DC to LA: A Monumental Change
From the Washington Monument
to the Santa Monica Ferris wheel
By Erana Leiken
This article was published on
Los Angeles People Connection
Whenever I lost my way in DC, I looked for the Washington Monument, the tallest building in the District of Columbia, an obelisk sentry overlooking the city. I remember relaxing as I navigated my way home on Constitution Avenue flanked by its powerful Federal buildings.
Today I look to the Santa Monica Ferris wheel as my compass with the sea on one side and the canyons and hillsides on the other. Wide-open space accompanies me home now, nine months after the move from East to West.
Along with the change of geography came a cultural change. Even though I'm in the same country, speak the same language, I feel like a foreigner. Here are some of my observations as a newcomer to LA.
One of the oddities of LA is that people who live here give each other directions constantly and never go anywhere without their traffic Bible, The Thomas Guide. Perhaps the unwieldy sprawl of the place and the sardine freeways necessitate that Angelenos tell each other how to get around. It's part of their way of life.
In a town where image is everything, billboards, "big screens," are everywhere, touting causes, movies, and designer fashions throughout the city. The images are built into LA's geography for maximum visibility. Sides of buildings display giant TV and film stars who gaze upon their fans like mythical gods and goddesses imbued with the power to dictate fashion and cultural trends.
Youth and beauty reign in LA. Younger women glide evocatively like island women in their city village. Aware of their physical power, they exude a sensual beauty and confidence. They have attitude; they are liberated, reminiscent of 1920's women, seductive in their natural bodies in clothing that provocatively reveals their charms.
Older women can't compete with the "bodies" of starlets and models in LA, but they haven't stopped trying. Regardless of age, there are almost no flat-chested women in LA; bodies are rebuilt here, "youthinized" to attain perfection and admiration. It is not unusual to see elders who look more like Zsa Zsa than grandma.
I discovered that I'm at an awkward age again, midlife adolescence, not comfortable with the seniors or the hip, caught between the too old and the too young. I studied other women to see how I could fit in better. I grew my hair longer, put in blond highlights, started working out at a gym, wore tighter clothes and more makeup, in hopes that my new exterior would help me blend into the LA "look" and wondered if I was headed toward Botox and collagen next.
I tried to meet people by attending singles events, singles everything: sailing, skiing, Christian, Jewish, cultural happenings. One gathering, under the guise of being a "spiritual" workshop, was actually a front to coax women to proposition men. Another singles function, a dating service's Valentines Party, initiated courtship by having singles find the people who matched the numbers on their admission ticket.
Contacts are what count in LA. The established protocol is an introduction. As laid back as LA is, the custom of an introduction is quite formal. Behaving like the hierarchy of a royal court, insiders grant favors to outsiders with an introduction. Soliciting without one is not readily accepted by LA's contact rules. To become acknowledged in the right circles, an introduction is required from someone who knows the "prized" contact. Such favors are chits, IOU's that are banked and exchanged like currency in the contact system.
Life outside of LA seems not to matter to the natives. Local TV news coverage ranges from 30-second reports on world events to detailed stories about cosmetic surgery procedures and, of course, a car chase, the LA news staple. I now understand why Jay Leno's jaywalking interviews feature people who don't know what's going on outside of LA. The external world seems to be of no consequence, so there's really to need to pay attention to it.
In this new place, at least I speak the language, movie speak. It is the common dialect of a sprawling cityscape and multicultural geography. Everyone is a film critic whether it's at the supermarket checkout line or the local video store. I also participate in one of the local sports...star spotting. Off screen in their life-size bodies, actors appear surprisingly small in contrast to their celluloid images.
LA's most famous celebrity is its weather. Angelenos delight in being weather blessed as if the sun favors the city with divine weather fortune. No matter what else is happening in LA, the weather seems to be a constant source of pride to the locals. It is a privilege that sets them apart from other cities, and it makes them smile whenever they talk about it.
For all of LA's eccentricities, as a writer, I find its creative energy exhilarating. The culture values artists. It's as if self-expression is an inalienable right in LA's creative democracy.
I know I will not have this perspective of LA indefinitely. It's my ninth-month view. I'm still exploring its glitter, glamour, and illusion as well as its creative life. In the meantime, I look for the Santa Monica Ferris wheel, a lighthouse on the pier, to guide me home.
About Erana Leiken
Erana Leiken of Tiger Marketing (www.tigermarketing.com) is a marketing and PR consultant, freelance writer, and writing instructor for the University of Phoenix. Formerly an NBC reporter, magazine editor, and Web business writer, she is currently writing creative nonfiction.