Posted by: GeekHiker | January 6, 2008

It’s Gray In LA, So Take Me To The River

(This is a stream of consciousness post, with no real story or conclusion. It’s too damn long, and if you read it and it bores you to tears or puts you to sleep, well, you can’t say I didn’t warn ya.)

This “post,” if I can be so bold to call it that given its rambling nature, isn’t a tale of something that happened in my day, or even a rant. It doesn’t have a beginning or middle or end. In fact, it’s just a stream of thoughts that don’t quite lead to a conclusion.

What this is all about is figuring out where I should be and, well, that’s quite a large thing to tackle in one’s mind anyways.

I’ve been writing bits and pieces of it for the last few months, ever since the Oregon Trip, keeping a file on the desktop of my laptop and adding whatever little bit or piece came to me at a given time. Perhaps I was hoping that something grand would come together, leading to a monumental conclusion of some sort.

Didn’t happen.

I came across a song last night that, during this weekend of rainy weather, seemed to sum up exactly how I felt about LA right now, as these storms blow through. So, inspired, I’m putting up what I have, my thoughts on the subject, mostly just to get it out of my system, and then put it to the side for a while…

* * *


Storm clouds over Los Angeles

When it’s gray in L.A. I sure like it that way
Cause there’s way too much sunshine round here
I don’t know about you I get so sick of blue skies
Wherever they always appear

-“Gray in LA”, Loudon Wainright III, “Knocked Up” Soundtrack.
Listen here.
Lyrics here.

Last night, after my fish ‘n chips dinner, I headed over to the video store and picked up a couple of movies, one of which was “Knocked Up.” I opened a bottle of Samuel Adams Winter Lager (the only lager I’ve found, thus far, that I actually enjoy) and popped the DVD into the player.

My thoughts on the film, both good and bad, could make an entire post of their own (most likely along the “Only in Hollywood!” vibe). It was during the end credits, though, that the above song came up. Even in my somewhat-buzzed/somewhat-sleepy condition, I perked up.

It’s a song that, admittedly, will have more meaning for those who live in Los Angeles, with it’s specific references to life as it is here. I haven’t decided if the song is melancholy or not yet, it seems to kind of have it both ways.

It was an odd song, I thought, to play over the credits of this particular movie. Setting that aside, though, the song resonated with me, with the thoughts I’ve been pondering since my travels in Oregon. I, too, as the song says “sure love the sound of the rain pouring down/On my carport roof made out of tin”; it reflects my own mood during the current rain.

I sit here, staring out my living room window at the trees blowing in the wind and the layers of clouds moving past and the rain coming down, finding myself wishing that this sort of weather occurred more frequently. Not just for the practical reason that we’re in a drought and need the rain; no, I just like it too.

But knowing that also makes me question living in this dry, desert town: am I still really happy continuing to live here in LA?

* * *

“GH, dude, you would love Portland.”

Every summer for the past couple of years, one of my co-workers made trips up to Portland to attend a sporting event there. And every time he came back from the city, he would tell me how much I would love Portland, what a good fit for the town I was.

And he wasn’t the only one.

“It’s green, it’s smaller than LA, and everybody’s into the outdoors. It’s so your kind of town.”

When I got back from my own trip there everyone, of course, wanted to know what I thought of Portland. I suspect that they were all hoping that I would confirm their suspicions, that I would speak in eloquent soliloquy about the charms of the city, whilst packing my bags and preparing to move northward.

The truth is that I did like Portland. Enough to quit my job, sell everything I own, pack what was left into a truck and move there tomorrow? Well, no, not quite that much.

Checking out the city, taking the advice of friends and co-workers and looking at a place that, based on their knowledge of me, they thought I’d like, well, that was one of the reasons that I took the trip in the first place. If enough people tell you that a city is made for you, it’s worth doing a little comparison shopping, if you will.

Portland is a very nice town, though I’m not sure that it’s a fit for me. It’s urban and hip and cool, so many categories that I don’t fall into by any stretch of the imagination. In many ways it reminds me of San Francisco, but more on that in a moment.

That isn’t to say that I couldn’t be happy were I to end up there or, well, anywhere at some point. I certainly don’t expect a city to dictate my moods or my overall happiness in life.

Still, there’s a lot to be said for living someplace you find comfortable, isn’t there?

* * *

I moved to San Francisco to start college just a couple of weeks after my 18th birthday. The town was new, different, and without a doubt a radical change for a kid from the suburbs.

Here I was, young, naive, trying to fit into this city that was so liberal that moderate and conservative opinions seemingly weren’t even tolerated. I was just trying to figure myself out, as everyone does at that age, but at a school where everyone was trying to tell me who I was and what I should believe in.

I lived there for five years, but I don’t know that I ever fit in. I adapted, to be sure, but I can’t say that I was happy. Of course, part of that had to do with who I was then, as a person, and certainly I had some changes to do on that front as well.

Looking back, I’m just not sure that San Francisco, as great of a town as it may be, was the most conducive place for me to do that.

Of course, for years, both living there and afterwards, I beat myself up, thinking “I should have been able to fit in better,” as though I could have made myself comfortable there. I’d always felt that because I never adapted to the city enough to be really happy that I was a failure of some sort, on some front. The thought seems silly and stupid now, of course but, hey, I was young.

As the years went by while I lived there, though, I think I just always assumed that at some point it would “click”. After all, San Francisco is so open and accommodating to every lifestyle and taste, surely I would mesh at some point, right?

I enjoy my visits there now though, to see my friends. San Francisco is quite a lovely city, but it’s nice to visit knowing, and being comfortable with, the fact that I don’t want to live there.

So now I know at least one city where I don’t belong…

* * *

And I’m just a chump
And this whole town’s a dump
We came out here

To dump all our dreams of making it big
but we’re stuck in a sig alert nightmare
That’s just how it seems

I moved to LA for a very specific purpose: to be a cinematographer.

Yep, I was another dreamer who moved to LA to work in the movie business, much to my father’s chagrin. He much preferred the idea of me working a standard 9-5 job, rather than the job-to-job nature of the business.

I suppose he’s happier now that I’m doing exactly that.

I didn’t have loftier goals of acting or directing or anything like that. Not that I wasn’t tempted previously: one of the things about film school is that it seems to make everyone, at one point or another, want to be directors. This seemed especially true at my school, which heavily favored independent “auteur” filmmakers. If you wanted to be mainstream, go to USC was the thinking.

Not that any of us could actually afford USC, mind you, but that was beside the point.

At one point, though, I took a cinematography class and loved it. I liked the balance between the technical and artistic, needing to know the physics of light and artistry to paint with it in front of the camera.

It didn’t work out quite as I’d hoped, obviously. Various factors (an injury, a threatened writer’s strike, etc.) drove me, in desperation, to fall back on my computer knowledge, where I ended up staying. The technical/artistic mix though lives on in how much I like photography, so that’s okay.

Don’t get me wrong, of course, I’m okay with my life as it is now, working in IT. But here’s the upshot of that: the primary thing that brought me to Los Angeles in the first place no longer applies to my life as it exists now. Then, Los Angeles was the place to be to pursue that particular dream; now I’m a geek who works in computers, and computer geeks are everywhere

* * *

When it’s gray in L.A. it’s much better that way
It reminds you that this town’s so cruel

You want to know something that really scares me about LA? It’s the idea of growing old here.

LA has no patience, whatsoever it seems, for the elderly. Not to say that it isn’t a problem in other places. Certainly I’ve read enough articles about pedestrian deaths from all over the country to know that.

But in LA it seems especially prevalent. The impatience people show to a driver who’s older, driving a little more slowly and more cautiously than everyone else. I’m not talking about the guy who’s doing 20 mph in the fast lane with his blinker on for 10 miles on the freeway; no, I’m talking about the guy who isn’t gunning his engine to make it through the last half second of a yellow light.

And God help you if you’re a pedestrian in a crosswalk. Sure, the cars will let you pass, but you can almost feel them seething, right foot itching to push down on the pedal, ready to gun it to get to whatever important place they have to be. Like a Starbucks.

I know it’s a long way off, and I know I’m thinking way too far down the line, but the fact is that eventually I will get older, and I will slow down.

And LA is a hell of a town to be too slow in.

* * *

And I suppose Laurie David sure knows
All those cars we drive heat up our earth
And sea temperatures rise and those constant blue skies
And brush fires can sure curb your mirth

One of the things about the trip back east last spring that I took (well, in addition to so many other fun life-lessons, like falling for someone who doesn’t fall back) was that I got to experience east coast weather a bit.

I liked it. I liked the variety of it, the fact that the weather was different each day that I was there: sometimes sunny, sometimes rainy, sometimes cold. That kind of variety has a lot of appeal.

A few weeks ago I found myself at the chain bookstore near work (it’s no Powell’s but, hey, it’s a bookstore) idly flipping through a book about Thanksgiving.

The book was one of those idyllic holiday coffee-table books, filled with pretty pictures of the fall: colorful trees, freshly harvested foods, arts and crafts kinda stuff. It left out the really exciting parts of the holidays, like fights with the family and standing in long security lines at the airport in order to sit in a small metallic tube on the runway for a couple of hours.

One picture in particular caught my eye: it was of a home on the east coast with a picket fence and a yard full of sugar maples all decked out in their fall reds and oranges and yellows. It looked for all the world like a Technicolor fantasy, but someone back there is lucky enough to live in that fall-fantasy home.

I looked at it, sighed, and thought about how neat it would be to live somewhere like that, with real, actual seasons of warm and cold, and trees that turn colors in the fall.

Of course, I’m not so sure how much I’d like dealing with getting to work through several inches of new snow…

* * *

Yeah it might feel like fun when you’re sportin’ sunglasses
But really you’re just one more fool

Of course, I can’t really say to myself that I’m unhappy living in LA, either.

Certainly it’s a hikers paradise: trails are available year round. Even in the heart of winter, I can head into the Santa Monica’s and hike, even when the higher elevations are covered in snow.

Of course, that’s the major difference between the west coast and the east coast, weather wise: back east, weather is a matter of latitude: the further north you are, the colder and snowier it generally is.

Out west, weather is more a matter of altitude: the higher you are, the colder and snowier it gets. Maine gets snow, but while Seattle doesn’t (usually), the mountains above Seattle have brutal winters.

And, of course, one can go skiing an hour’s drive from downtown Los Angeles.

* * *

Brad Grey’s in L.A. yeah OK I should stay here
There’s no place that’s better I know
For a wannabe star stuck in a car
On a freeway with nowhere to go

It’s a difficult thing, too, to argue against the weather. People look at me like I’m nuts when I say that I like the rain, that I sometimes get bored with the nice weather. Although they do understand when I get bored by the gray.

It’s difficult, too, to say that I would necessarily be happier anywhere else. As I said before, personal happiness isn’t tied just to the place where one lives: there’s so many more factors involved.

Sometimes I think that if I had just the right mate, or the right family environment in town, or just the perfect group of friends, I could be happy just about anywhere.

But the truth is that I think it’s a mix of all of those factors.

So if I can’t say that I’m unhappy here in LA, why is it that I find I can’t say I’m perfectly happy about it, either?

Maybe it’s just having 8 million neighbors…

* * *

On the way back down from Oregon, I made a brief stop in Redding. My parents had told me about the Sundial Bridge and its surrounding park, most all of which had still been under construction when I last stopped by after a trip to Lassen Volcanic National Park in 2002.

After parking I jogged over to the bridge, which crosses the Sacramento River.

Day 11 - Redding Sundial Bridge

The Sundial Bridge

I couldn’t resist walking across the pedestrian-only bridge to the tower on the other side, then circling under the tower to the river itself.

Sundial Bridge 2

The Sacramento River flowing placidly under the bridge

I stood there for a couple of minutes, just watching the river flow by, and it occurred to me: I love this, standing next to a quietly flowing river.

Now, this to me is a little bit odd. Sure, Sacramento is a river town, sitting as it does at the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers, but I was never a river-rat growing up.

As a kid, I played in the back yard or in the neighborhood most of the time. We didn’t go down and have picnics and play along the shore and raft down the river every weekend. The amazing American River Bike Path? I’ve ridden it maybe twice in my entire life.

Yet, as much as I like the ocean, or the mountains, or any one of a number of other environments I’ve been in, maybe, deep down, I’m a river boy after all.

* * *


Clouds over a solitary tree

When it’s gray in L.A. I sure like it that way
Cause there’s way too much sunshine round here
I don’t know about you I get so sick of blue skies
Wherever they always appear

It’s always interesting when the universe lines things up in a particular way.

Finding this song, on this particularly rainy weekend when the song was meant to be heard, and that being enough to spurn me into posting this, it’s all just random, yet perfect in it’s randomness.

Still, I come back to the basic idea that’s been turning over in my head these past few months: should I stay in LA? Am I happy here? Would I, potentially, be any happier anywhere else?

I know that I like variety in my weather. I know that I like seasons.

I know too that I like to hike all year, that it’s a necessary part of my being, and that being here affords me more outdoor variety than just about anywhere I’ve visited.

I know that my possibilities are still open: I have no family to tie me down, no kids in school, my job can be found elsewhere, I can be mobile if I choose.

And I know that if I meet someone who wants to stay, or someone who wanted to go, I would most likely be able to be happy either way.

There are lots of things I know, but I haven’t been able to put that together into a conclusion.

Except one: I do believe I’d like to live near a river, or a stream, or even a creek.

It’s not much, but I suppose it’s a start.



  1. I’m on the verge of moving myself. Although the situation is different, I somewhat know it won’t be my last stop.

    It’s all a matter of pros and cons. If you feel after a while that the arguments against outweigh the arguments for, it would be time to consider a move.

    Your post is not boring. In fact, I appreciate its “depth” very much.

  2. Good post. Not as random as it seems. As you know, I’m making a move in six months and I have wondered about leaving the variety (Oceans, mountains, streams, etc.) that is southern California. But, like you, I miss the seasons. The mid-west where we’re going has heat in the summer and cold snow in the winter. There are trees to change colors and birds that migrate through. It may not have the same as I have here – it is something new and different. Something new to explore like hiking in the winter (The wife is already planning to give me snowshoes for Christmas).

    I have always considered LA an ugly city but that’s just me.

    Go with your gut and find a place to give you what your soul needs and where you can grow old gracefully. A little babbling brook never hurt either.

  3. I have nothing further to say other than I love this post!! 🙂

  4. Great post, no rambling. It’s interesting to read what’s in your head. It seems like many of us are wanting to move somewhere else. Just depends how bad the “want” is.

  5. Gany – I think part of the problem is the pros and cons seem to be about equal sometimes…

    Homer-Dog – Thanks. I actually own snowshoes and am hoping that I can use them this winter. I think LA is ugly sometimes, and sometimes not, but then that’s how I think of all cities, really. Like the babbling brook idea, though…

    *kb* – I’m surprised, given your NorCal history!

    dobegil – True enough. I sometimes wonder if it’s really that I want to move somewhere else, or if it’s something that I’m seeking that I haven’t found here…

  6. Great post, so much to contemplate. We live in a province that experiences all 4 seasons, quite dramatically, and I cannot fathom why one would shoose to miss out on that but so many do. I think I would get bored of one thing or the other. Though there are days when it is bloody freezing where I start to think hmmmmm, maybe summer all year wouldn’t be so bad. And then I see my little one playing in the leaves, or playing in the snow, or playing in the lake, or playing in the fresh spring rain and I remember.

    Luck to you as you sit with all you have to think about. The sound of water rushing by you, whether slow or fast, is a beautiful thing and should be cherished, even more so if you do not leave near it but journey to it, just to be near it.

  7. Wow, I should really proof read before I hit submit. Sorry for the typos. 🙂

  8. backpackermomma – Thank you for the good wishes. Indeed you are right, and I think I’ll always be journeying to it, given what river-front property costs! LOL And don’t worry ’bout the typos, it’s pretty casual ’round here.

  9. I liked this. This wasn’t rambling- trust me. I think, moving is one of the hardest choices there is. Not because it’s difficult, but because it can be so easy to pack up and leave. And then you are forced to really think ‘wait. I CAN leave, it’s not impossible- but do I really want to?’. I think the fact that you are putting so much thought into your surroundings guarantees you will end up where you are supposed to be.

    As for me, as much as I complain about cold weather in winter, I need it. I need 4 seasons. Without snow, how would I know it’s Christmas?

  10. brandy – Thanks. I think you convey my dilemma perfectly. Snow always sounds so lovely, but how is driving in it all the time?

  11. yes… just yes

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