Learning Los Angeles

A sunset photo of the Los Angeles skyline

Our departure from Los Angeles has been delayed a day, thanks to the arrival of 2018’s first storm. Flash flood warnings have been up all morning, and the freeway that would have brought us to Union Station — Highway 101 — lost 30 miles to water and mud.

We soldiered on for a bit, trying to catch our bus at its second stop in Hollywood, but we ended up rebooking the tickets to tomorrow for a minimal charge.

This weather comes as a surprise. I know Los Angeles as relentless sunshine, and the California drought has persisted in the background of both my trips to the city. Obviously, that’s the cursory knowledge of an occasional resident. Even my internal map of the area is a patchwork of tourist spots and my relatives’ favorite holes-in-the-wall.

A trip built around family takes on different contours than the ones you take as a tourist. You don’t go in blind, but what you see does carry the tint of your relatives’ perspectives, and that’s a blindness in itself.

I don’t say that as an indictment, just an acknowledgment: how you occupy a place will always be a subjective, personal thing, and guides, by their nature, surface specific sights, details, experiences from the endless, living swirl of your destination.

As an example: I don’t know how Southern California’s MetroLink works because my relatives drive; I know the best fish tacos in the world to be Taco Nazo’s (spectacular, or as one Yelp reviewer says, “pretty bomb,” and not even housed in a “janky” little spot anymore) because that’s the only fish taco endorsed as such to me.

(This would be a good spot to make a crass joke about fish tacos and supportive relatives if my family and I were different people. I might not have that flavor humor or history, but I can point out where they could exist.)

Habitus, man.

Dropping into a new city means arriving with your rattling box of jigsaw puzzle pieces and trying to fit them into a half-obscured picture in the span of days. On the rare occasion that she isn’t designated driver, one of my cousins pulls out this iPhone game that has her assembling a randomly generated puzzle from a stream of selected pieces. My sister and I slipped a few new shapes in there this past week, and the most that circumstances permit us to do is sand over the rougher edges and hope we don’t disrupt the established rhythm with which their family lays down pieces.

And then, of course, our time together has enriched the contents of my own battered box. One more day until the puzzle changes.