ATTITUDE AND LONGITUDE
The first time I told my Chicago born parents I wanted to live in New York City, I was five. I had never been, which, of course, they were quick to inform me. I assured them it didn’t matter. I knew in my heart it’s where I belonged, and where I would eventually wind up. They informed me the city was loud, crowded, dirty, and the winters were unbearable. But, even at five, I could see they were projecting all their reasons for moving from the Windy City to the Southwest onto their offspring. They laughed at my ignorance, suspecting I’d sing a far different tune after I’d had a taste of the Big Apple for myself. I must admit, my knowledge of the city, at that time, was restricted to books, pictures, and, of course, Hollywood’s portrayal of it on TV. But, like most things in life, once my heart is set on something, there’s no convincing me otherwise.
The first time I visited New York, I was 22. I had lived on my own in Los Angeles for four years, finally had the means to make the trip, and was confident I had enough “big city” experience to make it, safely. Not even New Year’s Eve in Times Square during the dead of winter was enough to turn me off - in the slightest. The city was everything I thought it’d be, despite everything I’d ever been warned it was known for: the crowds, the cramped spaces, the cold, the crime, and the unfriendly people always in a rush to get to their next destination. For the record, if three men sacrificing their train stop to wake you up for your own, then making sure you get safely into a cab that’s headed for the airport (and on their dime), is rude, I’m not really sure I want to live in a place that’s anything but. My experience in New York was nothing but absolutely magical, and I sobbed like a baby when I was forced to return home. I knew I’d be back, and, ever since, I escape Los Angeles to go as often as I can.
My love affair with New York goes deeper than the bright lights of Broadway and Carrie Bradshaw (even if that might be a contributing factor). If I’m being honest, for a while it wasn’t something I could explain to anyone - including myself. There was just a pull from that side of the country, as if it were calling me home. Curious to get to the bottom of it, I started peeling away at the layers to uncover the mystery.
Every time I’m in the city, I feel a sense of unity and community - something that, in my opinion, is gravely missing in the SoCal city in which I currently reside. Everyone knows that Los Angelenos are confined to the isolation of their cars, and because of all day traffic, we’re stuck inside them far more than anyone else. Driving one hour to go three miles is not uncommon, and as a result, deters us from having a quality social life. After spending a full day in traffic, driving from point A to point B to join friends for a drink, becomes a large factor in the flakiness Californians are known to have. Most often, people are unwilling to commit to something until minutes before because the sad truth is, until then, we won’t know how we feel. Sometimes, after a long hard day, it’s just easier to stay at home than go the distance for a mere moment of human interaction.
Obviously, our social skills can diminish over time, especially compared to that of New Yorkers, who are forced to be around people the minute they leave their home, if not the minute they wake up. In Los Angeles, limited interaction with humanity causes people to look more like obstacles in our way, as opposed to assets, enhancing and adding to our overall human experience.
Equally, we find ourselves less apt to help others because either no one helps us, or, we’re worried about how helping them might affect us, like if we’re running late for a work meeting. The nature of it all creates a self-serving species, and the “kill or be killed” mentality. People in Los Angeles always complain about it, yet somehow, it seems we all contribute to it at one point or another. Being consistently disappointed in others, we inevitably become disappointing to others, even with the purest of intentions. It’s why Los Angeleans love getting the hell out of town, traveling to other cities, and boasting about how much nicer the people are everywhere else. It was in my escape to somewhere else when this girl noticed something else, suggesting Californians are predisposed, and subliminally conditioned, to think only of themselves. It was a sign - literally.
My first time in Michigan, I took note of a road sign we passed as my boyfriend drove us toward the UP. It said: “Pass with Care.” I couldn’t help but notice how the words “with care" conjured a sense of selflessness, awareness of, and concern for other motorists on the road. The implication? One’s actions behind the wheel directly affects not only their individual safety, but someone else’s. Therefore, subconsciously, someone else’s life becomes your responsibility and priority when operating a vehicle. In contrast, that same signs in Los Angeles reads: “Pass with caution.” Caution. The word immediately makes you leery, doesn’t it? It puts you in a guarded or defensive state of mind going forward. Suddenly, your life becomes your only priority, as the implication is you must protect yourself from the careless, or, selfish, actions of others. It’s interesting how, simply because of word choice, each sign evokes an entirely different perspective, despite the fact they serve the same purpose. Even more interesting is how this subtle difference in signs echoes a major difference in the mentality of people in two different regions.
* * * * * *
People from the East always want to move West, and after years of trying to understand why, I’ve finally learned the reason. It’s always the same, and it’s the same reason my parents moved us here from an early age: the weather. People in the East are sick of having to deal with the seasons, and the idea of living in a city that boasts 70 degree year round weather sounds like a dream. However, when you find yourself living in a Groundhog Day of endless summer sunshine, it can somehow begin to feel more like a nightmare. One begins to notice that, while the grass may always be greener, it’s often artificial.
On the East Coast, and even in the Midwest, certain activities can only be enjoyed within a small window of opportunity. In the winter, it’s ice skating, ice fishing, building snowmen, skiing, sledding, tubing, snowball fights, etc. In the summer, it’s swimming in the lake, boating, sailing, water sports, fishing, sunbathing, camping, horseback riding, picnics, barbecues, pool parties, Slip ‘n Slides, etc. People wait an entire year before they have the weather to enjoy these activities. So, when the time finally arrives, they take full advantage, soaking it all up before it disappears again for another twelve months. I’ve only done a handful of those activities, a handful of times, in my entire lifetime! Up until two summers ago, I didn’t know what the game “Corn Hole” was, and I’d never lit a firework! The truth is, when the opportunity to do something is always there, there’s no urgency motivating you to do it. It’s like going to the beach in Los Angeles. Unless you’re a tourist or a surfer, most of us don’t want to deal with the traffic getting there, the parking, the crowds of tourists, the dirty beaches, or the cold, dirty water - so, we rarely go. We know it will always be there, so we always put it off. My point in referencing all of this is that seasons produce a naturally more grateful personality. It’s impossible for someone to have the same level of appreciation for something they always have at their disposal, compared to someone who has limited access or exposure to it.
The lack of seasons in Los Angeles, in my opinion, affect the social aspects I mentioned before, as well. Gathering a group of friends to do something they can’t do often is more motivation for them to follow through with the plan. But, in a city where the only thing that seems seasonal is attending a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, it’s rare that activities are carried out with as much precious urgency and commitment.
Additionally, seasons instill a greater work ethic within the people who have to survive them. Not only does having to shovel snow off your windshield make you more grateful for the summer when you no longer have to do it, it forces you to perform manual labor, every day. And, as a child in the Midwest or on the East Coast, your parents are most likely making you do that kind of shit - young. That’s not something I can say I witness a great deal of in Los Angeles. I am, literally, the only person I know who washes my own car instead of bringing it to a car wash.
My dad instilled that work ethic in my sister and me from an early age. For him, washing his car was always a privilege. He bought his own ’65 Mustang convertible in his twenties and had to take exceptional care of it in order for it to survive the year, exposed to the harsh winters of Chicago. He took as much pride in caring for it, as he did in showing it off. There’s a strong parallel between this kind of work ethic and people’s attitude. As long as you continue to throw money at a problem, how can you ever know the value of the work you’re paying someone else to do for you? That’s part of the reason I’ve noticed people on the West Coast appear more entitled than those on the East, as well. I find this theory is even applicable to the homeless.
Every time I’ve been in New York, I’ve seen the homeless, more often than not, telling jokes, playing music, singing, dancing, or offering to squeegee your windshield, for money. In Los Angeles, a large group of them can be found in brand new clothes, wearing white, shiny sneakers, holding a laminated sign asking for money, while they listen to music on their iPhone 5. One time, I did see a homeless man drawing pictures for money outside of my neighborhood post office. Wanting to encourage and support his work ethic, I offered to run back to my apartment to make him something to eat, as I didn’t have any cash. He turned me down, instead requesting I buy him a sandwich from Erewhon, a natural food store where half a sandwich is $11. At the time, I couldn't afford to eat there myself. But, there was a guy, familiar with their stock, giving me his order.
After all these observations and their resulting effects had marinated in my mind a little, I found myself starting to understand the affinity I had for New York and the East Coast, in general. I also found myself starting to resent living in Los Angeles. I was sure that if my parents had never moved us from Chicago, I would have ended up acting in the city of my dreams, as opposed to the City of Angels, or, as I like to call it, the Land of Flakes and Breaks. Now, it was too hard to uproot an entire life to move to a new city where, essentially, I’d be starting over. It weighed on me and ate at me until last year, when I took another trip to New York.
* * * * * *
I had always been told that the best way to live in New York was on someone else’s dime. And, on this particular trip, I found myself blessed enough to be in that very situation. Having a four star hotel paid for, and a chauffeured car to take me around the city for the three days I was there on business, I expected to fall even more in love with Manhattan. I even suspected I might not get back on the plane to return home. However, I was shocked to learn it had the opposite effect. Being trapped inside a car, stuck in traffic, surrounded by towering buildings, was giving me more nausea and anxiety than I ever could’ve imagined. Using my hotel per diem to purchase a ninety dollar steak with fries and broccoli, that was hardly as appetizing as what I cook for myself, and for less from Whole Foods, felt like an infuriating waste. And, having to kill a giant cockroach in the middle of the night after it crawled out from behind the toilet of said four star hotel, was quite a traumatizing experience - especially when the cockroach is longer than your middle finger… and you’re unaware of the horrible odor they emit once killed. Non-stop rushing from one side of the city to the other to make various meetings, see friends, and eat food, became so exhausting, I spent both of my nights in - which, of course, left me feeling incredibly guilty for not making the most of the trip by going out and taking in the city.
When I came home to California a few days later, I found new appreciation for the amount of space it generously provided. I felt grateful for my car, for being able to drive myself to the places I couldn’t walk, and for having space around me, to do with as I pleased. I was elated I could breathe fresh air, see the sunset, buy meat from local farms, and cook myself a dinner for less than twenty dollars. But, I was also shocked to realize I was guilty of having been everything I accused Los Angelenos of being: spoiled, entitled, selfish, and ungrateful. I had things far easier than I knew, but was too distracted by what was missing, to appreciate what I had.
As different as the two coasts may be, like all opposites, they work together to form a whole. In finding a balance of both ideologies, I found you can meet somewhere in the middle and create a lifestyle that makes you feel as though you’re right where you belong, and learn from experience, exactly who you want to be. I still love New York, and for the record always will, but I realize there’s room in my heart for two cities. I suppose the best way to say it is this: just because you don’t live in New York, doesn’t mean you can’t still live in a New York state of mind. And, just because you don’t live in Los Angeles, doesn’t mean you can’t live that West Coast lifestyle. To me, that’s the definition of bicoastal.