The Move to Los Angeles
By James E. Rivard
Copyright ã 2006 J.E.R.
On Tuesday, March 7th, 2006 I got the notion in my head to move to Los Angeles, and start a new career. I knew little about the city. In fact, I knew more about Paris. But I’d need a green card to work in Paris. To work in L.A. all I had to do was compete with about a million aspiring writers.
Research, and outreach, started immediately. I booked a round trip ticket, arriving March 28th, and giving myself two weeks to find an apartment and a paying job. Then it would be back to Buffalo, N.Y. to pack up and arrange for a May 1st move-in date. I called two friends who lived near L.A. to ask them to keep my relocation scheme in mind, if they learn about anything that would be of interest to me, as a new arrival.
Of immediate interest was cross-country transportation, income, and housing. My priority was first, to determine exactly where I wanted to live. Exactly meaning within a 10 block by 10 block matrix. That’s 100 blocks to find one apartment in two weeks. So first thing, where is the center of my new universe?
I settled on the corner of West Pico Boulevard and South La Cienega Boulevard. I wanted to be able to avoid the usual hassles of transportation, in exchange for the hassles of living in a smoggy, noisy, dangerous big city.
Whether born in the U.S.A. or not, we all need an insurance card to enjoy the freedom to move about freely. Its easier to get a passport than a reasonable automobile insurance policy. I haven’t owned a car for twenty years, so they all think I must be hiding something. Nobody can live for twenty years without a car. If needed, I have a motorcycle license, from when I was young, so I’d settle on getting a motorcycle. At least in L.A. you can ride all year, and if one is reckless enough to trust their fellow travelers in cars, the insurance companies are happy to take a chance on you.
Besides Buffalo, I have lived in Montreal, Seattle, Moscow, and Tashkent. I’ve worked on a 215 foot fishing boat in the North Pacific, and was once offered a geology job working in Antarctica. I don’t know why I turned it down. Oh, well …
So city life is my stimulant, coffee is just my addiction. With no other bad habits, its not unreasonable to think that I could plunk myself down in la-la land and start a new chapter in my life.
The internet is a great resource. Very empowering. I can research till my eyes go blurry. But I don’t find a guide to making the move to L.A. That is what got me started on this writing project.
I like to tell a good story, and sometimes make people laugh. If I can do that in movies, all the better. But the task of a storyteller is to tell a story, any story, and see if anybody stops to listen, and then stays to the end of the tale.
Week One 3/7 - 3/11
I’ve discovered that everything I need is east of downtown, generally west to U.C.L.A, and bounded on the north by Hollywood Boulevard, and on the south by Route 10. The trick to getting settled is how to get all the documentation in order. First I will need an address. Then, I will need to get my drivers license switched from New York to California, and open a checking account with a local financial institution. Once I have an address, local license, and checking account, I will be accepted by merchants city-wide. Making friends may take a little more effort.
We don’t have as many instant friends in Buffalo as L.A. Probably due to the cold climate. And I don’t mean that it makes us cold, aloof, complacent individuals. I mean that in L.A. there are so many people who approach you on the street with, “Hey, Buddy, can you … .” What a friendly town.
Without a local bank account, getting an apartment seems a bit daunting. Everyone wants three months rent and a one year lease. So its either write an out-of-state check, which won’t clear for two weeks, or carry around thousands of dollars of travelers checks.
If I can convince a fellow Buffalonian to make the move, I will then have a bodyguard, and instead of looking for a piece of real estate the size of a king sized bed, I might be able to find a 2 BR 2 bath place for $1,500 a month.
My law degree leads me to consider a few questions for my potential landlord, like, has anyone ever gotten their security deposit back, in full? And, do you keep the security deposit and last month’s rent in an escrow account? If there actually is an escrow account, can I make a 2 month deposit to that account, and a one month deposit to a separate account for the rent for the month of May? Do I just give somebody a pile of hundreds, and hope that he actually has the keys to the place, and the authority to rent it to me?
My knowledge of human nature leads me to also consider that I should be wary that I could be putting a big target symbol on my back by wandering around the neighborhood looking for an apartment, the inference to be drawn, that I am in fact walking around with a pocket full of cash, trying to create a pocket full of miracles. So step one, getting the ideal apartment, in under two weeks, is quite a challenge.
There are many who will assist me, for a small fee. There’s real estate agents, apartment locators of various stripes, web sites. I first go to a local grocery store and pay $7.50 for the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times. After throwing out 80 per cent of the paper, there are several items of interest. A weather map of the area, showing the various nearby localities. The newspaper is 2 days old, March 5th, but I don’t care. The weather map identifies the three counties, Ventura, Los Angeles, and Orange, as the wide angle shot. Moving in a little closer, we have Los Angeles County, home to, I suppose, several million people.
MapQuest gets me to the next level, without even having to work my way through a maze of imagined foes in an online game. My first impulse is to find a place right in the heart of downtown L.A., since all public transport will work out of this hub. But I then discover that everything I am looking for is restricted by geology or social geography. The Angeles National Forest to the north, the ghetto to the south of downtown, and the necessity to speak Spanish east of downtown.
The downtown of Buffalo is located on the waterfront, since Buffalo developed as the terminus of the Erie Canal, where goods were moved from canal barges to ships that took cargo farther west, along the Great Lakes. Downtown L.A. is inland, about fifteen miles from the ocean. So being between downtown and the ocean seems to be a good idea.
Looking at the map, I discover that any place name I have heard about except Pasadena appear to be west of downtown. Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood, Beverly Hills, Brentwood, U.C.L.A.
Back to the paper, I start to rummage through Section K, the Real Estate section. Pretty dang small, for a newspaper that weighs about 2 pounds. 18 pages. This is either going to be very easy, or very hard. Let’s guess which it will be … .
The page one Hot Property article tells me about George Clooney living in the San Fernando Valley. Let’s see … OK, that’s north of L.A.
Next star mentioned in the article, Patrick Dempsey. Sold his Hollywood Hills home, described as a “gated estate” for $2.5 million. I guess that the Hollywood Hills are north of Hollywood Boulevard. I think I’ll be staying south of Hollywood Boulevard in my storyboarding of this scene. I can safely ignore the names of the realtors mentioned at the end of the article. I don’t think they will be assisting me.
The third hot property mentioned in the article, is a home formerly occupied by Doris Day. I used to have a girlfriend that looked like Doris Day. Great girl. Great picture of the house. Beautiful lines. $5.25 million. The photo is titled Qué Será Será. This won’t be.
The last hot property mentioned is for Nick Lachey, also a hot property in his own right. He bought a Bel-Air property for about $5 million. I’ve already crossed Nick Lachey off my list, guess I can cross off Bel-Air as my future neighborhood. I find Bel-Air on the map, northeast of Brentwood. Curious thing, there’s a street W. Sunset Boulevard, running north-south, I notice, and I also spot W. Sunset Boulevard seven miles to the east, also running north-south. Puzzling. I wonder if they’re referring to the same sunset? MapQuest does have a disclaimer that the map is “informational only”. Why else would someone look at a map? To be the recipient of pop-up ads? Java script creatures jumping around your screen?
When I get to L.A. I plan on taking a 3 hour bus tour to get my bearings. I can ask the tour bus “docent” about the mystery of W. Sunset Boulevard. Maybe he can even tell be if there are two East Sunset Boulevards. Maybe all of L.A. has some kind of parallel universe. My new universe may be magical. Maybe the bus will be called the Magical Mystery Tour. Probably it will just be cluttered with advertisements.
Next on the front page is a story about attracting interest in using your home as a movie set. That seems premature, since I’m looking for an apartment. I won’t waste time reading it, although I do waste a few seconds checking out the small picture next to the article, of a beautiful blond, titled (the picture, not the blond) Johansson: a brief houseguest. I guess anybody reading it will know her first name.
The Home of the Week, in the lower left corner of page 1, is also in the Hollywood Hills, featuring a price of$1,649,000. Featured in the lower right corner of page 1 is a small blurb about an article I can find on page 12, about unwanted rodents, and what landlords and tenants can do. This seems a more practical use of my time. But I think if I can find a new build, it should be relatively quake-proof, due to building codes, and relatively rodent proof, due to its newness.
I open Section K to see what is on the remaining seventeen pages that may be of interest to a renter. I finally find rentals listed on pages 12 and 13. That’s it. And these two pages have roughly 30 per cent of their space devoted to the typical, small classified ad.
The section titled LA County - Holly/Los Feliz, section # 7010 has 7 listings.
The section titled LA County - Westside, section # 7140, has 58 listings.
The newspaper defines the eastern boundary of the Westside as La Cienega Boulevard. This is a good piece of data. The newspaper also notes the northern and southern boundaries as the Santa Monica Mountains, and LAX airport. From the map I can see that this picture has too much verticality. I need a high def picture, 16x9, this describes an area that is MUCH bigger. But, even in this IMAX view, the corner of W. Pico Boulevard and S. La Cienega is smack dab in the middle. It appears from the map that Wilshire Boulevard, which runs east-west, is the dividing line between streets with a “north” and a “south” designation. Pico is less than a mile south of Wilshire. So the corner of Pico and La Cienega appears to be an ideal location, from a map’s point of view.
This means that most of the 58 Westside listings are not in my ideal neighborhood. I found several that were possibilities. Of the 7 listing in the Hollywood section, 2 were possibilities. Left phone messages, no response. Many are called, but few are chosen.
Week Two 3/12 - 3/18
Although my goal was to find a place to live, first I had to find a place to stay. Temporary housing is a separate challenge. There were ads in the LA Times under Hotel/Motel rooms, section # 6010, and the LA Times ONLINE classified page had a link to an agency, and that page had paid ads for several other recommended temporary living arrangements. These ran about $200 - $300 per week.
In addition, on the internet there are many hostels advertised. If you are willing to share a room with about half-a-dozen others, you can find a place for about $7-12 a night, roughly $70 a week. Most (but not all) require that you show a passport to prove you are a traveler, and an out-of-state drivers license.
Most rental companies (as opposed to individuals who may have something to rent) want good credit, a job earning a monthly gross salary that is three times as large as the monthly rent, and expect you to pay first month's rent, last month's rent, and a security deposit of one month (3 months total), and want either a 6 month lease or a 1 year lease. They may accept a co-signer if you do not have good credit. It is worth the effort to create a list of references, job history, etc so you have the info on hand when you have to fill out an application for an apartment or a job.
I called the post office that served the neighborhood, and they said it was a good neighborhood, but a little pricey because it is near the border with Beverly Hills, so it attracts some who want to rub elbows with the rich, but whose elbows are sporting patches, not because they are in style, but because their jacket needed mending. But, since everyone has something that needs mending, what the heck, I'm tolerant.
On the internet, through Switchboard Yellow Pages, I discovered what shops and businesses are in the immediate neighborhood, and some apartment listings as well. There is a local community liaison officer in the police department, and if you go to Google images, you can find pictures of various businesses in the neighborhood.
I checked with U-Haul, the smallest truck they have is a 10 footer, which would cost about $1500, plus gas, for a one-way rental from Buffalo to Los Angeles, so it does not make economic sense to haul most thing across the country. It's probably better to sell the stuff, and start over in California. That's also a good way to jettison a lot of stuff that has accumulated over the years that you can learn to live without.
Week Three 3/19 - 3/25
I've been developing leads on jobs and housing. It does appear that both can be obtained, albeit with some persistent efforts and follow-through. That is why I want to visit for 2 weeks, before actually closing up my Buffalo existence. I've found some promising leads, but because I am not there to "close the deal", I have not been able to do more than prospect. In geology, it's the difference between locating a body of ore and developing a mine. First prospect, then invest. I've got 5 good prospects for housing, and several job prospects, so I won't be wandering around aimlessly. There were several apartments available that were grabbed by others, since the landlord had no real incentive to wait for me to arrive, when there was somebody knocking at the door.
Week Four 3/26 - 4/1
Arrived in L.A. on Tuesday evening, 3/28, in a torrential rain, very unusual for this city. I figured it was just taking a shower, so my first impression when I see it in the daylight on Wednesday will be of a clean city. I was met at the airport by an old friend from Buffalo. We agreed that the weather in L.A. is a heck of a lot better than Buffalo. Saw George Lopez Wednesday get his star on the Hollywood walk of fame, and the hand prints of the famous who have left their mark in wet concrete for future generations of actors and moviegoers to admire.
Got settled in at the Hotel Colorado on Wednesday, $300 per week, shared bathroom and shower, with Wi-Fi, internet access. Santa Monica is a great town. It has everything, from tourist shops and restaurants, to a brand new central library, as well as large office complexes housing Sony and other big and small players in the media.
Interviewed for a job on Thursday, which I was hired for, starting in mid-April. This will assist me in getting an apartment. The job will require a new laptop, and I found a Gateway, later the same day, on sale for $450, after a $200 rebate. The laptop has Wi-Fi built in, so I can use it in my search for an apartment, while staying at the Hotel Colorado. The hotel is run by Westside Rentals, a company that lists apartments. To have access to their data base, you must pay $60 for 60 days of access. I have decided to look on my own, and if I can not find anything, then I will sign up for their services.
Week Five 4/2 - 4/8
Spent most of the week looking for an apartment, walking through the neighborhood of Pico and La Cienega, and going around and around with a very elderly man about an apartment. In the end, his children advised him to not bother renting, since he doesn't need the money, is in failing health, and has more important things to worry about than renting an efficiency to a stranger.
Interviewed on Friday for an apartment near the corner of Wilshire and Bundy, which is in West L.A., just north of Santa Monica. They are still working on re-plumbing the water, which is why it has not been rented yet. The unit is managed by a real estate office, which said they would rent to me starting Monday, 4/9.
Stopped by a shop called the Writers Store, and bought the latest version of Final Draft, used to format screenplays, and a book on screenplay formatting, in addition to a book, Breakfast with Sharks, a screenwriter's guide to the business.
Went to a Russian Orthodox church for Sunday services, with local friends who go to the church regularly. My friends are considering making a movie about church doctrine, to educate the young about their traditions.
Week Six 4/9 - 4/15
Spent the week getting the keys to my new apartment, and getting furniture, organizing things. Water is on. Got electricity on Tuesday. Wilshire and Bundy is a good neighborhood, lots of stores and eateries nearby, and easy to get to the beach or to Hollywood, and close enough to the ocean to keep the temperature from getting unbearable in the summer. This is an efficiency for $795 a month, hot water included. This area is west of my initial location of Pico and La Cienega, and just east of Brentwood, and is actually a better location. There is a free Wi-Fi connection, so I may not need to get a phone line to access the internet.
I have started a new weekly routine, of sending out thank you cards every Saturday, to those who have helped me in the process of getting settled in a new location, and finding a new career. This should help me to keep a better perspective on things.
Found some of my furniture through the Goodwill store in Santa Monica, which held everything until I could rent a small U-Haul truck for the move. I also used the truck to drive to Hollywood to meet with a distant relative who makes trailers (short promo movies). While driving around town in the truck, I was flagged down by many offering to help me. There sure are a lot of guys here eagerly looking for work.
Headed back to Buffalo Saturday to close up my Buffalo apartment. I want to be out by May first.
Week Seven 4/16 - 4/22
Spent Easter Sunday with family, which was a nice way to begin my 2 week stay in Buffalo. Starting to determine what to burn, what to bring. Everything must go, either to California, or to somebody or somewhere in town.
Week Eight 4/23 - 4/29
This was my last week in Buffalo, so I had to clear the apartment, and clean it, and get my security deposit back. As they say, everything must go!
I did leave the drapes, 2 couches, a gate leg table, a large desk I built, and cooking instruments behind for the next occupant. Most of the other stuff went to family members, or to a small Christian home run by the Franciscan Order. They appreciated the eight large boxes of food, and the men's clothing. I gave my 8 foot dieffenbachia with philodendron wrapping around the base to my neighbor in the building, who has a green thumb, and a boyfriend who is a landscape architect. Should be in good hands. My file cabinets and office stuff went to my credit union. A worthy cause.
Week Nine 4/30 - 5/6
I was able to get a round trip ticket, Buffalo to L.A., for $258, which was half the price of a one-way ticket from Buffalo to L.A. Go figure. So I arrived back in L.A. on May 1st, with my 2 carry-ons, and 2 checked pieces of luggage. Everything else was en route, scheduled to arrive shortly after me, if everything went according to plan. One can get from LAX to Santa Monica for $0.75 (you heard me right). Of course, dragging my 4 pieces of baggage was a challenge, but, what the heck, the price was right. I was 7 pounds overweight, so I had to leave behind with my brother Jerry some vintage vinyl, (West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, Mama Lion) but some I had shipped. The big question was whether everything would arrive in one piece, so to say.
Lo and behold, no breakage, not to the crystal, or to the large framed art works, or to my Media Center PC. Most things were double boxed, first in a liquor box, and then 2 of those boxes in an egg box, which was 1' x 1' x 2'. I garbage-picked several large boxes for the art work, and everything fitted onto one pallet, for shipping by truck. I found a web site, uShip.com, and located a guy who did the job for $480, warehouse to warehouse. This is a lot cheaper than shipping individual boxes with UPS or FedEx. (I did send my PC by FedEx, insured.)
I had to bring the stuff to the shipper, load it onto a pallet, which was then wrapped in plastic, and had to pick it up with a small U-Haul I rented in Santa Monica for $48 (10 foot truck, plus 25 miles usage, plus $8 in gas).
Unpacking and installing track lighting took the rest of the week, but by Sunday I had my first company, Tom and Oksana, who got to L.A. about 3 years ago.
The ironic thing about leaving Buffalo on May 1st was that that was the day chosen for the showing of the top 3 shorts from the Elmwood Film Festival. We came in 4th, so I didn't have to feel guilty about not attending. After waiting 7 months for the showing, I wasn't going to lose my cheap air fare to attend the event. I hope it went well.
One unintended consequence of the move was the invasion of the Styrofoam prills, which were as ubiquitous as ants. What a nuisance. Some were rounded up with an old mouse remedy, sticky tape. This was easier, since there were no live mice to dispatch, just little white balls.
Week Ten 5/07 - 5/13
I started working this week. (Proofreading a 45 page appraisal report.) So it does seem like I am settling in successfully here. The people I've met have been normal and friendly. I've had to ask the Post Office to trace a certified letter I sent to receive my $200 rebate on my new laptop.
I got a Los Angeles phone number now, which makes internet access easier. I'll keep my Buffalo number on my cell phone, so Buffalonians can call me without having to pay a long distance charge.
I bought a used camera tripod at the Goodwill for $20, which was missing a quick release gizmo. Saturday I was able to buy the gizmo at Samy's Cameras for $12, so I saved about $120 on the tripod.
Two blocks from Samy's is the Farmers. Market, which I also visited Saturday. Great place to browse, and there is a great deli/wine shop/restaurant in one corner of the market that is French owned and operated, and which is the real deal.
Mornings have been overcast, afternoons sunny, evenings cool. I took a long walk along the beach between Santa Monica and Venice Beach on Saturday. What a nice way to spend the afternoon. I could get to like this. As a matter of fact, I do like this California life.
Click here for my video of my apartment in Los Angeles.