Yes, I know. What was I thinking?
After three decades on the “Left Coast,” I’ve headed back to my midwestern roots.
In 1989, I moved to California from Venezuela, with only two suitcases and $600 to my name. I had worked as a managing editor for the (now-defunct) Caracas Daily Journal, and then went freelance, traveling to Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. Moving to SoCal was something that felt temporary at the time, but turned into the one constant in my life.
One of the things that you just internalize as a journalist is that you go where the story takes you; the rhythm of daily deadlines and constant pressure to “feed the beast” is not conducive to long-term thinking, really. And so I initially looked upon living and working in Long Beach, and then Beverly Hills, Malibu, Santa Monica, Brentwood, Fremont Place and then, for the last 15 years, in the Miracle Mile district, as just a natural evolution of my attractive to being where the interesting narratives take place.
I covered Hollywood in the 90s, learning what it felt like to be part of stories that dominated the news cycles on a global basis.
It was a rude education.
Going to the Los Angeles County Superior Court to cover stories like the McMartin School Trial, or the Christian Brando trial, or, god bless us all, the O.J. Simpson trial taught me how fierce the competition could be for any scrap of information, any tidbit that could be turned into a blaring interstitial teaser for TV news.
I was working for a weekly at the time, and the restrictions of that publishing schedule shaped the way that I thought about things. We weren’t able to compete with the 24-hour cable-TV news cycles that were starting to take shape back then, so we had to try to “future-proof” our stories by finding alternative takes on events. We had to be more clever, more daring, or we would find ourselves reporting things that the audience had long since heard about. This kind of pressure, particularly when the TV reporters I was working with were daily getting speeches (more like screaming phone calls, but there you go) from their news directors that included phrases like “If you can’t get me something new today, I’ll find someone who can!!”
I learned to love this kind of pressure. It pushed me to quickly ingest information, process it, and then figure out where it could possibly go. There were, and are, many similarities between the way that good reporters think, and the way that lawyers think. No, not just about billable hours. But to assess a situation, break things down into their component blocks, the atomic bits of a situation, and then to reassemble them in your ind, to see what could possible by both the best-case and worst-case scenarios.
It was a heady time for me, and my pursuit of stories took me to every town and community in the Los Angeles area. I learned how to navigate the freeways, the winding canyon roads that led from the Westside to the Valley. I learned to love the Pacific Coast Highway, as I drove it every day back and forth to my office. Even when traffic would clog up, all I had to do was to look out the side window, to see the Pacific Ocean rolling in, and breathe deeply of the briny air
I learned how to surf while living in Malibu, although I never really got good at it. I used to drive up to Nichols Canyon State Beach, up near the Ventura County Line. At the time, it was the one beach on the entire coast that still felt authentic; the parking lot was just dirt, there were no lifeguard stations, and you felt like you were in a piece of the SoCal coast where time had stood its ground. These days, of course, Nichols Canyon is like all the other beaches; you have to pay for parking, there are bathrooms, and tourists take selfies and eat picnics where coyotes used to warily eye me from the underbrush.
And that’s another theme that started pulsing its way to my awareness. Change. After only two years in Los Angeles, I noticed just how fast things change there. Driving south on the coast road, I suddenly noticed that there were hundreds of houses on hillsides where there had been nothing the first time through.
That same thing happened up on the Sunset Strip. I arrived in LA with only theoretical knowledge of this world-famous musical landmark. I’d watched “Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip” and read about the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Van Halen and Guns’n’Roses playing the Whiskey A Go-Go, or Gazzari’s. I spent a lot of nights club-hopping, and got to see acts like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains and other grunge acts on their way up.
(More on this move in future postings)