Loving and Leaving Los Angeles

Sunday, 24 September 2017


The story of my love affair with Southern California is an accidental one. Nine years ago I was engaged, living with my parents and working for my family's business, a small travel agency in Michigan. My then fiancé had applied for a Visa to emigrate to the US from Northern Ireland and we had plans to marry the following February. We were waiting for our paperwork to be approved so he could join me and start our married life together in the "Mitten State". After finishing my degree, I had gone to work for my mom who had been ill and it filled the gap while I tried to figure out what I wanted to do with my adult self, while giving me the flexibility to travel to see my boyfriend/fiance as often as possible. Things were comfortable but in retrospect I suppose I was in a bit of a quarter life limbo, something not unfamiliar to those finishing up degrees and wondering what comes next.

It was on one of those days at the office, any other day as it would seem, when my mom slapped a job advertisement on my desk. A sales manager position for a European tourist office, based in their Los Angeles Office. The first words out of my mouth were "I'm not moving to LA". My mom pressed on - "just apply" she said. Fast forward to a few weeks later, I was flying to New York City, lap top in tow, new suit, shoes "not too high" at the advice of my bestie's dad, and into a Manhattan office I marched. I gave my presentation, was left alone for quite a while and walked out with a job offer. I phoned my mom, shaking, standing outside of Grand Central Station in New York City. "Are you sitting down?" I asked, "because I got the job." The next month was a blur. Flying to LA, picking out an apartment, pet friendly of course, so I could bring my tiny chihuahua with me. I quickly found out finding an apartment in greater LA is not really that easy. As most can imagine, rentals are expensive, and having a pet limited me. I found a place however, newly renovated, pet friendly, plenty of room for myself and my fiancé.

Speaking of... My fiancé... I phoned him as well - "We're moving to LA!" I exclaimed. He wasn't so excited. He had planned to move to Michigan, close to places and people he knew. I threw him into the deep end. He had been to LA before, staying with wealthy extended family members in a mansion in Brentwood. The LA he knew was different from what I had known prior to this point, having visited my brother attending art school in Costa Mesa. We fought, but blinded by love he begrudgly agreed to make the move as well. Not that we hadn't discussed the move before my interview, but he "didn't really think I'd get the job", he later said, which was less of a dig at me and more of a misunderstanding at how someone could walk into an interview and leave with an offer as it just isn't something that happens in the UK like it does in the US.

On July 8, 2008, I packed up my car  with everything I thought I would need and began the long drive from Michigan to California. I brought along my bestie, and her then-boyfriend, someone else would could drive a manual transmission, as Flynn, try as she might, hadn't mastered the skill. We spent our first night in Memphis with the boyfriend's family, then on to Oklahoma City, lastly Flagstaff, Arizona. Four days later, we crossed into California. As we entered Orange County, Tupac's "California Love" appropriately blasted on the radio. We had made it. Looking back, I'm astounded that I wasn't more overwhelmed at the situation than I was, or maybe I was too young and too dumb to know how HUGE this was. I moved all my stuff into my brother's Costa Mesa apartment (since my newly renovated place wasn't quite ready) and there I was. The following Monday, I walked into my first "grown up" job in Manhattan Beach, California.

When my husband and I decided to get married, we chose to live in the US at the time because of the exchange rate. The British pound was worth 2 dollars, and so it made so much  more sense to move to the States rather than Northern Ireland and double his savings, rather than cut mine in half. Instead of quitting his job, he was able to take a five year "career break" in the event something didn't work out between us, he wasn't walking away from his job, but rather putting it on hold. And so in the back of my mind, I knew I was limited to five years in LA, as we had agreed to spend fie years in the US and the next five in Northern Ireland. I didn't land in LA so to speak, I landed in the South Bay, a beautiful collection of cities, just south of LAX and right on the beach. My first apartment was in North Torrance, California. Not as sexy sounding as Redondo Beach where we eventually ended up, but I was two miles from the ocean. On my drive into work I got stunning vistas not only of the Pacific but on clear days of the Hollywood Sign. For this Midwestern girl, that was pretty cool.
My closest friends were my fellow Midwesterners - my bestie, Flynn, from middle school, we met when we were 12 and continued to be friends through college, eventually found a job in Orange County and relocated the year after I did. And Laura, who oddly enough I had met while studying in Germany, and while we were both from Michigan we had never spent time together in our home state up until that point. The three of us however made a little midwest clique and had some amazing adventures over the years.

Michigan State Alumni Night at the LA Kings Vs. Detroit Red Wings Game, circa 2010

In addition to my fellow Michiganders, over the next few years I garnered a small group of friends in the South Bay, all different ages, backgrounds some native Californians others fellow transplants like myself. Together, we traveled. We ran marathons and half marathons, we wine tasted, we dressed up and went and did "LA" things like valet park our cars at restaurants and eat expensive sushi. I tried things I'd never tried before, became a bit of a foodie. I met people who expanded my horizons, I attended events at Consul General's homes, I flew business class to Europe for work, I drove to Vegas and partied all night, I spotted usual (and unusual) celebrities, went to Drag Queen Bingo. I became a bit of a LA/Midwestern Hybrid - I went home and froze at Christmas, but I refused to wear a winter coat in LA when the weather got cool (but the sun still shone!) and the locals bundled up. I'm not sure I ever really fit in either. I always felt like a bit of an outsider at parties or receptions when I was quick to spot the other midwesterners - we spoke to other people, met people, networked (something my mom and Godmother had drummed into me from a young age) and something that true Los Angelenos were always a bit standoffish at, and yet I'd  come home to Michigan and feel like I didn't fit in there either. I didn't fit the mold of living in the same town my parents grew up in and where I was raised, I felt like I needed to leave and do bigger things.

This used to be my office view!

Eventually, I knew all the short cuts through town, the fun neighborhoods to visit, and those to avoid. And four years into my time there, with the end of Peter's career break in sight, we decided to have a baby. While we were still in the States I pleaded, so my family would be near. Into our fifth year in Los Angeles, I gave birth to Miss P, our gorgeous little bundle of joy, the child that would flip my world upside down. With Miss P strapped to my chest in a baby carrier we packed our darling little house in Redondo Beach and began to get everything ready to go overseas. I thought I was ready. I thought this will be a grand new adventure and I wouldn't miss California at all. At six weeks old, when I took that very first flight with Miss P, I left a world behind. As we drove to the airport and I watched the tiny house fade into the distance, the house where we had hosted so many friends and visitors, the house where we conceived our baby girl, where we brought her home and posed on the front step, my belly still swollen and my heart filled with love. As the plane lifted up from the Tarmac for the final flight away from LAX, Miss P rested her head on my shoulder and fell asleep, I could feel the tears burning in my eyes, and wetting my face.

The crew looks a little different these days - Summer 2017

The next few months were some of the most difficult months of my life. In between LA and Northern Ireland, we stayed with my parents in Michigan and maneuvered through visas, passports, houses, leaving jobs, finding jobs all the while figuring out how to be parents. I missed California fiercely. In the back of my mind I kept thinking it will feel better. This will go away, and everything will be fine in the end. Somehow, that feeling of longing for California never went away. It was there when I was stuck inside with the Irish rain, it was there when I watched tv shows or movies and I could recognize parts of town or restaurants or beaches. A long nine years after I first moved to LA, the feeling is still there when I go back to visit. Sitting across from Flynn and Laura, juggling crying babies and grumpy four year olds those childless days when the three of us were figuring out how to "adult" so far from home, felt like a million miles away. I looked at them across the table and saw the same things I see in myself - a few grey hairs, more smile lines around our eyes than when we first set foot in California. But the memories, the experiences, the fun was still there. Driving along the coast, which used to be my regular commute to work, I felt the tears well up in my eyes and I felt that deep longing in my heart to return to California. It will always hold a special place in my heart.

Beautiful Manhattan Beach, California - Summer 2017