Goodbye LA: You Suck and I’ll Miss You

RIGHT NOW

As I write this I’m sitting along the periphery of the waiting area for Gate 35 at LAX airport, my worldly belongings nearly identifiable as they bulge and poke and scramble to find a way out of the carry-on bag they are piled into like refugees.

They have no home, and now, neither do I.

I turned in the keys to the townhouse I shared with my girlfriend Kristin for the last year about 2 hours ago, slowly raising the creaky metal door over the mail slot and sliding them in. Unceremoniously. Heartlessly. I took no photos of the front of the building as I walked away. I doubt I ever took any.

Riding in the stripped, industrial white ‘kidnapper van’ owned by my friend Dustin (who graciously offered to drop myself and Kristin off at the airport), I couldn’t help but go over the ups and downs of my time in Los Angeles, and reflect upon what I’ve learned, what I’ve gained and what I’ve lost.

REMEMBER THE GOOD THINGS

Los Angeles is many things to many people, but to a large portion of the people who live here, LA means opportunity. There are parallels between the immigrants who have crossed oceans to make a new life for themselves in the United States and the cocktail waitresses, Sui chefs, theatre ushers and personal assistants who crossed the Rockies to make their living in Los Angeles. Both groups sacrificed much in hopes of striking it rich, leaving their friends and families in order to follow their dreams, damn the odds!, and just maybe get famous and beautiful and be a part of it all.

Having lived here for a few years, I can tell you that there definitely is an ‘it all’ to be a part of. This city is cultured, wealthy, half-crazed and beautiful, and just as vain as any celebrity-centric TV show would have you believe. People will wait hours in line outside a club on the off chance that someone will snap a photo of them at that club. Like a cheerleading squad with 12 million members, LA is oiled and operated by freshly minted popularity.

Despite the gilded exterior, at its core Los Angeles is actually quite solidly built, with a vast number of cultures and ideas honestly represented. Though the Hollywood movie industry is based on a system that turns lots of money into very poor films, there is also a thriving independent film culture that is kept crisp and edgy by a population in which nearly everyone is an amateur actor, writer, camera-operator, animator, producer or ‘sound-guy.’

The technology and energy sector in LA is doing very well, and if I’m any judge of these kinds of trends, it’s going to really explode in the next decade. Hundreds of bright, capable, hungry young entrepreneurs are making their mark in Los Angeles with novel concepts, new approaches to old problems and the business savvy to get their projects funded and keep them afloat until they become self-sustaining.

Speaking of sustainability, the eco-energy market in SoCal is also on the verge of taking off, with dozens of viable new solar, wind and biofuel companies coming out of the woodwork to take their share of (and leave their mark on) the new energy economy. Networking groups like Green Drinks LA help sustainability enthusiasts from different fields come together and share resources, ideas and organic vodka drinks.

I have definitely changed as a result of my exposure to the LA way of life. When I first moved out here from Springfield, Missouri over 2 years ago, I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of policies and personalities. What I discovered is a vast and colorful collage of people who generally work well together despite the millions of individual idiosyncrasies, cultural baggage and conflicting philosophies.

LEARN FROM THE BAD

I could tell all kinds of stories about business people who stabbed me in the back, nightclubs that are really just fancy drug dens and the myriad close-call experiences I’ve had during my stay here, but I think instead I’ll tell you about something that happened just this morning, because it serves as a nice explanation of the city and its people as a whole.

At about 6am this morning, my apartment was already a whirlwind of activity as Kristin and I hurriedly cleaned and packed and took care of all the last-minute things we weren’t able to get around to previously.

I barely paused when, taking a few bags of trash down to the dumpster in the alleyway behind our apartment, I turned the corner and startled a group of 4 Hispanic men gathered around it. An arm appeared from within the dumpster and the rest of another man followed, holding out his prize to his friend: a bright blue and yellow plastic air pump, made to inflate a Pilates ball.

I knew what it was because, up until the day before, it was MY plastic air pump.

As I covered the rest of the distance between me and the dumpster, I realized that one of the faces of this group was familiar. The guy who does repairs for my building was leading the group, directing what should be taken and what should be thrown back. Like the captain of a fishing boat, he was making sure they brought in the best catch possible. He looked to me as I approached and signaled that he would toss the bags for me. We exchanged grins and nods and I went back upstairs to my life, leaving them to theirs.

A few of my friends in college would dumpster dive from time to time, usually to find lamps or furniture or posters that would spruce up their dorm rooms or cheap rented houses. These men, however, were clearly diving with more purpose, and very likely whatever they find on these excursions make up a significant portion of their income, allowing them to take care of themselves and their families.

If you can understand how this scenario was not uncomfortable for the group of men at the dumpster or for me, then you understand Los Angeles. There is a certain paradox in every glitzy event, photo shoot and feature film that takes place in LA, because, though we elevate and celebrate the wealth and beauty that exists here, it would not be possible without the sheer number of people in the lower economic class who have made this city their home. They love LA and the possibilities it offers so much that they are willing to suffer through any amount of drudgery or humiliating situations to stay.

I should clarify: I wasn’t TOTALLY okay with my morning’s exchange. When I got back to my apartment, I couldn’t help but look at all the things I have (meager though they are, now, after getting rid of everything that wouldn’t fit inside my carry-on) and think, “Wow, I got a pretty damn good lot in life.” It’s great that almost anything that is thrown away in LA has the chance of a second life, but the fact that there are those who need to scrounge these items to make ends meet is not a pleasant thought.

ON MY WAY OUT

My lack of willingness to fall into these roles that most people here seem to take up so naturally might be part of why I’m so ready to leave LA for almost anywhere else. This city has treated me very well and I’ve met some absolutely amazing people these past couple of years, but from the start I wasn’t able to muster the level of escapism and intentional self-deception that is required to turn a blind eye to the problems that are glaringly obvious as you walk through almost any part of LA (okay, when you DRIVE through almost any part of LA; it’s not socially acceptable to walk too much here).

I lost a lot of the naiveté I possessed after living in Missouri for most of my life, but I also spent a good amount of my time here avoiding a completely different kind of ignorance that seems to be endemic in any city that has as much to offer as LA: a lack of concern for anything outside of what’s shown in magazines, talked about on the morning news shows and gossiped about over gourmet miniature cupcakes and green tea frozen yogurt.

As I board the plane that heralds the beginning of my new lifestyle, I’m hoping that I will be able to keep myself from falling prey to the intentional self-deception that I’ve spent so much time and energy dodging while at the same time spreading the innovative notions and warm thoughts toward the future that I’ve been exposed to in LA that have allowed me to build up my business and myself to the point where I am now: able to purchase a ticket to a new life full of new opportunities.

53 comments

  1. Colin,

    This is the article I have been waiting to read from you. Glad you were able to muster the courage to pursue something different in your life. Good luck on the journey!

    Sean

  2. Colin,

    This is the article I have been waiting to read from you. Glad you were able to muster the courage to pursue something different in your life. Good luck on the journey!

    Sean

  3. Even though you think LA sucks, we all know that you still love it and you are going to miss it as much as it (we) will miss you. Safe journey and best of luck in you world trip.

  4. Even though you think LA sucks, we all know that you still love it and you are going to miss it as much as it (we) will miss you. Safe journey and best of luck in you world trip.

  5. As I venture through my daily life in my minds eye, similar events (concerning the dumpster diving) appear quite regularly for me. The reader’s/viewer’s perspective greatly determines the appropriateness of the title LEARNING FROM THE BAD.

    Some might say that this isn’t only bad, it’s grotesque – “A man leading a group of scroungers through our neighborhoods! these men should be taken off the streets so we don’t have to worry about our children when they’re outside”. Myself on the other hand, being an optimist (with an odd sense of reasoning) would see this as a joyous experience for you by using the game of comparison. What a moment! To be a man who has everything (but a home and a girlfriend ;) comfortably walk up to a group of men who are using their resourcefulness to make a living for themselves. This truly shows the power of LA society. Where even with such a visual distinction between the economic positions of yourself with these men, you show that there is no class separation and that you respect and treat them as equals.

    I for one, am happy to be left with the dumpsters and trash that you will be leaving behind, knowing that opportunity and experience can be found anywhere you choose to look for it.

  6. As I venture through my daily life in my minds eye, similar events (concerning the dumpster diving) appear quite regularly for me. The reader’s/viewer’s perspective greatly determines the appropriateness of the title LEARNING FROM THE BAD.

    Some might say that this isn’t only bad, it’s grotesque – “A man leading a group of scroungers through our neighborhoods! these men should be taken off the streets so we don’t have to worry about our children when they’re outside”. Myself on the other hand, being an optimist (with an odd sense of reasoning) would see this as a joyous experience for you by using the game of comparison. What a moment! To be a man who has everything (but a home and a girlfriend ;) comfortably walk up to a group of men who are using their resourcefulness to make a living for themselves. This truly shows the power of LA society. Where even with such a visual distinction between the economic positions of yourself with these men, you show that there is no class separation and that you respect and treat them as equals.

    I for one, am happy to be left with the dumpsters and trash that you will be leaving behind, knowing that opportunity and experience can be found anywhere you choose to look for it.

  7. Great essay, Colin. You and I seem to have gone through some similar experiences. I grew up in Iowa, and I moved to Los Angeles at 21, after having spent time alone in Europe (after undergrad) followed by less than a year in New York. The first time, I stayed for nearly three years, but I returned two more times before my latest departure.

    Like you, I have learned that I am incapable of turning a blind eye. I have found I am much happier when I own as few possessions as possible. I want to spend my life doing something that matters, not only to me as an individual, but to the whole of humanity. It’s a tall order, for sure, and we have to forgive ourselves for not being able to do everything for everyone. Every small gesture makes a big difference.

    Glad to see you are finally heading out on your new adventure. Have fun and blaze some trails for all of us! :D

  8. Great essay, Colin. You and I seem to have gone through some similar experiences. I grew up in Iowa, and I moved to Los Angeles at 21, after having spent time alone in Europe (after undergrad) followed by less than a year in New York. The first time, I stayed for nearly three years, but I returned two more times before my latest departure.

    Like you, I have learned that I am incapable of turning a blind eye. I have found I am much happier when I own as few possessions as possible. I want to spend my life doing something that matters, not only to me as an individual, but to the whole of humanity. It’s a tall order, for sure, and we have to forgive ourselves for not being able to do everything for everyone. Every small gesture makes a big difference.

    Glad to see you are finally heading out on your new adventure. Have fun and blaze some trails for all of us! :D

  9. Haven’t spent too much time in LA, but I can see how that kind of lifestyle can be a bit much. You write very well, my friend. I wish you luck on your journey!

  10. Haven’t spent too much time in LA, but I can see how that kind of lifestyle can be a bit much. You write very well, my friend. I wish you luck on your journey!

  11. congrats on your exile, colin! yes, this city of sunshine and smog has certainly left its mark on all of us. very excited to hear about what life has in store for you next. safe travels~

  12. congrats on your exile, colin! yes, this city of sunshine and smog has certainly left its mark on all of us. very excited to hear about what life has in store for you next. safe travels~

  13. You’re lucky – That’s as clean as that van has been in months! Enjoy your adventure. Great article.

  14. You’re lucky – That’s as clean as that van has been in months! Enjoy your adventure. Great article.

  15. Some great thoughts on a great city… I agree it’s important to jump ship in order to get out of the standard roles. I look forward to having you out on the proverbial open road!

  16. Some great thoughts on a great city… I agree it’s important to jump ship in order to get out of the standard roles. I look forward to having you out on the proverbial open road!

  17. That’s a pretty compelling snapshot of L.A. Even if it is “ends meet.” “End’s meat” sounds like rump roast to me.

  18. That’s a pretty compelling snapshot of L.A. Even if it is “ends meet.” “End’s meat” sounds like rump roast to me.

  19. @Sean: Thanks buddy! I can’t wait to read your post, “FU, Portland, I’m Leaving the Country,” in the very near future!

    @Nina: You caught me :) Too bad we met right before I had to leave! You’ll have to come visit me at some point. Maybe I’ll make it to Nigeria and we can meet up there?

    @Geoff: Amen to that, brother. Great pearls of wisdom, and I can’t wait to see what you come up with next while holding down the fort in SoCal. Way Below Status Quo will live on!

    @Nathiel: Missouri in a few days, then Miami, then Argentina. After that? I’ll be having people vote on my website again, which will determine where I head to (which is how Argentina was decided). You going to be in Missouri? It’d be good to see you!

    @Crystal: We’ll forgive ourselves, sure, but all the while will secretly be conniving how to make that tall order a reality anyway! Can’t wait to see what you’re up to; when’s your site launching?

    @Mindaugus: Thanks so much! Just checked out your site and want to know more! Keep writing, and/or shoot me an email if you get the chance.

    @lillie: Thanks for the well-wishes! Happy to see that you’re still blogging with gusto! And Mischa, too apparently? Now I can see all the delicious food he’s making and not feeding me :(

    @Jenda: Yeah, it looked pretty spiffy. Thanks man!

    @Dan: Thanks Dan! Let’s all make it a point to shake things up where we can…not enough people doing so in the world. Standard societal roles are a great place to start!

    @Dario: Thanks, and good to know: I’m thinking this is largely the kind of style I’ll be using for my travel writings, so there will be more to come.

    @Will: Thanks for catching my grammatical faux pas, Will! Interesting side note to everyone else; while I’m writing this, I’m actually at Will’s incredible high-rise apartment in Seattle, and he’s playing his electric organ right behind me. It’s kind of creepy, actually. Neat and creepy.

    @Arvizu: Thank you, sir! Much appreciated!

  20. @Sean: Thanks buddy! I can’t wait to read your post, “FU, Portland, I’m Leaving the Country,” in the very near future!

    @Nina: You caught me :) Too bad we met right before I had to leave! You’ll have to come visit me at some point. Maybe I’ll make it to Nigeria and we can meet up there?

    @Geoff: Amen to that, brother. Great pearls of wisdom, and I can’t wait to see what you come up with next while holding down the fort in SoCal. Way Below Status Quo will live on!

    @Nathiel: Missouri in a few days, then Miami, then Argentina. After that? I’ll be having people vote on my website again, which will determine where I head to (which is how Argentina was decided). You going to be in Missouri? It’d be good to see you!

    @Crystal: We’ll forgive ourselves, sure, but all the while will secretly be conniving how to make that tall order a reality anyway! Can’t wait to see what you’re up to; when’s your site launching?

    @Mindaugus: Thanks so much! Just checked out your site and want to know more! Keep writing, and/or shoot me an email if you get the chance.

    @lillie: Thanks for the well-wishes! Happy to see that you’re still blogging with gusto! And Mischa, too apparently? Now I can see all the delicious food he’s making and not feeding me :(

    @Jenda: Yeah, it looked pretty spiffy. Thanks man!

    @Dan: Thanks Dan! Let’s all make it a point to shake things up where we can…not enough people doing so in the world. Standard societal roles are a great place to start!

    @Dario: Thanks, and good to know: I’m thinking this is largely the kind of style I’ll be using for my travel writings, so there will be more to come.

    @Will: Thanks for catching my grammatical faux pas, Will! Interesting side note to everyone else; while I’m writing this, I’m actually at Will’s incredible high-rise apartment in Seattle, and he’s playing his electric organ right behind me. It’s kind of creepy, actually. Neat and creepy.

    @Arvizu: Thank you, sir! Much appreciated!

  21. In China, people used to regularly come and scavenge our rubbish for anything, from glass or plastic bottles upwards, they could use. Never quite got used to it – which probably is a good thing!

  22. In China, people used to regularly come and scavenge our rubbish for anything, from glass or plastic bottles upwards, they could use. Never quite got used to it – which probably is a good thing!

  23. I love the title of this particular entry. Having the LA experience first seems like it has given you an interesting perspective and foundation. For many LA is the destination and for you it was only the beginning.

  24. I love the title of this particular entry. Having the LA experience first seems like it has given you an interesting perspective and foundation. For many LA is the destination and for you it was only the beginning.

  25. Good read, Colin. I grew up in Los Angeles and lived there most of my life. I moved away a couple years ago, but your observations as someone who wasn’t raised there are interesting.

    It is definitely a place that you can get just about any kind of experience you choose out of it. Like everything else, it is what you make of it, but I think unlike other places in the world, aside from cities as large, it can provide much, as well as chew you up and spit you out.

    Enjoy the next chapter.

  26. Good read, Colin. I grew up in Los Angeles and lived there most of my life. I moved away a couple years ago, but your observations as someone who wasn’t raised there are interesting.

    It is definitely a place that you can get just about any kind of experience you choose out of it. Like everything else, it is what you make of it, but I think unlike other places in the world, aside from cities as large, it can provide much, as well as chew you up and spit you out.

    Enjoy the next chapter.

  27. @Jane: Yeah, it’s one of those things that you can’t help but think ‘Well at least that stuff is getting a second life!’ while at the same time thinking ‘I with they didn’t have to do that!’

    @Kristin: If you play your cards right, everywhere you go is just another beginning :) Then again, that kind of lifestyle isn’t for everyone.

    @James: It’s definitely true that your attitude toward a particular place can tint the experiences you have while there. I myself took a lot of positives away from LA, and wouldn’t give up the time I spent there for anything. At the same time, it definitely gave me a lot to think about, especially regarding what we should be working to change.

    @J.D.: I like that! No more goodbyes, just hellos! Thanks for commenting!

  28. @Jane: Yeah, it’s one of those things that you can’t help but think ‘Well at least that stuff is getting a second life!’ while at the same time thinking ‘I with they didn’t have to do that!’

    @Kristin: If you play your cards right, everywhere you go is just another beginning :) Then again, that kind of lifestyle isn’t for everyone.

    @James: It’s definitely true that your attitude toward a particular place can tint the experiences you have while there. I myself took a lot of positives away from LA, and wouldn’t give up the time I spent there for anything. At the same time, it definitely gave me a lot to think about, especially regarding what we should be working to change.

    @J.D.: I like that! No more goodbyes, just hellos! Thanks for commenting!

  29. It was great meeting you and have a great trip!

    P.S.
    dont let the long hours of spanish go to waste.

  30. It was great meeting you and have a great trip!

    P.S.
    dont let the long hours of spanish go to waste.

  31. • Gotta say, you’re the consummate technical genius, an expert at understanding wireframes. You’ve helped me create 3 websites. It’s been a real learning experience for me.
    • You’re also a great designer. Being a designer myself and having created a comfortable niche here in LA, I can say with certainty that your experiences and the conclusions you’ve drawn from them mirror many of mine. You basically start from scratch with next to nothing but a few meager possessions brought from whatever state you immigrate from. These material objects grow into a mountain over the years. You begin moving bits and pieces to the garage, or a storage locker – discarded items which at one point had huge relevance. Superceded by new crap they move to a limboland between the abode and a dumpster. We used to be able to park a large car in our garage. No longer.
    • I think the biggest surprise about you Colin, is your highly skilled writing ability. It’s a pleasure to read anything you write. It’s always thoughtful and intelligently executed. You definitely have the whole package dude.
    • Like you, I did some rambling when I was younger. It reprograms your mind and refocuses you after an extended stay somewhere. I’ve also found that many sojourns become circle paths leading back to the spot you started out from. You’re a different person but you’re the same person: an irony you live with all your life. I think it’s really cool that you elected to create this site and publish your experiences. I’ll look forward to following your travels…

  32. • Gotta say, you’re the consummate technical genius, an expert at understanding wireframes. You’ve helped me create 3 websites. It’s been a real learning experience for me.
    • You’re also a great designer. Being a designer myself and having created a comfortable niche here in LA, I can say with certainty that your experiences and the conclusions you’ve drawn from them mirror many of mine. You basically start from scratch with next to nothing but a few meager possessions brought from whatever state you immigrate from. These material objects grow into a mountain over the years. You begin moving bits and pieces to the garage, or a storage locker – discarded items which at one point had huge relevance. Superceded by new crap they move to a limboland between the abode and a dumpster. We used to be able to park a large car in our garage. No longer.
    • I think the biggest surprise about you Colin, is your highly skilled writing ability. It’s a pleasure to read anything you write. It’s always thoughtful and intelligently executed. You definitely have the whole package dude.
    • Like you, I did some rambling when I was younger. It reprograms your mind and refocuses you after an extended stay somewhere. I’ve also found that many sojourns become circle paths leading back to the spot you started out from. You’re a different person but you’re the same person: an irony you live with all your life. I think it’s really cool that you elected to create this site and publish your experiences. I’ll look forward to following your travels…

  33. @Zezhino: I’m headed to Argentina first, and after that? You, my wonderful readers, will decide! I’ll be putting the next poll up when I get to Argentina, and I hope you all send me someplace nice!

    @Brian: thank you sir. I myself appreciate the cut of your jib.

    @jonathan: thanks Jonathan! It was a pleasure getting to know you in Spanish class!

    @John: you, sir, are one of the good ones :) Thanks for the kind words and insight. It’s always great to hear from people who have been around the block and spent time traveling, especially when they have good things to say about the experience! Maybe you should set up a project blog? ‘How I Cleaned Out My Garage in 3 Months’ or something along those lines? I’d read that!

    Stay in touch; I’ll still be working from wherever I’m at, and I’d love to keep collaborating with you!

  34. @Zezhino: I’m headed to Argentina first, and after that? You, my wonderful readers, will decide! I’ll be putting the next poll up when I get to Argentina, and I hope you all send me someplace nice!

    @Brian: thank you sir. I myself appreciate the cut of your jib.

    @jonathan: thanks Jonathan! It was a pleasure getting to know you in Spanish class!

    @John: you, sir, are one of the good ones :) Thanks for the kind words and insight. It’s always great to hear from people who have been around the block and spent time traveling, especially when they have good things to say about the experience! Maybe you should set up a project blog? ‘How I Cleaned Out My Garage in 3 Months’ or something along those lines? I’d read that!

    Stay in touch; I’ll still be working from wherever I’m at, and I’d love to keep collaborating with you!

  35. Congrats on your departure Colin, I can’t wait to read about your adventures :)
    You’re one enormous step further than I am, but I’ll follow you in some way soon, hopefully!

  36. Congrats on your departure Colin, I can’t wait to read about your adventures :)
    You’re one enormous step further than I am, but I’ll follow you in some way soon, hopefully!

  37. Talk about starting at the beginning. I was enthralled with your description of LA. A film that comes to mind is 500 Days of Summer. It’s truly one of the few flicks to showcase LA as a thriving city, instead of a botox addicted, fame whoring cesspool. Not my words, but friends of friends. :)

  38. Talk about starting at the beginning. I was enthralled with your description of LA. A film that comes to mind is 500 Days of Summer. It’s truly one of the few flicks to showcase LA as a thriving city, instead of a botox addicted, fame whoring cesspool. Not my words, but friends of friends. :)

  39. Pingback: Landmarks Are Just Brands with Souvenirs | Exile Lifestyle

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