The time I went to live in LA. Los Angeles, the City of Angels, and what I finally learned many years later.
The other day I was writing about the idea of celebrating our own failures or at least being more forthcoming about their existence. Owning them, if you like. The idea is that we shouldn’t be ashamed of things that we gave up on, or walked away from, or the stuff that just didn’t work out – and that setbacks don’t have to pave the way for something bigger and better. It’s something I’ve only fairly recently cottoned on to, but better late than never, right?
To illustrate an example of my own personal failures and abandonments (of which I am now not ashamed to say I have quite the back catalogue) I lashed some pictures on Instagram of me cutting about Beverly Hills in a natty double denim ensemble (or as the California girls called it “the cutest jean suit ohmygaaad”). This was the time I briefly moved to L.A. and was back home in next to no time, my American dream well and truly thwarted by a combination of fate, bad driving, and my life long propensity to just jib stuff off.
I have a sister who now lives a peacefully ordinary suburban life on the face of it, ferrying the kids to school, takeaway on a Friday night, googling slow cooker recipes, all that jazz. Behind the scenes of being a mum, she’s a published forensic computer expert, working as a cyber security professional. We are like chalk and cheese, and I am incredibly incredibly proud of her.
While I never caught the travel bug, throughout my sister’s life she’s lived in so many places – university in Florence, an au pair in the south of France, setting up telecoms networks in Dublin, working as an interpreter for a prince in Milan, working in hospitality in Munich, as an IT analyst in Pittsburgh. Then one day, LA was on the cards…
I’d split up with a bad egg of a boyfriend. Funnily enough, his initials were LA. That’s not why I made the decision to to swap LA for another, but he definitely was behind my feeling very down in the dumps, lost, and wanting to somehow disappear and move on.
So for the first time in my life, I was tempted by the idea of going to live in another country, and when my sister went to work in Los Angeles it seemed the perfect opportunity.
One summer night, driving home from seeing friends through a humid mist, I flicked through tracks on my car stereo (CD, if you must ask but yes I do remember tapes too) and I remember listening to a song by Defari, an LA rapper, called Lowlands Anthem Pt I. It’s not even a favourite, and probably most people won’t even have heard of it, but it sticks in my head as coming on the moment I made the decision to move to LA. As he rapped about Crescent Heights and Dockweiler Beach, within a few weeks I’d be on the very same beach, in my new home of El Segundo, Los Angeles.
What might have happened:
Then what happened next changed my outlook for many years to come. After settling in to my new surroundings, which basically consisted of doing my own thing every day while my sister was at work and then the pair of us doing something together of an evening, I could have been a really good position to build on the opportunity I was given. To get a job, apply for a working visa, to have a new lease life.
What really happened:
What really happened is we were rear-ended by a Chevy pick up at the lights on Wilshire Boulevard on our way to watch the Lakers play, ended up in Good Samaritan Hospital in downtown LA. A few days later I was flown home first class courtesy of Barclaycard insurance. Back to England. Back to my 9-5.
And that was that. Had I been a very ambitious or determined person, I might have given it another go, I mightn’t have let a setback like that get in the way of my dreams. But I never felt like I was fulfilling my dreams anyway; it had just been something to do and now it was over. It was nothing more than an extended holiday, one which left me with no desire to ever go back.
Over the years I tended to only remember the down sides of being there; how Disneyland wasn’t quite as good as Disney World in Florida, or how badly patients without medical insurance were treated in the waiting area of the Emergency Room at Good Samaritan.
Maybe it was my way of glossing over the sense of failure or the disappointment of what might have been. I slowly erased all the great things I did in LA, and it wasn’t until I brought it up the other week and my friends asked me about my time there that I thought to myself, you know actually I’d like to give it another shot.
I started to recall some of the amazing stuff we did, and remember a belief I’ve always had; that the best way to experience a country is not just the typical package holiday where you spend most of your time in and around one hotel only seeing other holiday makers and going through the well trodden sight seeing routes full of tourists. That it’s being amongst locals, going where they go, doing things that they do. I had that experience in L.A.
I’m not saying I’d want to move there permanently or even long term. I’ve got a child now and he’s settled. But to enjoy it with fresh eyes. To go back and do some of the things I used to enjoy – people watching, shopping on Rodeo Drive (more like window shopping these days), barbecues on the beaches, sight seeing, and just soaking up the atmosphere. Then some of the things I never got round to, too, like going to see the Lakers play.
So just like that, after many years, Los Angeles is back on my travel wish list.