I was mailing some postcards for a geography project for a friend of mine, and decided that since I was mailing postcards representing different facets of the Southern California lifestyle, I would mail them from the cities on the postcards so that they would have a matching postmark.
I proceeded to unglue grumpy daughter from her phone, and pour her into the car with a mission: spot the blue U.S Postal Service boxes on the route, then get out and mail the post cards once I pulled to a stop. She looked at the postcards and read out loud that we were headed for Santa Monica, Beverly Hills and Hollywood. She pointed out that she had never been to any of these places, although she had heard about them on tv. This was true: like most Los Angeles natives, I tend to avoid going anywhere that involves a freeway unless I absolutely have to. Because a trip to the Westside involved two of the most consistently congested freeways in Los Angeles (the 405 and the 10, respectively), and guaranteed horrific traffic once I arrived, this trip was not high on my to-do list for a holiday weekend. But since I promised myself that I was going to do it, I looked at this as an opportunity to get my daughter out of our familiar neighborhood, and give her a chance to see some things she had only heard about.
Looking at the Santa Monica postcard, she noted the iconic Ferris wheel at Pacific Park, and asked if she would be able to see it from the car. I assured her she would as I exited the freeway, aimed my car north to Wilshire Blvd., then west to the shore line. The late afternoon sun, preparing to set behind the Pacific Ocean, formed a picture perfect backdrop framed by towering palm trees. In moments like this, I know why I love living in Southern California. It's a reminder that sometimes the fantasy really does match the reality, even if only for a moment. After she mailed the postcard, I drove west, pointing out the Third Street Promenade, The Fairmont Miramar hotel, and all of the casual strollers out on this perfect afternoon. When we finally turned south again, she immediately spotted the Ferris wheel, the roller coaster, and saw all of the people walking up and down the strip of park. Her fascination was earnest, especially when she heard a comedian, surrounded by a large audience, regaling the crowd with his routine over a loud speaker. She didn't realize people could do that, as that's just not something you see down in our neck of the South Bay.
Even though she wanted to see more, we needed to get moving to get to Beverly Hills, so after a few turns, I was back on Wilshire Blvd., heading east to show my daughter perhaps the most famous zip code, and one of the tonier shopping areas, in Los Angeles. As we headed east, I marveled at how Wilshire Blvd works as a kind of a thread that ties together multiple diverse neighborhoods in Los Angeles. The section we were on would give us a nice tour of the tony Westside of Los Angeles, winding it's way from the western terminus in artsy, laid back Santa Monica, to the staid upper middle class Brentwood, then on past the sprawling VA complex, the cold austerity of the towering steel Federal Building and Veteran's cemetery into Westwood, the home of UCLA. Once past UCLA, we climb through winding hills, passing between massive residential towers that I am positive have a pretty enviable view of both the placid ocean, and the gleaming towers of Downtown Los Angeles, giving the residents the feeling of being a participant in Tolkein's saga of the the Two Towers, only instead of Orthanc and Minas Morgul, they have a choice between the bustle of the financial district surrounding the U.S. Bank Tower, or the relaxed, gateway to the Westside feel of Westwood's Condo Canyon.
I turned east on to Santa Monica Blvd, and ended up giving my daughter a tour of West Hollywood. Even I sometimes forget about this stretch of Los Angeles between Hollywood and the Westside. We both ended up marveling at exactly how busy it was, with all of the people just walking around, into and out of stores, bars and restaurants. My daughter also rather comically noted the number of men walking around with their shirts off. It was a warm enough day to justify it, of course, but I wasn't quite ready to explain that among the large gay population in the area, this was just something they do. Score one point for mental laziness. While navigating monster traffic, I was unwilling to answer the onslaught of questions that I would have gotten more than anything else.
And that seemed to be the theme of the day. How often we don't venture outside of our own little comfort zone unless we have some pressing reason to do so. Southern California is undeniably beautiful, but how many people never feel the warm breeze coming off of any beach, or see the bright gleaming shops, or dazzling lights right next door. There is something to be said for being a tourist in your own state. You never know what you might discover, and you still get the thrill of coming home after an adventure to view something you haven't seen before.
Driving south on La Brea, we drive through several neighborhoods, including one that locals call The Jungle, recently renamed by urban planners to the more friendly Baldwin Village, and after the winding drive through Baldwin Hills, we drive over a hill, called Overhill, BTW, and I glimpse perhaps my favorite view in Los Angeles: as you descend the hill southbound on La Brea, as soon as you come around the curve, you are greeted by the lights of the South Bay. More than the tall shiny buildings of Downtown, more than the lights of Hollywood, or the beautiful blue of the Pacific Ocean, the sight of the South Bay speaks to me of home. My home of the last ten years, that I love for the access it gives me to the glitz and promise of the Los Angeles dream factory, while still affording me the ability to go home and get away from it. We make it home to the relative peace of the neighborhood we call home, with a promise to venture out for another look at what we know is there on another day.
Because it is so close, we know we will, too.