VOICES: Year One in Los Angeles—Live Fast or Get Run Over

Los Angeles has a lot to be sentimental about, but it's not for the soft of heart.

New beginnings are the edge of a cliff. You don’t realize you’re going over until you’re already over. You fall flat on your ass or land on your feet; either way, there's that period of time when you’re not on stable ground. Moving to Los Angeles when you’re 25 and wide-eyed, there’s a chance you’ll end up facedown on the pavement with your dreams and unpaid student loans spilling out on the sidewalk.

Not always. This place will thicken your skin and force you to find who it is that you want to be.

"Have you had your heart broken? Lost a job? Gotten in a car accident? Welcome to L.A.”

If you’re wired a certain way, the jungle quickly becomes home. You feel at ease under the helicopters hovering above Hollywood Boulevard. The piercing sound of sirens tearing down Sunset in the middle of the night calms your nerves. The hours you spend in freeway traffic become your daily escape; your moment of zen. You get fried chicken and colorful drinks in Koreatown. You drink your fruits and vegetables for $12 a bottle in Venice. You go on dates with strangers from the Internet at dark bars in Silver Lake. And you avoid driving down Crenshaw altogether. 

Sometimes, you subsist on tacos and pupusas that go for a dollar a piece from women in trucks on street corners in every part of town. They call you, "mijo" and give you attitude when you ask for extra hot sauce—but they give you the hot sauce too. You walk through Westlake and MacArthur Park: On Alvarado, you can buy anything you want. But you don't go there very long after dark; you learn this quickly or the hard way. 

There'll be someone willing to get into trouble with you twenty-four hours a day, if you're looking for it, or want to pay for it. And when you're sad or lonely, you drive to the sea, wade through the waves of tourists, walk out to the end of the pier and peer out across the Pacific. 

You never quite shake the cold feeling that creeps up on you each time you go underneath a freeway overpass and into a makeshift tent city. Life in L.A. is fragile. It doesn't matter if you're paid by the episode, by-the-hour, or not at all. But it's also beautiful, and full of promise.

Image via Jennifer Yin/Flickr

You’re home. You feel free. You live on top of your neighbors, who live on top of their neighbors, and you all exist in your own L.A. bubble—filled with highs and lows and hopes and dreams. 

This is what I've learned: Los Angeles is a city in constant motion. Being stagnant or simply existing is just not an option. Time is your most valuable commodity and mostly you only ever stop moving long enough to sleep, if only for a few hours each night.  You work and struggle and hope that one day it all clicks. Because of a lot of the time it does. There are roads and boulevards and freeways that lead to every corner and crevice of the city, but there is no straight path or set guide to navigating daily life within its limits. 

On an electrical box in Hollywood, a street artist scrawled this message: Do something every day to remind this city why the hell you're here. You can sit around and wait for your big L.A. moments to happen, but you'd be better off to engineer them yourself. 

I moved here for a job with a startup. Before I could even deposit a full paycheck, the company was forced to "pivot," and most of its staff was laid off on the same day that I had plans to sign a lease on a new place. There's no time to hang your head. You learn to roll with it. 

This place inspires, but if you’ve ever wanted to feel insignificant, look out the window next time you fly into LAX. You’re just another blinking light; another dot on the map. And it can sometimes feel that all of the other dots blink just a little bit brighter than you. Shake it off. This city is tough, and so are the people that live here; the people that are from here. Act accordingly.

“Have you had your heart broken? Lost a job? Gotten in a car accident? Welcome to L.A.”

I've been asked this sequence of questions three different times. Each time I responded: Yes. Yes. Yes—well kind of—nothing serious.

It takes a curious but hardened soul to stick it out in Los Angeles.  I've made it just over 365 days. But tomorrow could be my last. Everything is temporary in this city, so you learn to live just as fast.

Photo via Ben Karris/The KIND.