“Man cannot discover new oceans unless he has the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andre Gide
As of this past August, I have lived 20 years in Los Angeles.
That’s longer than I’ve lived anywhere else, including the Bay Area, where I grew up. I have no idea where the time went. Okay, that’s not strictly, true, I can account for what I’ve been up to these 20 years, but sometimes I feel like I’ve just arrived.
The other day I came across some photos of my 22-year-old self while I was travelling. I wonder what that girl would have thought of my life now? Probably she would be disappointed. That girl had high hopes and high expectations; she worked hard but hadn’t yet realized the world doesn’t reward adults for being good or talented, only for being useful or unscrupulous. She had been sheltered and protected, and her new wings were weak from lack of use. She was full of judgement and a bit of arrogance in the way young people often are, sensitive and highly emotional, and had not yet learned to laugh at her foibles. Or how to forgive herself. (She was also very critical of herself, which hasn’t changed a bit.)
The year after I left college was a difficult one. I had wanted to go on to graduate school, but hadn’t gotten accepted to any that I wanted to go to, so I decided to wait a year and apply and audition again. It was probably the first year of my life I didn’t have a plan for. I was substitute teaching, and living with my boyfriend at his father’s apartment to save money. While I remain grateful that I had these options, they weren’t exactly ideal. That was the year I discovered the delight of spending an entire day curled up in a chair reading a book. By the time summer rolled around, I had plans to go up to the Dell’Arte school in the fall. My boyfriend had a gotten into a summer stock theatre (at a company I wouldn’t get hired by for two more years). I decided to travel to Europe.
My family didn’t travel much when I was growing up – we were a large tribe and with my brother’s disabilities and all the young children it would have proved extremely difficult – but I had saved up for years to go. So, at 22, I grabbed my younger sister, my guidebook, and off we went.
These were the days (gasp) just before cell phones and internet, and travelling to Europe cut you off almost completely. You could make some very expensive long distance calls, but otherwise, you were on your own. My poor protective parents had a hard time with this. I loved every minute of it.
We travelled around for six weeks, staying in hostels and cheap hotels, spending the entire day going to museums, historical sites, plays. I had made a plan using my trusty guidebook, and sometimes we stuck to it and sometimes we didn’t. We were careful of our safety, but bold in ways neither of us had been before (no, we didn’t go off with the drunken Welshmen we met on the ferry to Ireland, but we did go parasailing at Nice). Time and money were limited, so we saw everything we could, and didn’t waste a moment.
I have lived in a few places in my life, and the one regret I always have is that I didn’t see more of what that place had to offer. I was busy with school or rehearsal or work, and then I was exhausted, or I was short on cash or nobody wanted to go to something with me or a hundred other excuses and time passes and I leave that place with so many things undone. But seeing these things in your world changes you, and it’s not just limited to being in a foreign country (though that changes you in beautiful unique ways as well). You experience the rest of your everyday life differently.
I’ve made a list (there I go, planning again!) of things I’ve wanted to see and do in Los Angeles but just haven’t gotten around to yet. I’m going to put on my travelling mindset and get to these places over the course of the next few years. I’m going to let myself be a tourist in my own town sometimes, and go on my own to the things when no one else wants to go with me.
I had my first adventure this past Saturday.
I went down to Olvera Street’s Dia de los Muertos Art Walk. Olvera Street, also known as El Pueblo Historical Monument, Calle Olvera, and La Placita Olvera, is one of the oldest sections of Los Angeles, a block or two of an historic “Mexican Marketplace” with adorable vendors, cafes and several historical sites (I walked through Avila Adobe, billed as the “oldest house in Los Angeles” ) The Dios de las Muertos Art Walk made the place crazy crowded, but everyone was pleasant and having a good time, and there were so many interesting things to see. I caught the Aztec Dancers performing. I’d like to go back on a “regular” day – there are tours you can schedule and maybe I’ll do that. I love the Dia de los Muertos holiday, but as a non-Latina, find myself cautious about how to respectfully embrace a holiday not part of my own cultural traditions. It was bit like travelling to a foreign country – everyone was speaking Spanish and many performers were not even bothering with English, which was fine–it made my brain wake up to try to figure out what was going on. Alas, my high school Spanish has never been terribly helpful though I do manage to catch a few things here and there.
Olvera Street is directly across from Union Station, and as I didn’t want to wrestle with driving and parking down there, I took the Red Line from North Hollywood. It was my first time taking LA Metro (another adventure!) and my first time seeing Union Station. The LA Metro works like any other metro system in the world, is not complicated, and most other riders were super nice. There were the usual shady things going on, homeless folks sleeping in cars, some crazy folks talking to the air, but mostly just normal folks going about their business.
Union Station is pretty amazing – first, it’s HUGE. And historic and beautiful. I got off and immediately exited the wrong way which put me on the opposite side of the station from where I needed to go, but getting lost meant I saw the East side of the station where there is a gorgeous fountain and glass ceiling – not just any ol’ glass ceiling – this glass ceiling is epic. A lovely security man laughed as he directed me and a couple of other women who took the same wrong turn through the underground passage towards the West side of the station. This was the historic side where there are chandeliers and wood panelling and you have the sense you are no longer in a city where things are built with cheap building materials and held together by spit, but in a city that actually built substantial structures for the public once upon a time. There are nice restaurants there as well. Free tours are offered the second Sunday of every month at 10:30 am. I’d actually like to do one of those – maybe the next adventure that takes me in that direction will give me a reason to get there on a Sunday Morning.
I’m no longer that 22-year-old girl who had the time to gad about for a summer. I’m older, wiser, a bit more careworn, and fully capable of protecting myself. I have more obligations, but my need to see and experience my world hasn’t changed. I’m still the girl who likes to hurtle her body through time and space, whether in the dojo, on a ballroom floor, or riding a roller coaster. I’m still the girl who likes to get lost and discover treasures as I navigate my way back to terra firma.