Beach connoisseurs, soccer ball artists, and female celebrities v. paparazzi vultures in Los Angeles, CA

Exploring the city

Along the lengthy path that runs parallel to Manhattan Beach, I hear a pre-teen boy and an older guy (both on their bikes) yelling out numbers between one and ten. My first thought is that they’re ranking the women who pass them by. 

After turning to glare at them though, I realize that they’re in fact rating houses—of which there are quite a few colorful, opulent, and charming ones overlooking the coast. 

Some have doric columns; others, multiple balconies and extremely tanned retired women talking on their cell phones in lawn chairs, while their small terriers circle their feet and gaze out at all the roller bladers, bikers, beach yogees, and sand volleyball players lighting up the stretch of coast in front of them. 

I spot a French bulldog, then another one, then a third, then a fourth. They scuttle along the coastline at their owners’ heels. Has this dog breed become a new trend down in LA? I hadn’t realized.

 Sentiments toward Los Angeles tend to fall into one of two camps: those who glorify it for its sunny weather, nutrition forwardness, and opportunities for making it as a creative, and those who spurn it for its traffic, smog, and superficiality. 

Actress Gabourey Sidibe writes in her memoir that LA is “filled with trees, sunlight, houses with pools in the backyards, and gorgeous people working on their respective careers by looking to date other gorgeous people who can boost their careers.”

Author Maria Shehata described it as a “hook-up first, ask-questions-never sort of culture, a place people end up if you think you are the funniest, hottest, and most charming person in your town and think the whole world needs to know about you.”   

Passengers I drive today have nicer things to say about the metropolis. One, a stand-up comedian named Eric* who moved here from Chicago within the past few years, says he think that people like to hate on the idea of LA, “but LA itself, once you spend time there, like once you’re on a beach and look down at your skin and see that you’re tan even though it’s November— LA itself is rad.”

Eric says he struggles to find material for his stand-up now because he’s “just so happy all the time.”

“When you’re tortured or depressed or blah or anxious, it pushes you to write. Now without my demons cracking the whip I’ve got to be the one to push myself.”

Author Leslie Jamison also puts in a good word for the city (I’ve already quoted two famous people’s thoughts on LA, might as well throw in a third, right?): “It was a place people loved to call shallow or fake, but I found its strip malls and their parking lots oddly gorgeous: sunlight glimmering off gritty streets, palm trees silhouetted against smoggy sunsets.”

Personally, I love the city and am thinking about moving there at some point. I enjoy the different vibes of its many neighborhoods: Hollywood for its glitz and glam; Venice for its artsy bohemian vibe; Echo Park for its hilliness and hipster, queer-friendly feel; the beach neighborhoods for their San Diego nonchalance and gorgeousness.

“Rustic woodsy cabin meets futuristic space-craft,” I write of one of Echo Park’s coffee shops when I’m down there.  

LA is also an amazing place for Celiacs, though I won’t discover this until my diagnosis a few years after this particular Lyft-driving excursion (‘gluten-free’ wasn’t on my radar back then).

As for the traffic: I didn’t notice any more than in the Bay Area. That’s not to say it’s minimal. Just like in San Francisco, being in the car for too long down here fatigues me, as evidenced by my misreading Exposition Boulevard as Exhaustion Boulevard, then missing my exit and ending up in Culver City. 

I found many of the passengers to be friendly and accessible, quite different from the LA stereotype. I wonder if part of the reason for this is because the inside of a LYFT car tends to be where people let their guards down. The performative roles they might feel like they have to enact during the day— to secure jobs, to network, to get by at work—don’t feel as necessary.

Maybe rather than lose their souls to LA, certain people simply set them aside momentarily, then call them back when the situation permits. By day they wear the mask and follow the script; when night comes they peel it off and put it away. They step back into themselves. They re-connect with their souls.

Much like people do in every city.

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LA Passengers

I drive a middle-aged lesbian who’s a self-professed beach connoisseur and derides all SoCal beaches as dirty and unappealing, to her house in Pasadena; a man in Venice who decorates soccer balls and sells them at Venice Beach (see his full story in an upcoming entry on creative passengers); Kristen Stewart holding hands with her girlfriend in my backseat (kidding about that last one—just wanted to see if you were paying attention. Although wow, that would have been great). 

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#Lyft Overheard: The Disney D

“I’d always read it as a G,”  says the mid to late 20s woman to her male companion, of the Disney ‘D’ as we drive through downtown Los Angeles.

 “I think it’s just a very flamboyant D,”  her friend replies.

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#Lyft Quote: Baklava Heaven

“They kicked me out of high school at the age of 16. I said ‘okay.’ I started my own business. We’ve been around for twenty years. We expanded from 5,000 square feet to over 50,000. We serve Turkish coffee, baklava… All the essentials.”

—Armenian man who came into the car with a platter of baklava, headed to a barbecue

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Bigger passenger story: Young women in Hollywood v. Paparazzi Vultures, and how snap judgments flatten complex people

“Shot of cholesterol with your caffeine,” Arthur* jokes after getting into the car, tapping at the cup of butter coffee in his hand (which has just started becoming trendy down in LA).

As we drive through Studio City, talk turns to Lindsey Lohan, as Arthur has a friend who knew her. “I had a huge crush on her,” he admits. Recalling how I’d adored her in Parent Trap when I was a kid, I tell him I’m pretty sure I did too.

I remember watching her on Jay Leno back in her golden era. She jokingly scolded him for mispronouncing her name, then called him “Jay Lemon.” Her spunk, charisma, and undoubtable presence had me smiling effortlessly the whole time she was onscreen.

Few signs were present back then that glowing, pristine, and cute as a button Lindsay would “devolve into a train-wreck” as some unkindly referred to her transformation. But four years later, when she returned for another episode of Jay Leno, hints of potential drug and alcohol abuse had begun to surface. Lindsay shrugged them off though, assuring Leno she was “just a young adult having fun.”

Few signs were present back then that glowing, pristine, and cute as a button Lohan would “devolve into a train-wreck” as some unkindly referred to her transformation.

While I’m sure a combination of factors contributed to her breaking point—many of which I can’t see, will never know, and are beyond my ability to speculate on— what I can comment on is the general phenomenon that I’ve noticed, which beyond Lindsay Lohan has negatively impacted countless female Hollywood stars from Amanda Bynes to Britney Spears.

As Emma Gray, Opinion Columnist for MSNBC, wrote: “Popular culture has spent years putting Britney Spears and women like her up on pedestals and profiting from their labor only to gleefully rip them down.”

Back in 2007 as Britney Spears’ personal life imploded, for example, the press was there to pick up those pieces and hold them to the light for the world to see, alongside a mean-spirited side helping of snide commentary. They were there to goad our basest instincts as consumers. They were there to pen headlines drawing un-nuanced attention to her mental instability.

Even though it’s sexist, some of us are all too quick to eat it up.

Humans have this unfortunate habit of judging others based off limited and biased information. It’s common to look at a person, glean a few random details about their life, then come to a conclusion—if even privately, in our own heads. We think we know all there is to know about them. We stop seeing them for who they really are.

How do we feel when others do that to us?

 Before Britney “attacked” the pappariazi, she was harassed and vultured by them—but the media didn’t tell us any of that back then.

I think every time we bully or gossip about a person’s mental health though (be that person a celebrity or not), it kills brain cells. We become less empathetic, less thoughtful, less accommodating of nuance. Like smoking, judging people based on a few isolated facts alone is hurtful to them, but in the long run the person it harms the most is our own self.

I don’t share these thoughts with Arthur; they occur within the privacy of my own head for the remainder of our mostly quiet ride after that initial Lindsay Lohan exchange.

As we drive by a park around the corner, the sight of a long-haired man dressed in a yellow poncho and a backwards grey cap drags me out of my head. The man crouches in the grass, fanning himself with one of those big, opulent fans— which, pink and lavender, covers almost his entire face.

I’m back in LA. I’m smelling al pastor wafting from the nearby taco truck. After I drop Arthur off, I’m thinking and recording these finals thoughts:

Lindsay deserved better. Women deserve better. All humans, celebrity or not, deserve better.

*Thanks for reading! Check back soon for more Lyft stories. You can follow us on IG @lyft_tales

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Photo credits

Baklava– http://ardmilad.ir/en/product/nul-flour-especially-baklava/

Britney Spears– https://www.polygon.com/2021/2/12/22278154/free-britney-spears-documentary-framing-instagram-conservatorship-social-media.

Published by esteph42190

A 30-year-old queer bilingual writer born and raised in the Bay Area, I’ve been writing since before I knew how to spell. Balancing my generative energy with a desire to inform, as a child I printed and distributed to classmates publications that included The News Newsletter and Health Digest (ironic considering I also ran an illicit candy business that landed me in the principal’s office several times). As a student at UC Davis I wrote for The California Aggie, with pieces ranging from an exploration of gender roles in the movie Tangled to my own weekly psychology column. After graduating I kept a bilingual blog of my 14 months living in Montevideo, Uruguay, and upon returning continued to blog about social issues and human psychology.

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