How could anybody have you?
How anybody have you and lose you?
How could anybody have you and lose you and not lose their mind too?”
-st. vincent, “los ageless”
It took a good twenty or thirty minutes to navigate from the airport, where I’d rented the car, to Santa Monica. I gripped the wheel with my arms locked, an anxious habit I’d picked up from when I’d owned a car…six years ago. Maybe the California drivers sensed my anxiety, or maybe they’re just nicer than your average offensively-driving New Yorker, but as they allowed me in and out of lanes, I felt something start to loosen in my chest.
When I saw the welcome sign for the Pacific Coast Highway and the ocean beyond it, I burst into tears. Finally, I’d found some of the ease that had so far eluded me this trip.
Los Angeles, like any place and especially any metropolis, represents a lot of things. It’s a beach city, it’s California glamour and wealth, it’s dirty and unkempt and Skid Row. It’s home to thousands. It’s bright, bursting flowers and vines, and the smell of jasmine and hydrangea in the early evening, and the sweetest oranges I’ve ever tasted, eaten straight from the stall at the farmer’s market. It’s the movie-making capital of the US and featured in plenty of movies, too.
“Capital Records,” my father had said, gazing at the distant building from Sasoun Bakery, where we’d stopped for a snack on the usual family city trek. “I can’t count how many times I’ve seen that blown up onscreen.”
That’s the beauty of cities, especially famous ones. No one really asks you why you’re visiting. It’s the City of Angels; why wouldn’t you be there? I’d announced to my mother that I’d be visiting a month prior, and extended an invitation for my parents to join me. They didn’t question why I’d be visiting LA, unlike on my post-grad trip with my best friend. The boarding line for the plane to Romania was moving forward, and over the phone, my father chose then to ask why we were going to Romania instead of, say, Spain?
But I didn’t have to answer that question as we dawdled along the Walk of Fame, or walked down from Greystone Mansion while oogling the estates in Beverly Hills. We just enjoyed the rare occasion of being in the same city all together, in weather that wasn’t exactly warm, but not as cold or wet as the winters we’d left behind. Our trip brought out familiar patterns and joy–my mother miles ahead on the Venice boardwalk as my father and I pedaled behind on the rented bikes, my insistence on ice cream at 4 p.m. (a tradition left over from my teenage days).
But it was while gazing at the sign for the Pacific Coast Highway that I was finally forced to admit: I was out of my comfort zone. It had been a long time since I’d traveled by myself, and, like driving, I didn’t remember how to do it.
In the movie playing in my head, this hadn’t happened. After my parents left, I’d be glowing, chipper, outgoing, the perfect traveler. I’d make quick friends and the city would welcome me.
It’s certainly easier to make peace with yourself when you’re walking along beautiful coastline. The knot in my chest loosened further as I walked barefoot through the surf. The wind played with destroyed stairs leading up to the glass and wood houses perched over the beach, newer stairs a few feet away. I sat and read my book, and allowed myself to be uncomfortable.
On the way back from the rental car agency, my Lyft driver Issac talked about the possibilities of life. His tone was firm but reassuring, and his delivery made me wonder if he was a pastor when he wasn’t driving. We sat in traffic, barely moving an inch forward at each light, and he remarked at how much was possible if you just set your mind to it.
Later that night, I sat at the bar of Sage Bistro in Echo Park, sipping a well-made Kentucky Mule. My new friends, a couple who lived in the neighborhood, filled me in on the history of Echo Park, pointed out the newest staff in the bistro, and convinced me to follow a possum on Instagram.
“So, I have to ask,” Michelle said, exchanging a glance with her husband. “Why here? Why did you choose Echo Park?”
“Yeah,” he chimed in. “I mean, I grew up here, but I don’t understand why anyone would want to visit, instead of staying maybe on the west side.”
And there it was: the why.
What did lead me to Echo Park, of all the neighborhoods? After all my soul-searching that afternoon, how could I explain to the two fully grown adults that it was because of witches? And not only that, but it was witches in a book? And finally, on top of all this, it was a book I didn’t particularly care for, except in the description of the neighborhood itself?
“Oh, you know,” I said nonchalantly, the image of the experienced traveler. “I’d heard it was a place I should check out.”
you can follow the possum on Instagram at @possythepossum
stay: AirBnB//see: La Brea Tar Pits, Greystone Mansion, Hollywood Forever Cemetery//eat: Sage Bistro and Bar (Echo Park), Intelligentsia (Silverlake) Cocabella Creamery (Hollywood), Sasoun Bakery (East Hollywood), Tocaya Organica (Venice), Sarita’s Pupuseria (Downtown)//shop: American Vintage (Echo Park)//do: rent bikes on the Venice boardwalk, walk from Greystone Mansion to Rodeo Drive, ride the Angel’s Train//recharge: El Matador Beach