Day Job Blues

I’ve come to that point many arrive at where you begin to question an action you took. I moved to LA somewhat spontaneously after talking about it for many years. The impetus? I was getting older, and the final push was losing a miserable day job in a series of layoffs. I had reached about 65% of my desired savings (a year’s rent- or roughly $15,000). I was initially going to move by the Fall, but alas here I am in July- almost August. Here for three months now and I’ve begun to reflect on this decision.

I moved out here with the long term career goal of becoming a writer-producer. Yes I know, like thousands of other kids who move here every week. From Tribeca Films to assisting an Academy Award nominated producer, working production and doing script coverage around various day jobs at home I figured I’d find something here easily. After all, I have experience, references and a decent network. That network got me added to an elite recruitment seminar -only offered to less than 1% of applicants- at one of the three letter talent agencies. I was 28, everyone else was 22 and right out of school and despite my experience, being a top performer in my recruitment class and having an in with a partner there, I wasn’t hired. I was told to try again in October, and I don’t plan on it.

That rejection disheartened me greatly. Despite picking up set work afterward and expanding my network, I was still crushed. How do you measure progress in an industry which is not merit-based? It’s a question I still can’t answer. While I continue to write and get read, and offers for reads, I am back in the position I was in New York: working a day job to pay the bills while hoping for a career path to materialize.

I should add that hope isn’t the right word- I have every intention of working hard to make things happen. However, I need to get a year lease first and that’s not going to happen on a production gig-based job. You need a 9-5 in order to pass a rental application. Having spent almost half of my savings on the inflated cost of a furnished sublet, I don’t have the financial luxury of toiling in industry gig or temp jobs hoping one pans out and turns full time.

That’s the kicker, being financially independent means pursuing industry work is often a financial burden. Even if I got that agent training job, I’d only be making $13/hour. Literally. That’s it. Plus time off the clock. I would’ve had to live in a ghetto or with multiple roommates to afford it. So I have wound up in the same place I was before I moved, working a day job I dislike while wishing things could’ve turned out differently. Then that thought process turns into “why did I move at
all?”

I remind myself that a day job in LA is infinitely better than one in New York. It means being where the work ultimately is and provides me the ability to network. I’ve already gotten more requests for reads just living here than I did based in New York. People take you more seriously as an aspiring writer in LA than one anywhere else. While my near term goal is hopefully assisting a writer or producer, working for a well known billionaire’s company isn’t bad either. It’s actually great experience to add to a resume.

Finally, many writers wait tables, have side gigs. Even more are doing the same outside of LA. Those who are in LA often can’t afford to work in the industry and if they can it affects the amount of time they have to seriously write.

I am reminded of a recent panel interview THR did during last year’s Oscar season. Several high profile nominees were asked about their days jobs prior to success. Mel Gibson worked in a factory. Denzel Washington was a garbageman. Barry Jenkins mowed lawns. Oliver Stone was everything from a merchant sailor to a temp on a porno film. But when the opportunity arose to do something better, they did and sealed the deal with hard work and dedication.

It’s a reminder that life is hardly a straight path. The decision to move here hasn’t paid off yet. I do know that being here provides me with opportunity that being elsewhere would not. When that opportunity arises I will be ready for it and work my butt off for success. I will work harder than any of my competition if someone gives me that chance. For now I have to make money any way I can, get into a year lease and return to industry work once fully settled. It’s hard to assess risk-reward, because it takes a while for the reward part but I know I wouldn’t be in any position for reward if I hadn’t taken this risk in the first place.

Invisible

I feel invisible. Here in LA, the only time someone pays you attention is if you’re already successful; or seem so. While this may seem like a stereotype, it has largely proven true. Social networking is dictated by what you can do for someone else.

Most of my days spent outside of a dull office job are spent writing, doing coverage for friends or occasionally working on set. Since I moved to LA, I’ve written more than ever. While that’s great, it’s also sort of isolating. Creating so much can also feel exhausting when you come down from the high of an intensive writing session. I look up from my computer in the local coffee shop, and nobody is even paying me attention. I am just another coffee shop writer in a city full of such writers. I walk home, along Sunset Boulevard and truly feel like just another broken dream.

Few look at me like they did in NY, or especially Paris (where I was considered very conventionally attractive with my pale complexion, light green eyes & dark brown hair). Nobody talks to me at bars or shows when I try to make a social effort. In fact, last night I sat at a table all alone until the bar tender took pity on me and engaged me in conversation. Making matters worse, I am a 6 in a sea of available and DTF 10s. Men do not ever say anything to me beyond “where’s the bathroom.” I have grown more introverted because I feel invisible, fragile and so alone. Half those who committed to attend my birthday flaked on me- par for the course in LA. You’re cool until someone finds better plans. I remain grateful for those who did show up but I can’t be clingy and expect to be with them at all times. I need to branch out.

But how do you meet people in a city where socialization is based not on common interest but on what you can do for someone else? I am not wealthy or connected. While I think I have a lot to offer both potential friends, partners or professionals, my social currency is less valuable in LA. I’m not a good enough bull shit artist to succeed here in that respect. I’m a straight shooter riding along a curvy road, and one that feels destined to terminate at a dead end.

LA feels like a dead end. It feels hopeless on most days but I still get up and write. I read over my work and know that I am good enough to be here. Even if I am invisible. Even if I am socially worth less at the moment. Even if I am not important enough to socialize with those I have common interests with (like my former mentor or other friends I made in the industry). I am flaked on all the time by industry folks & managers who pretend to be interested in me and my career only to find someone better. If LA were a single disorder, it’d be ADHD. Yet I keep writing, keep trying to make this work.

I may be invisible, but that’s all I’ll ever be if I don’t try to be something more. I’m good enough to be here. I’m not going anywhere until someone else out here realizes that too.

Car-Less in LA

IMG_8612.PNG

When I first said I was moving to LA without a car, it drew some surprised reactions. Many posited that I wouldn’t be able to do it. Others insisted the public transit options were unsafe, unreliable and poorly planned out. More noted how dangerous biking is and that walking is made difficult by hills, distracted drivers and large intersections. I am writing this piece to show they’re all wrong; now car-less in LA for several months I will demonstrate it.

LA is more like a suburb than a city, culturally. The residents often oppose new developments, housing and most critically new transit options. The CEQA law, intended to be for environmental safety is often used by affluent residents to combat any new development in their towns (in case you were wondering why there’s no metro rail extending beyond Hollywood). Many Angelenos view public transit as an option for the poor, immigrants, young and driverless (like people with DUI). They view driving their own cars as both a status symbol and a form of freedom. Yet they’re making their own city inhospitable with traffic by not exploring other options.

What are those other options? Let’s start with the bus. I live in West Hollywood. Several busses cross through my area. I can take the bus to the beach; Downtown; to the Valley; to central LA and Mid City; to Hollywood and the East Side. Pretty much anywhere I want to go, there’s a bus line. Stops are numerous, making it easy to walk. My commute from Norma Triangle to Fairfax by bus is 30 minutes. Sure that’s 15 minutes longer than if I had my own car, but why would I want to add to traffic as a solo commuter? To go 1.9 miles in a car by myself is not only selfish, its environmentally toxic, and causes more traffic. If you live within a short distance to work, the bus is an excellent option.

So what are the cons to the bus? While the busses are clean, safe, well operated and accept cash (huge plus!), their safety tends to become worse at night. While I haven’t had any issues, friends have had run ins with crazy homeless. No different than what I experienced on the subway back home in NYC though. The other con is when you need to transfer or go a longer distance to work. Busses sit in the same traffic, albeit with the advantage of bus lanes and being able to switch the light green on many lines. So if you have a super long commute, a bus may not be ideal — maybe a carpool or finding work closer to home is better. Although I’ve gotten Downtown at rush hour in under one hour from the Westside. Combining bus to metro can reduce time considerably.

So what about the metro? In a word: limited. However it’s constantly improving both access and service! The Expo line now extends to Santa Monica. When used in addition to busses for areas where service is lacking, it makes the rest of the leg of your trip shorter. LA County is currently trying to adopt plans for a Purple Line which will run along the Westside (but is facing opposition). Right now the metro is great for folks who live near it or have their job close to it. More and more people can say this because of vital expansion. However access is sorely limited on most of the Westside. Additionally, they often run too few cars at peak hours of operation.

So what about getting around locally? I walk. West Hollywood is one of the most walkable areas of LA, and is why I chose it in addition to its safety and centrality. I also understand this area is very pricey for some, so other areas may not be as walking friendly (I.e vital services nearby). I walk to the grocery store, deli, 7/11, post office, library, bars, UPS store, shopping, hair salon, nail salon. Everything is nearby. For those who maybe need a car to go a bit further, Uber/Lyft is super cheap in LA because there is a surplus of them. I use Uber/Lyft to go to laundromat and it never costs me more than $3.50! Other areas are just as walkable contrary to popular belief. Hollywood, Silverlake, Echo Park, Santa Monica, Westwood, Studio City, NoHo, Beverly Hills, Downtown — to name a few — are all walkable. The only people who can say that their area is not walkable are those who live in canyons or deep into the hills off an access road (Bird Streets West Hollywood is obviously not as walkable as Norma Triangle West Hollywood). Even then, there’s always biking and taking advantage of more bike lanes and bike rental programs like the one in West Hollywood.

Finally, how did I like driving in LA? I wanted the option of driving so that I could compare it to my car-less routine. The result? I hated it. According to an AllState insurance study, LA drivers rank almost dead last for metropolitan area drivers. Nationwide, drivers average a collision every 10 years. In LA, it is half that time at five years! Drivers are terrible here; they’re on their phones, unsure of how to merge, timid where aggression is required, smoking pot, and just bad urban drivers. I learned to drive in NYC (including Manhattan). I have the best defensive driving skills of cities around the world and these people tested my patience daily because of how distracted and poor they are at navigating dense areas. I also don’t think having a car helped cut down on time. At least when taking public transit I can get other things done; browse social media, write, read, do paper work etc. I economize my time better taking public transit than sitting in traffic. Also, parking is either expensive or very limited, so the small time you save driving is often eaten up by trying to find parking.

I will not own a car in this city. A big reason for that is cost. I can afford to live in the Norma Triangle area of West Hollywood because I have no car. A car is expensive anywhere but especially so in LA. Here you have to pay not only your payment and high cost of insurance but higher gas prices, monthly parking spot, parking for extracurricular activities, smog checks and the highest annual registration fees in the country. Conservatively people spend around $400 a month just to own an entry level economy car in Los Angeles, excluding pricey registration fees and added parking spot to rent. My entire monthly transit cost including occasional Uber’s is $115. I have time to do work whereas that wouldn’t be possible as a driver. I often arrive to places faster than friends because I don’t have to search for parking. I’m in excellent shape because I walk everywhere. All those savings allow me to live in one of the nicest neighborhoods of the city.

Going car-less isn’t for everyone. Those with kids or a job that requires errands/runs mandate a car. If my wildest dreams came true and I were made that producer’s assistant, I’d have to get a car to do their chores etc. Even then, many chores can be accomplished without a car. Grocery stores deliver, so too do dry cleaning services. However hopping around to studios and picking up packages and materials requires a car. If your job doesn’t require a car, explore public transit. Spend your time commuting doing something like writing instead of staring at traffic. The savings you generate alone could allow you to move to a better area or closer to work. It’s good for the environment and your sanity. So the next time someone says “you can’t do LA without a car!” tell them they’re wrong and encourage them to be open minded about other options through experiences versus tired suburban mentality stereotypes.