I was initially going to write this blog post up in two parts – the first, a bereft goodbye to Bondi; the place I call home; the second, an observation of my first impressions of living in LA. However, while on a four-hour stopover in Auckland en route to the US – the place I had planned on penning my tearful farewell to Sydney – I was commissioned some paid freelance writing, and subsequently, said post was delayed somewhat.
Alas, my arrival at LAX was far from smooth sailing. Prior to take off my Melbournian friend Val, who I met many moons ago one stifling hot summer in Santorini, had text me warning me that immigration officers aren’t unknown to give visitors a grilling upon landing in LA. Given that my visit is purely for pleasure – that it is in fact simply a means to an end – the end goal being permanent residency in Australia, I quickly abated any concerns she had for me. Little did I know what was to come.
Following almost twenty-four hours of travel on a humdinger of a hangover that crossed two different time zones, I touched down in the states sufficiently tired and rather bleary eyed. After scanning my passport I was directed to a short queue that led to three different desks, with immigration officers ready and waiting for their next piece of bait. On approaching said desk, my confidence that I wouldn’t face any trouble passing through immigration at this point started to dwindle. It was when I was asked how long I would be staying in the states – just shy of three months – that things started to go awry. Despite explaining that I had a return ticket, that my accommodation was booked and paid for; that we had travel insurance; that I would be living with my boyfriend who had just competed in a dance competition in Arizona, that I would be doing yoga teacher training; that no, I had no plans to work while in LA; indeed, despite the fact that the visa I was on was for a full ninety days (my time in LA comes to 80), the grilling continued. I was soon taken aside and told to wait for someone to come and collect me. Having already text my boyfriend to let him know I had landed, I took my phone out of my bag to call him and update him on the situation, only to be barked at that no phones were allowed, and should I be seen with it again, it would be confiscated.
I was eventually escorted into a sparse and sallow room with plastic chairs and felt-tip drawn posters reiterating said phone ban. A smattering of people occupied the seats, and an armed officer patrolled the room, ensuring that phones weren’t being used; that luggage wasn’t being left on walkways. I had to ask before using the loo, and was subsequently searched before being able to do so. Four long hours passed in the waiting room, in which someone was dragged passed me in handcuffs; she was tall and overbearing, rolls of fat spilling over her jeans. Another man – who was called up before me – was asked how many times he’d been in jail; another was grilled as it became evident that him and his pregnant wife – who had arrived the previous day – had travelled to the US from Eastern Europe so his wife could give birth to a future American citizen.
Suffice it to say the experience was a harrowing one, and the inner workings of my mind went in to overdrive as I contemplated every possible outcome. When I was eventually called to speak to an immigration officer, we went over the same discussion I had had with the previous one, and thankfully – due to the fact that my yoga teacher training had been booked and paid for – my passport was stamped and I was granted entry; not that I was entirely sure I wanted it at this point.
The drive to our new apartment took place at dusk; the smog of the city rising above the freeway; the sky big and expansive, a smudge of purple on the horizon. After a fitful night’s sleep my boyfriend and I went out to explore our new neighbourhood the following day. Hollywood – a place so synonymous with glitz and glamour; with the rich and the beautiful – is anything but. While parts of LA – the famous Rodeo Drive and affluent suburb of Beverly Hills – seep from the streets’ very pores, LA as a whole; or certainly what I’ve seen of it, is a place of smoke and mirrors and shattered dreams. Homeless people line the streets, their belongings in bags that are bursting and broken. The heart and the hustle of the aspiring actors, the would-be singers that migrate to LA awash with ambition and aspirations are evident on every corner your turn, every cafe you visit.
The beauty of Bondi is a stark contrast to Hollywood’s so called bright lights. I’m slowly adjusting to the noisy highways, the wide roads, the soot and the smog. In moving to LA I’ve done the unthinkable and burst the Bondi bubble I was very much a part of; one where everything is simple and safe and scenic and serene. Whether I’ll learn to love LA’s grit I’m yet to discover, but if the point of travel; indeed if the point of life is to experience things anew, to live outside of one’s comfort zones and to broaden one’s horizons, I have a feeling that LA will do exactly that.