The View From Away: West Coast West Side story

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A talented screenwriter I know, a native Mainer, is gearing up to move to Los Angeles. It makes sense. She has done as much as she can in Maine. Her films have been nominated for awards. She has begun to acquire cult status as a blogger about her favorite shows. Now she wants to take her career to the next level. The next logical step is SoCal. If you want to be an ice fisherman, you move to where the ice is. For screenwriters, L.A. is where the ice is.

She has asked about breaking into the business. The path is different for everybody, but I like to think I have helped a little with things you can do to help yourself and a few basic mistakes to avoid.

But it is getting down to the wire, now, and she is trying to figure out where to live. It has to be hard for her. She is not only a native, but she has deep family ties here. Whenever she talks about her move, I can hear in her voice that she knows what she is giving up. I can feel her pain somewhat; even though I am from away and have never put down deep roots anywhere, I have come to feel a tug whenever I am away from Maine for a few weeks. So far, she has not asked for advice. I hope she doesn’t, because I got nothing:

How do you prepare somebody for stepping through the looking glass?

Having lived both places, I am pretty sure native Mainers have no frame of reference for L.A. Boston is not big enough, busy and cramped as it is. New York, where my friend lived briefly, has more people, but they are stacked on top of each other, not spread out all over the place. I had more trouble figuring out Portland than Manhattan. In The City, the numbered streets go east and west, the Avenues go north and south and Broadway slashes through it diagonally. All you need is a halfway decent map of Wall Street and Greenwich Village, and you’re home free.

L.A., on the other hand, is a vast flat collection of adjoining ghettos. The poor-people ghettos, immortalized in song and riot, are just the tip of the iceberg. There is another kind of ghetto, defined as “an isolated or segregated group or area.” Los Angeles is full of these shtetls, born out of city growth, real estate prices that have gone from “crazy” to “there must be a decimal point problem here,” the rise and sophistication of branding, and finally, transportation that has gone from annoying to virtually impossible (this hasn’t stopped 5 million people from commuting every day; yes, 5 million).

The upshot is that places that used to be neighborhoods have become more like isolated villages with carefully crafted identities designed to make statements about the people who live there. This compartmentalization is particularly visible on the West Side, where the more inconvenient it is to live, the more status the inhabitants seem to feel they have.

There is the People’s Republic of Santa Monica (conservatives and people unwilling to pay exorbitant prices for tiny apartments or cracker-box houses need not apply), Malibu (“we’re beach people, and we’re so rich we never have to go anywhere, at least until the beach eats our house”), Venice (“we’re beach people who roller-blade with our dogs”), Culver City (“we aspire to being beach people who roller-blade with our dogs, but for now we’re happy with our funky restaurants and trendy streetlights”) the Pacific Palisades (up here in the hills, we literally look down on the beach people). The list goes on and on.

Because it’s such a hassle to get around, people tend to stay in their own areas. Socializing with people from other parts of the city involves a strange kind of gamesmanship involving travel. Going to where your friends live is weak and needy. Getting them to come to where you live is concrete evidence that where you live is a little better than where they live (“This is a little better than where you live,” by the way, is the motto of Brentwood, another West Side ghetto).

If you get backed into a corner and absolutely have to go to where your friend lives, it is imperative to arrive late because you are coming from some other engagement. This proves that while your friend may live in a slightly hipper place, you lead a fuller, richer life. Advantage, you.

The bottom line is that finding a place to live in Los Angeles has a lot more to do with identity than shelter. It’s about making a statement, and researching neighborhoods online and taking virtual tours with Google Maps will only take you so far. If my friend doesn’t hook up with a smart, sophisticated, passive-aggressive Angelino soon, someone who really knows the city, she could end up in a neighborhood where people just, I don’t know – live.

I’d hate to see her digging that kind of a hole for herself.

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Mike Langworthy, an attorney, former stand-up comic and longtime television writer, now lives in Scarborough and is fascinated by all things Maine. You can reach him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter: @mikelangworthy.