Wednesday, February 22, 2012

My LA: Conflicted

AFTER SITTING on a long flight the plane finally begins its descent into the Los Angeles International Airport. Depending on the time of day, I look out the window to get a bird’s eye view of a cluster of lights overwhelming the smog of a night sky or a bright sun softened by smog but still able to reflect the houses stacked upon houses in between the interwoven freeways transporting a never ending amount of shiny cars against the backdrop of the Santa Monica mountains. Once upon a time either sight filled me with the joy, and maybe even relief, that I was nearly home. The feeling I get when I look out my window and see Los Angeles below me has changed. The joy is gone. I am not relieved. What I see in these iconic views of LA now is a question – What the heck am I doing back here?
Since the age of fifteen I have been conflicted about Los Angeles. Before all of Los Angeles’ clich├ęs and smog began to taint my love for L.A. the sight of Los Angeles from the air gave me warm butterflies. The city was welcoming me home with open arms. It always felt like I left my heart in Los Angeles, and the instant I looked down from the airplane’s small window, my heart and I were reunited. The terminal had just the right amount of chaos and my home was just around the corner. When I finally made my way outside, the polluted air filled my nose with happiness and good memories. The slight breeze was cooling on my sun kissed skin.
And yet… every year, Angelenos seemed to become more fake and superficial, and more orange from their spray tans. The air seemed to increasingly thicken and the car population must have tripled. I began to think that earthquakes, Santa Ana winds, and fires overshadowed the mild climate. Perhaps the outdoor focus of the beaches, skateboarding, and hanging out was not the height of modern civilization. I became increasingly sure that maturing required experiences beyond Disneyland and In-n-Out. So when I finally turned eighteen, I packed my bags quickly, and the time came for me to break up with Los Angeles and find true love with New York City.
I lasted in New York for a year. I left L.A. to escape the suffocating smog, to never have to sit in traffic again, and to grow as a person without the influence of the bubble which seems to surround, shelter, and protect certain parts of the L.A. scene, and keeps those trapped inside the bubble ignorant and stuck, especially where I grew up in the South Bay. Much to my surprise, after six months had passed I had a longing for Los Angeles, even with all the negativity I attached to the words Los Angeles.
I didn’t even know it was possible to be twenty degrees for six months straight. Whenever I would walk out onto the cold streets of New York, my face immediately hurt. My nose, ears and cheeks felt like they were about to fall off and smash into tiny ice cubes on the dirty ground. I could not keep my body from shivering, even when I would receive strange looks from people passing by. New York’s cold winter weather made me cold towards New York.
The subway system made me miss sitting in traffic because if my commute was going to be stressful and I was going to be late, I’d rather it be my fault, and enjoy the cleanness and privacy of my car, and not because the trains were stopped for twenty minutes with people’s arms and bodies a few inches from my face. New York even had its own layer of smog. New York was grey and gloomy, but when I thought of Los Angeles all I could picture was a warm orange hazy sun shinning over the city.
New Yorkers did not seem any different from those living in Los Angeles, except they had much paler skin and more natural hair, which seemed to make them blander than those in Los Angeles. Also the people in New York could not seem to wrap their heads around my L.A. style and slang. Black was not only the new black it was the only color anybody ever wore, which clashed with my colorful Californian wardrobe. I spoke slower and used words I don’t think they thought people actually used in real conversation. When describing how bomb cupcakes tasted, instead of agreement, the three faces in front of me looked at me in confusion and entertainment, as if I said something hilarious. Then one finally said, “Bomb? As in ‘Da Bomb?’ That’s so 90’s!”
The things I happily left behind in Los Angeles were the things I began to miss the most. I missed my car. I missed the warm sand on the beach and the smell of the Pacific Ocean. I began counting down the days until I would see my friends and family, wear a bikini and sandals, and buy everything at a cheaper price. I was ready to leave New York and get back to where my heart seemed to be, in Los Angeles, so I hoped on a plane headed back to where I came from.
Arriving in Los Angeles from New York, I looked out of my airplane window to see tiny cars driving on the streets and freeways and hundreds of houses surrounding the tall buildings of the city. I felt like I was home again. I felt nostalgic, warm, and appreciative to call Los Angeles my home. This was the last time my bird’s eye view of Los Angeles gave me those feelings.
Los Angeles is the most populated city in California, and the second most populated city in the States under New York City. Over the years there has been a rising trend of people leaving Los Angeles for a place with more opportunities and more to offer. According the California Census Reports of 2008, more than 135,173 people migrated out of California and Los Angeles, however the population remains high due to births and non-Angeleno’s moving to Los Angeles hoping their dreams will come true. However, it seems as if L.A.’s natives are no longer hypnotized by the false promises L.A. continually offers
Eventually Los Angeles began to disappoint me yet again. Living in New York was not all bad, but the growing up in L.A. does not prepare someone for the fact that you can’t have it all. So, L.A. is the city I hate to love. I love it because it is my home, and my style and lingo doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb, but I hate it because it can’t keep me satisfied. I continue to look for a new place to call home, but Los Angeles keeps a firm grip on me. Every time I think I found a new place to go, Los Angeles calls me back, telling me “I am your home. This is where you belong.” Now whenever I fly back to Los Angeles and see the city outside the plane’s window, I am saddened with disappointment and a desire for a home that can offer me more than perfect weather, tanned bodies, and celebrity sightings. Instead of seeing beauty below me, I see too much pollution, too many cars, and too much concrete. I am just not sure if that overpowers my love for my home. I guess it’s true that Los Angeles is synonymous with love and disappointment at the same time.
-Nastassja Habers
- Photo credit: Steve Perrin

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