The Vacation Effect: How Do You Know If You Love A City, or If You Just Love Vacation?

Los Angeles, I'm yours.
Publish date:
June 6, 2012
travel, vacation, Los Angeles

At the fabulous Getty Center, writing this post out longhand. LONGHAND. Where else do I write things longhand anymore? Nowhere save Los Angeles.

Whenever I tell people how much I love Los Angeles, they give me strange looks. They seem confused. They sometimes even argue. It’s understandable, as Los Angeles would seem, on the surface, to exemplify they very opposite of what I like, and yet I adore it with a love unmatched by my feelings for any other city I’ve ever visited.

The irony of this is that when I finished my bachelor’s degree -- in the mad useful skill of screenwriting -- my primary motivation for going to grad school was because I didn’t want to move to Los Angeles, which was what we were told we had to do if we wanted to get anywhere in the business of making up stories for film.

At the time I was too fresh from my narrow escape from my South Florida hometown to appreciate what Los Angeles has to offer. Even today, part of what I love about Los Angeles is its bizarro familiarity; there are certain cultural commonalities to be found in both places, simply by virtue of them sharing a reputation as places with nice weather and glamorous living.

On my third trip in as many years, I don’t much see the glamour myself. Los Angeles is always shorter than I expect (much like famous people often are) and in spite of its epic sprawl -- it spreads like liquid human congestion poured over an unpredictably undulating landscape, most of it pooling in the valleys -- it always feels small-town-like to me.

The topmost surfaces may shine but there’s dinginess in the crevices, and this is a city with an atmospheric cocktail of hope and despair, where some come chasing big ridiculous dreams and others come just to enjoy the weather. It’s a small surreal planet with only one foot in reality, a place both lively and exhausted, beautiful and bereft.

All right, enough stupid poetry.

Some of the critics, the LA-haters, they say the people in this city are fake. I don’t entirely agree that this is true, but having spent the past 17 years in Boston and its environs, where candor that borders on rudeness is not only a cultural mainstay but a thing people take deep pride in, I will cheerfully accept a little fake niceness. Oh Boston, I wouldn’t ever change you, but for a non-native transplant like myself, as the years wear on your salty attitude does start to lose its charm.

Some of the critics also say that Los Angeles is too obsessed with impossible perfection, a population of doll-bodies made from people parts with their human features erased. That happens, but I also see an enormous amount of diversity here -- of all kinds. Maybe I’m just looking differently.

More than that, I don’t get stared at in Los Angeles. I feel like I know how to dress in a semi-appropriate manner. I feel curiously -- for me -- unweird. It’s like being in a city with everyone I ever knew from high school drama club. Fortunately they’re not the only ones here. Even so, most people seem to have even the tiniest spark of perfomance about them, and in their defense it’s probably hard to live here without that urge simmering somewhere in your unconscious.

(Also, there is excellent driving. Driving in New England is pretty crap. Sorry New Englanders, but it's true. Also sorry planet, for burning up so much gas and contributing to your demise, but driving here is like a super destructive drug I don't want to quit, ever, I just want MORE.)

It’s possible that what I feel here is just a magnified Vacation Effect -- that thing that happens to some of us when we visit someplace new and get to relax there (possibly for the first time in awhile, if you’re me). We associate that place with the happy relaxedness and think about living there as much as an effort to make that contentment permanent, although this is probably unlikely to happen in the long run when basic adult responsibilities continue to exist and demand our attention.

It’s easy to love a place if you’re there on leisure time -- or at least it’s easier. But I don’t feel this way about Orlando, FL, where one of my favorite vacation destinations resides. I don’t feel it about New York or Seattle or Miami or Portland, OR; I don’t even feel it quite as much in San Francisco. I don’t feel it about any city, ever, save how I felt when I first moved to Boston in 1995, and it seemed like the place enveloped me as an old friend -- I felt at home there, immediately, with no need to adapt.

Los Angeles is the only city I regularly visit in which am I not secretly glad to be going home when my trip is over; instead I am inevitably sad to be leaving it behind. When I travel to most cities, I feel like I have to learn their ways and develop a way of existing within them -- this is true of no city as much as New York, where I adopt a thoroughly different manner just to get ‘er done -- but here I feel like a piece sliding easily into place, just as I am. That’s a lovely sensation, you know.

Unless a miracle happens, moving is not in my future anytime soon; I’m married, for one, so there’s my husband’s feelings (and employment!) to consider, and as much as I feel this impassioned LA yearning, I really can’t even fathom trying to sell our home in the current market.

But still, it’s something I think about, if only as a silly, childish daydream in which chucking it all and running away with the circus is a thing I am still capable of doing.

Have you ever been on a trip to a place that made you want to move there? Is it vacation lust or is it true monogamous city-love? I suppose part of the attraction is not quite knowing for sure.