys in LA. “It’s all about sex. Everyone just wants to get laid. That is what it is all about out there,” my friends insisted. Is there a place, where nobody wants to get laid, and that isn’t what it is all about? I do not know of it. However, I have been told that women here slide up to men at bars and say, “If you buy me a whiskey, I’ll fuck you."

If this is how it works here, I may have to become a lesbian.

Los Angeles is not unlike Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon, except it is the women who are all above average and the men who are good-looking. I do not know about the children; I do not see them here. It helps to own a pair of Ray-Bans. Add a beachcruiser to the package and you are all set. You'll want to ride that bicycle, my friend, because parking, like throwing your trash away, is a complex proposition.

To park in Los Angeles is akin to answering the most vexing and nefarious of multiple-choice SAT questions. A parking sign might read as follows: "Two hour parking between 8 am and 6 pm. No parking on Monday from 1 to 3. No parking between 3 am and 5 am. Except Sunday. Sometimes Saturday. Never Tuesday. Or Friday, between noon and two. Maybe you should just go pay $20 for valet."

You will find that quarters regain their status in your life as a precious commodity, not unlike when you were a freshman in college, doing laundry in the dorms for the first time.


Throwing your trash away is a challenge unto itself. I went to the Farmer's Market last Sunday and spent approximately twenty minutes deciphering the prominently displayed and framed instructions above the various trash cans and coordinating said instructions with each trash can, separating out my plastic fork from my paper plate from my napkin made from corn and potato. I couldn’t figure out which can my cup was supposed to go into, so I just held on to it.

Despite the clear environmental consciousness, some paradoxes exist. For example, smoking Parliaments and driving a Prius are a likely combination. This makes sense, because global warming is to be prevented and the environment to be protected; your very own set of lungs, which help you to breathe, however – not so much.


The Getty Center is a wonder and should be visited. Degas, Cezanne, Van Gogh, sculptures, Bernini, photographs. Perhaps most valuable is the Central Garden. If you spend enough time walking around here, you may temporarily forget that you are unemployed, the economy is a mess and it is three o’ clock in the afternoon on Tuesday.

Pinkberry and Red Mango are inexplicable fads to be avoided, unless you enjoy your fro-yo sour and tart, something akin to buttermilk that has been left on the counter for days and then frozen. Mulholland Drive is as windy and wondrous as it is rumored to be, and the sunsets in California are truly spectacular. The vast sky slowly turns from bright blue to butter to muted orange to a soft flaming red. (Pay no attention to the smog.)

If you are able to carefully read parking signs, are willing to learn to recycle, and know you will eventually master taking multiple freeways, Los Angeles is a good place to be. Because there is just nothing like jumping in the car, driving a mere 10 minutes, turning a corner and catching sight of the Pacific Ocean.

And, swinging by In-N-Out on the way home.

Meredith Hight is a contributor to This Recording. She lives in Los Angeles.

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Reader Comments (9)

Great post! I grew up in California (the San Fernando Valley..yes..I'm sometimes embarrassed) and you describe LA perfectly. I am also a big L Word fan and was once obsessed with films like Lauren Canyon and High Art. You make me crave In-n-Out. And, if I hadn't relocated to a more peaceful place (Santa Fe, NM), I'd jump in my car and take the 101 to the 405 to the beach.

November 18, 2008 | Unregistered Commenterthe almost right word

My theory is there actually ISN'T parking available in L.A., but instead, a very lucrative towing business.

November 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKevin Longrie

Freeways are freeways on the West Coast because until recently, there were no toll roads there. I know there's one between Laguna and San Diego now.

November 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterHugh


November 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

I, too, like the almost right word, grew up in the Valley and now live in DC.

Oh, how I miss In-N-Out.

November 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterArjewtino

Think of LA as a crowded suburb searching for a city. Austin seems wierd in the heart of Texas because it is an island of normality in an ocean of neoconservatives. If you wish to keep your Texas soul, beware of living long in LA. You will know it has been too long when Austin seems quaint and you automatically calculate how long it will take each thing in Austin to look
just like LA.

November 18, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterL A Brat

Oh my. That funny because there are three things you DON"T do in San Francisco. First is to never call it "the Frisco" Second is to never say you're from LA, even if you are. Case in point. It's an odd place and growing up there, I didn't notice all of the crazyness.

I will say, there are plenty of decent guys in San Francisco, for decent women, like myself, ahem...

December 5, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMatt Heintz

I'm from LA and live in Austin (for 6 years now). I had to learn to drop "the" before the freeway and now we laugh at visiting family when they say "we took the 35 to the 290". Austin is better than LA. Come back.

August 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterLori

I do not know about Auston and Los Angeles but I do know that Las Vegas is the worst place to live.
This statement might sounds a little bit off the topic but i just want to give an idea to the people what is it look like to live in vegas:

1) No body appriciate art and talented people
2) You have to be in top shape to be accepted from the peole
3) The friendships are all about using eachother
4) Only a few thinks to do outside of Casino
5) Have to have a nice car
6) The worst drivers ever

January 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermike

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