When I was in my early 20s, I moved to LA. I was pretty sure that my knowledge of Pulp Fiction, Clueless, The Hills, and LA Ink was enough to mentally prepare me for the intangible and iconic city. On the big day, I looked down on my boarding pass and smiled. "JFK-LAX." LA: the city of watercolor sunsets, light workloads, and heavy lunch dates. Life was about to get real sweet.
As I boarded my flight, Phantom Planet's "California" played in my head and I could not contain my excitement. Soon I'd be surrounded by palm trees, splitting my time between the picture lots and poolside cabanas. Soon I'd be rubbing elbows with everyone from Lauren Bacall to Lauren Conrad. I'd be dancing it up at Les Deux, celebrating the sale of my first script. I'd be cruising down the 101, on my way to see my real-life version of Ryan Atwood.
But then a funny thing happened: I landed in LA and soon after allowed it swallow me whole. As it turns out — while LA might be sunny and warm and the clouds might by pink and fluffy and the birds might sing in the morning — it was not waiting for me with open arms. In fact, it seemed like the more I tried to wiggle my way in, the stronger its walls became. Nearly all of my cinematic impressions of LA were quickly turned on their heads. The competition: cutthroat. The lunches: expensive. The 101: a parking lot. Hollywood Blvd: worse than Times Square. Les Deux: OK, actually Lauren Conrad was there. The beaches: giant ashtrays. The hills: filled with rattlesnakes and coyotes.
Moving to LA with the notion that watching enough movies about it would prepare me for it was beyond moronic. Very quickly, the city went from being a majestic dream world to a depressing black hole where I accumulated nothing but debt, liver damage, a collection of parking tickets, and a completely shattered idea of self-worth.
I left LA for NYC with my tail between my legs. I cried the whole way home and for months, avoided eye contact with familiar faces in NYC. I went out to LA with a full chest of hot air. I had no idea how difficult it would be to break into the entertainment industry and earn the respect of the people I un-humbly respected.
It took me four years of working my ass off in NYC to finally start to understand what the real LA is all about. I needed to learn how to work hard, how to figure things out for myself and revere my independence. I needed to learn how to be part of a team and how to ensure others that I'm reliable. There's no better place to learn how to be reliable than a city where you literally cannot count on a single train, car, bus, or bike to take you somewhere on time. I needed to discover a deeper motivation for pursuing my dreams beyond the ability share air with Lauren Conrad. I needed to define my craft and tune it. There was no better place to do this than NY. When you're constantly surrounded by an endlessly diverse crowd of people who are all working their asses off to make ends meet, you're inspired to break a sweat.
One summer morning, as I watched the third L train pass me by due to overcrowding, I noticed a familiar song leaking out of the man's headphones beside me. "California, California, here's we cooooooome," it sang, or — at least I thought it sang, as it's totally possible this moment was a contrived mirage. A pang of nostalgia cramped my stomach and fluttered my head with all sorts of regrets and longings for that thirsty sunny state. Amidst my routine in the hustle and grind of New York, I realized that was exactly what I forgot to pack in LA: hustle and grind. Because while LA might look like a place you'd vacation in, it's one the hardest working cities in the world. Most people who break through in entertainment have been working at if for years and years. The reason why they succeed is because they need to, because there's nothing they want more out of life than to live their dreams.
And after dragging my feet across cracked pavement for four years, I was ready for some greenery. I was ready to go back to LA and hug the canyons and kiss the sky. I'd trade the rush-hour L train for grid-lock traffic on the 405 any day. I'm forever grateful to NY for toughening me up and slapping me in the face with a much needed reality check. But now I'm ready to take my updated operating system back to California to give it a proper go.
Images: Kaitlyn Wylde/Bustle; Giphy