This post is the first of a new direction for the blog on this website, where I’ll be sharing more about my life as a freelance writer in Los Angeles.
Because I walk everywhere I possibly can and spend a lot of time writing in crowded coffee shops, I’ve had a lot of, er, memorable interactions with the beautiful and diverse people of Los Angeles.
Some of these interactions were funny, and some have been funny only in the re-telling. One made me cry in a Starbucks.
Here are the most memorable interactions I’ve had with strangers in LA, in no special order:
#1 The dinner invitation
If you walk a lot, you will inevitably find yourself standing still on a street corner waiting for the pedestrian crossing light to turn on. And if you happen to be a woman, you pretty much assume that, at some point, a man will approach you while you’re waiting, strike up a conversation and ask you to dinner. That’s a given.
The biggest what-if is whether he will take your “No, thank you,” well. There’s always the possibility that he will give you a quivering frown and mutter something mean but non-specific under his breath.
That’s why, one afternoon, when a guy approached me as I waited for the pedestrian light, struck up a conversation, asked me to dinner and then took my “No, thank you,” graciously….I was content with the interaction, overall.
That is, until he followed up with this: “So, did you just get let out of school for the day? What school do you go to? Bayview High School?”*
I was wearing a backpack because I like backpacks, and he was easily 35.
#2 The mysterious threat
Walking down a busy street one morning, I witnessed a memorable interaction between two other strangers.
A man in a suit was hurrying to work. A woman was walking toward him on the sidewalk, minding her own business. When their paths crossed, she suddenly looked up at him and hissed, “You’re going to die today.”
The poor man yanked an air pod out of his ear and craned his neck to look back at her. To his credit, he never slowed his pace. The woman resumed her entirely normal-looking jaunt down the street, without once glancing back.
#3 The yoga flier
A couple of people wearing breezy linen pants handed me a flier one afternoon as I turned a corner. It had a drawing of a woman in mermaid pose on it.
“We’re holding an impromptu kundalini yoga retreat over in Pico,” one of the group said softly. “Starts in 30 minutes, all levels and energies welcome.”
“Sorry,” I said, not prepared for the words that came out of my mouth next. “I’m on my way to a yoga class right now, actually.” And here’s the kicker—I was. I was wearing yoga pants and had my rolled-up mat slung over my shoulder.
The group smiled knowingly, one of them squeezed my arm, and then they swarmed off to somewhere behind me.
I lingered for a little while on that corner, feeling ambivalent about the fact that five months ago, I would have rolled my eyes at that flier.
I am assimilating, I thought, with a mixture of satisfaction and bewilderment.
#4 The heart-warming afternoon in Starbucks
A splashing sound and a loud, “Oh, geez,” made me look up from my laptop. An elderly man at the table in front of me had spilled his iced latte all over the floor.
As I weighed the pros and cons of getting out of my seat to help him clean it up, another woman (thankfully) beat me to it. Everyone in the vicinity, now absolved of the social pressure to be helpful, turned back to their laptops, tablets and muffins.
The elderly gentlemen, in his booming east-coast accent, said, “Oh, thank you, sweetheart,” to the woman who was applying napkins to the mess.
But it was what he said next that made me snap my head up from my screen: “Ah, I’m sorry I called you ‘sweetheart,’” he said. “I’m trying to remember that it’s condescending and sexist to say that, but sometimes it slips out. I appreciate you helping me, that’s all I meant.”
My jaw dropped open and I wildly looked around to see if anyone had witnessed this startling sincere moment. My eyes got teary as I whispered—tritely—to myself, “Times are changing, yessiree.”
#5 The two cats and one woman show
There’s this woman who lives downtown that I’ve now become accustomed to having a little polite conversation with whenever I’m in the neighborhood. She’s gruff and outgoing, and—notably—she moves through the world via motorized wheelchair, a full grown cat perched like a parrot on either shoulder.
This is the story of the first time we met.
I was walking down the street, wearing cat-eye sunglasses, high-waisted pants, and probably an equally trendy shirt. I was on a mission to have some jewelry repaired, when someone yelled, “Hey!” from behind me.
(Now, I had just moved to LA, so I hadn’t yet learned to never, ever look when someone yells “Hey!” at you on the street.)
I—with an embarrassing amount of eagerness—turned around to see Angela** zooming up in her wheelchair. An orange cat licked himself calmly on her right shoulder, while a brown cat leaped up from her lap like an acrobat to land on her left shoulder. Her belongings were piled high over her chair so that her presence was immense, more like a tank in Mad Max: Fury Road than a woman in a wheelchair.
“Yes?” I said.
“Stop sluttin’ around!” She answered.
“Okay,” I said.
#6 The shared Lyft ride
I slid into my Lyft next to another passenger, a middle aged man wearing eyeglasses that were very cool in a understated way. Maybe it was the glasses, but I found myself liking him immediately. I got to asking him about his life. He was a surgeon from India, and he was Airbnb-ing an apartment in West Hollywood for a couple months.
“So, what brings you to LA? Work?” I asked.
He met my gaze for a moment before answering. Finally, he replied, in the calm tone you’d imagine a surgeon spends years perfecting, “No; my daughter goes to college here, and a couple months ago, she was at a party and fell off the 3rd floor balcony. She has been in the hospital since then. I’m here…to support her.”
His daughter had just nailed down an internship for the upcoming semester at a top magazine in New York City. The party was a last hurrah before she was to board her plane for NYC. She’s going to be okay.
Later, it occurred to me that his practiced demeanor likely had less to do with his medical training and more to do with him having to tell this story every time someone asks him why he’s visiting the city.
There are a lot of blog posts out there about living in Los Angeles. Most will tell you about how the weather is amazing, but you do miss the changing of the seasons. And they’ll mention how you can be at the beach one day and the mountains the next, but rent is high. Green juice abounds. Movie stars lurk in exclusive restaurants. Gasoline is expensive. Traffic can be terrible. Definitely try the street tacos.
For me, interactions like the ones I’ve shared here are the most accurate way I can explain my experience as a newly minted Angeleno. It’s been good and amusing and bewildering, but it’s the best place I’ve ever lived. After all, it’s super sunny, like all the time.
*This is a made up high school, because I don’t want internet people knowing my exact neighborhood. Bayview High is actually the high school from the popular early nineties sitcom, Full House.
**Not her real name.