How to survive in L.A. - for at least a week

by Alden Olmsted

– L.A. resident 1989-90, 2001-03, 2008 -11, presently

50,000 people every month?!

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When I came back to Los Angeles (the third time) a friend told me about a stat he'd heard - that every month roughly 50,000 people move into L.A., and roughly 50,000 people leave. Presumably not the same people.

Moving sucks.

Whether that's exactly true or not is irrelevant, like lots of things in La La Land.. perception is in fact, reality. I don't need to know if it's EXACTLY 50,000 people, I just know that on plenty of streets in L.A. on a given Saturday morning you'll see the following: Moving trucks, best friends, and free couches on the streets.

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A lot of somebodys be goin' somewhere.

Back to you.

In the screenplay of you here's where we're at:



A bleary-eyed (girl, boy, man, woman, figure) exits the cab of a moving truck and stretches their tired body as fast food wrappers and sugary drinks litter the ground around them. A yappy dog YAPS in the black still night. They are exhausted but their hope is as tall as the newest downtown skyscraper. They're not just gonna make it in LA, they're gonna OWN THIS TOWN.


Our hero, heroine, returns to their car after another audition gone nowhere to find similarly that their hand-me-down big sister's (Toyota, Honda, Ford, etc..) is also nowhere. Gone. Disappeared. A parking officer lingers.

YOU (distraught)

Excuse me but I parked my car right here about an hour ago... do you where it is?


Three tickets in one month'll get you towed every time honey. Your car? Sh*t if I know - probably in Vernon. Maybe Downey.


Who's Vernon? Where the h*** is Downey?!


South. Call an Uber.

Our hero/ heroine breaks down into tears and collapses on the hot pavement somewhere in mid-city. Their thought? Maybe this was a bad move. Maybe this was the worst move they've ever made.

Maybe LA just isn't for you.

That's what you'll think but of course you're wrong. Live here long enough and you WILL get a parking ticket. And by "long" I mean over one month. In fact you will get a few tickets. Some will be 100% your fault and some will be nitpicking little *$&#^@! that will drive you to use language you've only seen in a David Mamet flick.

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But before we start...

The number one question newcomers really want to know - before where does Kim eat brunch, or how to get in the SOHO Lounge, the one question everyone new wants to know is: How long does it really take to get around?

Answer: 20 minutes.

Yes - everywhere in LA takes 20 minutes to get to.

Of course this is a lie. But there are some lies that are self-comforting and are therefore basically harmless, and this is one of them. Do you really want to admit that it took you over an hour to get home from Hollywood last night? Of course not because then you wouldn't go to Hollywood again for six months, like most west-siders. Or that at 1 A.M. you sat in standstill 405 traffic due to police activity - ONE BLOCK from your exit? Of course you don't- you'd never leave the house.

But the crazy thing? You'll be amazed how often it actually does take right around 20 minutes to go many places. Heading to Burbank? 20 minutes. Want to check out LACMA? 20 minutes. Leaving Santa Monica after 4pm on a weekday? Don't even try it- find a happy hour and chill until at least 8.

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Let's begin - How to survive in the City of Angels

1. Buy a book of stamps.

If you don't believe me you really shouldn't read any further - you're here one day and you're already questioning well-meaning advice? Stamps. Buy them. Yes I'm serious.

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2. Drop the attitude.

"But my attitude is part of me, It sets me apart and it's what will make ppl notice me!"

Wrong. People will notice your work ethic, your talent -if you have any - and your smile. If you want an attitude have a helpful one. Talk about standing out. Now you're a revolutionary.

3. Pay your first parking ticket right when you get it.

What's that - you haven't gotten one? Don't worry you will- It's not if but when, and once you do you can and may contest it, and maybe you'll even win one or two, but just for fun, just to be different, pay the first one on time. This is your gift to yourself. What's that- you already have a stamp? Awesome - look at you!

4. Find your street.

Every section of LA has one - the secret street that the locals use when they're about to go ballistic on highland or sunset. Of course they're not much of a secret anymore but there are a few streets that do seem to flow just a *little* better at certain times. Streets like Fountain, Olympic, Moorpark, Crenshaw, Wilton, La Cienega (over the hill), Cahuenga, etc. can be invaluable - both for your confidence as well as for keeping the 20-minute myth alive.

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5. Don't pay for cable.

This list began a few years ago so it may not be as relevant in today's streaming world but it's still worth mentioning. If you want the local channels go on Amazon and buy a digital antennae for the TV you got on Craigslist for $50, or found on the curb for free. Almost everywhere in L.A. can receive a decent free signal from downtown. You'll get the major networks, and for other shows you'll be required to watch them with *gasp* other people, heck maybe even make a party out of it.

6. Speaking of local channels, watch KTLA.

Waking up to this only-in-LA style of "journalism" will make you understand Anchorman a little more as well as making you feel like you're in on the joke.*

*I really mean no disrespect to the good folks of KTLA, they all went to school and I'm sure years of training to get on the air, but when you see weatherman Mark Kriski stretch "it's gonna be another sunny one" into a five minute explanation you'll understand.

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7. Don't fight the time thing.

People are going to arrive late - get used to it and expect it. Besides, the 5-7pm timeframe has been medically approved best for naps.

8. Know when to spot the b.s. - of course I made that last part up.

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9. Talk to people.

We can't all be Huell Howser (R.I.P.) above, but you'll be blown away by the "regular" people you'll meet if you just ask, and their crazy stories of how they got here, and how long ago it was. Your assumptions about Hollywood stardom vs. working actors, what it's like to raise kids in L.A., and how many actual neighborhoods and communities do in fact exist amidst all this sprawl, will be challenged and shattered if you just listen.

10. Lunges, do them.

They're great for your thighs and they'll help you fit in. Looking weird with lots of people is a very underrated experience and many of the hikes here are pretty short here so make them count. Everyone who's anyone lunges.

11. Go out.

After all that's why you're here right? To meet people. In fact you can go out almost every night of the week if you want to - many times for free. My friend runs a website sharing where free music concerts are all summer long - check it out and enjoy:

12. Learn when to say no.

I realize what I just said in that last one but you've also got to come to grips with the fact that the the world will go on if you miss this one party - this amazing networking event - this meeting of first time writers who got their scripts made. Aw shoot - you really shouldn't miss this one.

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13. Go see Marty and Elayne at the Dresden.

Speaking of real people, Marty and Elayne Roberts are just that, and they've been at it for over 35 years. I'm not making that up. Their interactive blend of jazz and showtunes needs to be experienced to be truly enjoyed. The fact that they play in one of the coolest clubs, The Dresden Room, that's been around since Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, is just icing on the cake. Now you're becoming a local.

14. L.A. is not all sprawl.

As I said be prepared for your assumptions to get shattered. Although it is a crazy place and it is crazy huge, people wouldn't be able to survive here this long if there weren't some hidden gems and examples of nature and magic. This spot is less than five minutes from the Dresden, it has Redwood trees, coyotes, and a year-round spring, and yet many Angelinos don't know or forget it exists. And the coffee shop at the end has lavender cookies!

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15. Enjoy the sprawl.

Yes I realize I just said L.A. isn't all sprawl so what gives? Well even though it's not all sprawl that doesn't mean there's none. There's a LOT. And if there is what better way to embrace it that checking out Griffith Park and Observatory. It's the largest urban park in the U.S. and it's a must visit. Just not a must on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon. That's tourist hell. Visit on a night when they've got the telescopes set up, or go to a planetarium show, or just head up on a random Tuesday and you might get a chunk of it to yourself.

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When I took this shot a concert was going on at The Greek Theatre so wafting through the trees were sounds of Heart and The Doobies as I enjoyed the view. Taking it to the streets indeed.

16. Celebrities are just people.

Really. Especially if you work somewhere they may frequent, like a coffee shop or restaurant. After maybe two of them you realize all you really care about is if they order nicely, don't send back the food, tip well, and leave without incident. In other words, just what you expect from everyone else. If everyone else wore beards and baseball caps. Note - to mess with a celebrity the next time you're close to one at a restaurant, order water with lemon and then send it back shouting "you call this lemon?!"

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17. You're not going to like everything.

And that's.. OK. Billy Joel tried and even though he got a great song out of his time in L.A., he raced back to New York faster than you can say give us a song, piano man.

18. Remember your roots but be open.

Everyone is from somewhere so it's cool that you're a badger, wolverine, duck or whatever, but if you're overboard about how great "home" is people are going to wish you'd go back. And they're probably right.

19. While you're remembering your roots it's a good time to write home.

And I'm not just saying that because I make postcards. Who doesn't love a postcard? Mom and dad do - you might even have a stamp or two lying around. You're really growing into your own here.

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20. Get out of town.

After all I've told you about how to discover, how to fit in, how to find your way, the fact is the only way to truly survive L.A. is to know when you need a break. It really is a lot to take in and the ocean, the desert, the mountains, are only 2 - 5 hours away. Some days you might just have to get in the car and drive.

At one with the stars.. Joshua Tree

At one with the stars.. Joshua Tree

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Survivors of L.A.

L.A. Survivors, 2017

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Peace out.