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West LA: Where the Grass Isn't Greener

During high school--before I had a car--I’d take the Gold Line into Downtown Los Angeles, exploring The Last Bookstore, Grand Central Market, Chinatown and Little Tokyo. High school was full of stressful AP courses and some teenage angst for good measure so exploring these parts of downtown served as a nice breather. Playing tourist was fun and I still adore many of these spots and have shown them to many visiting friends.

I am proud to be born in Los Angeles and raised in neighboring San Gabriel Valley, “the 626,” where boba is arguably more king than UCI. The eastside of Los Angeles is often overlooked by many, including maps from publications like LA Weekly where it is not even included as part of Los Angeles. Growing up on the eastside and becoming familiar with the city center, it’s annoying to me that so many people view only West LA as Los Angeles. 

I have always been curious about the grass on the other side: West LA. This summer I got the chance to take on a taste of the Westside by living in Westwood and taking UCLA courses as a visiting UC student. Unlike the boroughs of New York, LA is really a series of cities stapled together with a haphazard freeway system which out-of-towners are surprised to find. I understand omitting the eastside from tourist maps as the area is not full of tourist sites. But if you want to get an authentic sense of how local people of color live in Los Angeles, the area is worth a visit. In reality, West LA is just one part of town that even I had only experienced on field trips and day trips prior.

While living around UCLA, I saw plenty of markers of typical LA culture: twelve dollar wellness shots, hordes of yoga-mat bearers on Sunday afternoons and insane traffic. Traffic is nothing new to me but the weekly occurrence of taking twenty minutes to go two miles wore on me. It was awesome that I was so near the Getty Villa, Santa Monica and Venice hotspots, but because of the traffic I might have well been back on the other side of town. Traffic is so bad that UCLA students actually use Uber and Lyft to get around campus and Westwood. No shade but it made me see UCI’s bustling Ring Road as the most navigable thing on the planet.

But the most serious problem that I dealt with was the concerning class division between the homeless population and West LA’s uber rich. Seeing such dramatic divisions in wealth was eye-opening to the negative side of LA’s culture. For example, I was invited to a barbecue at a multi-million dollar home in neighboring Brentwood by my roommate’s coworkers. But when I’d go out for groceries outside my apartment, I’d regularly be weaving around homeless individuals. One memorable moment occurred when a shirtless homeless man cursed at me for almost bumping into him. The homeless situation is a serious situation that the government and citizens of Los Angeles should properly rectify through rehabilitation. On the other hand, students should also feel safe in the neighborhoods they reside. 

Although I enjoyed UCLA’s campus and staff, I’ve learned that the grass on the other side definitely isn’t greener--in fact, it might be in need of some serious care. The most green things were the ubiquitous weed shops. West LA isn’t for me and being a Film major, that throws somewhat of a wrench in my future plans. West LA wasn’t what I anticipated and I’m still a bit confused as to how UCLA students get up to everything they do. Although I hate to complain, I want to give my honest experience of the “LA” that everyone envisions.