Los Angeles smells exactly like I thought it would- like sun tan lotion and affluence and asphalt and organic eucalyptus. I'm here with my colleagues to support Urban Wildlife Week in L.A. The spotlight is on P-22, a mountain lion who made the dangerous trek from the Santa Monica mountains, crossing several highways including the 101 and the 405, to end up in Griffith Park.
The hotel we're staying at, Farmers Daughter, can only be described as "so L.A.". The lobby is open and airy and the staff is friendly and accommodating. The pool is flanked by a living wall of flowering plants and a line of oversized rubber duckies are awaiting the next tipsy girl's night or lonely middle child. You can talk to the two caged parakeets while you wait to be checked in. Or eat several handfuls of BBQ chips from their complimentary basket as I did, crumbs catching in my sports bra, the red seasoning caking in the corners of my mouth forming the closest thing to lipstick that I've worn in months. I wash the chips down with the complimentary mini bottle of Brut sitting next to a welcome note from the staff. #blessed.
It is unseasonably hot for late October in L.A. and I pity the poor souls who decided to celebrate Urban Wildlife Week by retracing P-22's steps, a 50 mile trek from the Santa Monicas to Hollywood. I'll be joining them. I contemplate feigning an injury but I've never been good at lying and my boss will see right through me. We set out from Tree People onto a dusty trail. Patches of shade are few, the hills are steep, the breeze nonexistent. There is a good view of downtown L.A. to our left, but I'm trying too hard to keep up with the leaders to take much of a look. Like hell my ass is getting left in these mountains. There are lions out here. By the time we reach Mulholland Drive, the dirt and grime have mixed with my sweat, forming streaks across my face and giving my legs an earthy tan. It is ungodly hot.
We hiked a little over 6 miles that afternoon, ending at an overlook, downtown L.A to the right, the famous HOLLYWOOD sign the the left. And in the middle, the 101, a multi-lane freeway forming an artery from the heart of downtown all the way north to Washington State. It is also known as El Camino Real, the Royal Road, replicating, more or less, the road that connected the old Spanish missions and pueblos. At some point, presumably at night, P-22 crossed this freeway and made his way into Griffith Park, where he is barricaded in by highways, emphasizing the need for a wildlife crossing in L.A.
As someone who has spent most of their adult life in the DC area, the difference between Californians and East Coasters is blatantly apparent. For one, people let you merge into traffic. Without honking or gesturing aggressively. I'm not even sure I got flipped off the entire time we were there. No one told me I was an asshole. The flagger at the construction site wasn't some apathetic 20-something making vague gestures as to where you were supposed to cross the street, but a knowledgeable crew member who helped us to the safety of the coffee shop parking lot. "Have a good day. Enjoy your coffee!" said seemingly without sarcasm. Someone in Starbucks told us to have a great day. I believe the phrase "God bless you" was uttered. Again without sarcasm. Vehicles making a right-hand turn don't try to inch their way between pedestrians. They wait, even when they could turn without even coming close to killing someone. California makes me want to be a nicer person. And then I get stuck behind a pair of lackadaisical Californians in the airport security line, slowly threading their belts through their belt loops and collecting their flip-flops from the TSA bins and my inner-Washingtonian comes rushing back with full force. It is taking every fiber of my being to keep me from loudly asking them to PLEASE move ALONG so I can GET my BAG FORTHELOVEOFGOD.
So yeah. L.A. Not really a place I would elect to go on my own but I'm glad I got to see it. I'll be back for next year's Urban Wildlife Week. I hope they still serve BBQ chips in the lobby.