I met someone who came from a state on the East Coast. I asked her what it was like growing up there, and she said “Oh, it was terrible. It’s a horrible place with nothing to do. There’s nothing good about it all. Ugh.”
At first, this didn’t sit well with me. No matter how bad her experience of growing up there, I don’t believe it was truly that horrible. Moreover, it struck me as ungrateful and negative; surely there is something to be said about the stability and peace of her hometown.
Then I realized that sometimes I behave this way. When people would ask me about growing up in LA, I would complain about the shallowness, the unabashed materialism, the suburban disconnection, the lack of public transit infrastructure and enslavement to automobiles, the heat.
The truth is, LA is a very big place, with a great diversity in its neighborhoods. My experience of growing up in Granada Hills is just a fragment of the overall picture. Santa Monica, Westwood, Torrance, Compton — these are all different parts of LA that I haven’t fully experienced. The weather is nice, there are people from all over the world, great food, amazing cultural resources.
What really gave me a vision for LA was a sermon I heard by a preacher from Louisiana. He said “I love LA because it is a city of stories. More than any other city, this city is the birthplace of stories. A little boy growing up in Lima, Peru may never leave his country, yet his life will be influenced by the stories coming out of this city.” If you ask the average person in Turkey, Mongolia, or Morocco about Mark Zuckerburg or Warren Buffet or Richard Posner, they probably couldn’t tell you. But ask them about Mickey Mouse, Will Smith, or Angelina Jolie, and they would be able to tell you, or at least recognize their faces. Creativity, wonder, excitement live in LA, as do grit, disease, and malevolence.
So now when people ask me about LA, I tell them about the City of Stories, of the stories that draw people to LA, and my own story of the city in the desert that is part of my memory, my identity, my home.