72 and sunny. Flawless, right? A true movie scene background this city of angels. Souls soaked in organic vegetables, gold, and smog. The life. I came to this city six years ago. A place I swore I’d never live. But there I was. Fresh out of my ’99 Honda CRV with a belly full of Philly cheesesteaks, I was greeted with the Los Angeles starter kit:
An overpriced apartment with too many roommates
An appetite for In-n-Out
A pet cockroach
The reoccurring question if someone was homeless or hipster
And a heart full of hopes and dreams
When you move or take any sort of leap in life, there are going to be a lot of different people with a lot of different opinions. Suddenly your friends and family become a Yelp submission that dances with 1 and 5 star reviews, leaving your wondering mind with a constellation of confusion and a stomach hungry for the best damn pizza in town. Some of the advice will stick, and those pieces of spaghetti aren't always right. Be okay with this. Throw more spaghetti. Costco-style boxes of it. This pasta (most likely gluten-free and overpriced in LA standards), slowly form an art installation of opinions and experience on your walls. I learned really quickly not to let other’s opinions form my path or mess with my spaghetti. While I didn’t always make the most well thought out decisions…like July 2015 where driving straight from closing time at the bar to Vegas seemed like a good idea…every single one of those sleep-deprived, adrenaline driven choices led me to where I am. And while I’ve come close to having this pretty little head of mine below the water, I’ve become more of a fishing bobber. Bouncing along the top, but then yanked to the water’s depths by a big ass fish. But…everything is fine. It always was.
I started writing this while sitting in my shoebox sized studio apartment, elegantly nicknamed the Hobbit Hole for its nook-like features and shady entrance through a not-so-well-lit alleyway of West Hollywood. And now I conclude my story the night before I hit the dusty trail to Denver, CO in an Airbnb room complete with grey silk bed sheets and the neon glow of a guitar-shaped Budweiser sign radiating against my laptop keyboard.
Along the way I met a handful of characters. So while you sip on that morning Joe, grab some Kleenex, call your boss and tell them you’re going to be late. Cause you’re about to laugh, cry, and embark on journey of my catalogue of characters. The ones who taught me valuable lessons and steered my path a bit. Whether I (or they) liked it or not.
Now while I am saying not to take any one’s words too seriously (that’s right, please step away from the tattoo needle that is about to brand you with another Chinese symbol that is “guaranteed” to find your zen after you break up with toolbag Chase for the second time. No tattoo’s words of wisdom are strong enough to deflect douchebags and you know it.), there are a few lucky ones that come to you at the right place at the right time. For me, it was the month before I was making my move to California. I had to choose someone to interview for my narrative photography class. I chose Jerry de Wilde, a rock and roll photographer residing in Los Angeles. Jerry had been there to capture Jimi Hendrix burning his guitar for the first time. He started what was called “The Farm” – the old forty-six acre Barham Ranch in the hills above Warner Bros. Studios. Later moved to Big Sur, “The Farm” became a creative haven for actors, writers, filmmakers, musicians, etc. Jerry talked about rubbing elbows with The Mamas and Papas, Stephen Stills, Graham Nash to name a few. COME ON NOW. That is cool shit. The inner-hippy I adopted from my father was gleaming. But play it cool, Mickletz. Pick your jaw up off the ground.
I primarily asked Jerry the more technical questions, like what equipment he preferred or how he priced his work. But I ended up seeking what I believed at the time would be guidance. My Yoda. That moment where he tells me the secret to life and I will frolic to the West Coast with all of the magical answers and ride the wave of life that is Cali-forn-i-a. Let’s go, Yoda. I’m all ears. I asked Jerry if he had advice for me. And he came back with what I now see as some of the best “advice” anyone at the time could have given me.
“Come on out. The water’s fine.”
I left that conversation almost feeling empty. Extremely inspired, but upset that he couldn’t give me a more precise answer. Damnit, 2017 Becky – what did you expect?! Jerry isn’t my Yoda, my Gandalf, or my Wizard of Oz. He is Jerry. Just Jerry. A person figuring it out just like the rest of us circus animals. And I met a few other Jerrys along the way. Ones who let me learn without spoiling the ending.
2017 Becky now appreciates every part of that answer. Thanks, ringleader.
THE MALIBU BARBIE
As I dropped her off at her boyfriend’s yacht in her mini skirt and 6inch heels, I knew my time with Chrissy was sure to be a real treat. A sex-driven, cleavage filled, hair-flipping minx with legs long enough for the runway, and additional “personality” that could convince a fat kid to give up his dessert. Working for Chrissy was like watching a Carl’s Jr. commercial every day in the office. I witnessed her sprinkle flirtatious laughter to the offices next door, and return with a box full of new headphones. I was sure any venue owner could smell her Victoria’s Secret aroma through the phone when she twirled her hair into the next sold out show. Chrissy was beautiful. And she used that beauty in a way that made her a brilliant businesswoman in the music industry. I worked with Chrissy at a branding company that gave exposure to various cliental in the music industry. Large concerts, involving industry folk with even larger egos consumed about 90% of my life at this point.
I never claimed to like Chrissy, but I didn’t hate her. Like dog sitting your friend’s chihuahua; the constant teeter between loving that furry little bastard while simultaneously wanting to punt it off the Golden Gate. And all the materialism got to this little CVS manicured tomboy's head. "Should I get fake tanned? Are my contours contoured enough? Do I need eyelash extensions?" Woof. I didn't even get my nails done for prom let alone for daily life.
I treated the work day like a continuous scientific experiment. I observed Chrissy in her natural brand name-soaked environment. I took notes on her. How she flirted to seal the deal. How her tone changed when she spoke with an old colleague versus a girlfriend who was crashing our next work event in hopes she would meet talent. She was a creative chameleon. The constant adjustment stood out to me very quickly, and her survival skills straight up impressed me at times. I grew up camping, I knew some survival tactics. But not like those needed in the Los Angeles jungle. I knew marketing. I knew branding. I learned that in school. But to learn how to adjust and use your stereotyped female qualities to your advantage, well I learned that at the University of Chrissy.
There are times I wonder what the stiletto-wearing vixen is up to. What she is like when the flashing lights are gone. I never was quite sure who the real Chrissy was after all. All I knew was that she liked me and was impressed with how I was able to handle talent at a young age. And even after leaving the company a few years later, I left with that horny little chihuahua still slightly humping my hard-working leg. And I was okay with that.
THE OLD MONEY
I didn’t know it at the time, but Chrissy started to become a figure I would compare a lot of my work in the music industry too. Here is a memo for anyone who thinks the entertainment business is fair. It’s not. Not for the artist and it is sure as hell not fair for females. One meeting without being asked on a date and people think all sexism has been erased. This leads us to Jim. The old money. But the kind you find with a funny face drawn on the President. Held together with a piece of tape at one corner. More creases than the leathery face of a tanned Beverly Hills housewife.
Now let me back up for just a second and start by saying that Jim was my first taste of Hollywood. Having worked at major labels with musicians I listened to growing up, I admired his work. Thought he could fall into the previously mentioned Yoda category. I gazed starry eyed into this fancy smancy aura. I ate the fancy smancy for breakfast. And then again as a nightcap after attending three shows in one night for the company to discover the next “big thing.” But after awhile, the fancy and the smancy got a bit bleh. The noise of meeting with bands, being out late every night to network at shows, traveling to festivals to represent companies, became just that. Noise. Loud, vicious, exhausting noise. And I noticed I wasn’t enjoying it as much. My 25 year old ass quickly went from music 24/7, to craving nights I could be in bed by 9PM with a warm glass of milk and some episodes of Master Chef. And if I couldn’t handle it then, how could I handle it in 10 years? 20 years? Now hand me my sleeping mask and some essential oils.
So back to this old money and what really made me reach my breaking point. I noticed I wasn’t getting to be a relevant part of the work that actually occurred. And in fact, none of the girls in the office did. The men enjoyed lunch meeting after beer after Soho House visits while the women stayed back and organized spreadsheets and the game plan for upcoming weeks and shows. That was part one. Part two. He asked me to go to lunch and at this point the stars still glimmered in my eyes as I thought maybe my hard work paid off. Maybe I would get to work more one-on-one with the bands. As I walked out the glass doors I felt like a lioness just released from the zoo. Or maybe a bit closer to the whale in Free Willy jumping over the rocks as a Michael Jackson ballad played. But I digress. I was hopeful that Jim had good news for this hopeful, free-whale.
“You’re a good-looking girl. Nice body. You outta show it off a bit more. Dress a bit more revealing.”
And slowly but surely, that was the moment I left Jim. And took two of the prospective bands with me to manage on my own. Develop my own version of the music industry and learn to be a bit fancy smancy myself.
So thank you, Jim. For pushing me and my push-up bra out the door and into the real world where I could confidently work for myself and rediscover my passion for music.
I always found myself gravitating towards two types of people: creatives and East Coasters. Between the two I came out with a lot of loyal friends and colleagues, something that proved hard in a dog-eat-dog city where everyone is chasing their dreams. And sometimes the chase could be quite toxic; causing those you thought would be in your bridal party (I still expect a crockpot from the registry, Karen!), to strangers who have casted their morals and values aside and stepped on anyone who got in their way.
But let’s raise this glass to the homies. The kemosabes. The BFFAEAEAEs. The buddies who walk through a Taco Bell drive thru with you because the restaurant part is closed. They are the real MVPs.
In my final two and half months in la la land, I became a pro surfer. You heard that right, folks. I successfully couch surfed my way out of the place I called home for six years. And it was all because of people I met along the way. I left my studio apartment (RIP Hobbit Hole) fully expecting to be cuddling with my steering wheel as I slept in my car atleast a few times a month between December and March. I started thinking about what gym studios offered showers incase I had to freshen up before a meeting. I mapped out the Starbucks locations so I could get free Wifi and finish my work. I was hobo chic ready. But when it came down to it, I didn’t have to do any of that (okay I have changed for meetings in my car many times) because the ones I met along the way made sure I had a roof over my head that wasn’t inside a moving vehicle.
They also believed in me more than myself. That’s right, you are the ones responsible for my cocky demeanor! You gave this small town Pennsylvania girl a big head from all your damn support and compliments. But seriously, you all deserve an award from the Souvenirs of Hollywood shop. I had a few pals along the way that constantly believed in every (potentially dumb) risk I took. Whether it was quitting my full time job to go all-in with my branding and design work, getting my kickboxing certification and starting my own training business, or drunkenly giving a thirty day notice to my roommate because I was convinced I could happily live in my car after spending a week in Austin with fellow starving artists. I think I kept my friends (and poor poor mother) more on their toes than they asked for. But there they were; standing strong like the goddamn Great Wall of China. They have come in all forms along the way. A personal favorite being my neighbor, a seventy year old Vietnam veteran lovingly nicknamed “The Sherriff” who called the cops if someone even breathed too heavy near our apartment complex. And also brought in my Amazon boxes if he knew I was out of town or it started to rain. He is one of the good ones.
This city can leave you jaded. And you really do become the energy you surround yourself with. So chose carefully, young grasshoppers.
THE PETER PANS
Throw away your Cosmopolitan Magazines, ladies!!! This chapter is about the fellas. And man is it a juicy one. You will learn the secrets of love, love-making (apologies to family members, put them earmuffs on) and being ghosted and/or friendzoned.
I, like my many socially confused singles, have experienced the nights where my thumbs grew numb from swiping frantically for my Prince Charming on Tinder. I’ve been there. Phone in one hand, a PB&J in the other. And the winners for the Best Worst Dates go to:
Isn’t dating fun?! The truth was that much like previously mentioned Chrissy, I began to enjoy dating as I viewed it as a scientific experiment more than anything else. I quickly found myself relating back to a psychology class I took in college called “Animal Minds.” I observed and learned very quickly what I did or did not want. I dated people who tainted my favorite restaurant, others who forced me to drive in rush hour along the 405 for them. I also fell into the Venus Fly Trap of hanging out with an ex. Hell I even flew out to Vegas to meet a guy I met a few days prior (sorry again, Mom.) And tomorrow I am happily moving in with him in a new city after having a long-distance relationship for ten months.
What a ride.
Soooooooo…? How do ya feel? Inspired, humored, like you just wasted fifteen minutes of your life, late for work? All of the above? PERFECT. My work in Los Angeles is officially done.
Needless to say this is only skimming the many interesting figures I met while being on the West Coast. Additional shoutout to the nonprofits I’ve worked for, the people who took the time to learn about my anxiety, the clients that said no, the clients that said yes, the clients that paid in “exposure,” and the clients that paid in money.
So I raise my glass of chocolate milk, to a city that I started in as a jelly-spinned graphic designer who just wanted to work with passionate people and maybe make the world a bit better and leave it as a less jelly-spinned graphic designer who just wants to work with passionate people and maybe make the world a bit better.
And I also came out with a deeper appreciation for my own damn time. Because when you decide who you want to have a relationship with, whether it is a job, a spouse, a friend, etc. you are selling your extremely precious time. And that shit costs a lot of green juices in this land.
Spend it wisely.