Friday, March 9, 2012

The Lost and the Found

I ONCE lived in London for four months.  The entire time, I don't think I got lost once.  Sure, being so far away from home can feel like being stranded in the middle of nowhere, but when it came down to getting from point A to point B, I never once failed, ending up somewhere I wasn't supposed to be.  London makes it easy to find yourself, to be where you want to be... the underground system is intelligible and so user friendly that a six year old could navigate the town.  I've lived in Los Angeles for twenty years, however, and it seems like I am always getting lost.  You get off the freeway one or two stops too soon and you are in an entirely different world.  There are an innumerable amount of pockets, corners and crevices in Los Angeles that want to swallow you away from your path, and there are no clear instructions to keep you on track.

Last night I agreed to drive a friend to Highland Park, yet another place in Los Angeles that I had never been.  She directed me as we drove east and then north on the Pasadena freeway, then through a labyrinth of graffiti-ridden streets, donut shops and convenience stores and Chinese food restaurants and fast food restaurants and slithering on into a realm of repression-hit homes, flaking, breaking bungalows and neglected apartment complexes.  The homes are built on angles, into bluffs, overlooking cliffs, crooked like rows of rotting teeth, and we're still rolling forward, farther and farther from the freeway, farther from the delicate vein of transit that will connect me home.  I feel severed, then, realizing I've lost track of the twists and turns we've taken away from familiarity.  I drive up a steep, cracked and weathered hill and down into a winding, shallow canyon where we finally make it to a cul de sac, a crescent moon of pleasant, well-maintained houses precariously embedded into a cliff.

Across my dashboard I could see deep into a gutted valley sprinkled with trees and pastel colored houses and complex webs of telephone wires.  "So, do you know how to get back?" My friend asks casually, stepping out of the car in leather, Jeffrey Campbell platform heels.  I could ask for point by point directions or program "current location" and "destination" into my phone, put I choose to get lost.

I put on Lana Del Rey, the most quintessentially Los Angeles  artist of the moment, and begin tracing my way back to the freeway.  My memory of streets begins to fade and each time the road parts I seem to choose the wrong direction.  It is nighttime now.  A starless night, the only light comes from living rooms--darkness and spray paint intentionally obscure the names on street signs.  I find myself on a road so narrow that my car brushes up occasionally against the row of cars parked on my right and the spray of trees poke their arms through my slightly cracked window on my left while Lana laments an absent lover...a man who chose the futile chase of money over her love.  In Los Angeles, everybody wants money and acceptance, money and validation.  Or we want validation and think money will bring it to us, think that having somebody to love will prove to ourselves that we are legitimate, valid creatures.  Here, love is interchangeable with money; it is a commodity we use to prove our worth.  Interchangeable with money, love is cheapened easily in Los Angeles.  In Los Angeles, everybody wants to be told they exist.  In Los Angeles, everybody wants to be found.

-- Zahra Lipson
Photo Credit:


  1. I love your descriptions Zahra, I can really see you in your car squinting at the signs trying to decide which way to turn. Blending in the music with how you feel about Los Angeles and how you felt that night was beautifully done.

  2. This is such an interesting idea - moving to a different continent and never getting lost, but getting lost in your own city at every turn. I had a similar experience when I lived in Florence last semester. There is no public transportation in Florence other than the bus system, but the Duomo at the center of the city can be seen from any point and makes it nearly impossible to get lost. Even without the Duomo, the streets are curved and inviting and always lead you back to a main road. I am not a native Angeleno, but I am a native Californian and it is true that getting off at the wrong freeway exit can land you in "an entirely different world," as you put it. Although getting lost in L.A. can often be frustrating and overwhelming, your description of purposely getting lost, alone in your car with your music, sounds very peaceful and reflective. I would say I should try this soon... but I won't have to try too hard to get lost! Beautiful piece.

  3. This post is really interesting because it's so relatable and reminds me that I have been in your exact situation, being completely lost (although not on purpose!) I can picture it. It's oddly familiar, yet also poetic in a sense, especially in the end. Great job!