Thursday, June 16, 2005

Why I Love L.A.

After five years of thick smog, suicide-inducing traffic and blazing sunshine, I have decided that I love L.A.

I wasn't always such a fan. It took several years for this Midwesterner to get used to cramped (comparatively) living conditions, parking disputes and homeless people going through my dumpster.

But now I say, bring it on.

Yes, living on top of your neighbors can be annoying. I get to hear the old lady next door carrying on full conversations with her cat. I get to hear the teenager on the other side of my patio screaming at her parents and sisters each night. The college professor in the apartment behind us has several screeching birds. In addition, there are endless disputes over where cars are parked in relation to dumpsters, garbage cans and other cars. The placement of a couple of recycling bins in conjunction some burning sage caused two of my neighbors to hate each other until one finally moved out (they used to have radio wars where Spanish-language pop music and Indian tribal chants crept up in volume hour by hour until both were so loud that even hearing one of them would have been annoying, let alone both at once).

However, the advantage is that in my neighborhood, we all know each other because it's impossible to avoid it. The kids all play together in Mary Lou's apartment's backyard or ride their trikes up and down the sidewalk. They run over to Vicki's (nice older lady) house to play with her dogs. They eat ice cream at the Provenzano's house and have a teenaged babysitter (Chelsea) living across the way. When we leave for a weekend, we have dozens of folks keeping an eye on our apartment. When a hit and run driver smashed into our neighbor's car a few years ago, fifteen or twenty people came out of their apartments to see what the damage was, and several of them actually pursued the driver and cornered him until the police came. I feel a strong sense of community with my neighbors that I never had in the (supposedly friendlier) Midwest, where large homes and expansive yards keep neighbors from ever having to interact.

Living in a small apartment as opposed to a big, Midwestern style home can also be annoying. Sometimes I feel like there's no place to escape from the kids and vice versa. Even when they're sleeping, they're still no more than a twenty feet away at the farthest and it will only get worse as they get older, bigger, louder and more independent. When Stewart was a tiny baby his "room" was the bathroom. Yes, we actually set up a playpen in there where he slept for the first six months of his life. It sounds crazy but there was no place else to put him- we didn't want him to wake Owen up constantly, and we didn't want him in our room because it was impossible for us to sleep. The living room wasn't an option unless we wanted to spend our entire evening in the bedroom, tiptoeing to the kitchen for snacks and drinks, forgoing TiVo for night after night.

However, the longer I live here, the more I appreciate what living in a small space does for you. For one thing, it pushes you to be organized. You don't keep garbage because you don't have room. Anything that comes into the house is instantly sorted and filed or thrown away- if we're not using it, it's gone. I would never have had the discipline to be so organized if it wasn't a VITAL part of squeezing four people and a dog into a two bedroom apartment less than 1000 square feet.

Another advantage to living small is less waste. We aren't very materialistic because there's simply no room to store excess goods. We don't go out and buy things because they're on sale or because they match the living room or just for the fun of collecting. We don't have room for anything that's not functional- most things purely decorative were tossed or stored long ago. If we lived in a large house, however, with plenty of extra rooms just for storing crap, I shudder to think how much unnecessary crap we would have bought. And really, how much room does a family really need?

Everyone needs a place to sleep. Some clothes. A place for dishes and food. Some toys and possessions. You don't need 4,000 square feet for that. You just don't.

Living in a small space also gets you out into the world. When you have a huge, comfortable house, beautifully decorated and full of amenities, it's natural to want to hang out there. But living in a rent-controlled apartment provokes outings- in fact, other than naptime and bedtime, we don't usually spend more than an hour at a time in the apartment. Why? Because it's BORING in here, that's why! Life goes on outside, at parks, libraries, cultural centers. I take the kids for long walks, bus rides, trips to the mall for the sole purpose of riding the escalator. We're two miles from the beach, a couple of more miles from the Santa Monica Mountains and Malibu, fifteen miles from the L.A. Zoo, and are surrounded by National, State and municipal parks of all types. Weekends in L.A. lay before me like adventures waiting to be had, whether they are urban adventures like riding the L.A. subway and exploring the old skyscrapers of the Financial District or adventures in nature- peering into the tidepools of Leo Carillo Beach to see crabs and starfish or hiking into Los Padres National Forest- all easy trips within a forty minute drive.

And the best part is, the weather is ALWAYS cooperative. Can you think of a better way to live?

I can't. Which is why I embrace the almost oppressive quality of the July sun, sit happily in traffic (mostly) and sort the redeemable bottles and cans for the dumpster diving homeless.

They say L.A. is a city you either love or hate, but in my opinion, L.A. is a city you both love AND hate in equal measure, but once it gets under your skin, it's hard to imagine life anyplace else.

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