Life in L.A. and the road here

Two and-a-half weeks ago, John and I left our homes near Baltimore. Now, we’ve been in L.A. for a week and a day. It was as easy and as hard as that.

We got off to a rocky start here in L.A. We showed up to our hostess’ house where we’re crashing, tired and grateful, on a Thursday night. Before bed, we spent a couple solid hours scouring Craigslist and Padmapper and Zillow and all the other housing sites lining up appointments to view apartments the next day. I woke up bright and early Friday to find John’s iPhone in a pool of air freshener oil. The screen was an ominous cloud of grey that was quickly spreading. An unexpected expense. Which was kind of my fault.

Pressing on (scented phone in tow), we made our way to an auto shop because of the funny way John’s car was acting after the long haul cross-country. He was driving and answered a phone call from home. Seconds later, a cop pulled us over. Unexpected expense number two, and a lesson learned: Don’t mess around in this town.

One new phone and a court date later, we were already weary on our first full day, but we kept moving. The search for an address still continues today after a couple of heartbreaks over lost apartments. Another thing I’ve learned? Though the “for rent” signs are everywhere, it’s really hard to land an apartment in this town. I’m keeping the faith, though, because I know what a huge weight off our shoulders it’ll be once this stage of the game is over.

As for the rest of our trip here since Memphis, we couldn’t have had a better time. Though it seems like ages ago now, our stops in Santa Fe, Sedona, Mt. Zion and Vegas were a total adventure and the trip of a lifetime. Some of the highlights:

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The farther you travel and the more strangers you meet on the road, the more you realize just how small of a world it is. People know you’re not from around here (wherever “here” is on any given day) and so they ask you where you’re visiting from. You say Baltimore, and they’re either from the area or know someone who is. (One old man in Nashville asking for money on the street had a “cousin” who was a Ravens player.)

The strangest case of serendipity was when we stopped in the beautiful Sedona for two nights, and the couple who owned the immaculate Sedona Motel also previously owned the building where Baltimore’s former Urbanite magazine—where I worked briefly—was housed. And the woman taught at the same college that John did. Sedona was a much-needed retreat from the other questionable motels we stopped in. We soaked up the healing properties of the vortexes, snuck into parks to avoid fees, and caught the most amazing panoramic views from the top of a canyon. (Nearby, a young guy walked around holding his baby nephew and a beer, loudly confessing his sins and teetering dangerously close to the edge of the cliff. It’s hard to escape tourists when you’re a tourist.)

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Before we left for Mt. Zion National Park in Utah, we stopped off at an overlook for one last mental picture of Sedona. A woman walked by our car, looked at the license plate and said, “You sure are a long way from home.” She was right. We really were.

One wild coyote, a couple cockroaches, and lots of lizards later, we were on the road again.

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The trip was actually even more beautiful than expected. Though driving did wear us out, it hardly ever bored us. The southern route was the way to go. The hardest part about the trip wasn’t my frequent saltwater syringe rinses (a fun, post-wisdom teeth removal ritual), but feeling the need (and failing) to stay in constant blogger/photographer mode, capturing every single beautiful view. Once I stopped being so hard on myself about it and realizing, duh, that the point of this trip was to experience it, I was able to soak it up and truly be in the moment.

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And now, we’re on West Coast time. Still searching. A bit exhausted. But still hopeful. It’s not the picture-perfect experience you dream of, nor the lesser version of that I’d hoped for, but it’s a new chapter and we’re embracing it. L.A., we’re here to stay.

Hello from Los Angeles

 

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Unless you’ve followed along on other social networking sites, I might’ve seemed a bit quiet over here. So, a quick update… from Los Angeles. Yep, I’m on West Coast time now, and the trip here was pretty spectacular. I plan to write about the second leg of the cross-country trip soon (there are plenty of notes and photos documenting it), but first, I have to catch some sleep. Because tomorrow, it’s apartment hunting. And in the coming days, I hope to be meeting these blog friends. Lots to look forward to. No time to waste. Stay tuned—we’re only just getting started.

Witty Title Here goes West: from Baltimore to Memphis and beyond

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Three days ago, John and I hugged our families goodbye and said hello to the open road. We were at the beginning of a long journey from Baltimore, Maryland to Los Angeles, California. Since then, we’ve broken into a house in Asheville, performed at an open mic in Nashville, and had the best fried chicken and fried green tomatoes in all of Memphis.

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I write to you from a Super 8 motel in the Texas panhandle after an 11-hour drive. Three days have gone by so quickly, and yet waving goodbye to Baltimore feels like it was ages ago. It was hard hugging my sisters knowing I wouldn’t be able to again for awhile. Even though we still have a lot of road to travel, apartments and jobs to find, and, for me, school to prepare for, it almost feels as though we got the hardest part over with at the beginning of our trip. And right now, I’m just taking it one day at a time. This is a trip I’ve looked forward to for awhile, and I have every intention of enjoying it. And we really have so far.

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Some of the highlights: Day one started out in true John and Cassie form. When we travel together, we tend to run into mishaps. Which are always funny… later. Just an hour or so from our first stop in Asheville, we found out that John’s cousin, whom we planned on staying with, was actually at a Phish concert about ten hours away in Atlanta. (Whose fault this misunderstanding was is irrelevant, because it wasn’t mine.) But John’s cousin assured us over the phone that his back window was probably open if we wanted to break in. And in case it wasn’t, his Phishead friend offered us—complete strangers to him—the use of his home, too. (The key was above the doorframe. Apparently, questionable security is how they do it in the South.) So we took our chances and went to check out the friend’s house—an artist’s shack in which there was a random collection of objects and no AC. We drank a couple of beers on this kind stranger’s porch before opting for a break-in at the cousin’s air-conditioned house. We were successful, and we slept like babies. Day one: a success, all things considered.

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We didn’t have much time to spend in Asheville, though, because it was time to move onto our next stop, Music City. Nashville was a sauna filled with tourists. Our hotel room (the cheapest one we could find in town, and still not very cheap) had construction going on right outside the door, so we switched rooms. To my horror, the second room had a giant cockroach clinging threateningly to the wall next to the bed. John killed it for me, and it was all very glamorous and romantic. Determined to join in on the live music scene, we signed up for an open mic night at the Blue Bar. It took a lot of waiting around (and, subsequently, me building up liquid courage), but we got the chance to sing a couple of the songs from John’s new album, plus covers of the Rolling Stones and Gillian Welch.

The next day, we made a short stop in my mom’s hometown of Columbia, Tennessee, where I got to visit with some family. It was so special to me to be able to see them before moving to California, and it was especially cool that John had the chance to meet them. Two of my worlds collided in a pretty awesome way.

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Several people told us we’d be better off spending two nights in Nashville rather than stopping overnight in Memphis, but it ended up being one of the highlights of the trip so far. When we pulled up to Gus’ World Famous Fried Chicken, the surrounding industrial neighborhood looked desolate and sketchy. But we walked in, and the place was packed with people—young and old, black and white, local and foreign. A jukebox blared and the cooks yelled at each other in the back, and we ate in a state of fried bliss. Beale Street was impossible to resist with the lights and loud music which, to me, topped the honky tonk that Nashville’s Broadway boasted so much of. Somethin’ about those blues, I guess. Between the food and music, it was worth having driven through for the night.

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And now, we’ve made a big dent in the midwestern portion of our trip and have a whole lot left to look forward to. We’re taking our time with this trip with six more days to go before we get to L.A., and I’ll be updating, mostly in the form of photos, as much as I can. (I’ve been making more frequent updates on Instagram and Twitter if you want to stay up-to-date.)

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Next stop: Santa Fe. Here’s to new adventures, harmonies, and speed limits of 75 mph. See you on the road!

 

No such thing as certainty

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Tomorrow.

Tomorrow is my last day at my job before I move to L.A. (Less than three weeks away!) In a couple of days, I’ll receive my last full-time paycheck—a bittersweet reminder of the certainty and stability I’m giving up in exchange for adventure and dream fulfillment.

Tomorrow, I will still have a job. The next day, I won’t. That will be my certainty. (That, and sweatpants. Every day.)

The thing about certainty is that it’s often just a very comforting illusion. It’s the product of believing that what we have today will still be around tomorrow and taking whatever that is for granted. If that’s the case, how can a job, a paycheck, or stability be certain? Our perspectives on these things are different than they once were in this still-struggling economy, of course, but sometimes it takes a drastic change—in this case, my own volition to move—to realize none of it was ever certain anyway. I was just lucky.

If there’s ever a time to be uncertain, this is it. It’s like what people keep telling me: “It’s great you’re moving cross-country. Now’s the time to do it.” While I’d like to think I’ll always be the adventurous type, able to pick up and go follow my dream, I don’t disagree with the implication behind those comments. Now is the time. It’s why we’re doing it. While age isn’t a factor for everyone, in general, the older we get and the more rooted we become, the harder it is to make a bold move. There’s no guaranteeing that the future will be a more convenient time. Life doesn’t care about convenience. (The fact that I’m getting my wisdom teeth out one week before we leave is proof of that.)

So what do I know? I know that I can be certain of this moment and my intentions for the next. That’s about it.

I remember the day I quit my old restaurant gig hoping it would be my last. It probably wasn’t my last. I might actually have to master the art of balancing a large tray, once and for all, if I want to pay rent while attending school full-time. Or maybe I’ll be a dog walker. Getting paid to hang out with dogs sounds awesome, except for the poop part. Or maybe there’ll be the perfect writing opportunity, or maybe a combination of all of the above.

I’m open to the possibilities. I am so ready for a change, no matter how scary. Of that, I am certain.

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.

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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.

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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!

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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!