“L.A. is just a shallow, soulless place,” the somewhat prominent speaker said as he wrapped up his talk on “making it” in the entertainment industry, which had devolved mainly into a scathing critique of Los Angeles — the people, the traffic, the alleged emptiness.
Deflating news indeed for someone like myself who’d had it in mind to move there for as long as I could remember. He wasn’t just ragging on a city — he was squatting over and squeezing one out all over my dreams. Cold sweats and night terrors ensued. His words echoed in my sleep, “SHALLOW … SOULLESS … YOU’RE GOING TO DIE IN AN EARTHQUAKE.”
The days went by, the pain began to subside, my wounds were healing. “It’s just one man’s opinion,” I thought. But at a party several weeks later, I began talking with a young lady who’d grown up in Los Angeles. “I don’t want to, like, crush your dreams, but L.A. sucks,” she said with the utmost conviction in her voice and a slight glaze in her eyes, “It’s, like, the worst place you could ever want to live. Seriously.” The combination of her words and her breath, a sharp mix of gin and Redbull, pierced my fragile heart as she mercilessly bashed her hometown and my rapidly diminishing will to live.
The nightmares grew worse, the agony persisted. Everywhere I turned I was given the same, grim message, “Frank, I know you. You wouldn’t like L.A.,” said friends. “You don’t strike me as an L.A. sort of guy,” said other acquaintances, with those common themes springing up in all their admonishments — shallow, soulless, empty, traffic … you’ll die in an earthquake.
But what was I to do? I felt sure of my desire to pursue entertainment. As sure as I’d ever felt about anything. Even more sure than I had felt that I could pay my way through college by selling sperm. And has there ever been a city more synonymous with any line of work than L.A. is with the entertainment industry? Okay, maybe D.C. and politics, maybe Vegas and stripping …but you get the idea. A doctor can move to Boston or Buenos Ares or Botswana. A banker can live in Seattle or Sarajevo or Sri Lanka. But, if you’re someone looking to break into movies or TV, you won’t find much work in Djibouti.
Despite the fear of moving to the most miserable place on earth, according to so many, an inkling came from somewhere to place all my eggs in the soulless basket of Los Angeles. I purchased my ticket — the cheapest one ever offered in the western hemisphere. I’d be flying at the crack of dawn’s groggier, even less charming brother, the middle of the night. I would have no access to leg room, carry-ons, or in-flight nourishment. But I was promised that the teensy, pack-of-gum-sized airplane would make it to LAX nonetheless. This was the point of no return. This was the red pill, creepily offered to me by Lawrence Fishburne at the Newark airport Ruby Tuesday.
Upon arrival, I was delighted to find that perhaps there is some semblance of a soul here. There are museums, and libraries, and parks, and dive bars. How could this be? But remaining careful not to jump to any conclusions, I continued investigating the issue of whether or not Los Angeles has redeemable qualities.
And through this search, I’ve found an interesting wrinkle in the way so many, whether they be life-long-L.A.ers or East Coast transplants or anything in between, view L.A. Los Angeles is not the “City of Angels.” It’s the city of caveats. “The traffic sucks … but the weather is great! But there are no seasons…but the beaches are wonderful! But they’re overcrowded … but there are a ton of fantastic restaurants! But there’s no good pizza … but there’s amazing Mexican food! But eat too much of it and you’ll get dysentery…”
Maybe, like anything else in life, Los Angeles is what you make it. Sure, there are no seasons, but that’s because there’s perfect weather all year … Okay. Fine. Except for the three days it rains. Sure, there are a lot of broken dreams, but there are also an awful lot of wild successes. For example, the founding of In-N-Out Burger.
Maybe everyone in L.A. is shallow. Maybe it is void of culture and lacks a soul. Or perhaps what’s really shallow is to declare that 13 million people are all just that. Maybe what’s really empty is the belief that a place with this much diversity and opportunity has nothing good to offer. Or maybe I’m just slowly losing my soul, and this column is a cry for help. That, I will leave for you to decide.
Frank Marasco is a first year graduate student in Los Angeles. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.