It was last Wednesday. A week into my stay, I had finally overcome jetlag and mastered the transit so much that I can ride the bus home without frantically staring at Google Maps. And then it happened: As I stepped out of the subway at Hollywood/Vine, tourists came up to me and asked me for directions. Man, was I proud.
I will admit that the level “other people who know nothing mistake me for a local” isn’t my ultimate assimilation goal. But for only having been here for a week, I must have looked pretty knowledgable! So what do I actually know about L.A. after my first visit? Let’s see.
Los Angeles is…
When I asked people who had been to L.A. or the West Coast what I should not miss, they mostly told me to get out of the city and drive six hours somewhere else, claiming that L.A. is not much to see. To tell the truth, I find that a rather disrespectful statement. It is also totally not accurate. Los Angeles is very interesting! There is so much to explore. I had eleven fully planned days and constantly felt like I need more time to look at this, too and check out that as well. I could easily spend another eleven days before needing to go anywhere else. One reason there was never enough time in a day might, however, also be rooted in the fact that L.A. is…
I gradually wrapped my mind around the city’s size and structure. Once I started thinking of it like of the entire Rhein-Ruhr area where I live, I found it acceptable to be travelling ninety minutes to a place I wanted to go. (Or 120 minutes if it is the Dressbarn store.) L.A. is not really one city with one city center, it’s more like several centers and “in between burbs” (not even suburbs). It takes forever to get anywhere. Especially when you don’t drive. Now that I’ve reconciled myself with that fact, I start seeing all these opportunities for apartment hunting in Hamburg. I just have to trick my mind into thinking Hamburg is L.A. and a sixty-minute-commute will be totally fine.
3. hot and then cold
On my second day, I finally bought myself a little backpack. It might have been the best investment of 2019, and I say that while there are still eight months of the year left. Not only can I now bring things with me without a hurting shoulder, I can also bring more – and in Los Angeles I need more, namely at least one cardigan, a jacket, a scarf and actually, pack those gloves. Because when I leave the house in the morning, the sun is out and the weather is in the 70s (which is 20-25 Celsius), but then in the afternoon clouds can suddenly come out and make it ten degrees colder. When the sun sets, you better be home – or you have those gloves with you.
I’ve always wanted to go to Montreal to see in real life how a bilingual North American city would be. Now I can skip that trip because I already know. Every sign and most announcements are bilingual in Spanish and English. (More than 40 % of L.A. inhabitants speak Spanish as a native language.) It makes me happy to notice that my school Spanish often is good enough to follow the basic information. Sometimes the Spanish helps me to understand the English. Like at “Ross Dress for Less” where they call a section “Women World” in English which means nothing to me. In Spanish underneath it reads, “Talle Grande” – much more descriptive!
Street names are also very often in Spanish and it’s fascinating to see how easily they’ve been anglicized. I always thought Figueroa was hard to pronounce – until I heard it roll off the American tongues with ease. Same goes for La Tijera, La Cienega (my favorite because that is where the Target is), Centinela and Sepulveda (actually the longest street there is here).
This city is an acoustically very stimulating place. There is no way of getting home without a least two dogs loudly barking at you. They also like to alarm everyone at night when a car is passing by. Every afternoon, three ice cream trucks circle around the neighborhood, playing Christmas songs. On the bus, there is constantly something beeping and the announcements are never-ending. “Approaching Jefferson and Main, followed by Jefferson and Hope, for your own safety mind your step as you step from the bus, approaching Jefer and Trinity followed by Jefferson and Hope, we are on this ride together so please do not play loud music; to help us get you there on time, please do not block doorways, for your own safety mind your step…” The good part is that the announcing voice sounds like someone from an action movie that makes me chuckle inwardly every time he speaks. Which is like every ten seconds.