February 5, 2014
When I moved from Fullerton to Los Angeles in April of 2013 I wasn’t sure if I was ever going to move back. It was a resolving feeling to drive away from my old apartment, like kicking the dirt off my shoes and pointing my eyes upon the road ahead. It would be dirty, weathered, older, but it would still be in operation. The road would lead me along alright, because that’s what Los Angeles does. It brings people in.
Les and I didn’t know what to talk about that night as we drove from Fullerton to Los Angeles. Sometimes with your best friends you don’t need to have words to say. We looked at the blurring city lights and freeway signs just like we always had when we’d commute in to work. They weren’t different, but they were a little more ours, because we were moving in among them. We were part of the city now too.
The train goes up and the train goes down, gently. I am in the second car from the locomotive, the bike car, as it always was. My bike strapped to the railings downstairs, and I with my feet across the seat in front of me (not allowed), sitting above in the second-story passenger area. The car has 52 seats and there are 12 of us. We are feeling the rumble of steel wheels upon the track, up and down. Gentle.
I’ll probably ride my old route when I get in to Union Station. Spring Street, over the 101, through downtown, left on sixth, through skid-row, right on Stanford. Home. Or, work. But work has always been my other home. My Los Angeles home.
In July of 2013 I was traveling. I flew to Pennsylvania and road-tripped back to California with my brother. Then, I flew to Boston and drove to Burlington for a week with my old high school friends. It was our ten-year reunion, and we chose to make memories on a farm playing games, looking at animals, and drinking beer. And we did. When I came home, to Los Angeles, I told myself I was home. This is just it, I thought. This is were I live. This is it. I looked from my apartment rooftop across the evening skyline at buildings shooting heavenward. I watched airplanes arrive at LAX. One every minute, I’d surmised. There were no clouds in the sky, only empty blackness. I’d wait and watch the planes and the buildings like something was going to happen. But nothing ever really did.
Living with Carl has been brief but relieving. At least I have a place to call home. It’s a 600-square foot studio back house with an oft-not working bathroom faucet and a backdoor that gets jammed every time it is closed too hard. The neighbors are quiet; I’ve met none of them. The library across the street has never been open when I’ve been home. Carl’s friends come over and I say hello. They drink wine and talk about playing Smash Brothers while I look at the walls and wonder where my story will lead now; I wonder if it will be below the crown-molding of another set of walls somewhere else, in some other city, in another time, with different people.
When I was mailed paperwork stating that my rent would rise I knew it was a sign. The foot-traffic in downtown Los Angeles has been on the rise too. Call it from God or just the way things happen (because maybe some things just happen sometimes), but I knew I couldn’t even afford what I was already paying. I looked down at the concrete floors, poured and glazed in an artistically industrial fashion for me to walk on, representing my rent dollars. My over-sized windows (my favorite part) breezing the evening air. I felt indignant, if even only slightly, because I knew the time to say goodbye was near, and I knew that for this place and many like it in Los Angeles, the price was simply too high. Guys like me that are interested in bleeding the color of LA but can’t because we can’t afford the rent.
I can still see the skyline from the train as I ride. The US Bank tower stands above the western United States as a beacon of something (of what I’m still not sure). The other towers are its sisters, looking up at her like one day they might stand for something just as tall. There are gaps between those towers, however, and I know that given the rising cost of living, the new fleets of parking sharks, and the whelming programs to clean up the streets, that soon bigger things will move in. The US Bank tower will not be the tallest building west of the Mississippi River forever. It might become the third, fourth, or fifth tallest. This is, after all, the era that Los Angeles is trying to rebuild itself. LA might finally be a place for people to stay.
The first months after my arrival I did little to settle in. Les and I were like our rolled out sleeping mats on the apartment floor: unmade and carefree. We worked down the street, and we did little more than move boxes in and fall asleep and rise for work. That’s how the production life is in the handmade apparel industry. If it’s not rushing fabric to a cut and sew house or shirts to a screen-printer, then it is brainstorming fresh ideas, showing samples at trade shows, or moving product at street shows. That’s how the startup life is too: trying on hats and wearing them to bed.
Delani and I drank beer and ate reheated ribs on top of a box in the middle of the living room. Like the first few months of living there, my bed was again upon the floor, the walls empty, the dishes all in boxes, and my clothes on hangars stuffed into the trunk of my car. We played guitar after we ate and opened another beer each. Les was in Chicago applying for grad schools, living his dream, and Delani (the other roommate) and I were sweeping the floors and spackling holes to try to muster up some security deposit money. I’ll need it to buy food in Fullerton for the next month, I thought, and Delani will need it for food money in Portland, where he’s moving next month. I tossed a clean rib to Jack wondering if he’d lick it, chew it, or break it and swallow it. Probably all three in succession. He sat there and I said, good boy. He looked at the rib earnestly, and I wondered how long Jack could live with my parents while I’d be with Carl. Jack is family, and so is Carl. But Carl says the apartment is too small for Jack, so I won’t push it.
I’d love to move in for three months, I said to Carl one night in January. He said, sure man. Stay as long as you need, or want. I had expected him to say this. I planned on it when I called him, actually. I didn’t have a backup plan either. I was sitting at the apartment in Los Angeles, not knowing what an empty version of that place would look like a month later. I was thinking, and praying, here and there throughout my last days, and the thought of three months came up. I don’t know how or when, but it did, and I went with it, taking it maybe as a sign from God again. Three months, I’d heard myself start to say to friends. But why? I’d wonder. Or better, for whom?
My first month of riding the train, in 2012, I would un-velcro my bike lights from my seat post and handlebars and lock my bike to the railing with my cable. Then I would sit nearby and inadvertently watch people board, wondering if they’d look at my bike, and why. It was a commuter line into Los Angeles, so how sure could I be? They were normal people working normal jobs with normal ideas and temptations, but my Dad had a number of wallets lifted on buses in Los Angeles. It was a feeling in my gut that began leaping into my throat if my gaze got too far from my bike. Paranoia: welcome to the big city.
Tyler and I were sitting on a knoll at the LA Historic park just north of downtown. We were at FYF, an indie music festival, and he insisted on buying me a beer. We were corralled between four long walls of six-foot high chain-link fence that they’d called a “beer garden,” forced to stare distantly at bands, or people, while I sipped. He didn’t seem to mind so I decided I wouldn’t either. He told me he needed me to step into a new position in the company. I need you to become the Wholesale Accounts Rep, he said. My stomach leaped, but I wasn’t sure why. Was it because I felt valued in the company enough to take on such a crucial responsibility? Or was it because I was unsure that I’d be up to the challenge, or that I even wanted to in the first place? He looked at me and I knew then that there was a reason he was asking me. There was something deeper going on. I told him that I would give it my best shot and he said, good, because I don’t know if you really had a choice. We laughed and I choked on a gulp of beer.
The first time I ever considered moving to Los Angeles was on that day at FYF. I stared off at the hillsides and saw houses built deep into them. I’d never noticed them before, nor had I noticed the century-old architecture, the winding and almost vertical residential roads of Echo Park, and Silver Lake. Anything could happen in those hills, I thought. I imagined the morning views and planting a garden, and most of all, writing novels from my writer’s shack. Yes, the first time I ever considered moving to Los Angeles was on that day.
Like the US Bank tower, I will stand and watch now from a distance. I will know it all but will no longer be called a native Angeleno. I might keep riding the train, up from Fullerton, and down from Los Angeles home, gently and on-schedule, and I’ll probably see the skyline from a few miles away each time and wonder whom Los Angeles wants to call its people. I thought last July that it was I, but I found in February of the next year that it wasn’t. At least, for now, that sounds about right.