It’s been six months, but it still feels like a dream sometimes, living in the city of awards shows and palm trees and surfers and noir detectives. And I don’t mean “a dream” in the “living out my fantasies sense.” I never in a million years dreamed about living in California. When I say“a dream,” I mean it in the hazy, surreal sense. I try not to think about it too much, or my brain will rebel. How can I possibly be sitting on a rooftop in Los Angeles, with oranges growing in pots beside me and the sun promising a 90° April afternoon?
I moved a lot as a kid. I went to eight different schools in the thirteen years before college. I’ve lived in everything from a tiny town of three hundred fifty people to a charming college town to a Florida beach town to a suburb connected to Seattle by light rail. Until this move, I’d never lived in a big city.
I’ve loved big cities, though. Chicago was “the city” of my childhood. We lived hours away, in downstate Illinois, and I remember the thrill of watching out the car window as miles of cornfields gave way to concrete sound walls, and the skyline became visible on the horizon. Going to Chicago meant the whoosh of an L line overhead, Marshall Fields windows decked out for the holidays, and seeing Nighthawks in the art museum. My Chicago was the Chicago of Ferris Bueller, a vibrant romp that skipped reality in favor of tourist highlights.
Denver was next. We lived in a college town an hour north of the city, and then a small town, inches closer down I-25. We weren’t in the suburbs. There were still miles of cornfields between our house and the web of flyovers and Elitch’s rollercoasters that signified our arrival downtown, but Denver was more of an everyday reality in my life. My husband commuted there daily. We had friends and family living there. We went into the city for concerts and dinners and theatre and shopping. With its skyline framed against the front range of the Rocky Mountains, Denver was the city of my heart.
My first impression of Seattle was dinginess, which wasn’t fair. Our househunting trip happened in late fall, and where Denver can disguise its flaws with glinting sunshine and regular dustings of white snow, Seattle in November boasts no such illusions. We settled in a south suburb, an easy train ride from downtown, and while I never found a way to be happy living with the endless gray skies, it wouldn’t be exaggerating to say I fell in love. Taking a train into the city meant we did a lot of walking in Seattle, and walking, I’m convinced, is the best way to develop an intimate relationship with a place. Seattle is relentlessly gray, but it’s also riotously green and and stunningly blue. It’s steamed-up shop windows and busy piers, flowers at the Market, and street fairs every weekend straight from June to September. Summers in Seattle are glorious, but my Seattle, much to my own surprise, will always be November Seattle, when you duck inside for coffee on a drizzly afternoon, tuck into a cozy café corner, and let the city warm you from the inside out.
Which brings me to Los Angeles, where we live in a townhouse at the edge of the Valley, within city limits, in as much as that means anything. LA is vast. The city alone has five times the population of Seattle, and the metro area has twice as many people as the whole state of Colorado. This city terrifies me. I haven’t made peace with driving my car on its
highways freeways or coming face-to-face with its immense homelessness problem. Los Angeles and I aren’t friends yet. I’m not sure we’ll ever be close.
Walking through my neighborhood a few weeks ago, before the pandemic shut everything down, I looked at the restaurants and theaters lining the street, the fruit vendor on the corner, the groups of people clustered at the crosswalk, and I mentally added to my Joy List.
I live in the city.
Here’s the thing about cities: they offer a bounty of places to go and things to do and people to see, but they don’t force any of it onto you. Big cities have the reputation of being fast and bright and overwhelming, and there’s some truth to that, but they also have ways of making slow living easier. My husband’s commute is a tenth what it was when we lived outside Denver. We don’t have a yard to worry about. We take up less space and use fewer resources, while having access to more services. It’s easier to get unusual ingredients here, which makes cooking more creative and fun. Simple things like going to a museum or seeing a play take less planning, because they’re close by and happening all the time.
This life probably wouldn’t have been right for me a decade ago, or even a few years ago, but right now, slow living in the city feels just right…even in a city as surreal as this one.