Los Angeles asks much of its citizens.
While many cities operate under the direction of a select few, Los Angeles only works with the buy-in of everyone. It certainly isn't easy, either. Dense cities like New York or San Francisco have the luxury of human collision to spark collective thought, joint direction, and action. At a population density of 8,282/square mile versus SF's 17,867/square mile or NYC's staggering 27,778/square mile, Los Angeles is less of a city and more of a geographic afterthought.
To support this afterthought, however, we must commit to it, and it to commit to it is asking quite a lot. We are asked to brave traffic and parking, post-work exhaustion and hunger, and the glow of Netflix and a comfortable, sturdy bed.
I never bought into these excuses, mostly because I didn't have the time. Like many college community organizers I was shuttled from on-campus culture show planning into neighborhood cultural working, and to this day I still find myself in any given week with a calendar of events, meetings, and dinners, all meant to build the structures and mechanisms that drive Los Angeles forward.
Last night I drove into Little Tokyo for a first-of-the-year meeting, passing other commuters rushing home to cook their Blue Apron packages and pick up friends for 2015 dinner dates. I snuck down side streets and hesitantly merged into main thoroughfares to the rhythm of 6PM homecomings and kids already bored of their winter breaks. How lucky, I thought to myself as I floated into turns and right-of-ways. How lucky it must be to just go home.
A text arrived inviting me to a dinner in San Gabriel at Jazz Cat, a motley gathering of friends I hadn't seen in months. It would have to wait. I chose not to respond as a red light turned green and I entered the compressed accordion of Downtown LA.
I turned onto First Street, passing a circle of folks outside LAPD. The #BlackLivesMatter folks Occupying LAPD we having their nightly meeting. I recognized faces. I had already donated items and food and would be bringing more over the weekend, but I wanted to join the circle. This movement needs bodies, voices, ears.
But I parked on San Pedro and walked towards Far Bar instead, adjusting my backpack/laptop carrier as I crossed the street. There are a great many things I'd like to be doing right now. Perhaps I should have rescheduled this meeting? The first week of the year is a busy one. Yes, next year I will push this meeting to another week.
And as soon as these thoughts built physicality in my mind, I noticed a friend from the window of Suehiro in a dinner meeting herself. I walked into Far Bar, where my meeting was, and ran into another group of friends regrouping for 2015. I approached my table and found another meeting finishing up as a prelude to mine.
Los Angeles asks much of us, and to survive we must learn when and how to answer. There will always be the downtime, the hangouts, the rallies, and the places to be. I am learning that the power of saying "No," is not just the rejection of action; instead it is the affirmation of being present and whole in one place.
My mind only wandered a bit through the meetings. I wondered what my friends ordered at Jazz Cat and what my friends were planning at LAPD. But instead of following those threads I found myself focused in the moment, ready to be where I needed to be.