Now settled in the Hollywood hills, Fleishman's Kev O'Sullivan needs to be creative, the American way.
I have really “starey” eyes.
They can be a little bug or ogre-like, gazing intensely at any given subject. Couple that with my extreme curiosity (read nosiness) and baaam, social awkwardness for all! Only brought to an excruciatingly awkward level on the days I forget my specs. Then, even the most innocent of bystander will be gawked at like unsuspecting prey. Creepy.
Never was this truer than on London Underground. Oh yes, the Tube was the most cringe-inducing place of all.
I would just gaze around, assessing everything and everybody around me. Tourists, shoppers, families, pets, disagreements, key workers, hooligans, daters, the young, the elderly, underground employees and my personal favo(u)rite, other bearded, bespectacled creative types heading somewhere oh so important.
My big starey eyes would take it all in, much to the visible discomfort of my fellow passengers.
So far, so predatory? I promise it’s innocent-ish.
Other people have always been my inspiration.
You know, the peculiar exchanges, insane outpourings and intriguing sartorial choices. I also don’t mind talking to randoms on the tube - musicians, mothers, maintenance workers, let’s chat. Six months into my L.A. adventure, I now realize that regardless of how unsettling my people-watching had become, it was a source of pure inspiration.
While the chugging of the train would relax my prefrontal cortex, my brain would take the inspo from around me and convert it into ideas that would either a) apply to a current client need, or b) prove creatively useful at a later date.
People do not use the underground rail network in the same way in Los Angeles. One exists and people do board it but it’s less of a cultural and social artery.
It is actually a rather complex setup with disparate stations and patchy policing. It is one of the many things I still haven’t done, but will. I think.
In L.A., the car appears to be the inspirational weapon of choice.
And boy, is there a lot of stimulus in that driver’s seat.
Now, admittedly, my prefrontal cortex is anything but relaxed behind the wheel in the City of Angels. Judgment is the name of the game as you go from one death-defying ballet of large metal fast-moving asteroids to another. Despite the bumper car-like fury, and six lane hell-tongues, some drivers appear to have parked all judgement.
People in L.A. drive like people in London drink alcohol - too much, with decreasing interest in the world around them and to inadvertently cause maximum damage.
Yet this adrenaline-pumping game is often the most inspirational time of them all.
Firstly, you spend a lot of time driving - to the grocery store, to the mall, to the galleries, the parks, the restaurants, the beach, the bars. All inspirational in themselves. One also drives to the end of the street because walking equals “ewww”. Actually, L.A. is one of the few places in the world that you must drive to where you stroll.
That long time driving can be engrossing and boring in quick succession - the more boring time AKA traffic or Carmageddon becomes time for divergent thought and potential problem solving.
Then there’s the in-car inspo - the music, the podcasts, the hand gestures, the insane radio call ins.
Recently, I heard a DJ asking listeners to call in and admit if they thought they were being paid too much. Many Angelenos called in confessing they are paid waaay too much for a trivial or superfluous job. I couldn’t work out whether it was a win for self-awareness and honesty, or a loss for all humankind and equality. Either way, I hope their bosses were and weren’t listening.
Plus, even though the car phone is older than I am - OK, almost older - its relevance is assured on the Californian freeways and highways. I can get hours of UK gossip on my commute, and I love it – despite despising phone calls.
Perhaps the potential for boredom is offset by the carnage.
Having passengers is inspirational too. Being in a car means that you're pushed into close proximity. Being so intimate and physically close to another person encourages both of you to be more open in your discussions.
Most importantly, inspiration comes in the form of L.A. streets.
There is a lunacy that exists in and around L.A.’s roads that just can’t be topped.
Architecture varies in style, era, quality and level of decay. Homeless encampments lie against $10 million beach houses, glass and steel mini-skyscrapers loom over wooden shacks and the signage, puns and neon go from tasty to tasteless within five metres.
You cannot drive down a street without some unthinkable retail concoction.
Like dog yoga, luxury wig stores, vintage/thrift stores bigger than Selfridges, multiple sock shops, botanicas, trading posts and don’t get me started on Erewhon. Which Angelenos thinks is Nowhere backwards - beautiful, charming but not always the smartest. Nohwere like it really.
In L.A., people from various socio-economic situations, deranged fashion worshippers, and almost (sometimes completely) naked folk just stroll around with little or no regard for one another. One gentleman actually got out of his car on the freeway to smoke a cigarette - no, not on the hard shoulder, in the middle of the busy road with 100 honking cars behind him. To whom he gently gave the finger.
Now, some of these sights are linked to the two deeper, systemic crises of mental health and houselessness. Some of these sights result from the spiritual, creative and cultural abandon with which Angelenos live their lives. 70-something skateboarders, studded punks in pyjamas, a gorgeously out LGBT+ community and more psychics than you can shake a wand at remind us that we’re all very different. Much needed in a society that will try and knock difference out of us.
L.A.’s streets are littered with issues, but they are also teeming with life.
Sure, I miss eerily gazing mouth-open at the other passengers, but I love being in the driver’s seat.
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