I came to Los Angeles in 1998 at the ripe age of 26 with "a backpack and a dream." A sentiment I cringe at now considering that at the time, one of my most dearest friends pleaded with me not to make the trek, and I answered in the most dramatic of tones that all I needed was "a backpack and a dream." Considering the fact that I had never really driven before, knew nothing about cars, was bequeathed a 1996 Chevy van, and within two weeks taught myself to drive and drove solo across the country in said van, crashed it up so bad in Oklahoma that I had to drive the rest of the trip with the steering wheel cranked all the way to left for it to drive straight only for it to blow up on the 101 freeway months later because I never got the oil changed... I could have used... more.
Now the original plan was to live in Los Angeles for two years, then New York City for two years, then London for two years, then settle down back in the bosom of Chicago for the rest of my days. As it turns out, I moved to Los Angeles... the end.
When I first got here, I was lucky enough to befriend a group of guys, and we became fast friends à la Sex and the City. Fast forward a couple of decades, and the entire group went the way of Carrie and Co. and relocated to their spiritual sister's homeland of the Big Apple. All except for me. A fact I have always felt a little ashamed about. Only visiting a handful of times, I have always considered New York City my personal Mecca. The buildings, the people, the food, the music, the culture, the architecture, something about the energy of New York always seemed to be in parallel with my DNA. I remember one of the very first times I went to New York. I was walking down the steps of the train stop to the street, and as soon as I got to the bottom, some random dude flung a monkey wrench at my head at lightning speed. I just as quickly ducked and got into a tight fighter's pose as said random dude started charging towards me. The whole scene was a matter of seconds as I readied myself for the collision and its subsequent fisticuffs. As it turns out, the subject of the guy's ire was someone several ticks ahead of the both of us, and the random dude threw a quizzical smirk in my direction as he passed me and continued on with his chase. All I can remember thinking at the time was, "I FUCKING LOVE THIS CITY!" I think I actually screamed it in joy, feeling my adrenaline doing flip flops through my veins and tickled at the fact that absolutely NO ONE paid attention to some random dude throwing monkey wrenches at people while sprinting down the street or me joyfully screaming at the bottom of some random train stop in the Bronx like I was some weird urban version of Mary Tyler Moore throwing her hat in the air with jubilation in the middle of Minneapolis. Someone threw a monkey wrench at me and missed my head by inches, and I just ducked and was ready to tussle with some complete stranger in the middle of the Bronx. Yeah. I'm going to make it after all...
Nevertheless, I wound up on the opposite coast nestled within the bosom of New York's sworn enemy... Los Angeles. It was a very bumpy ride. I didn't have too many expectations outside of maybe Steven Spielberg or Spike Lee "discovering" my writing or acting talent by just a mere glance of my beauty while in line at Food-4-Less, and the millions of dollars would soon follow. But I was not expecting the bevy of fresh-faced young Black gay men overwhelming me with their own sky-high aspirations of being the next hot young singer/actor/dancer/model/producer/writer/fashion mogul/entrepreneur/porn star/socialite. It's safe to say that I was pretty miserable the first six to seven years. I can't answer why I even stayed that long or why I didn't move outside of saying, as with most people, habit trumps pain. So I just dealt with it, all the frenemies calling me poor and ghetto because I didn't have a car and was living in a studio apartment (while they were driving Aston Martins and living with their grandparents), callng me fat and miserable (while they were dealing with their own body dysmorphia and popping Fen-Phen like it was chiclets), thinking I was a lazy slacker because I wasn't cutting the throats of all my contemporaries like they were (as if I didn't have a cocktail in one hand and a pen in the other taking detailed notes of all of their bullshit like driving around in a $60,000 car while unemployed and living in their grandma's basements and laughing so hard at fat people that mysterious puffs of white powder billowed out of their noses.) We even had our own David Hampton à la Six Degree of Separation, where a member of our circle claimed to be the son of Lola Falona and demanded all of the social caches that came with the title and refused all of my monkey wrench ducking sensibilities.
But as the year comes to a close, I can't help but revel in the city that has proudly become my home. It has its misgivings, but cannabis is legal, and you can comfortably wear shorts all day outside in February... and that has to count for something.
I want to give advice to people who have just moved here or are thinking of moving here, but I feel like I am so on the outside of the pulse of everything this city has to offer. I see films and television shows about Los Angeles, and those "first-year" insecurities creep up as I ponder, "Is THAT in Los Angeles? I never even knew that existed!" As with most cities, there is the "City of Media" and the real "Living City." For Los Angeles, the "City of Media" that you see on television and films, is filled to the brim with A-typical shiny White Karens and their equally oblivious and clearly gay partners living in eight-figure homes, and they are all somehow, some way connected to Ariana Kardashian Billie Swift Ellish Taylor Dua Doja Lipa Cat. The real "Living City" exists south of the 10 freeway and east of the 110 freeway, where Mexicans freely call each other "nigger", Black folks are blamed for homophobia when in reality, they truly don't give a shit about the lives or deaths of gay people, and White people litter the area with nonprofits to thwart off any claims they're racist. But I will try to give you something that will hopefully help in avoiding some of the pitfalls most transplants run into. These are some of the things I would have told my 26-year-old self as I crossed the county line and first landed here.
TRY NOT TO IMMEDIATELY BOND WITH OTHER TRANSPLANTS UNLESS MAYBE YOU ARE FROM THE SAME CITY
The idea that Los Angeles is this vapid, non-communicative city filled with drones only concerned with making friends with people only as beautiful as they are is true... in the sense that religion is true. If you believe it enough, you'll make any excuse to justify that crap. And transplants REALLY need it to be true. They worship at the altar of capitalism and are card-carrying members of the Beauty Illuminati. The blonde-haired, blue-eye contact wearing living doll in designer clothes... trust me... they were not born in Los Angeles. They commuted here hoping to forget their fat, brown-eyed, brunette lives from wherever they came from. And they want you to worship them. They want you to be them. They want you to believe they are the son of Sydney Poitier or Lola Falona. Sydney Poitier has no sons. Lola Falona has no children.
IT'S BETTER TO HAVE A STUDIO IN KOREATOWN THAN HOMELESS IN BEVERLY HILLS
It's very easy to get caught up in the reindeer games of Los Angeles with our ridiculous real estate and legendary "city of cars" status, but it's best to stick to your guns and do what you need to do to survive and take care of yourself... not your compatriots who might be looking and judging your unfashionable shoes or your unsavory neighborhood. If you are employed (anywhere) and you have a way to get to work (bus or car, any working car), and you live indoors (and pay rent)... you are doing FINE.
YOU ONLY NEED A HANDFUL OF REAL FRIENDS
Go to Instagram. Look at the feeds of people in your area filled with photos of them being surrounded by a bevy of laughing friends at different parties. Now, remember the last time you were with a friend, and you two laughed your asses off or talked about some heavy personal shit. You remember? Did you need to take a picture to remember that moment? Did you need to share that picture to convince the world you have a friend or have good times? Have good friends. Have good times. Sydney Poitier has no sons. Lols Falona has no children. You live indoors. You're doing FINE. You don't have to prove that to anybody. Your real friends know that.
DO NOT MIX UP YOUR MINORITY STATUSES TO FIT IN
Dave Chappelle got himself in a lot of hot water intonating a similar concept, but if you are African American in this country, do not think any of your other minority statuses are going to shield you from plain, old-fashioned American racism. My theory has always been White Gays don't experience prejudice until they're older and come into their own sexuality and gender identity and feel that immense opposition. But before you develop sexuality, you have skin, and the opposition of the tone of that skin and tone of your family's skin lands far before you have an inkling of what sexuality and gender are. As homosexuals, we all feel that sting of homophobia, but only Black people know that sting of Driving While Black, personal ads, and hook up sites that show a clear and immovable prejudice against African Americans, city art councils celebrating LGBT History who can not up come up with one single solitary Black LGBT icon... outside of RuPaul. Feel free to have fun in West Hollywood with your friends, just don't forget it wasn't too long ago they were not letting Black people in that bar, that if you get into a confrontation with one of your friends, security/the cops are immediately hauling YOUR Black ass away FIRST, and there's a real good chance that the handsome brother standing beside you who just happens to be darker than you... doesn't date other Black dudes. And it's okay to be pissed at him. And it's okay to hang out in West Hollywood. Just don't think your gayness will supersede other aspects of yourself... when just the opposite is true.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE WEATHER
There is no reason not to get to the beach, Griffith Observatory, or the city parks. Say what you will about Los Angeles, it is a VERY pretty city, with great weather and a "decent" respect for nature. Seriously, had enough of Los Angeles' bullshit? Go to the beach. It solves ALL problems.
FIND YOUR SPIRITUAL CENTER
As strong as you are, it can be still be overwhelming to be surrounded by hordes of people, younger, taller, more muscular, and/or more financially fit than you. I have personally seen too many people absolutely consumed with that rat race of trying to complete with the Joneses (see: Better to Have A Studio in Koreatown than Homeless in Beverly Hills). It's always best to have some relationship with the Creator to keep you on track with what's really important. But even still...
AVOID SCIENTOLOGY/SCIENTOLOGISTS AT ALL COSTS
Just... trust me on this one.
A COUPLE OF BIASED OPINIONS ABOUT LA EATERIES
Pink's Hot Dogs: Personally, I think they're delicious, but if you happen to catch them when they have one of their notoriously "around the block lines, "... just go to Ralph's and pick up some generic wieners.
Thai Food: As I hear, there are 200 rats for every citizen in New York. I think there are 20 Thai restaurants for every citizen in Los Angeles. The majority are good. Palms in Hollywood is the best I ever had. Avoid Toi and their bullshit "Rock n' Roll" Thai on Sunset Blvd at all costs... just go to Ralph's and pick up some ramen.
House of Pies: Some of the best desserts in the city. The food is HORRIBLE. But it is called the House of PIES, not the House of FOOD.
Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf: It's been going on for a while now, but ALL of the Starbucks in the city have covered up their outlets. I assume it's to thwart the homeless and/or unruly youth from charging their phones and taking up space from paying customers. However, it's Los Angeles... and while the homeless population is large, the number of screenwriters and authors with laptops in desperate need of human contact is proportionately LARGER. Go to Coffee Bean. They always have outlets and the coffee's fresher.
Soulfood Vegan Eateries: I am ashamed to report brothas and sistahs that yes... I have turned vegetarian and quickly on my way to veganism. But trust me, it's for health reasons... I could give a damn about the animals. And Los Angeles just so happens to have some delicious vegan options for those who like Soul Food. One place I have frequented quite often while wearing my leather vest is VTree in Hollywood, with some of the best soul vegetarian options out there. But if you're wearing your fur... head over to My 2 Cents, who ramp up the flavor of every meal they prepare.
IT IS YOUR RIGHT.... IF NOT YOUR DUTY... TO MAKE FUN OF THE VEGETARIANS/VEGANS AROUND YOU
Before "crossing over to the Darkside," I was guilty of making fun of people with protein-based diets. Partly because it does just seem ridiculous, but mainly because there is a very distinct L.A. Vegan douche-y bullshit attitude that STILL annoys me. If you happen to be around people who work vegetarianism/veganism into EVERY conversation or puts waiters/waitresses through HELL trying to find every single ingredient in every meal at the restaurant... it is YOUR duty to order a slab of ribs and blow your meat breath in their face. You'll be safe. They can't fight you. Without the protein, they don't have the strength.
YOU DON'T NECCESARILY NEED A CAR BUT IT WILL INCREASE YOUR HAPPINESS BY 95%
Coming from Chicago I didn't really believe the hype of "needing" a car and spent the first decade of my life here sans vehicle. But then I got car and... yeah... MUCH better. It's not the end of the world if you don't have a car here... but you can for sure see it from the bus stop you're sitting on.
GET YOUR OIL CHANGED REGULARLY
Get your oil changed regularly.