Wish You Weren’t Here

Unlike Los Angeles, antibodies have a fab region.I’m in the middle of another week-long stay in the glorious Burbank/Glendale area. It’s made slightly more pleasant by the fact that it’s almost certainly going to be my last. Barring any unforseen catastrophe, of course, and assuming that I’m not seriously mistaken in my belief that Hell is a concept and not an actual place.

I’ve been here dozens of times now, and it’s settled into a familiar routine: go to SFO, fly down to Burbank, get unduly annoyed at the rental car lady, drive to the office, spend the day in meetings, check into the hotel, get on the internet and bitch about LA, collapse into an uneasy sleep of Glendale-themed nightmares, repeat.

The weird thing is that although it’s gotten routine, it still doesn’t feel comfortable. My default state in any unfamiliar place is to feel like I don’t belong, but here, that feeling is almost palpable. It’s as if the entire LA area is filled with trillions of Chuck antibodies, persistently and aggressively reminding me that I’m not supposed to be here.

It starts with the nasal congestion I’ve complained about earlier; the city’s first defense is to try to suffocate me. Next it tries to drive me out with a headache that usually lasts a day and a half. Then, once it realizes I’m still here, it decides it’ll at least render me harmless, by making me fall asleep at some ridiculously early hour, like 4 in the afternoon. Once all the initial attacks fail, it just spends the rest of the time giving me indigestion.

Traveling down here is about as simple as it could possibly be while still having an airplane involved. The people are friendly enough. The hotel is comfortable. But it still just feels overwhelmingly off. And even after two years of frequent visits, it still doesn’t sit right with me. As I was driving in, I started trying to build up some nostalgia, thinking “this is the last time I’ll see this rental car booth” and the like, but none of it would take. After this is all wrapped up, I’ll miss some of my coworkers, but I won’t miss the place, because I never feel like I’m really here.

My current, non-biovirus-based theory to explain why I have such an aversion to LA, when plenty of people adjust to it fine and even love it, is that it’s just a combination of unrealistic expectations and burnout. I was reminded last weekend that growing up, I always thought of LA (and inexplicably, Burbank) as exotic places. That was where all the TV happened, after all. And in particular, the building I’m typing in now is the epicenter of everything my eight-year-old self thought was cool.

The problem is that Burbank and Glendale, and much of LA in fact, isn’t exotic, but is aggressively mundane. It doesn’t even have the depressing-but-still-somehow-interesting slickness and artificiality of downtown LA. It’s just miles and miles of outdated chain restaurants and grocery stores and office buildings and strip malls, punctuated by TV and movie studios and the Hollywood Bowl.

You’ll find that feeling in any suburb — the sense that the people there have sacrificed a little bit of their souls for the sake of convenient shopping and easy parking. And who am I to judge, seeing as how I’m an outspoken advocate of the path of least resistance. Plus, there’s only so much excitement you can take before it’s time to just run errands and buy groceries again.

But here, it’s amplified. Living in the middle of the entertainment industry is supposed to be at least interesting: either like some bohemian artists’ neighborhood in New York or Europe, or the soulless but tempting live of excess privilege like you always see in the cautionary tales about success in Hollywood. It’s not supposed to be so flat, and average, and suburban, and boring.

So basically, after about two and half years of frequent visits, my assessment is: it’s a nice place to visit, but get me the hell out of here.

2 thoughts on “Wish You Weren’t Here”

  1. Even to Angelenos, Burbank and Glendale are considered the more boring areas–“flat, average, suburban and dull.” As a whole, LA’s a place that’s only 46% white and with a median income over $20,000 less than that of San Francisco. Just because you spent most of your time in the more suburban and white collar areas (Burbank: 76% white, income > SF, Glendale: 64% white, income > LA) does not mean you should make the blanket statement that LA is “just miles and miles of outdated chain restaurants and grocery stores and office buildings and strip malls.”

    Visit Koreatown, Little Ethiopia, the San Gabriel Valley (Taiwanese/Vietnamese/Chinese), Little Tokyo, Olvera Street, Tehrangeles (Persian/Iranian), Watts, Artesia (India/Pakistan) and other places and you’d be plunged in cultures you’ve barely heard about. Or check out the different alt. cultures in Silver Lake, Venice Beach or West Hollywood. If LA is able to supply enough exotic and diverse (albeit inconspicuous) material to help award the only Pulitzer prize to a food critic, who propounds to “search out food that is a window into the city’s crazy-quilt immigrant soul” (link), the least you can do is get off the Internet, get out of the hotel, and check out what makes LA unique.

  2. The preceding message brought to you by the Los Angeles Board of Tourism. Come get a lungful of what LA has to offer!

    Well, I did point out that there are plenty of people who love LA, but I’m just not one of them. And I did distinguish between Burbank & Glendale and the rest of the city, even though since this is the area I’ve seen most often, “Los Angeles” is interchangeable with “Burbank” for me.

    My point still stands that taking everything that’s supposed to be cool (to a TV-raised child), and putting it in the middle of an overwhelmingly vast expanse of dullness, is a dirty trick. And I’ve visited other parts of the city, both on vacations, trips for E3, and on business trips where I’ve tried to force myself to like the area. With very few exceptions, it’s resulted in a depressingly low return on investment.

    I’ve got absolutely no doubt there are restaurants in LA that are like being awarded a Pulitzer Prize in your mouth. I’ve also got no doubt that to get to them, you have to spend at least an hour in traffic on crowded freeways or streets through low, flat strip-malls or featureless office buildings. Traffic sucks in the bay area, too, but at least I can usually (if I’m not driving in the south bay) look outside the window and not want to kill myself. I think Los Angeles and I will be better off spending more time apart.

    My crush on Michaela Pereira is stronger than ever, though.

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