RELOCATION isn’t just about the physical exertion of packing, and unpacking, I’m learning this as I swirl onto the 10 Freeway in a cavernous flow of luxury automobiles headed west from downtown LA. Self-doubt is not an option driving the freeway, you have to be a lioness or a cougar, imagine me more like an indoor cat going outside for the first time. On the 4th of July my transport from Santa Fe, NM to the city of Angels, ended in the late afternoon as I pulled up in front of a new place to call home. Fireworks beginning, palm trees rippling, dogs barking, and sirens escalating, all a safe distance from my front door. Noise in Santa Fe is Church Bells, bad-ass guys on motorcycles and an occasional siren. First step to ‘when in LA,’ block out the noise or turn up your head set-by the way everyone is strapped to a headphone. I noticed this phenomena on the few trips I’d made to LA while deciding if I should move back after twenty-five years.
As I entered the 1940s period bungalow for the first time all was very familiar. Thirty five years ago I lived in the same compound. Mine was across the common garden area, but the floor plan is the same with a built-in vanity, windows on every wall but one, fireplace, and a small kitchen. It’s like a doll house, four-hundred square feet. The landlord delivered a newness to it with freshly painted walls, polished wood floors, and a spotless kitchen and bathroom. I set my luggage down, took a shower and bounced.
I headed for Westwood Village, where I spent years eight through thirteen. I remember the Dog House, Mario’s, Fedway, Capezio, Bullocks and Desmonds where I worked one summer in Women’s Apparel. The best of all was Ships. My gang used to go there for breakfast in our pajamas to celebrate one of our birthdays. The Village is so close to my defining history, why I ended up there and why I left. We lived on Hilgard in what was then called the The Hilgard House, a microcosm of modern living in a new hi-rise with a pool. It was like living with a family; unguarded neighbors that knew my name, a Fred McMurray type Building Manager, a few famous actress’s, and me, one of four or five blossoming teenagers.
I drove past the renovated building now condominiums renting for seventeen times what I expect my mother paid in 1962. The neighborhood hasn’t been gentrified! It is still a quaint collection of Mediterranean and Mission style homes and four-flex’s.
I stopped in front of the second Hamburger Hamlet location, now Skylight. It took about five minutes to decide I’m going to love this first experience in Los Angeles. On the 4th the restaurant was empty, the room exposed and free of human camouflage. The brick walls remained, giving off some whiff of history and the rest of the room was finished in youthful coziness. Coming from Santa Fe, a city of minor extravagances, the two mirrored lit up bars, stacked with more choices of liquor than what I know existed is my focal point.
” Hi, how you doing? Do you know what you’d like to drink?”
” Well looking at the selection, what do you suggest?”
” What do you like?”
” Wine, white wine by the glass.”
They don’t have as many wines as they do Bourbons, so I ordered Sonoma Cutrer and a seafood pasta dish.
” I grew up here, right here in the village.”
“No way, that’s cool. I’ve met a few guests who lived here a long time ago and they tell me stories.”
” What happened to Westwood? Last time I was here, around the late nineties, it was really depreciated and unkept. It looks better now, but not completed you know?”
” Yeah, Westwood went through some really hard times. We opened this a few years ago, and now more restaurants are coming in.”
” So you’re busy during the week?”
” Oh yeah, we get a lot of businessmen, and some students, you should come back and check it out”
” I will, it has an openness about it, room to move.”
I was the only customer until the staff’s friends showed up to have a party of their own. The high-kickers in mini shorts, and skimpy tops, they were cute, like cut-outs from a magazine. I’d been on the road all day, and skipped the meals, so when the seafood pasta arrived, not only was the dish plentiful, it was deliciously fresh and spicy.
After dinner, I strolled along Westwood Boulevard, in a cube of surrealism, the homeless man hunched over his life remains in garbage bags, a Security Guard in front of an abandoned storefront, students striding along as their phones lead them, What happened to Westwood? Why are the store displays bland and conventional, street art, vendors and performers absent? The unmistakable sense of abandonment piqued my curiosity so I drove around the neighborhood, simmering in the memories of my gang. What a utopian place to go through puberty; the College boys spilled out after classes and we waited to see them, on Saturdays we’d meet at the UCLA cafeteria and test our flirting finesse. We spread out on skateboards along Weyburn and Westwood Boulevard flexing our budding egos and breasts. They are the flagship years of my life, maybe that’s why I came home, to flex my bruised ego and budding independence.
When I laid my body down on a blanket, with fireworks as my backdrop, it was like a celebratory musical overture to a new beginning. The painfully hard wood floor slapped the idiocy of not bringing foam or a sleeping bag. I’ll buy a bed tomorrow and my furniture will arrive Friday. The first night faraway from my La Posada de Santa Fe Hotel family, friends, my old Discovery SUV, my house, my cat, and my best friend who initiated the change is not in my head! To be continued.