Sitting under the hazy West Hollywood sunlight, my Italian friend Michaela, a well-traveled expatriate, broke out the reason for our meeting under the soft filter of cafe umbrellas and the glints reflecting off everyone's dark Pradas: "You have to meet Josh," she said, stirring her cafe au lait.
"Well," I replied -- sipping my soy chai and looking at the parade of hip-hugged, spiky-haired, denim-clad Eurocentric types (Valley residents, for all I knew) -- "describe him."
"Josh is not your typical L.A. guy," she said in her ennui- inflected European accent, "but he is not a nerd, either."
Meaning: Josh didn't have a screenplay, novel or film in the works, nor was he in a band, AA or Scientology, nor did he regularly employ an agent, manager, publicist, hairstylist or yoga instructor. He had neither head shots stashed in his trunk nor five new premises for the next reality show. Josh, according to Michaela, didn't seem to be suffering from any of the neuroses afflicting residents of this helium-filled "America's Next Top Model" episode of a city.
What sold me, though, was that Josh was not a resident of "First Stop, L.A."
My friend Vivian, herself a First Stop resident, was the first to coin this term. It refers to the area bordered by Santa Monica Boulevard to the north, Wilshire Boulevard to the south, La Brea Avenue to the East and La Cienega Boulevard to the west, populated by industry types and first-time Angelenos.
First Stop, L.A. is the pseudo-campus for scores of the post-college actor, comedian, model, Midwestern set, who arrive in the city not knowing any better. I myself was a victim of First Stop, L.A. After graduating from UCLA, my first real place was a chockablock rental located squarely off Melrose. The area is hip, young, fun. With its revolving door of new entrants and streets teeming with car washes, coffee bars and trendy urbanized joints, First Stop, L.A. represents not only the hopes and aspirations of a legion of transplants but also a segment of dating that gives L.A. a bona fide bad-hussy reputation.
"The area around Urth Cafe is First Stop, L.A.," Vivian says. The Coffee Bean at Fairfax and Sunset is, according to Vivian, "Sooooooo First Stop, L.A.! That whole Virgin Megastore/Crunch area too."
Dating in these parts is all about "eye candy, all image and 'what you can do for me,' " says Vivian, a transplanted New Yorker who aspires to move out of First Stop. "Dating revolves around career. You're either hot and young and look good or a studio executive."
Most people who come to L.A. aren't focused on settling down, says Vivian. "Either you're a writer who's developing a sitcom or you're a producer, director, actor; it's all about what you do." If L.A. is such a toxic dating vending machine full of quick snacks, a city that exists more in the pages of InStyle magazine's list of ins and outs, I took the idea of area and identity into consideration.
Meanwhile, my friends' relationships have migrated eastward. Girlfriends of mine are dating boys who are decidedly outside of First Stop. They reside in the up-and-coming and affordable areas of Lincoln Heights, Highland Park, Eagle Rock, Pasadena and even the South Bay -- First Stops for first-time home buyers intent on building nests and not, say, relationships with the doormen at Miyagi's.
"He lives in the 'hood, Lincoln Heights," says my friend Minnie, who's just started seeing a guy named Joe. "He does what he wants, and not just because everyone else is doing it."
That Michaela's available bachelor, Josh, actually lived outside First Stop seemed a refreshing thought. I was curious: He sounded like the kind of guy I'd like to meet. But Michaela warned me, "He is not trying to be cool. He's not trying to look like an actor or anything either."
As in, so Josh probably wasn't the Jude Law look-alike bartender working at Formosa Cafe (a First Stop watering hole), nor was he trying be anything he's not.
I quickly made a mental log of disasters in my recent dating past: the indie musician living in K-town without health insurance; the artist/painter living in First Stop, L.A.; the aspiring actor from New York City whose greatest role yet has been as a stand-in in a made-for-TV film; the aspiring novelist/barista/future unemployed schmo. Hmm. What did I have to lose?
I guess the parable here is that most guys would score points just by being themselves -- to have the courage to live in L.A. and not be sinkholed in someone else's idea of success.
Dating outside of First Stop, L.A., would mean meeting guys who use less product in their hair than I do. Imagine that, a man who doesn't call hair product "product." I told Michaela, "Give the guy my number."
Heseon Park can be reached at email@example.com.
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