A Newcomers Guide to Life in Southern California {Guest Post}

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When we drove away from Fort Leavenworth for the last time, I waited until we were through the gates until I opened the note Allyson handed me after our last hug goodbye. And then I promptly cried. And laughed. And then cried some more. Allyson is one of those friends that everyone feels lucky to have. Almost everybody loves her – well, except for administrators of the online military spouse group she was kicked out of last year for insubordination.  She appreciates my dirty sense of humor and I absolutely love her wit and writing over at her blog Magnolias & Mimosas. She and her family recently moved to Southern California, courtesy of Uncle Sam, so I asked her to share some observations she’s made thus far. And like always, she didn’t disappoint.

I’m sure that Karen would be the first to admit that moving every 2 years or so will absolutely shatter most of the preconceived notions a person grows up having about other regions of the country. From what the women wear in Manhattan, to how flat Kansas is, to the size of a waist in Los Angeles, once you live there for a month you realize that most of what you thought you knew is just plain false. While Karen and her family are learning how divine the Indian food tastes in England and that no picture can actually do the Eiffel Tower any justice (especially at night), I am going to share with you 5 myths I’ve busted since moving to L.A. in May and 3 things that turned out to be spot-on.

  1. Everyone here is blonde, a size 0 and tan.


So, no. Although he is undoubtedly tan, he’s not a size 0. And the women aren’t either. I’m a size 14-16 and most women look like me. Sure, when you go to the beaches you will see teens and early 20’s flaunting their assets in bikinis and thongs, but you also see plenty of moms in one piece bathing suits and skirts. In a way, it is a surprisingly judgement-free zone. Every bodyis different and you don’t see anyone paying extra attention to someone in a plus size bikini (and I was the only one snapping a pic of this guy – but I knew it would come in handy someday. Also kudos to you, sir).

  1. Everyone either surfs or is in “the business”.


Yes, there are plenty of surfers spread all up and down the California coastline. If surfing is your jam, you just can’t get waves like this on the East Coast. Surfers show up in VW buses and Jeep Wranglers with their surfboards strapped to the roof and wet suits slung over shoulders. That is a thing that happens daily. Likewise, while many people are trying to catch a wave, just as many are trying to catch a break on the big screen. I attended the red carpet premiere of Hotel Transylvania 3last weekend (which is not really as impressive as it sounds – but more on that in a minute) and ended up chatting with a gentleman who is in voice training. But there are also everyday people doing everyday jobs, just like men and women in North Dakota and Maine and Texas…but with better weather. I can say with 98% certainty that my dental hygienist, my vet tech and the cashier I see all the time at Costco are not auditioning on the weekends.

  1. Seeing a celebrity on the red carpet takes a lot of planning.

Nope, not at all. Movie premieres are held at 4 theatres around the city at either 1 PM (for children’s movies) or 5:30 PM (for PG-13 and R). Simply check this website (hyperlink to www.seeing-stars.com) and look at the calendar for upcoming movie premieres. The website lists the movie, the location and the start time. Stars in the movie (and not all the stars – Adam Sandler couldn’t be bothered with a sequel premiere even though he voices one of the main characters) begin showing up (in blacked-out Escalades, no less) about 30 minutes ahead of the movie start time, but you will want to have your spot staked out at least 2 hours in advance, depending on the hype surrounding the movie and where the theater is located. I assume it’s harder to secure a good spot for a premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater than it was at Westwood Village Regency Theatre. (We were right up against the barrier and we were there 2 ½ hours ahead of time – bonus: this theatre has a Chick Fil A one block down.) Find the group of people who are sitting in their camping chairs, photos and Sharpies in hand. They are the ones who sell autographs on the internet. The stars will come over to them, but these folks also have no problem shoving you out of the way in order to get their autograph. Find a spot next to them, not amongst them. You may not get an autograph or a selfie, but you can see the celebrities and may be able to snap a good picture.

  1. Fashion is the name of the game in this town.


No one likes a pair of leggings, an ironic tshirt and a trucker hat like folks in L.A. From hiking in Runyon Canyon to hitting up The Farmer’s Market at The Grove, most people are wearing whatever is comfortable. I get compliments all the time on my $25 bamboo watch from Amazon and the Sunshine & Whiskey baseball cap I take to the beach. If anything, Los Angelinos err on the side of casual and comfy, especially around the beach towns. You may be dining in a 4-star restaurant on Manhattan Beach, but rest assured most patrons have some sand between their toes.

  1. If you want to see the famous landmarks in L.A., you will be in gridlocked traffic for hours.

OK, this is true if you are trying to visit Santa Monica Pier at 3 PM on a Saturday, but for the most part, you can get around L.A. (even the most heavily trafficked areas like Griffith Observatory and Rodeo Drive) with relative ease. It helps to have a small car and confidence in your ability to change lanes. But drivers in L.A. will let a person merge into traffic or change lanes, which is more than I can say for a lot of people driving on I-75, I-65 or I-81. Turn on Waze or Google Maps, anticipate your next 2 turns and you will be just fine. Once you arrive, parking is a whole ‘nother animal but the parking meters take credit cards and the garages aren’t as outrageously priced as the ones in NYC. If you can drive in Atlanta, Kansas City, Indianapolis or Louisville, you can drive in L.A.

Some myths I couldn’t bust:

  1. It’s always sunny in Southern California.


It hasn’t rained since we arrived on May 15. Every morning is overcast but the marine layer burns off around 10:30 AM and the sun shines, without a cloud in the sky, for the rest of the day. I forget to water my plants and my kid and we are all living in a constant state of drought. Plus my arms are at least 4 shades darker than the flesh that never sees the light of day. Florida needs to hand over its title as the Sunshine State because Cali totally has this one in the bag.

  1. A. traffic sucks.


It’s true. It’s not quite as bad as I had built up in my mind, but getting on the 405 or the 110 can look, at first glance, apocalyptic. But it moves and I’ve not yet sat in traffic for more than 14 minutes (and I’ve yet to come to a dead stop). Traffic apps have probably helped, but still…there is no such thing as “rush hour” in L..A. …it’s ALL rush hour. 24/7. OK, Sunday morning at 8 AM isn’t bad. My rule of thumb: one mile = one minute and then multiply that by 3. That’s how long it will take you to get somewhere. It hasn’t failed me yet.

  1. California is a “green” state.


There are HOV lanes and if you have an all-electric car, you get to travel in the HOV lane regardless of how many people you have riding with you. Stores charge for bags so everyoneis walking around with reusable bags tucked under their arms. The International Bird Rescue is here and they focus on cleaning and rehabilitating birds after sickness or disasters, such as oil spills. Every car licensed in CA must undergo smog testing and there are extensive directions about how to pump gas into your tank to avoid making the smog worse. And anything bigger than an SUV is rarely seen on the freeways.

Moving from Dutch Amish PA to L.A. County has been an overwhelming adjustment but it has forced me to realize that no travel is impossible. Even when you feel like you’ve leaped from one universe to another, there is still a way to get from point A to point B and you may be surprised by what you find when you get there.

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