How I Made a Strange City Feel Like Home

Something magical has happened in the engineering of the UNDERenlightened’s publishing schedule, something insane and cosmic that I didn’t plan: today marks exactly three years since I pulled myself up by my New York bootstraps and hauled over to Los Angeles. Today, I’m three years older, still on the West (best?) coast, and treating myself to flashbacks from that bizarre, uncomfortable first month where I was waking up three hours too early every morning, basking in the awe of a trip to the beach on a Monday, and cursing myself for thinking that Southern California would not require a jacket or scarf in February. There was also the slow-leaking air mattress I slept on before my IKEA furniture got delivered (a whole week late!), the janky space heater in my 330 square foot studio apartment, and the psychotic notion of making left-hand turns on yellow-almost-red lights at major intersections (GO HOME, LA. YOU’RE DRUNK).

But I figured it out. I made it my home, slowly but surely. Moving by yourself to a brand new city is as petrifying as it is exhilarating, and every person who does it has a different way of dealing with all the changes.  Here are a few things I did to keep myself from hyperventilating and asking “Oh dear Lord, what have I done with my life?” every hour of every day those first few months.

Reassure yourself that this doesn’t have to be permanent if you don’t want it to be.

I was all about taking it one day at a time when I first arrived. I was very emotionally attached to New York and my BFFs from college who still lived there, as well as my entire family—parents, brother, grandma, cousins… everyone.. I treated the first six weeks in LA as an adventure, an extended vacation—one that I could end and return home from whenever I had had enough. But the interesting thing about this frame of mind is that it actually had the adverse effect. The longer I took it “one day at a time,” the longer I wanted to stay.

Have coffee/drinks/lunch/any excuse for food and beverages with new people, wherever you can find them.

I had a handful of great friends out in LA when I first moved here, for whom I will always be eternally grateful. I also had a network of acquaintances from college and work who lived out here, and I knew that unless I wanted to spend every day of my new West coast life eating soy nuggets on an overturned cardboard box sitting on my leaky air mattress watching Netflix, I would need to meet some damn people . So I emailed and Facebooked everyone I knew who was settled in LA and did some serious hanging out. I tend to suffer from self-inflicted Hermitation, so forcing myself to go out to bars with near-strangers to shoot the shit was a little bit terrifying for me at first. But considering that the alternative was complete and total isolation in my teensy studio apartment, it wasn’t a hard sell.

Sidebar: If I had it to do over again, I would have had roommates at first! Two good friends of mine lived right next door, thankfully; but having people around 24/7 (who know other people who you can someday know) can be really valuable!

Go on dates.

I was blissfully single and free as a bird when I moved, so I figured hey, what better way go out and see all the sights than go on some dates? After all, I had my “one day at a time” hat on, so how bad could it be, as long as nothing got too serious? There’s nothing a native (or long-time dweller) of a given city loves more than showing a bright-eyed new kid how cool their town is. I signed up for an OkCupid account for the first time ever—I think my photo caption said something like “Just passin’ through!” But as it turns out, my one-day-at-a-time approach also kind of failed me in this department, too. I met a guy through some mutual college friends, and pretty soon my “I’m on vacation here, I don’t really live here, all my relationships are transient!” mentality dissolved to “Maybe I’ll stick around for a little while.”

Plug shit into your GPS and GO—even if you have nobody to go with.

The first thing I said after buying my car in LA was something like: “Siri, take me to Malibu!” I followed the directions on my GPS and drove up the Pacific Coast Highway to Zuma Beach. I drove home with the backdrop of a classic dusty-pink LA sunset in my rearview, and even though the traffic was brutal, I was psyched to have taken myself on an adventure. I didn’t start my first job in LA until I’d been there for a month, so daytime was my playtime. While most of my new friends were at work, I took it upon myself to explore a new neighborhood every day. I hiked Runyon Canyon. I shopped at The Grove. I explored Santa Monica Pier. I went thrift shopping in Silverlake. I tried (and failed) to get my tiny dog to walk all the way up to the Griffith Park Observatory. And, of course, I hit all of the beaches and Farmers Markets (and don’t even get me started on the wonder that is locally sourced California produce. I SAID GOD DAMN). With the GPS on my side, I wasn’t afraid of getting lost or accidentally wandering into a seedy neighborhood. I got up every morning and I went somewhere. That was how I learned to love LA, I think. Every experience was mine and mine alone, because I was flying so utterly solo. I don’t associate places in this city with certain people or events, the way I often did in New York. The places were all mine, because I discovered them all by myself.

Today, I’m happy to report that I no longer eat Trader Joe’s chik’n nuggets on an overturned cardboard box and my apartment is no longer 330 square feet. I have friends, both new and old, I have managed to find fulfilling work, and even though I still pine for NYC every now and then (especially during the holidays!), the life I’ve created out here is so distinctly mine that even if I move away someday, it will not be for good. It’s so rewarding when you can create a new home on your own terms. As we age, we get fewer and fewer opportunities to do that.  So if you have a chance, I say go for it, enjoy it, and take it one day a time!

Friends in Readerland, tell us about the ways that you made a strange city feel like home in the comments!

Photo by Meaghan Morrison 
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