You know that decades-long surge of New Yorkers who begrudgingly abandon ship for the sunnier coastline of Los Angeles? Of course you do. The city is full of them, and I was one. We believe living in L.A. violates who we are as New Yorkers and so we arrive saying it’s temporary, aware we might hate it, then find ourselves deep in endless summer, happily drinking cold-pressed juice, comparing sunset yoga classes and psychic healers. We come to admit, first to ourselves and then aloud: Life as an Angeleno is nice. Still, so many transplanted New Yorkers wax poetic on the grit found in the streets of the City. We fantasize about one day returning to the "realness" of our hometown. After almost 12 years in L.A., I answered my internal call and did.
Is it cold? Yes. Was I naive to think weekends in Mammoth would prepare me for a full winter on the East Coast? Guilty. But it's not just weather. About half of my native New Yorker friends in L.A. returned home, and we’ve all encountered unexpected challenges you should know going in. There are small grievances: I’d forgotten everywhere smells like urine (inexplicably, you get used to this); L.A. felt too spread out, now I can’t handle the crowds just getting from Lexington to Third; in an unexpected twist, I miss healthy L.A. food (don’t get me started on the mayo-based slaw slathered on battered fish tacos here). I'm navigating my adopted L.A. lifestyle in a city where people are still warming up to gluten-free.
Then there are bigger issues behind the fantasy’s curtain:
The city doesn’t feel as safe as it used to. Say what you will about Rudy Giuliani, but when he was mayor I could take the subway at 2 a.m., armed only with side-eye, and didn’t feel defensive. Now every day I’m navigating heroin nods and crazies, all of whom I'm sure want to slash me. It feels close to a repeat of the ’80s.
The global landscape also has ramped up daily subway unease. Someone checking their phone too much? Terrorist. Lips moving while meditating? Terrorist. Texting in emoji? Terrorist. Being confined underground with the shifty guy holding a large duffel was so much more comforting when it was more likely a human head in that bag than explosives.
Like most paranoia, I don’t know if I’m being New York neurotic or a realist, but I’m not alone in my thinking: Tara, a friend from middle school, left L.A. around the same time I did. The other day I took the F train to see her new studio apartment in Chelsea, downsized from her WeHo two-bedroom with a balcony overlooking the hills and neighbors worthy of TMZ.
“Aren’t you scared about terrorists?” she said when I arrived. “I worried about you the whole way here.”
Imminent death via commuting wasn’t our concern living in L.A. Comparatively speaking, underutilized Los Angeles public transportation is probably the least likely location to face a threat, unless you’re Keanu Reeves. The idea of a terrorist attack might cross your mind at Staples Center or LAX, but in L.A. I was easily convinced that, if anything happened, I wouldn’t be in the epicenter. Urban sprawl has its benefits when there’s safety in diffusion.
Violence aside, back in New York other threats loom. Physical and mental health are less lifestyle choices than grave concerns. Getting constant exercise in L.A. controlled stress; bad moods were harder to come by under intense blue skies. Remove these and your mood drops. Significantly. You’ll figure out ways to feel better … namely a regimen of antidepressants and a team of therapists to combat Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Once this routine is in place, though, things look up!
That's until you realize you’ve gained 10 pounds since your move east. Get ready to run a gauntlet of culinary temptation every time you leave the house. Shackburger, bagel with a schmear, a fast slice? Just this once, you think … every day.
“But I don’t eat those things anymore,” you’re thinking. Yeah, you do. They’re quick, they’re everywhere, and you’re in the mood for easy. Besides, Dominique Ansel fried that doughnut! Before you know it, your diet has become more caloric and carb-driven than any pregnant woman in Los Angeles.
There are workarounds. The organic markets and vegan restaurants you came to love do exist with some searching. The way you discovered plenty of culture to be found in L..A when you put in a little effort? The same is true for keeping a balanced and clean diet in New York: It’s there, but you gotta work for it. Once you do, stockpiling Mast Brothers becomes less tempting.
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And OK, the weather. Living with year-round sun, it’s hard not to be active. I’m a putz, but still discovered a love for stand-up paddle between bike rides and hikes. In L.A. it’s all so accessible. Expecting to maintain Cali-level exercise endorphins in New York is a pipe dream. Last summer, frustrated by a lack of nature, I escaped to the Catskills to get my hiking fix. Spoiler: It was not Runyon. Nowhere else in America is a hiking trail paved. By the end of the afternoon, I was alone on a cliff in the woods, hugging a tree for dear life, wondering how I was going to make it through the night without being eaten by whatever or whomever I encountered. Unlike hikes in Franklin Canyon, I knew Taylor Swift and her bodyguard weren’t around the bend to save me.
And then cold sets in. Winter has roughly 120 mornings where you hate life, give or take the first pretty day of snowfall. You’ll forget exercise (nowhere to go, anyway), forget about fresh air (frigid) and rack your brain to understand how Leo survived similar conditions in The Revenant. October had you feeling smug with your fancy new snow boots, but now it’s February, your boots are destroyed, and you’re praying for the end of days so the cold will end. Do yourself a favor: Survive on cans of soup. Save the money that’s not going to higher rent for a smaller place and go someplace sunny. Even if it's only a couple of days, the idea that warmth exists will keep you going.
And you’ll keep going — you will. The sun will emerge, you’ll fall back into the pace, and once again connect with a sense of home. You’ll realize your L.A. yoga and meditation practices are new weapons to survive elements that would have led to explosion with a shorter fuse. You’ll Skype with your L.A. psychic until a friend’s secret slips and they mention a great medium in Harlem. You’ll bitch about the lines at Trader Joe's but still shop there for California avocados. The definition of the New Yorker you thought you were expands and, by bringing these West Coast elements in, you’ll feel enriched beyond the political arguments, museums and street performers you’re surrounded by. You’ll be cramped, but you’ll be good.
By the way, my friend in the Chelsea studio? She loves it. She’s surrounded by galleries and has a skyline view of the sunset. Just below her window, on Sixth Avenue, is a bagel shop I remember as Billy’s Topless, one of many seedy storefronts that characterized the neighborhood as a kid. Like us, New York has changed. The sidewalk downstairs is cleaner but still the gritty asphalt we promised ourselves we’d to return to … not to mention there’s a cold-pressed juice spot two blocks away.