Riding Out the Pandemic Is So Much Better in the Bay Than Los Angeles
While the world fell apart, I needed a safe haven: Oakland
Illustration: Randi Pace
This week in The Bold Italic, we are publishing The Californian’s Dilemma, a series that goes beyond the headlines about the “California Exodus,” featuring essays from San Franciscans about why they’re choosing to stay or leave. Check back daily for new essays.
My Dearest Los Angeles,
As you now know, I’m gone. I left at the end of April, when I finally said, “It’s over. I’m done. I quit. I can’t take it anymore, L.A.”
That pandemic night, I packed everything I could from my Angeleno bungalow into my navy blue Subaru and left for greener pastures in Oakland, a place I had faith in while the world unraveled.
Two bottles of wine deep, I uttered, “Hey, baby, I want to move to L.A.” My boyfriend looked surprised.
“Really?” he said, surprised. “But you love the Bay so much.”
“I know, but look.” The Pacific Ocean beamed.
L.A., you are beautiful. Your people are beautiful. Your beaches are beautiful. Your houses are beautiful. You have your physical appearance going for you in at least one half of your sprawling urban madness. You are seductive that way.
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“Do it!” exclaimed my friend Tessa, across the table from Andrew and me. Tessa, always a cheerleader for a wine-based decision. I am certain we raised a glass to my imminent move to the City of Angels.
And that was that. Without a thought, without hesitation, I proclaimed I’d be moving. And move I did.
My friends gathered in Berkeley the night before I left to bid me farewell for my trip south. That memory stayed with me for years to come — mainly because that sort of gathering became way more complicated in my new city.
L.A., why was it always so hard to get your people gathered in one place at one time? Why are you so flaky? Why is scheduling so goddamn difficult?
I said I’d stay two years, just long enough for Andrew to finish law school, and then we’d move back. Well, plans changed. Two turned to five. Five turned to seven. Seven lonely years in Los Angeles.
Everything took work. Social connection never came easily. Parties, yes. Drinking, always. But I’m talking about realness and depth and meaningful connection. It was a void the entire time.
L.A., you introduced me to a loneliness I never knew. There was an emptiness to you, even when your freeways were jammed together for miles like an ocean swelling and roaring. In quantity, you never lacked; in depth, you struggled.
From the beginning, I struggled. There was no honeymoon period. The feelings of connectedness and togetherness I’d felt in San Francisco’s East Bay cities vanished when I got to L.A. The churches were huge, often homophobic and transphobic, and our interactions superficial. I tried so goddamn hard to like it. To socialize.
But it was never the same. Los Angeles wasn’t the Bay.
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Andrew knew it. My boyfriends to follow knew it. One even broke up with me with the accusation that my heart was not in L.A. — allegedly I’d left one foot planted firmly in a redwood forest of Oakland. And I had.
I missed the forests. I missed the cooler temperatures and the morning fog. I loathed your heat. I missed the long hikes and the plethora of green parks to romp in. You didn’t hold a candle to the flame of that fresh, crisp, redwood air.
Los Angeles, I need to apologize to you. You never told me I had to stay. In fact, you told me to go. That I wasn’t one of you. That I wasn’t built for a city like you. You gave me permission to go, and yet I stayed.
I wanted to make it work. There was some sort of Angeleno pride that I developed as the years went on. Like I’d earned some badge of honor for toughing it out and “making it” after all those years.
I’d watch friends prepare to leave L.A. I envied them. They couldn’t take it anymore. One would ask me, “Are you really happy here?” I’d adamantly insist I was — L.A., you taught me how to curate my appearance.
So, L.A., why did I leave you so suddenly in the midst of a pandemic?
I had felt so damn alone for the entirety of the seven years prior that the experience after shelter in place hit layered it on even more. So much so that it was traumatizing in a way. There I was — alone, sheltering in place. Los Angeles had always been isolating. It felt the same before and after.
This was the terrifying realization for me: that the deep sense of isolation that spread through the county was the same isolation that had permeated my life in L.A. prior to that moment.
Nothing changed and everything changed when Covid-19 came ravaging through.
I knew it was time to go. I couldn’t take it anymore.
L.A., it’s as if you were built for a pandemic. Not only in terms of how it spread but also the isolation this pandemic breeds. Your people love a reason to self-isolate, to stay away from one another. You were made for this pandemic.
I didn’t want to muscle through the vapidness anymore. It was time to go home — well, to the place that feels like home, that’s been my home away from home. To a place built more around interconnectedness. To a place where people are trying to find ways, off the interwebs, to safely connect. This pandemic, it has the capacity to bring out the worst or the best in its people.
L.A., I left you because I ached for genuine connection. I’m a transgender bisexual male, earlyish on in my gender transition. I knew I’d find my people here, and guess what, I have. My life here was filled with transgender men and queer men much like me.
My social calendar this week — it’s full. With minimal force or effort, people gather (with masks on, in socially distanced ways).
I’ve reconnected with old friends; I’ve made new friends. My IG page is getting fewer likes because I stopped curating a feed (and a life) that was “likable.” But I’d take only five likes from people I love and adore over 100 relative strangers any damn day of my life. There are real people behind the Instagram likes here.
I don’t have to hide my brains in Oakland, my intellectualism. I don’t have to hide my penchant for racial justice or equity. I don’t have to hide any part of me; there’s room here for all of me — Daniel, Danni, D.
Los Angeles, I’m afraid I was always too much for you. Oakland is made for me — a city built of people who are thoughtful and intentional about their identities, privileges, and marginalization.
Los Angeles, you were fun while I was drunk. Sober, I detested you.
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When we wake up from this pandemic and our community runs through the streets embracing one another, loving one another, and holding hands with Pride — the Bay, this is where I want to be.
At last, here I am. I may have lost some likes, but I am happy and connected here — pandemic or not.
Goodbye, Los Angeles. I don’t miss you.
And Oakland, my darling, I’m so happy to see you again.