My mom drives me to LaGuardia Airport in Queens where a one-way ticket will take me to Los Angeles...and to a new life. Craig David's "Walking Away" plays on the radio, the last song I will hear as a resident of New York. On my flight, I read Steve Martin’s Shopgirl and try to picture in my head some the L.A. locations mentioned in the novel.
I land at LAX and meet my cousin at curbside pick-up. I purchase my first car, a Ford Focus, from a dealership located just off the 405. I live out of the trunk of said Focus for 3 months, going back and forth between my cousin’s place in Venice and a college friend’s apartment in Burbank. Before the word "blog" enters my vocabulary, I begin to send monthly email updates to everyone I know with an email address. I try to make them as entertaining as possible because who really enjoys receiving newsletters from people you haven't seen in a long time? (I currently have the first 45 chapters printed out and kept in a 3-ring binder in my bedroom closet.)
I reconnect with another college friend. We end up sharing tons of memories. We go to parties, we obsess over the same music, we clink glasses full of vodka and Red Bull.
I become a barista at Starbucks. I become an intern at a small indie production company and answer to a woman who will become a very fabulous friend (and influence) of mine in this new city. One day I serve Helen Hunt a non-fat latte. This barista gig lasts one month because I become a temp production assistant at a very reputable production company that specializes in star-driven sitcoms. I make a slew of new friends; it feels like a second college experience. I rack up mileage on my Focus, driving to places, picking things up, delivering packages to very nice homes in Pacific Palisades.
I have my first fender-bender (my bad: I was distracted while fidgeting with my Discman). I enjoy weekends like someone who just graduated college: I have one too many drinks, waste money on overpriced brunches, drink large ice-blended coffee drinks on Sundays, and window shop in stores where I can't even afford the sale racks. (I’m like an Olsen twin without the multimillion-dollar lifestyle brand.) I hit up Tigerheat at the Hollywood Athletic Club on Sunset Boulevard three Thursday nights in a row with aforementioned college friend, which then leads to three Friday morning commutes in a row navigating Laurel Canyon with a can of Red Bull in hand.
I meet someone in Jerry’s Famous Deli who becomes one of my closest friends. We bond over our love for Charmed. I make it a point to do more of that L.A. thing they call “networking.” I attend a film and TV mixer at a bar called Here Lounge where I meet someone else who becomes one of my best friends.
I quit my PA job to become an art department assistant on a home-makeover show where, coincidentally, my new best friend is a producer. It is here where I also meet my first writing partner, a young PA with an old soul who lives in Glendale and drives a black Camaro from the 90s. She's awesome.
The show quickly gets canceled. I experience my first bout with unemployment. I temp at a small but shitty management firm. I cry in my car during a pitiful 30-minute lunch break. I think to myself, I think I’m experiencing a quarter-life crisis. This is what John Mayer was singing about in Room for Squares (a CD I played many times while daydreaming about hosting dinner parties in my own hardwood-floored apartment furnished with items from Pottery Barn).
I fly back and forth to New York for the holidays, the occasional summer visit…and for two health scares involving both of my parents. I remind myself to be more grateful for my father’s strong comeback from a stroke and my mom’s victorious bout with lung cancer.
I become the assistant to the showrunner of an NBC drama. I feel like I've won the lottery. I get to listen in on writers meetings, see the process, and work amongst some great minds, including the writer who wrote one of my favorite films from the 80s, Adventures in Babysitting. (I geek out silently.) I feel like my career track is finally heading in the right direction.
The show gets canceled 6 months later. I then experience my first pilot season, working on the frontlines of three network dramas as another PA. None of them get picked up. It's brutal. Unemployment, again. How do I celebrate? By going to Coachella for the first time. (My friend wins tickets on the radio – seeing Daft Punk live is one of the most amazing musical experiences of my life.) I finally turn my chaptered "email updates" into a blog called The First Echo: Memoirs of a Pop Culture Junkie. I inundate everyone's inboxes with links to my new writing outlet. Months later, I land an executive assistant gig at a production and talent management company. For four-and-a-half years I see how TV commercials get made. I take a crack at ghostwriting a treatment for one of our directors – turns out I’m good at it. Really good. I start to moonlight as a freelance treatment writer for other directors and rake in supplemental income.
During one Christmas flight home I meet a fellow BU alum who becomes one of my best friends. We become roommates in what is my third and current residence in Los Angeles, a lovely and spacious 2-bedroom that isn’t too far from a giant Mormon temple. I host monthly movie nights, game nights, and a holiday party on the first Saturday of every December. (There are no hardwood floors, but I have a fireplace I never use, gated parking, a walk-in closet, a terrace, and my own bathroom.)
During this time I also broaden my horizons. I join the committee for an annual, celebrity-driven benefit. I make more friends, more connections. My schedule becomes insane. The founder of the organization asks me to take over the group’s Hollywood-esque blogsite. I become the singular voice it needed. The site takes on a life of its own, like a media outlet, and I get invited to cover a few events, a couple of free movies, the opening of boutique or bar that has replaced the boutique/bar that only opened a year ago. (Such is the circle of L.A. life.) I also add the title of “producer” to my resume when I get asked to work on a short film that later gets accepted into several festivals. This leads to producing two projects for the home entertainment division of a major movie studio.
Throughout these years I have unbelievable, brag-worthy brushes with fame. I go swimming in Alicia Silverstone's pool and hang out at her house. I usher celebrity guests at the Governor's Ball after the 2004 Oscars. I inadvertently cut J.J. Abrams in line at a sushi bar at the afterparty for the premiere of Star Wars Episode III. (Foreshadowing much?) I play charades with the creator of Desperate Housewives at a friend's game night. (He's really good at it.) I stand ten feet away from Lady Gaga inside an abandoned prison, hanging out on the set of her music video for "Telephone." (I promise my boss not to blog about it but do it anyway.) Two years later, I end up writing the treatment for the campaign for her fragrance. Speaking of perfumes, I catch a whiff of Britney Spears's as she steps past me to prepare for her dance number on the set of "Hold It Against Me." It's smells like candy and flowers.
I go all out for several of my birthdays (after all, I am an only child). My parents come out to visit me here and there. I average a trip to Vegas each year with friends. I witness three of my closest friends go through horrible breakups. I resist the urge to adopt a cynical perspective on romance. I embrace turning 30. I start feeling restless at my day job. I experience a painful bout with unrequited love that is one of the most eye-opening moments of my life. I take a 12-city, 17-day cross-country road trip with one of my best friends in order to heal my heart and open my mind. And I write about it; I turn this chronicle into a 3-part travel feature for a magazine. This trilogy of articles grants me entrance into the world of travel writing.
Then my Ford Focus dies. I start leasing a Prius (I feel so unapologetically L.A.) And then, what do I do? I quit my day job to become (cue the cringing) a freelance writer. I enter my longest period of unemployment ever. The 22 pounds I had lost are gained back (and then some). I go through several roommates. My laptop goes into overdrive. I plant myself in Starbucks, the West Hollywood library, and any other place that has free wi-fi and a decent view. At one point, I have to break into my piggy bank to pay for gas – in pennies. I renew my passport, hoping this sends a signal to the Universe, because even though I don't have a real job anymore, I'd love to travel more. During this time, I also see lots of free movies and attend press junkets (mostly for the free catered meals at posh hotels). The poorest (and darkest) time of my life thus far is ironically filled with a revolving door of celebrities. I interview folks like Rachel McAdams, Ewan McGregor, Justin Timberlake, Chris Hardwick, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline, Henry Cavill, and Charlize Theron. It’s a temporary high that makes me forget my current financial situation. (Most of my writing pays diddly squat.)
I take a temp gig doing data entry at a friend's company. The commute is 32 miles each way, but I have a Prius; it can take it. I go to Comic-Con for the sixth time. I get into the habit of watching old Golden Girls episodes at bedtime. I rewatch all seven seasons of Melrose Place on DVD. I write a spec script based on the TNT drama Southland. I submit it as part of an application process to get into a television writers workshop of Warner Bros. I don't get in, but I do receive a nice rejection letter telling me my script made it to the top 80 entries (out of 2,500). Close, no cigar, etc.
2012 marks the end of the Mayan calendar, and my life slightly reflects that: hopelessly apocalyptic.
The following year kicks off with some promise. I join a kickball team. I make more friends. I tell myself, I don't really need more friends, but how can one have too many? I get tickets to Ellen -- and win a $4,400 Sleep Number mattress. Out of the blue, I get invited to attend a press trip to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico (apparently, a Florida-based PR firm saw my cross-country road trip feature a while back). This sparks a chain reaction of unbelievably good travel fortune, sending me on journalistic excursions to San Francisco, Palm Springs, Peru, and the Dominican Republic -- all in the same year. I edit my Twitter bio to include the title "travel writer" while in staying in the Sacred Valley of Peru, where, during a traditional Andean fire ceremony, I am struck by an overwhelming sense of gratitude. This becomes a running theme I try to practice in my day-to-day life.
I land a full-time position at an entertainment marketing firm. I'm back on a steady payroll. Seven months into my position as yet another assistant, I receive a promotion. I become a copywriter and project manager. A commercial I write gets produced and airs as part of a national campaign, featuring an actress from The Vampire Diaries. I give myself a proverbial pat on the back. Writing copy, I learn how to be more economical with my words.
I become inspired to write a non-fiction book (part memoir, part satirical take on health/diet/fitness books). I draft up with a 26-page treatment and submit it to a friend of a friend's literary agent. I sign a contract with him. I can now utter the words, "Call my agent." He sends it to over a dozen publishers. I receive over a dozen rejection emails, the best of which I print out for motivational purposes. Perhaps I'll put them in a frame, I think to myself.
I do more travel writing. I visit places like Vancouver, Whistler, Tokyo, Toronto, Montreal, and Singapore. I treat my mother, bringing her along on a press trip to Palm Beach -- because she deserves it.
I make contact with one of my literary heroes. I am inspired to write a horror novel. (Years and years of watching scary movies hopefully pay off.) More friends of mine get married. More friends of mine have kids...and more kids. Things I loved in high school start to resurface. 90s nostalgia arrives in full force. I undergo a tonsillectomy.
I start to experience that "thing about getting older." I develop a lower tolerance for bullshit. I appreciate the stuff I already have. I treat the small things as a privilege. And I don't care for anyone who has no positive contribution to my life.
I start to believe that it’s important to write about where I’ve come from, to lay out the road map of my life thus far. After all, a little look back is always good when moving forward.
And I'm still moving forward.
Happy L.A.nniversary to me.