From the Archives with an updated Guide to LA
If you had told me nine years ago that one husband, one dog, a business and two kids later I’d be inconsolable over leaving Los Angeles, or even more implausibly that I would have lived there long enough to accomplish such things, I would have assumed that you were mistaking me for someone that, if not free-spirited or adventurous, at least drives on freeways. But a few weeks ago with our twin boys Sweetlips and the Bean snug in the backseat for our return trip home as a family, I blubbered with conviction as Mike pulled the car onto the freeway, heartbroken over saying goodbye to a place I had, against all odds and traffic, come to love.
I spent the weeks before we left in a haze of nostalgia, always taking the long way home to keep the familiar streets of a sprawling and only partially traversed city fresh in my head and ran along the ocean every morning as a masochistic reminder of how different the Hudson River looks from the PCH. As Jeff Buckley’s ballad “Hallelujah” mournfully played background on my iPod to the rolling credits that were playing in my head, I would stop to look out at the Pacific or gaze longingly at the familiar site of Santa Monica Pier’s Ferris wheel, an amusement that I had never actually ridden. In spite of my many years proselytizing about how much better the bagels and even burritos were in my beloved Manhattan, I was suddenly glorifying my staple LA restaurants, proclaiming that I’d never be able to get a Turkey Reuben in New York as good as the one I get in Malibu — or at least one that comes with a side of ocean view. And this is without any mention of the friends, who in a city so transient, inherit the roll of family, forced to rely on one another in a way that you had only thought possible of those that, being your parents, have no choice.
I don’t know where those nine years went and it’s hard to say when I began to even come to an understanding with LA, as I was initially so surprised every time I overheard people speaking English. When did I get used to its idiosyncrasies, complaining about them like a seasoned insider and expertly navigating oddities like June Gloom (it’s the Marine Layer!) to confused visitors?
Don’t get me wrong, I am a New Yorker to my core. As Mike always says, his heart beats differently when he is here. But from the time Bean could walk, he pretended every toy and book was a skateboard, mimicking the big kids on the ramps at our Brentwood neighborhood park. And Sweetlips has long insisted that he sleep with “The Beach Book,” an ode to his favorite place. He’s also a bit of a hoarder and brings a minimum of eighteen stuffed animals into his crib. You’d need to go back to the Dewey Decimal System to sort through what’s going on in there. But we often hear him muttering about sand and buckets and ocean as he drifts off to sleep, so we’ve attached meaning to this necessity because any honest parents’ uncertainties are manifested in their children’s bedtime stories. In full disclosure, Mike laments that I moved to and from LA with an unsentimental and altogether random egg of Silly Putty. But if it made it from childhood to college, doesn’t it seem like bad luck to get rid of something now that’s so small and easily stowed? I too am a hoarder. Not that I’m projecting.
Ultimately, there’s no denying that, despite their roots, there is a bit of LA in those kids and I couldn’t decide if I was tearing them from the life they knew or bringing them home to live as the New Yorkers they were meant to be – with a dose of laid back Cali engrained in their still innocent minds. Soon I worried, Los Angeles would simply be the place where they were born, a badge of honor to brag to their friends or bunkmates who only know Hollywood from the movies, so foreign from Great Neck or Scarsdale that it might as well be Mars…or Des Moines.
Maybe it was because we were our own team in Los Angeles, just the four of us and our pooch Lola figuring it all out together. It was an adventure and in spite of inexperience and total independence, our little family thrived. I started to realize that my world was, without intention, contained in Los Angeles and by leaving it was not just the view of the Pacific or my go-to restaurants that would suddenly be out of reach. I guess that part of me worried that with so much influence from “home,” our little gang would be broken up and the free-spirited dynamic of my brood would be changed forever.
As I was packing, I found some old manuscripts, including one I had written during my very first months of living with my boyfriend Mike in Los Angeles. This long-forgotten essay seems so optimistic and full of not only bewilderment, but an underlying sense of youthful excitement that I can almost remember.
There were no kids then…just the two of us, driving the PCH every weekend in our two-seater convertible (isn’t that what you’re supposed to drive there?) reassuring each other unconvincingly about “making it here” – all in our attempt at blissful survival by living a cliché. We were also young and stupid.
When I wrote this there was not even a thought that we would one day embark on a desperate journey to have children. Years later, only a few miles from those fortifying and idealistic road trips, I underwent one of many procedures in my pursuit of motherhood. Post surgery, a chipper nurse wheeled me drugged and disoriented into a recovery room. She generously slipped me an extra shot of the pain killer Propofol, noting as she pushed the syringe into my IV, “This stuff is amazing. It’s what killed Michael Jackson.”
Everyone knows that under the best of circumstances I will never turn down drugs in a room where I am sure there are heart paddles. So, heartbroken and hopeless, but determined to focus on the perks, I truly appreciated the nurse’s kind gesture. With the protective disposition of a mama bear, she then rubbed my arm reassuringly and talked to me about her kids and how, when I saw my own one day, I would know that they were worth the fight.
And then she slipped me her son’s headshot. She did this with the discretion of a stage mom whose midwestern life plan rested on the next casting call for the Mickey Mouse Club. Turns out, she heard from my surgeon that my husband was “in the business.” I was literally brought to the car in a wheelchair with my discharge papers and the name of some kid’s agent on my lap. We made it after all!
Life in LA gave me plenty of material. Plus, I don’t care how many times people say it, you really can’t beat the weather. But I think that the reminiscent longing for my adopted city was ultimately more about us and what we built than the inherited sushi, sand and smog that I now truly appreciate. Mike and I went there alone with nothing but naivety and his childhood dream and decided that we would together either sink or swim. Some days we did both.
And yet there we were a lifetime and a family of our own later, driving back home completely altered by this ironic joint independence and self-reliance that we had now earned, and the only thing that remained the same was that we were doing it together, reassuring each other for the new road ahead.
My L.A. eats
Whenever friends visit LA, the first question we get is where to eat. While there are plenty of newer spots that I am always down for (Jon & Vinny's, Bestia) and oldies but goodies that are forever favorites for reasons ranging from food to fun to people watching (Gjelina, Old Place Restaurant, Taverna Tony), below are the places that I come home to - my "regular" spots that make me feel like nothing has changed.
*1. Our life in Los Angeles could be measured in sandwiches from MALIBU KITCHEN. Personal Obsession: Turkey Reuben with Coleslaw.
3900 Cross Creek Rd., Malibu CA
*2. Lunch at LA SCALA in Beverly Hills for the “Half Tuna Chopped” salad and catching up with my girlfriends, snug in a red leather booth.
434 N Canon Drive, Beverly Hills, CA
*3. JOAN’S ON THIRD for a trio salad at lunch…leaving with a bag full of gourmet cheeses, spreads and sweets. I stand by my opinion that they have the best cupcakes in LA.
8530 West Third Street, Los Angeles, CA
*4. Ritual morning walk to FARMSHOP at the Brentwood Country Mart for iced coffee. I’d like to think I have run the Santa Monica steps first because chances are I’m coming back later for an open faced tuna sandwich with olive tapenade…and definitely a chocolate chip cookie.
225 26th Street, Santa Monica, CA (at the Brentwood Country Mart
*5. GIORGIO BALDI for bolognese and impeccable old-school service. Despite the star studded atmosphere, it’s a quaint setting for celebrating a special occasion.
114 W Channel Road, Santa Monica, CA
* 6. CRAIG’S for date night - where we went to celebrate the evening we learned we were having twin boys…and almost every Friday night of my pregnancy. Make sure to request a side of mac n’ cheese.
8826 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA
* 7. Whether we’re heading for a weekend at Ojai, The Biltmore or Bacara, taking the kids to the Santa Barbara skate park or zoo, or simply enjoying the off-leash Butterfly Beach with Lola and the boys, dinner at LUCKY’S steakhouse in Montecito is a non-negotiable stop.
1279 Coast Village Rd., Montecito, CA