View from the top

Los Angeles mural

I’ll admit it: I’m a wimp in a lot of ways.

I have a low tolerance for pain and temperatures outside the range of 65 and 85 degrees. I’m sensitive to critical comments and fluorescent lighting. I fear making the wrong choice about everything—all the way down to whether I should bring a light sweater or not. But an aversion to anything that’s difficult can be limiting, and in the past, it’s allowed me to be more passive than I’d like. I’d rather think of myself as a Cheryl Strayed-style badass—without the heroin and missing toenails.

But I should give myself more credit. Before I moved across the country, a lot of people told me how brave I was for making the change. At the time, I accepted the flattering remarks without fully realizing the gravity of what I was doing. Yes, it was bold, but the hardest part seemed to be making the decision and sticking to it. The logistics, however tough they would undoubtedly be, would work themselves out.

Oh, how I underestimated the complexity of logistics.

Now that I look back on everything I’ve done in just a few short months, I’m glad I was ever-so-slightly deluded about the challenges ahead. Had I known it would be this hard, I very well might’ve chickened out. But because I didn’t, I’m that much stronger for it.

I don’t think I quite knew what I was capable of before. I’ll go out on a limb and say I still don’t. Literally every assignment I’m given in grad school seems impossible at first, but I always somehow manage to pull it off… usually right before the deadline. Of course, it’s only the beginning of the semester, and shit’s bound to get really real soon enough. But hopefully by then I’ll have built up an even greater tolerance to the pain and suffering that is journalism. (Just kidding, it’s not really like that. Actually, just kidding, it is.) Until then, I’m forcing myself to take a breath every now and then and remember my recent mantra: One day at a time.

And that seems to work for me, at least most of the time. When it doesn’t, though, a good run through the hills does my body good. Hilly runs used to kill me, and they’re still not easy now. But when I reach the reward at the top and take in the view of the hills, the city, and the Hollywood sign in the distance, I’m reminded of why I came here. I can feel the good those runs do for me every day. And I don’t know if it’s the vitamin D from the sun or all those avocados I’ve been eating, but my skin has never looked better. I must be doing something right.

So what’s the point of all this? Well, if you’ve ever felt anything like I have—wimpy, uncertain, scared shitless—let this be a lesson: If I can do it, anyone can. I’m not anywhere close to having my shit figured out, but since I’m guessing that will never happen, I can learn to live with that. Though the future is so uncertain, I hope and believe that it’s bright. And maybe I’ll bring a light sweater—just in case.

The new apartment

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Yesterday, John and I went for a run in our new neighborhood. We went down our street then took a detour through the hills and gawked at the fancy homes. From an overlook, we could see downtown in the hazy distance and the Hollywood sign nearby. Later, we walked to Trader Joe’s. WALKED. Less than a third of a mile from our Silver Lake apartment.

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Almost one month exactly after leaving home in Baltimore, we found our new home in Los Angeles. The search was not without a lot of stress, anxiety, and heartache. We looked at no less than 30 apartments. Some of them were adorable on the inside, as long as you could ignore the sketchy trash- and graffiti-ridden street. Others were advertised as “amazing,” “beautiful,” and “charming”—words thrown around very loosely on Craigslist—only for us to arrive and walk around a dirty unit with crumbling floors and pee in the toilet. Then, there were the two or three apartments we had our hearts set on but were scooped up by other applicants. Did I question this move? Yep. Did I want to cut my financial losses and move back home? I thought about it. Did everything work out the way it was supposed to? Yes. All around, it was a pretty important lesson on faith and positivity, because now that we’re finally feeling settled in the new place, I feel a lot more optimistic about our ongoing job searches.

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L.A. is a rough city. I knew that before coming here, but only in a vague, abstract sort of way. No matter how hard you study the map trying to understand where all the neighborhoods are in relation to one other, you can’t see the distinctions between safe and unsafe. Between gritty and golden. Between gentrification and bitterness. Once on the ground, we figured out very quickly where we did and didn’t want to live. Silver Lake—a neighborhood famous for its vintage shops, rolling hills, and thriving arts scene—was at the top of our list. And I’m so thankful we found this gem in our budget.

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We still have a lot to do. The job search is proving to be nearly as difficult as finding an apartment was, and we’ll be receiving bills in the mail before long. Orientation for grad school starts tomorrow and I’ll soon be on a crazy schedule. But if we could make it through all the ups and downs of the past month while technically homeless, we can navigate the next steps just fine. Keep you posted, as usual.

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California dreamin’: Life in Los Angeles according to transplants

Today’s post is one of epic proportions, so here’s a very brief intro before we dive right in!

What do you do when you’re stepping into the unknown by moving to a state on the other side of the country and don’t know what to expect? Talk to people who have done it before you! Lucky for me, I knew a couple of rad bloggers (Rachel and Hanna) and was recently introduced to a few more (Abby, Nikki, and Esther) who were willing to answer some of my burning questions. If you dream of or plan on moving to the City of Angels one day (or if you just like to visit), read on for these successful transplants’ advice and experiences.

L.A. Q&A

What brought you to L.A. and why? Adventure, school, a job, a lover?

Hanna: Adventure, a job, and a lover! I graduated college with a job offer in L.A. that I had picked up from an internship. I’m always up for an adventure. The lover was my boss at said job (whoops).

Abby and Esther: A job!

Rachel: Part adventure, part lover. I’ve wanted to live in Los Angeles since high school, and my boyfriend wanted to pursue a career in film acting in Hollywood, so when we started dating and made that connection, I knew it was only a matter of time before we came out here. I was right!

Nikki: I actually first moved out here as part of a study “abroad” internship program at Boston University (my alma mater), so work and school! I always knew I didn’t have much of a choice to start my career anywhere else (I studied TV writing and producing in college), so it seemed like the safest transition.

Esther & Jacob

Did you roadtrip it or fly? Describe the journey getting there.

Hanna: I bought a one-way flight, and then had to have my parents help me into the car/pull over when I started dry heaving from nerves on the way to the airport, LOL.

Esther: We drove a Penske cross-country with a car tow and with our two cats. Because we had our cats, we ended up only making one stop in Oklahoma and making it to California in two days. It would have been sooner, but we hit a rough patch in New Mexico where there was a snow storm. Who knew it snowed in New Mexico!

Abby: I flew. I don’t really like being in the car (and I live in L.A., go figure) so the thought of that drive was miserable for me. That January, I was super busy with travels, family plans, work, etc. and I came to L.A. for a week to find a place to live. Found it, flew back to Raleigh, packed up all of my things and loaded them onto a moving truck. Flew to Baltimore for a few days for work and to hang with the fam before leaving. My parents dropped me off at BWI and six hours later, I landed in L.A.

Rachel: We roadtripped. Since we were both between jobs and had a good chunk of cash in our pockets, we allowed our trip to be a leisurely one; we camped in the Badlands and stayed with friends and family in Denver and Fort Collins, Colorado. It was a wonderful trip, because we didn’t have any responsibilities or many bills to pay; we just kind of floated around enjoying life. The only stressful part of our journey was the end of it: we were supposed to stay in Las Vegas on the last night, and it turned out the hotel we were supposed to stay at didn’t have secure parking (which we were promised) for our car loaded up with all of our belongings, so we ended up having to get back on the road and drive the last four hours to Los Angeles. We had started the morning in Denver, Colorado, and didn’t get in to L.A. until about 1 a.m. 16+ hours of driving. Not pretty.

Nikki: My journey was kind of in two parts. When I first came out for school, I didn’t know if I was going to end up staying after the semester so I flew out here with a couple suitcases. However, I ended up getting hired full-time at one of my internships two weeks before the program was over, so I had to very quickly find a long-term apartment, fly back to Boston for a weekend, graduate, pack a couple more suitcases and come back for work on Monday! It was kind of a crazy whirlwind, but looking back, I think I got very lucky everything worked out the way it did.

Hanna of Excelsior Lady

What was the biggest culture shock/adjustment after relocating?

Hanna: There were a million things to do and an ease with which I could do them. Growing up in such a tiny town made me totally unaware that there were such interesting things to experience in L.A.; I had to learn how to live!

Abby: Despite its reputation, L.A. is one of the most laid back places I’ve ever lived. People are super calm and relaxed, the days start later in the morning, most people are really friendly. I wasn’t expecting that.

Rachel: Definitely the traffic. I refused to drive on the freeways for almost a month after we got out here, because they were SO intimidating. Luckily, I eventually adjusted; now I’m an aggressive badass behind the wheel.

 

There are a lot of stereotypes associated with L.A. (Tons of plastic surgery, self-centered people, horrible traffic, etc.). Based on your experience, would you say they’re all true, or can you dispel some of them?

Hanna: Everyone says L.A. people are the worst, but all of the people I’m closest to here were born and raised in L.A.—they’re my favorite people in the world! They know the city like no one else. Not all the rumors are true; however, there is a lady that I see every morning walking her chihuahua in a pink stroller, and she looks like she’s had quite a lot of work done. I feel like she’s who people picture when they think of stereotypical L.A.

Rachel: The stuff about the traffic is true, but you get used to it (unless you’re in a hurry; then it’s your worst enemy). But the people are great, because almost everyone you’ll meet is a transplant from somewhere else, and everyone is here to pursue a dream, so it’s kind of like We’re All In This Together Land.

Nikki: I can’t say I haven’t met the stereotypical L.A. people—plastic surgery, self-centered, backstabbing Real Housewives types—but I can say that they are definitely in the minority. The cool part of L.A. is that a lot of people out here are also transplants from all over the place, so the majority of people I have met since moving here are actually very “un-L.A.” Also, as much as I wish I could dispel it, the traffic in L.A. really IS as bad as they say. I’ve spent the better part of two years avoiding freeways at all costs.

Abby

L.A. is a pretty spread out collection of totally different neighborhoods. What makes yours a unique and cool place to live?

Hanna: I love the west side because it’s so much cooler. We get the marine layer and a lot more clouds. It’s a great/safe area to explore on foot, too.

Esther: We like where we live because we have friends that live out here. It’s nice to be able to live, work, and play without having to deal with traffic.

Abby: West Hollywood is a really fun place to be. It’s super young, central to both the beach and the mountains, always something new to do and see. The Grove is a couple of blocks away, lots of celeb sightings—it feels very L.A. to me.

Rachel: West Hollywood is in the middle of everything! It’s near Hollywood, hiking in the hills, tons of fun shopping, movie theaters, parks, restaurants, bars, etc. Also, almost half of the population is gay men, so the gay bar scene is incredible, and everyone who lives here is super open-minded. And there’s the gay pride parade and the Halloween Carnaval…ugh, so many things. I love it here.

Nikki: The neighborhood I live in now is very quiet and full of families—it’s one of the more residential areas of L.A.—but my favorite part about it is how close it is to everything else. I also spend a lot of time in Santa Monica (which is where my office is) and Culver City (which is walking distance from my apartment!).

 

What’s your favorite bar/restaurant in your neighborhood? (And recommend a menu item!)

Hanna: Literati Cafe is practically across the street from my apartment, and on Tuesdays they have grilled cheese night: four different kinds of grilled cheese (I personally love the Fontina, rosemary & grape grilled cheese with their own special recipe for tomato soup. It tastes like HEAVEN). They also have a pretty great Bloody Mary…

Esther: So far my favorite restaurant is Cafe Verona in Mid-City West. Definitely worth the drive.

Abby: The Village Idiot is great, Eveleigh has amazing food and a cool vibe… to be honest, if you’re on Third Street you won’t find a restaurant you don’t like.  Menu items: The Village Idiot is all organic food (their meatballs are unreal) and Eveleigh has a great burger (and fabulous wine menu).

Rachel: I love Evo Kitchen, which is on Sunset Boulevard only a few blocks away from our place. They have delicious food, and it’s small with a nice ambiance, so it’s not overwhelming to go there. Their cheesy garlic bread is soooo tasty, as well as their pizza. Oh, and the parmesan cheese fries at The Counter, which is right across the street, are crack. Pure crack. Your mouth will never be the same.

Nikki: I’m going to cheat here, because I spend so much time at work that I end up out in Santa Monica far more than I do by my place! But personal favorite hangout is the Basement Tavern, which is a little kind of dive bar underneath the Victorian Hotel—the ambiance is very cool, and their happy hour is amazing!

Rachel of Existation

What’s your favorite part about living in L.A.?

Hanna: The things I’ve experienced since moving here are unreal. EVERYTHING is accessible. In a three-hour drive you can be at a painted mountain in the desert, in Mexico, or in a national forest. It doesn’t matter what you want, there is somewhere in or around this city that can supply you with it.

Esther: The FOOD. There are countless options of good food. I never feel like I have to go back to the same place twice.

Abby: The options. You can go to the beach for a day, the mountains for a day, wine tasting, surfing, to a museum, to watch a movie being filmed, sit in a live audience… the options are endless. And of course, the weather.

Nikki: I have way too many, but probably the weather, the really great Mexican food, and I’m not ashamed to admit that the proximity to Disneyland REALLY doesn’t hurt.

 

The weather has GOT to be heaven. Do you ever pinch yourself/taunt your friends and family back home when it’s 70 degrees in December?

Esther: I need to remind myself to be grateful more often. It’s funny how when you visit, everything seems sunny and amazing. When you live here, sometimes it becomes your new normal. And the one day it’s rainy, you’re thinking… I moved to L.A. for this?? Haha.

Abby: Ha! The weather is unreal. It is so beautiful and it inspires good health. You’re always wanting to be outside, whether you’re hiking, running, sitting at the beach or sitting outside for brunch. It’s amazing.

Rachel: I try really hard to hold back from taunting, but sometimes I just can’t help myself. Everyone back in Minnesota is always either complaining about how cold it is or how hot it is, and I was the same way when I lived there, but in L.A. the weather is so mild and consistent that I don’t even have to think about it (unless I’m leaning back and savoring how beautiful it is). It’s glorious.

Nikki: All the time. There is no better feeling than sending photos from Malibu beach to my sisters while they’re shoveling out the driveway back home!

 

Now that you’ve made the move and lived to tell the tale, would you have done anything differently in the uprooting process?

Hanna: Even though I left and came back, I don’t think I’d do anything differently. The people I’ve met through what I originally considered mistakes on my part (for example, taking two months to find an apartment the first time I moved) prove that everything worked out for the best.

Esther: Try to focus on the positives. I think I was so homesick and missing my friends that sometimes I was looking for negative things. Whenever there was a rude person, I would dwell on it. There’s a lot of great things about L.A., that I would have much rather spent my time enjoying L.A. rather than sulking.

Abby: I don’t think so. I probably would have spent more than seven days in L.A. two weeks before I moved, but that was part of the adventure, I guess.

Nikki: In retrospect, I think I would have made the drive instead of flying. First off, a cross-country road trip has always been on my bucket list, but more importantly I feel like I had to leave a lot of important things behind when I made the move that are still slowly finding their way out here. If I had had the opportunity (or even the knowledge I would be staying here permanently), I would have really taken my time and enjoyed the adventure of it.

Nikki of Nicol-ette

Lots of people move to L.A., but not everyone stays. Do you intend to stay permanently? Indefinitely?

Hanna: I’m going to be here for while. I love moving and change, but I might actually love L.A. more than both of those things.

Esther: We’re giving it a year, and we’ll evaluate how we feel.

Abby: My plans for now are to stay permanently.

Rachel: This is yet to be determined. Right now it’s definitely the place for me, and I’d like to say that I could live here forever, but I know that eventually I’ll want to settle down and have a family, and I’m not sure this is the best place to do that. Houses are ridiculously expensive and most of my family is far away. So we’ll see. I’m keeping an open mind about the future.

Nikki: I do love it here, but I don’t know that this is where I’m going to spend the rest of my life. I do miss the East Coast, and hope that maybe someday I’ll be in a position where maybe I can relocate to NYC or even overseas!


What advice would you give to someone (like me!) moving to L.A.?

Hanna: Don’t assume that landlords/jobs will contact YOU if they’re interested. There are a million people going after the same things that you want, and you absolutely have to be proactive to get what you want!

Esther: Find a good, core group of people that you like. They will be your support group while you are adjusting to the new city and culture.

Abby: Follow L.A. outlets on their social channels before you move (and when you get here). For example, @LAist on Twitter offers great info about what’s going on in L.A. That way you’re connected and if there is something happening that interests you, you can be there. Great way to keep your finger on the L.A. pulse and meet people!

Rachel: I would say that the most important thing to remember is that Skype and the internet are magical tools of communication, so you never have to feel TOO homesick. And always keep your sense of adventure and an open mind; settling in to a new city requires flexibility and knowing that not everything is going to be perfect. Also, if you’re stuck in traffic, chances are you will be able to see a palm tree, so find the nearest one and meditate on it instead of getting angry at the car in front of you.

Nikki: Keep an open mind about everything. A lot of people told me that L.A. was very much a love-it-or-leave-it kind of city, but like any city I think a large part of the experience is what you make of it. There are so many fun and crazy opportunities here (some obvious and some not so much) that, if you’re open to them, you can find all kinds of different reasons to love it—or at the very least not hate it—here.

 

Thanks, guys, for your amazing stories and expert advice! Do you have any questions for these L.A. ladies? Or are you an L.A. native or transplant with two cents to add? Chime in in the comments!

The dream becomes reality

I have seriously been digging music heavy on the California vibes even more than usual.

So yeah. I’m moving to California. Last night, I looked in my closet to see how many pairs of shoes I’d take and how many I could get rid of. I laughed and laughed and laughed.

Packing up our lives is going to be interesting.

With our impending move just shy of two months away, there’s a lot to be done: deciding what to keep and donate, eventually selling one of our two cars (mine), searching for jobs and a place to live, GETTING THERE, and maintaining our sanity in the process. No biggie.

Last month, before I told my employers I’d be leaving (um, hi y’all!), I had a mini panic attack about all of this… while sitting at my desk at work. I miiiight’ve hyperventilated just a tad. It’s a lot of change all at once, and I haven’t always been the best at dealing with transitions. But I also crave change, so it was necessary to keep my panicky feelings in check and think rationally. Breathing exercises helped (as did sending crazy text messages to John until he talked me down).

Venice Beach

Now—and this could change any time over the next two months!—I feel the opposite of panicky. I feel oddly calm, actually. Like everything will work itself out. Everything will work itself out, because goddamnit, I’ll see to it. We’re taking on a lot of new challenges and responsibilities, and I feel more motivated than ever to take it on. I swear, my high school self would be shocked at the more confident, more ambitious older me. She’d also be psyched that I’m actually following the dream and not still just talking about it like a thing that could happen some day.

But my dream is, in fact, becoming a reality, and despite the visions of my life resembling a Free People catalog (if only!), it means I’ll need to really toughen up and get into decision-making mode. This will not be easy. But, for the most part, it will be fun. Shit. Like, a lot of fun. GOD, YOU GUYS, I’M EXCITED.

So anyway, thanks for all your wonderful comments on my last post. I was so anxious to get the news out there, and it made my insides glow knowing I had your support and shared enthusiasm.

And a note: I’m on the lookout for L.A. transplants (particularly bloggers) who’d like to join in for a collaborative Q&A post to talk about their experiences with moving to the Golden State. If you or someone you know has moved to Los Angeles from out-of-state, either leave a comment or shoot me an email at wittycassiehere (at) gmail (dot) com. Let’s make beautiful things together.

Happy Friday!