I love LA. I really do, but sometimes I feel like a pariah for having these feelings of love for a city everybody loves to hate. No doubt, LA is an acquired taste for those of us who dwell in this sprawling, traffic congested, massively dysfunctional, overpopulated city because between the lines of all of those unflattering adjectives there is a method to LA’s madness.
LA – Its History
It’s hard to believe LA was once a sleepy tropical paradise with long vistas of beauty and the clearest of blue skies. There were still Mexican pueblos on the landscape – a holdover from when California was part of Mexico – and a few local Indian tribes and famers plowing the land. It didn’t have a lot of class in the old days; it didn’t have much to offer except for the agriculture it produced because the land was so fertile you could grow just about anything. Yet, the weather, the land, the chance of opportunity gave off a vibe that resonated all things are possible. Probably everyone who lived in LA in the post 1920’s knew that there were unending possibilities for growth and transformation. LA just needed some inspiration.
In the second decade of the 20th century, it was the movie makers from New York City who first intuited the possibilities of taking the movie business to LA to build their own movie studios in the sleepy hamlet in southern California. It’s now urban legend that when the Jewish movie moguls came to town, it put LA on the map and the city took off as the epicenter of film making. Then came the actors and actresses, directors and producers who saw “gold in them there hills.” And it came to pass that Hollywood was born and bred. In the next several decades, LA continued to attract artists and writers, immigrants from Germany, France, and Italy who were happy to find opportunities in a fairy tale land of enduring possibilities. That vibe is still endures today.
Then land developers came in droves in the next two decades to build a city without limits. There was no important downtown hub in the early years of LA, and finding nothing but open spaces, builders found nirvana. They bought land and water rights and built houses and mansions everywhere there was available space. LA was a land of riches if one had a modest amount money and some borrowing power. LA began to grow up as one giant never-ending suburb and it continues to do so today.
LA grew up fast and by the 1950s the city came to be associated with glitter and glamor, beauty, body builders and boats. It also had some homegrown mobsters making trouble and a reputation for police and political corruption. The city council also sold off the best public transportation LA ever had – the Red Cars owned by the Pacific Electric Company – to the car, oil and tire industry. So much for light rail.
In the early 1950s, my family drove to LA to visit my grandmother who had just moved to Hollywood. My parents loved Santa Monica and we always stayed at the Shangri la Hotel. It’s still there. My memories of coming to LA every year are filled with wonder – the art deco architecture, the endless Pacific ocean, the warm tropical weather, the mysteries of Hollywood. I loved the movies and every year I begged my parents to take me to Grauman’s Chinese Theater. My mother shopped at Orbach’s and May Company and our outings were the stuff of a little girl’s dream. We always stopped in Westwood Village for ice cream and strolled around the cozy streets. It was then I decided I was going to college at UCLA.
The Land Of Opportunity
The wonder of life is that after a 25 year absence I arrived back in LA 30 years ago for the same reasons that people came to LA back in the old days – endless opportunities and possibilities. I returned to attend film school after several decades in the theater and became a screenwriter. When times got tough, I never blinked because there were always other options and an endless stream of opportunities. The irony of my love affair with LA was that I ended up in the decade of my 60s as a yoga and meditation teacher at UCLA, and every day of my life I get to walk on the campus and experience its architectural beauty.
Call me crazy to stay in LA as I enter another decade of my life because the traffic gives me pause and the idea that I must leave LA to save my soul is a reoccurring thought. And yet, my soul is in LA, my dreams are in LA, my life is in LA. I’m currently fulfilling another kind of dream as a keynote speaker. The LA community is welcoming and I’m grateful for their interest and support. Where else could I have accomplished so much in such a short time?
Sometimes I sit on the freeway and curse the gods for turning LA into a place of too many people and too many cars and too many maniacs. But then I think, where else can I find career choices I never thought existed, where else can I find the daily beauty of the ocean in my backyard, where else can I find like-minded people who see LA for the multiple opportunities and perspectives it presents. I always say there is an idea born every second in this city of dreams. It’s been proven over and over again to me that I have been in the right place for the last 30 years.