Like a great lot of self-professed Angelenos, I’m a transplant. I was living in Northern California until the bursting bubble of the first dot-com boom, but my husband had grown up here. There was nothing left for us after the Internet dust had settled, so we found ourselves heading south. It wasn’t a move I was overly enthused about, yet somewhere along the line, the city and its sprawl seduced me into an enduring affair I never expected.
It started slowly. At first, we moved to the outer outskirts — Rancho Cucamonga, to be exact — and spent our time acclimating to the heat as we job-hunted in a direly dry economy. Eventually we both became employed and moved to Burbank, where we lived in a loft apartment behind the Warner Bros.’ ranch studios. I reveled in our quiet evenings spent dining at Kuru Kuru — a mouthwatering sushi spot in an unassuming mini-mall — where the chefs greeted everyone who walked in the door as if they were Norm from “Cheers.” On weekends, our date nights included a movie at the town center, not yet besodden with an AMC multiplex at its core. My relationship with my new surroundings was simple, unassuming. I started to find my comfort in the area and decided that maybe I could grow to like it.
At the same time, the comfort in my marriage was diminishing. The closure came two years after the move south, in the wake of both of us realizing we married far too young and lacked the self-awareness and skill that such a union required.
But even as we stood under the foggy light of a street lamp, tenderly hugging as we told one another we were sorry, I knew I wasn’t leaving L.A. Something about the city had ensnared me, and I wanted to sink deeper into its grasp.
Dating throughout the city showed me an entirely different side of it. There were drinks at ivy-covered Valley mainstay Firefly, where I fell for the library bar. I allowed myself to be sucked into the Hollywood scene, marveling at the velvet rope madness at then-hotshots like Barfly, Cinespace and Les Deux, dancing myself into a sweaty mess and then getting even sweatier with barside PDAs.
When I fell in love with a local, my relationship to the city deepened — past the surface expressions of the glittery night life and touristy expectations. He introduced me to the joys of Runyon and Bronson canyons, which encouraged us both to hunt out more obscure hiking trails. He took me to Laguna Beach and the Venice canals, and we ate our way through the city, living it up at some of the bigger-name restaurants and chowing down at charming holes in the wall.
The love affair with the local fizzled out, and I healed my heart the best way I knew how — by immersing myself even more in the city. It was the one relationship that seemed to be steady and constant. I’d long since moved from Burbank to Venice, then on to Culver City, where I walked the path next to the L.A. River and marveled at the vibrant bougainvillea en route to the farmer’s market each Tuesday. I went on some dates, venturing to my first cemetery screening at Hollywood Forever for one, doing a day filled with touristy nonsense on Hollywood Boulevard for another. But nothing sated me the way the partnership with the city did.
I hiked through Griffith Park and visited the Grove and tried popular juice bars and yoga spots. I consoled my bad date heartaches with walks down the jetty in Marina del Rey and moonlight nights in Hollywood, listening to the street noise of Sunset and finding it just as calming and reassuring as the sound of crashing waves.
And what I came to understand was this: As much as I fought the idea, something in me knew that this was where I was meant to be. Just like the Eagles’ classic song “Hotel California” suggests, I’ve tried to leave and could never find a way to make that work. The more I explored my surroundings, the more it encouraged me to explore myself — who I was, what I wanted and how that showed up in the world around me. And, of course, there were the men whom I’ve loved who helped me to discover and understand that too. Without them, both the city — and myself — would’ve remained a mystery.
Love brought me to L.A. But it was my love of L.A. that made me stay. And I can’t wait to see where that love takes me next.
Milne is a Los Angeles freelance writer.