Moving to LA is like moving anywhere else except that LA is bigger, weirder, and has more to gawk at, complain about, and enjoy than any other place I’ve been.
Now I should state that I HATE it when people make generalizations about any place (and LA is a place people love to generalize about), and that LA is fucking massive — it’s cities within cities that literally defy categorical description because there’s no one ‘LA’ — drive a few blocks and the landscape and culture transform before your very eyes.
I moved from Seattle two years ago and have only lived in the Hollywood area of LA — first in West Hollywood and now in East — and so I’ve only resided in the most cliched, strangest, schizophrenic five square miles that LA has conjured up for the edification of tourists and the entertainment elite. So when I talk about LA I’m talking about my own little periscope of experience that I’ve had in LA — a city that I could spend a lifetime exploring and still would not even scratch the surface.
1. No coconuts
This example may only serve to identify the staggering depth of my Los Angeles naiveté, but the very first thing I noticed upon entering LA was the total lack of coconut-bearing palms. Being from Seattle I’d only experienced palm trees as a result of travel to tropical locations like Central America and Southeast Asia, places where coconuts droop from palm fronds and can be harvested by any intrepid human or monkey. Within 15 minutes of being in LA my world came crashing down around my ears. WHERE ARE ALL THE COCONUTS!! I demanded, peering wildly around. Rows upon rows of palms, some tall and spindly, some stout and squat, but not one of them bore a single coconut.
I immediately asked the first local I could find, “Why don’t the palm trees have coconuts?” and a look of complete astonishment broke over her face.
“I…don’t know. I’ve never thought of that.”
2. Helicopter noise
If there’s such a thing as peace and quiet in LA, I’ve only found it with my face submerged in the Pacific Ocean. Otherwise a clattering, whooshing, honking, bellowing, farting cacophony is so ever-pervasive that I’ve begun to think of it as the species of whimsical white noise that can be found in the echoes of any conch shell.
But let’s get real — it’s just fucking loud here. And above the dull roar comes the choppa-choppa-choppa of a circling helicopter that’s banking low over your neighborhood in search of…something. These metal birds fill the sky — on a hike in the Hollywood Hills, when I’m above the city and can really scan the entire metropolis, a favorite game is ‘count the ‘copters.’ Near and far they circle and spin — news crews, police choppers, emergency air transports, military and coast guard — each adding a new layer of choppa-choppa to the schizophrenic symphony.
3. No weather / no seasons
People ask you how you like LA and the first damn thing that always flies out of your rain-soaked Pacific Northwest mouth is how gosh darn awesome the weather is. And it is. And not just because you come from what people believe is a land without sun. The weather is…perfect. The sun graces LA an average of 292 days a year, and the median temperature is about 74°F. Not too shabby.
But wait — all of this sunshine can get old if you enjoy a little thing the rest of the country calls ‘seasons’ and ‘weather.’ I don’t love the rain, but I like it. I also like waking up to the first snow of the season and watching for the cherry blossoms to bloom in recognition of spring, and these are things you sacrifice in the name of Awesome Weather.
4. Teeny tiny dogs
This is maybe a Hollywood thing, I don’t know. Or maybe it’s a city thing, I don’t know. Whatever the reason, it seems the majority of dogs are selected on lowest body weight and largest eyeballs. These little creatures are like spoofs of what a dog could be if rendered completely incapacitated from all its animal power and made into a shivering, bug-eyed accoutrement. I call these dogs ‘tacos’ (for their size and their snack-like appearance), and for better or worse they’re everywhere, which leads me to…
5. Dog shit
Like any great city, LA has more dog shit than it knows what to do with. I took a break from writing this article, went for a walk, and stepped in dog shit. The other day I was strolling to the grocery store and stepped in dog crap twice — fresh poo for each shoe! Surely you’re thinking I need to pay more attention, watch my step, and maybe I do — but the sheer volume of dog-bombs that I don’t step in every day is astounding.
I’m not the only one who’s noticed this smelly public safety problem, as homemade signs abound that beg, threaten, and cajole dog owners into removing and properly disposing of their pooches’ fecal leavings. Even so, you can’t stride 10 feet without finding a turd. This is not only offensive to my delicate nasal passages, it’s genuinely an ecological disaster if you consider that in 1991 the EPA put dog poop in the same category as herbicides and insecticides; oil, grease, and toxic chemicals; and acid drainage from abandoned mines. Abandoned mines!
6. Leaf blowers
It’s not a jet pack — even though it’s as loud as a jet engine. And it’s not a flamethrower — even though it runs on gas and looks like a trench-clearing war toy. It’s the bane of my LA existence, the leaf blower. We don’t blow a lot of leaves in Washington (they’re wet and stuck together). When we have a pile of tree debris, we rake it up and that’s that.
In LA, all manner of ground waste is ‘cleaned’ by blowing it into the air, swirling dust and garbage in a dirty little storm of flotsam. This seems to be the way to deal with anything on the sidewalk — leaf blow it into the street. If only they’d invent a leaf blower that deals a death blow to sun-baked chihuahua poop.
7. Awesome food
It’s not all leaf blowers and dog shit to the LA newcomer — a land of gastronomic delights awaits! LA showed me that a good carnitas is worth a 40-minute drive through traffic. LA has enormous ethnic communities from all over the world. It has the biggest population of Vietnamese and Thai outside their home countries, and this means incredible and authentic food.
People think LA, and they immediately go for great Mexican, of which there is plenty, but there’s so much more to explore. Keep cash at the ready — you’re bound to run into a food truck, and you want to be ready!
8. Duck lips and other plastic surgery fails
Duck lips is the unfortunate result of too much of a good thing. The absurdity of these preposterous protrusions of over-stuffed lips is lost only to the bearer of the duck lips. They think it looks great.
On one of my first trips to the grocery store in Beverly Hills, I saw duck lips for the very first time. It was as if every botched C-list celebrity surgery that was ever paraded on TV suddenly made sense — for if you pay good money to inflate your face-parts for god knows what end, then you’ll pretty much do anything.
9. Running red lights
Driving in LA can be nuts. Yes, the traffic is EPIC. Yes, it takes forever to get anywhere. But it isn’t just the density of the traffic that strikes you — the rules of the road have evolved in LA to accommodate the manic stream of motorists, and to the newcomer it can look like lawless chaos.
The best example of this is that everyone runs red lights when they’re turning. There’s almost no opportunity to make a left-hand turn at a light, and so two to five cars take their turn after the light goes red and the opposing lanes of traffic begin to move. In this way the green light is eaten up by people taking their left-hand red-light turns, and the intersection comes to a standstill. Everyone grips their wheel and stares forward.
At first this shocks you. Then it offends you. Then you give in and run the red light.
10. Valet Jedis
As night falls, they can be seen swinging their red ‘lightsabers’ at any approaching car: the valet Jedis of Hollywood. Valet parking is not a thing in Seattle — here it’s a way of life, and so I was introduced to the way of the valet. I enjoy watching opposing Jedis standing kitty-corner to each other competing for customers. Their lightsabers arch through the air, and from my car I make Darth Vader breath noises and beseech them, “Join the Dark Side!”
On my daily two-hour sunset hike yesterday through Griffith Park I realized I’d be selling the whole damn city short if I didn’t include the Santa Monica Mountains in this list. They’re truly one of the most striking features about LA — no other American city has a mountain chain running through it.
My love for the mountains (known to most outsiders as the Hollywood Hills) and their dozens of parks large and small is enormous! Did you know the Santa Monica Mountains are also the oldest mountain chain in North America, and that there are over 1,000 archaeological sites cataloged within them, the oldest dating back to 5,000 BCE? Seattle’s got nuthin’ on that.