By Michelle Tea
I understand. During the first dot.com bubble, I too ran away to Hollywood, in the emotional way a person bails after a terrible breakup. I was sick of complaining about how the city I’d loved had changed. I was sick of sharing a room with my boyfriend in a house with three other roommates. I heard about a $400-a-month studio in Los Angeles, and I grabbed it. See, San Francisco? I don’t need you! Did I come crawling back? Uh, yeah. I can’t drive, for starters, which made getting to my weekly teaching gig in Pasadena epic. Plus, I missed San Francisco’s familiar, village-like style – the way the neighborhoods all hugged one another, the way it’s so easy to hop around on a bus or streetcar.
But a decade or so later, Los Angeles is becoming the place to be as more of my friends move down there. With new arrivals not just from SF, but from similarly gentrified spots like Manhattan and Brooklyn, our sister city is flush with fresh energy. The free “LA is OK” stickers sitting on the counter at Trouble Coffee are both a harbinger and an understatement (rumor has it Trouble may be opening a Los Angeles outpost) about the number of San Franciscans moving there. How come so many of our friends are leaving the fog for the smog?
Los Angeles is full of cheap housing, whether it’s free-standing bungalows or one-bedrooms nestled in Melrose Place-style apartment complexes. They’re seeking backyards. They’re attempting to live as adults, sans multiple roommates. They have big dreams of actual homeownership, and in LA it’s possible to buy a place without the help of an internet IPO. Though the city’s infamous sprawl was once a source of complaint, today it’s valued for providing lots of space for lots of people at lots of different economic levels.
In LA, our friends have LACMA, with Chris Burden’s fantastic Urban Light lampposts installed forever on Wilshire Boulevard; they’ve got the Hammer Museum, which shows enough female artists to make a Guerrilla Girl thump her chest in happiness; they’ve got CalArt’s Redcat Theater bringing in avant-garde performance, film, dance, and literature. Stalwart indie art gallery New Image Art recently did a show of San Francisco’s Xara Thustra and is bringing the artist’s performance art project, LOVEWARZ down for a show in February. Our very own Needles & Pens recently opened an LA sister store, which they’re calling And Pens, and they’re hosting events by SF’s Hamburger Eyes and former Bay-gone-LA zinester and curator Darin Klein. They’ve got the mysterious Museum of Jurassic Technology. They’ve got Bergamot Station in Santa Monica, an old railroad station that’s now home to a bunch of galleries – one of them currently showing work by iconic lezzie folksinger Phranc. And with Los Angeles storefront rentals being way more affordable than San Francisco’s, our friends have a shot at opening their own DIY art spaces.
With so many of my besties heading south, it’s hard not to feel like I’m about to be missing out on some gigantic pool party. But as great as LA is to visit – Canter’s Deli! Opening Ceremony! Skylight Books! Disneyland! – I’m still not so sure I’d want to live there. I’d rather spend an hour lounging with a book on the N Judah than be stuck bumper to bumper in a fleet of Mercedes, BMWs, and Teslas (LA wealth clogs the freeways in the form of status autos). San Francisco’s smallness can make it feel like we’re all breathing down one another’s necks, but it’s also what makes it a cohesive community – neighborly, navigable, even cozy. Our public transit might be a pain in the ass, but at least we have public transit – and you might even catch John Waters aboard the 14 Mission, which I would take over pretty much any celebrity spying LA has to offer. San Francisco’s Arts Commission is a model of equitable arts funding for every other city in the nation, and frankly, I do believe the Mission burrito to be superior to all others. So farewell, my southern-heading friends. I’ll come and visit you, but I bet not as often as you’ll visit me. This place we all once called home is likely where you’ve left your heart.