As a kid I rarely found reason to venture beyond L.A.'s Westside. But as a new college graduate, I found my birthplace suddenly felt vast, unwieldy. I wasn't yet sure who I wanted to be or what I wanted to do, much less whom I wanted to do it with. The uncertainty seemed mirrored by my hometown's rambling, mismatched geography.
I went on a series of bad first dates with boys who lived in Hollywood, Venice Beach, the Valley, hoping one of them would give me a sign indicating which neighborhood might be right for me. I yearned to explore my city. But most of my dates were content to sit on the couch and order takeout.
I eventually moved into a rental in Mar Vista and gave up on dating. My roommate Michele and I liked to go see bands after work. We drove to shows in Hollywood, Silver Lake, downtown L.A. The reality of the cramped cubicles we endured at entry-level jobs faded as soon as the lights went down and the amps turned up. The bars and clubs were never more than a half-hour drive, but they felt a million miles away.
One Saturday night, we ended up at Raji's on Hollywood Boulevard. Pushing toward the stage, Michele and I recognized someone from a gig in Highland Park a week before, where my friend had teased me about my recent renouncement of men. I had scanned the crowd, stopping on a guy with close-shaved brown hair and a thrift-store jacket similar to my own. I pointed across the room, telling Michele he was my "dream man."
A week later, here he was, bobbing his head in time with the music. Michele gave me a shove, and I ended up standing next to him. It was too loud to have much of a conversation, but when the lights came back up David handed me his business card. It was homemade, decorated with a cartoon picture of a rocket ship in flight.
Our first dates were on my side of town: dinner in Santa Monica, a revival flick at the Nuart. After a couple of weeks, he invited me to come see where he lived, in a loft at a downtown complex called the Brewery. I drove past the Men's Central Jail, exiting the 101 Freeway and heading down Main Street. I was a sheltered Westside girl who'd never driven alone at night to downtown before, and the picture that "Main Street" evoked was a far different image than what I saw out my car window. A conversation I'd recently had with my mom replayed in my head. "You'll never meet a nice Jewish boy at those bars you like to go to," she said. Clutching a piece of scrap paper with an address in one hand and holding the steering wheel with the other, I wondered if she had been right.
But my new guy shared my interest in music and film, and over time his appreciation for the city was irresistible. On our way to a matinee, he'd detour to show me the corner in Hollywood where he'd had his first apartment, in a building where Quentin Tarantino had filmed part of "Pulp Fiction." En route to see a band, he'd point out the downtown street where David Lynch had shot a climactic scene in "Wild at Heart." An undiscovered Los Angeles was playing backdrop to our adventures, and I began to fall in love with him and my city at the same time.
Soon, we moved in together in a duplex in the Hollywood Hills, down the street from the apartment where Elliott Gould played detective Philip Marlowe in one of our favorite movies, Robert Altman's "The Long Goodbye."
One night, my boyfriend uprooted a sunflower growing in our tiny frontyard and brought it into our living room. Before I could scold him for the dirt clods on the carpet, he was down on one knee. I said yes. We celebrated over bowls of matzo ball soup at Canter's. Laminated menus, grumpy waitress and all, it was the most romantic meal I'd ever had.
David and I were married six months later, at the L.A. Athletic Club downtown. That was 16 years ago. My husband became a location scout, a perfect fit for the guy who helped me see L.A. through new eyes. Many of our favorite bars and clubs are gone, but we've kept a few reminders from our early days. In our garage are two bricks David salvaged from Raji's, just after it was bulldozed to make way for L.A.'s Red Line subway. And the rocket ship business card remains in my wallet.
Blum is a writer in Los Angeles.