For Los Angeles: A Love Letter
Blogger: Samuel Wylie
Dear Los Angeles,
As of today, we have 56 days left together—exactly eight weeks—before I will wake up in a different city. To say goodbye, I want to say thank you.
I was sixteen the first time I really noticed you. I was in English class and our teacher handed out a short story by a writer I didn’t know. The story was unnerving. Its language was delicate in some parts and deeply twisted in others, like wildflowers growing through a wrought-iron fence. It was Joan Didion’s “Los Angeles Notebook,” and it moved me to the point that I went in search of her books. Thus, the first things I knew about you were all the ways you could estrange and mangle my psyche.
This, of course, was balanced by all your stereotypes of glamour and superficial living. The world loves to hate you and I had my doubts at one time, too. Now, I simply laugh at the laziness of those who have never taken the time to get to know you or I feel pity for those who are still enamored with some other city and pained by their separation.
After some time and for many reasons, I found myself standing on your doorstep with everything I owned. I had enrolled at Occidental and began to discover an entirely new world in you. College life accelerated both my excitement and my opportunities. That first September, a professor took our class on an architectural tour of downtown. I stood at the base of the Bunker Hill skyscrapers and learned about the houses that were bulldozed to make way for them. We watched clips of Blade Runner in the Bradbury Building, passed through Santee Alley, and I had the misfortune of biting into a habanero pepper hidden in my rice at a food stand. It was a perfect, kitschy introduction.
I started to fall in love with you a little time after that. One night, my friend with a car and I went out to dinner. We spent way too much money and walked around afterward, trying to figure out what to do with the remaining bills in our pockets. We stumbled into a dingy movie theatre with a midnight showing of Pulp Fiction on the original 35mm. Everybody was drunk except us. It was so raucous we couldn’t hear the lines, but I knew it by heart and it didn’t matter. When we came out of the theatre, the city was swathed in fog. The drive home was magically quiet, all the light diffused into a soft pastel landscape.
I still think you’re most beautiful at night, when the fog rolls all the way up to the San Gabriels and reduces the world’s noises to a whisper.
I had never lived in a city before and I found myself captivated by the immensity of life. I came to appreciate the changes I could see from behind a car window: the first ring suburbs with their eclectic craftsman, Spanish and Victorian houses; graffiti-covered warehouses along the concrete river; the unappreciated urbanity of downtown; the tree-lined avenues of mid-city streets; square apartment complexes of the west side working class; the crisp, gold hills that always seem to need water; the termination of everything when it meets the ocean…
I found diversity in people the same way I found diversity in spaces. My sophomore year, a friend took me on a citywide hunt for the best pho. Another night, from a coffee shop window, I watched hundreds march past me in the Occupy protests. On buses, I hear languages I don’t recognize, dialects I can’t understand, and references to places I never knew existed. On Sundays, I listen to ranchera blaring from backyards as the smells of barbeque cover the neighborhood. Within this sprawl is a million different ways to live, a thousand micro-communities that rippled outward over the last century until they collided and accidentally became a city.
Los Angeles, I love you for many reasons. I love you for your guile: your brush-hidden freeway entrances and impossible traffic patterns. I love that you’re overcast in June and ninety degrees in January. I love you for your courage. I love your houses perched on sheer hills and your cultural disregard for any city that came before you. I even love you for your faults: that thought of apocalypse every time I feel a vibration.
Through you, I have learned to be kind. You taught me to coexist with ten million people I’ll never have a chance to meet. You taught me how to get lost and how to find my way back home. You taught me I’m allowed to loosen my grip: that I’m allowed to be gay, allowed to be weird, and allowed to mess up. Most importantly, you have taught me that I am insignificant in the grand scheme of the universe, and how freeing it is to know that.
So here I am once more, on your doorstep with everything I own. I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m sure glad I met you. I know I’m a better man for it.