Los Angeles vs. Introverts: The Winner Will Surprise You

The second time I passed the parked car on my daily run, I mustered up the courage to look inside. I wondered if I would see cold white skin and sunken cheeks and eyes that no longer saw. Instead, what I saw was a middle-aged man, reading a book. “Well, that’s interesting”, I thought. Then I started paying attention more often to these parked cars. The details varied, but the underlying behavior was the same: individual people getting some “me time” in the City of Angels.

A City of Cars

My apartment for the previous 3 years is smack dab in the middle of a gentrifying neighborhood in one of the most stereotypically in-love-with-cars cities on the planet: Los Angeles. This city is a stupendous mish-mash of roadways, from Euro-narrow two-lanes that are functionally one-lanes because everyone parks on both sides, to 33% grade nail-biters (Los Angeles has 4 of the top 10 steepest streets in the country, beating out San Francisco’s TWO!), to avenues in old residential areas wide enough for four lanes. We residents of Los Angeles get to experience everything, along with traffic and parking issues aplenty.

Yes, this is a two-lane street. Theoretically. Make sure your backing up skillz are solid.

Finally, I started noticing people in their cars. Not stuck in traffic. Not cruising along in the HOV lane. But alone, parked. First, I just figured it was slightly sketchy. Maybe it’s someone passed out? Or . . . DEAD?! But then I really started LOOKING. Impolitely, perhaps, but looking nonetheless. Like I described above, the situations I saw were NOT the “skeevy looking person passed out in car” or worse. I saw all kinds of people, all ages, all kinds of cars. On any kind of street. In parks. On busy streets. On quiet streets. Before school. In the middle of the afternoon. At dusk. A young professional woman. A man in a sport coat. An older lady listening to the radio. An adult with a book. Another adult with a book. So many books. What is going on?

Consider The Introvert

First, consider the introvert. One-quarter to a third of humans are predominantly introverted, according to the few sites I could find with some semblance of an estimate. This means a few things, personality-wise. For example, introverts feel less energetic after interacting with others, and feel replenished after some alone or non-social time. It also tends to mean that reflection on internal subjects (analysis, philosophy, writing) is more interesting to an introvert. For comparison, engaging with the outside world (conversations, team sports, parties) is natural to the extrovert and it energizes them.

For reasons above, living alone is preferable to many introverts, but this can come at a price to one’s social life and personal growth. But it can also come at a literal price: in Los Angeles, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment recently crossed $2000. That’s more than 90% of the take home pay for the median per-capita income of $30K per year (which is 25K after taxes).

Compare Los Angeles to another “large-ish” city nearby: Las Vegas. This desert metropolis has a population of 600,000 people. There you’ll find warm weather, ample entertainment, and 1046 currently available 1-bedroom apartments under $1250. Of those, 608 are $1000 or less per month.

Back to Los Angeles, with a city population of 3.8 million people (6x that of Las Vegas). Within those city boundaries, you’ll find warm weather, ample entertainment, and a grand total of 33 one-bedroom apartments available for $1250 or less. Of those, how many are under $1000? Technically, two: rooms in boarding houses of about 120 sq ft. So, that means ZERO.

How do people manage to live here, at all? The answer is simple: roommates. Sometimes, lots of roommates. Heck, the apartment listings here might seem not so bad when looking for that rare $1000-$1200 find, until you realize that every single ad you open up is actually a room in someone’s house or apartment. There are many scams out there, as well. Most apartment seekers just ignore anything that seems like a deal because it’s likely to be misleading or flat out not legit.

Me Time in Your Own Private Heaven: Your Car

Remember all those people? Just chilling out in their cars for no apparently urgent reason? The more I thought about it and the things they were doing—napping, eating, reading, smoking, listening to music—it dawned on me. They are INTROVERTING.

When an introvert works with people and lives with people and is surrounded by people people people, what can you do in a few extra minutes of time each day to keep your sanity? There’s no time to be going up into the mountains or checking into a hotel, or taking WAAAAY too long in the private bathroom at work? You get your solo time in your car. It’s safe, it’s yours, and you can take it anywhere. In New York, car and parking costs might be just too much for this to be an option, but in Los Angeles I believe that solo car occupancy is one way that inward-oriented folks are filling a psychological need. They’re keeping themselves sane, and, in a way, performing a necessary public good.

It’s an inefficient solution, to be sure, with traffic and smog and all of that. But it’s a solution to ponder. I do.

Learning Los Angeles Ain’t Easy; And It Is

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“Tip the world over on its side and everything loose will land in Los Angeles” -Frank Lloyd Wright

It took only a few weeks for me to feel at least adequately comfortable in my newly adopted city of pale angels. The streets and shops and feel of Highland Park seemed a little too easy, like putting on a sweater when the air takes on a chill, as it seems to do most winter mornings in this part of the world. I claim the chill comes from the humidity, having grown accustomed to the near single-digit percentages of the New Mexican high desert. But try telling someone in Southern California the air feels humid and you’ll not get much in the way of sympathy.

The metro sounds were somewhere between comforting and loud when heard from the window a few blocks away. The barely-hipster coffee shop next to the nail salon next to the definitely-hipster yoga joint all seemed to exist in weird harmony. The fire truck being washed on a sunny weekday. The flocked trees lined up for sale before the holidays in 70 degree weather. All of these things were lovely to me. I made a photo spread of these early days into a calendar gifted to friends and family.

It seemed likely that the homeyness would continue to grow and new aspects of this area an the larger metro would become second nature. But, thirteen months in, it feels the same as it did after just a month. There’s that early familiarity and a sense of acceptance, but the feeling of understanding this megalopolis hasn’t budged in many months. Using smartphone directions probably doesn’t help much. I need to get lost a little bit more and trust that I’ll come out the other side, back in the neighborhood I expect.

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The second honeymoon with L.A. started with Derek Sivers—one of my new favorite introverted humans—and his insightful take on Los Angeles, which helped me get past that feeling like I didn’t get this city. What does it take to know this place, this crazy city of 20 million humans, really? More, and less, than you might think. Here’s a few things I’ve learned: going from newbie to seasoned resident in Los Angeles is a tricky affair. Perhaps only those that were born and raised here feel the city as rusty and comfortable as an old jalopy, one that will take them where they need to go, slowly, surely, sputteringly.

Newcomers like myself go through a few stages along the way. Some are pretty simple. First, the usual linguistic adjustments: mentions of highways become “the” as in, “the 5”, “the 101”. I hear that phase 2 is calling them by their actual names: “the Hollywood”, “the Santa Monica”, “the Golden State”, but I’m not there yet. Neighborhoods begin to get their due as the distinct entities they actually used to be, like Frogtown and Lincoln Heights and Atwater. All of these are but a few of the dozens of independent enclaves that were encircled decades ago under the city limits of Los Angeles. Derek speaks of this thusly,

Not long ago, it was just a bunch of small towns: Venice, Pasadena, Burbank, Encino, Beverly Hills – but then for tax reasons they drew a circle around about 30 small towns and decided to call it Los Angeles. So if you go just understanding it’s a bunch of adjacent towns, each quite different in character, and don’t go expecting a city, then it won’t be so frustrating. When someone says they hate LA, you have to ask, “Which neighborhood?” Because Santa Monica is not like Silverlake is not like Van Nuys is not like Hollywood, but they’re all inside that circle called LA. It’s completely de-centralized. (And “downtown” is just another neighborhood. Unlike most cities, it’s not the center of everything.)

And then there’s the adjustment to how things just are. The new normal, in other words. Hazy day? Eh, that’s normal. It’s the days of crystal clarity from La Canada all the way to downtown that are worth commenting about, or those that are totally brown and smoggy. Food trucks are not interesting in the way that Starbucks everywhere is not interesting. They’re just convenient, while still being pretty awesome. They’re just not “a thing”.

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Also gone from one’s conversations are mentions of “oh my gawd the traffic is awful”. The traffic is what it is and does what it does. What’s the most interesting thing about the famous Los Angeles traffic? It’s the fact that most locals don’t experience traffic to the degree that visitors do. Here’s why: Visit the city of angels and you’re likely driving a rental, or you are getting ferried around in your host’s vehicle. So you wake up in the morning and you say, “Hey, let’s go to the museum. Or how about the beach? The Getty?” So your hosts say, ‘OK, sure, you’re our guest’. Or you get in your rental and you just go. That’s not how a local would do it. That’s the equivalent of just going to a sit-down restaurant on Valentine’s Day and expecting to get a table. Or going to the post office at 4:45pm on a weekday. No, no, no. You have to plan. If you live here, eventually you know how to cope without spending much brain power on it. (It certainly doesn’t hurt that many locals are freelancers and have a little latitude about when—or if—they drive to work.)

Want to drive clear across town, to Santa Monica, to the beach, to Hollywood, to downtown, in the middle of the day or afternoon? Heck no. You take the metro (though sadly not many do, even now). Or you go early in the morning. Or you JUST DON’T GO. Guess how many times I have been around a local in the last year who has said, “hey, let’s go to the beach” and they just up and go? Never. They just don’t do it, and it never crosses their minds to even consider it.

Unless they have visitors. Then, they are usually polite about it, maybe even “showing off” the traffic situation in the hope that even more people won’t move to their chosen city and drive up the rents even more. But that could be me.

Who’s up for a trip to the beach? It’s Saturday afternoon: let’s go!