Saturday, January 16, 2010
DON'T FIND YOURSELF HALFWAY UP A LADDER YOU DON'T WANT TO CLIMB
My move to Los Angeles started on a ferry boat in San Francisco on the 4th of July. It was my birthday. My girlfriend and I were joined by two friends to watch the fireworks. They had been married for nearly a decade but still had a never ending debate about the merits of Los Angeles vs. San Francisco. Roger is a lawyer who was born and raised in LA. Amy is a therapist who was born and raised in San Francisco. The Bay was exceptionally cold, windy, and thick with fog. We were all underdressed and the only thing keeping us warm was a bottle of Grey Goose. The only fireworks I remember from that boat ride was the fight that broke out over the city of Los Angeles. Honestly, I don’t even remember that.
The next day my girlfriend asked me what I thought of Roger’s perspective on LA. I admitted that the only thing I remembered from that entire night was how embarrassed I was for spending half an hour (or more) locked in the bathroom of our favorite restaurant… puking. She reminded me that he had described San Francisco as a beautiful woman who is stunning to look at but actually very shallow. Not much below the surface. Los Angeles, however, is the opposite. It is ugly in many ways, but you can spend a whole lifetime getting to know her without ever getting bored. I was skeptical of such a simple analysis but her mind was made up. She was sick and tired of San Francisco and wanted to move to LA. I refused.
Although I grew up in the Rocky Mountain West, my High School was obsessed with surfing. We were thousands of miles from the ocean but my friends and I all had bleach blond hair, wore surfer shorts and flip flops… even in the winter. At the time there was no doubt in my mind that someday I would live in LA.
As the years wore on, so did the reputation of the LA. First there was the Rodney King beatings and the ensuing riots. Then the OJ Simpson trial. Finally there was the Rampart scandal that exposed widespread, hard core, corruption throughout the LAPD. By the time I left college, LA was pretty much of the table as a place I wanted to live. After living in the city of San Francisco for 10 years, whose population almost universally considers Los Angeles synonymous with hell, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to come here for the weekend. As of that faithful 4th of July, the closest I had been to LA was in an airplane on my way to San Diego.
As much as I wanted Los Angeles to go away and leave me alone, it wouldn’t. I felt that I had done a pretty good job of refuting my girlfriends pro LA propaganda but one day this City snuck up on me quite unexpectedly.
I had what I thought was my dream job working for the City of San Francisco. It was high pay and low stress. My co-workers even took me into a private room to warn me that I was working to hard and creating “unrealistic expectations.” As a self-identified “slacker” I was thrilled. I returned to my cubicle and did my best not to impress anybody. It worked. My co-workers started smiling at me and inviting me to lunch. I came in late, left early, took two hour lunches and nobody seemed to notice or care. My biggest problem was figuring out something to do with the rest of my time. Even though I was not yet 40, I decided to do what everybody else was doing… plan my retirement.
As I was surfing the Internet one day for a place to retire, I accidentally stumbled on the website for the Architecture Urbanism Design Collaborative (audc.org). The core values listed for the organization are as follows:
Love: Envisioning communities – even if dispersed - based on caring, sharing, and belonging.
Beauty: To set an example for people to rise to.
Ethics: To instill, by demonstration, a way of acting, to demonstrate integrity.
Abstraction: To create a background that allows individuals to define identities amidst the infinite possibilities of contemporary life.
As I read these words I felt the walls closing in on me. I suddenly realized I was in a prison and had to escape. But where would I go? At the top of the unusually sparse page was a button that said “random”. I pushed it.
The article that came up was titled “Los Angeles and the Theology of Ether”. It described the theory of Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt that national governments are withering away and being replaced with a new world order of placeless networks of flows and hierarchies. Although these networks do not have fixed locations the authors suggest that “new Romes” appear to control them: Washington DC with the Bomb, New York with the Money, and Los Angeles with the Ether. According to the article:
“Los Angeles is the center of production for ether. Hollywood, as both a mythic place and a mode of production, is the telematic inhaler for the rest of the world, a sponge so soaked and saturated with ether that it can anaesthetize the entire world. Now that we have Los Angeles, we no longer need other cities. Los Angeles has been designed as a giant stage set, ready for broadcast. As a generic background, it can be exported to any location”.
Not exactly Shangri-La but I decided to move here right after I read it. Featured with the article was a hazy photo with downtown LA off in the distance. I made it the wall paper on my computer. I also changed my computer password to onmyway2la and began a search for jobs here.
Much to my disappointment, I could not find any jobs in LA (that I qualified for) that would pay anything close to what I was making. Also, I kept thinking of an expression I had heard from a homeless man who had offered me career advice, “don’t find yourself half way up a ladder you don’t want to climb.” I had once been employed working for the homeless and now felt that I should have listened to the his advice and continued working in that field. Although LA is the homeless capitol of America, I was discovering that there were very few decent paying jobs doing that kind of work here.
Finally, I noticed an opening as an Analyst for the City of Santa Monica’s Homeless Services. I didn’t know what an analyst was but the pay was the same as I was making at my current job and it related to the issue of homelessness. It felt like a “hale mary” but I applied for my first job in LA.
Weeks, and then months, went by and I never heard anything. Eventually I forgot that I had ever applied for the job. With so few prospects in LA, I gave up on the idea of getting a job here and reapplied myself to not working for the City of San Francisco. My lack of initative eventually paid off and lead to a promotion. Two weeks into my new position I got the call from the City of Santa Monica. I was now making more money than that job but I remembered the homeless man’s warning “don’t find yourself half way up a latter you don’t want to climb.” I accepted the interview and booked my first flight to LA.