I love big cities. The pulse of city life, the exhilaration, the feeling that anything could happen – and often would. I loved London for all of these things. But what I loved about big-city life is precisely what started to annoy me once I had children. The streets started to feel too crowded, the public transportation a nuisance. Bus drivers barely tolerate you. I would longingly look through the windows of independent shops, but I wouldn’t dare enter with two kids who might wail and break something. You curse the pace, and the people who huff as you try to negotiate a stroller up and down escalators on the tube. You sweat with the effort of trying to keep up. Everyone always seems to be in a huge hurry.
So why do I miss it? I think it’s the anticipation and the excitement of being in a place where anything still feels possible. Los Angeles feels like this to me – and over the weekend I got to visit the city without any children to distract me. I take the train up from San Diego and it goes along the coast. The view from the window is typical southern California – wealthy beach towns are perched on the edge of the Pacific ocean, and I see tiny surfers bob up and down on the waves. Things get more gritty as you approach Los Angeles Union Station in downtown.
My friend picks me up and we head straight to a bar. We aren’t wasting any time. But we no longer know what is trendy and how to find it. We choose a busy street in downtown Los Angeles – an area that has been regenerated over the last 20 years – and stumble across a door with no name. I figure that anything with no name and a black door with a lion knocker is bound to be trendy. We get lucky. It’s a bar with lots of seating, big mirrors and chandelier lights; there’s 80s music playing and, critically at my age, we can hear each other talk.
The atmosphere feels both decadent and warm. We later discover that we’re in The Association. The bartender asks us if we have ever been there before and we both shrug no. He informs us that the happy hour goes until 9pm, which explains the $5 cocktails on the menu. I don’t think I’ve ever paid $5 for a cocktail, and I’m giddy with the thought of it.
After three Palomas (a tequila-based drink with grapefruit and soda) we end up in a restaurant up the street. It’s the perfect evening out and we feel happy with ourselves for still knowing how to find a decent bar without having to stop and ask a 25-year-old wearing tight jeans.
The next day we eat and shop and drink, mostly in that order. I forgot how much I enjoy the company of my oldest friends. When you have a family and responsibilities, you lose touch with the person you once were because you are so often thinking about someone else. I feel like I am in college again, with the freedom to choose what I do. No wonder people say that youth is wasted on the young. I don’t regret my life now, but I do miss not answering to anyone else and occasionally eating cereal for dinner if I feel like it. All I would have to worry about was myself.
The night draws in and, at my urging, we stop off at a supermarket to buy some vodka in preparation for our night out. The three of us, who are old college friends from UCLA, dress up to go out to a bar and restaurant called The Tasting Kitchen in Venice. It’s crowded and we get pushed by loud drinkers brandishing cocktails. We order three different drinks (expertly made), which I do regret the next day, and we stop off for one more at a Parisian bistro-style bar on the way home. We fall into bed at about 3am after eating heart-shaped brownies we’d bought at a shop in Atwater. The memory is hazy but I think I ate mine in about two bites. It could be an episode of Sex and the City, minus the expensive clothes.
I mostly sleep on the train home, trying not to focus on the queasy belly that tightens sporadically. It chastises me for thinking that I am still in my twenties. I think quite a bit about London and my friends. I miss them and I think about them often. I wonder if they have forgotten about me. I wonder if a year away has cured them of any nostalgia for our friendship, or if they have deleted me from their mobile phone contacts. Everyone is so busy in a city like London. There is hardly time to think about anyone else. And everything in London is incredibly transient – people come and go all the time.
It has been a long time since I lived in Los Angeles. When I left the city I was still a naive college girl with a car that looked like a golf cart. I had bad clothes and made some questionable choices. The friends who knew me then have not been ever-present in my adult life. All of us have lived in various cities and countries in the last 15 years since we graduated from college. And, still, I feel like I can just fall into a conversation with them without any effort. We don’t need to say anything; I don’t feel uncomfortable with silence either. It’s what I want from my friends in London. I want to know that if I can very rarely go back to the UK, they will still know me and still accept me without all the preliminary niceties of a new acquaintance. And I’d expect to be taken to a bar where we could reminisce over, and laugh about, our youth.