Tomorrow I leave for LA, Los Angeles, in California, the city where I grew up. Well, not really. We first lived in Sepulveda, maybe Van Nuys [I was little then], Burbank, Chatsworth, Granada Hills, which is mostly in the San Fernando Valley, north of Los Angeles, so inland about maybe forty, fifty miles? But still, LA.
It’s been interesting going back after more years away than I care to admit. And, it’s true, you know, what Thomas Wolfe wrote, you can never go home. In the book it’s because the residents don’t like the way the town was depicted in the writer’s story. But that’s not it for me, although in someways it is. The most important part is, it’s just not there! I doubt if I could find a church or a school or a house that was important to me. On the trip from LAX to the Century City Hyatt where we stay for the conference, I recognize all the street names, but not one of them looks familiar. And, actually, the hotel where we stay for the SCBWI LA Conference is across the street from the parking lot for Century City Hospital, at least it was when I was there! Now, its a huge office building.
But that’s not it. You could change everything and you should still recognize a city. When we go to New York every winter, we find that buildings have changed, the subway route has changed, even the Staten Island Ferry has changed, but NYC? The city? Yes, it’s changed because of terrorists and 9/11. There are barriers in places I didn’t think you could fit something like that in. And there are different traffic patterns, and there is the loss of the WTC, but IT IS still THE CITY! That’s the way Tom introduced it to me. All in capital letters. Very insular, very provincial, not unlike Boston, but still…
The LA I grew up in was eccentric, outre, the vistas wider, the climate milder, the opportunities broader. It was the West! as my mother would say and those were not hills, they were Mountains. It was not who you knew, but what you knew. But not any more. It is, and, has been for a while a bad joke for nutzy. LaLa land. The Left Coast. I surprised some tennis players last Thursday when I mentioned that in the 1940’s and 1950’s Hollywood was Republican. They didn’t believe me!
But. Beyond the politics, the lifestyles, the political correctness, the excesses and the jokes, the whole idea of going back has always confused me, like with reunions. If I had wanted to stay in touch, well, I would have. I was never one for comparisons and that’s how I think of going back. Because of who stayed. Did you do better or worse by leaving? Did they by staying? And are you comparing like to like?
Growing up is all about choices. That’s what should happen to a character in a story. Maybe they don’t grow tremendously, maybe there is no huge epiphany, but there should be choices. And with those choices, yep, you got it, consequences.