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Stuck Between Coasts

DCDespite the gridlock of beltway traffic, stuffy Metro cars, and polarizing partisan politics, I love Washington D.C.. I’m a Los Angeles native, (well, L.A. county anyways) and I moved to DC five summers ago looking for adventure and employment. I can still remember walking into the wall of humidity outside of Dulles International, momentarily confused and agitated by the damp heat, but reminding myself that this was all going to be a part of this new life on the East Coast. It was supposed to be just a change of scenery, a new city where I could gather some relevant job and life experience to take back with me to Los Angeles in a year or two tops. My buddies even had bets on how long I would survive out here before returning to LA, and the longest anyone had me pegged for was 6 months. But nearly five years later, I find myself attached to a city that I originally intended as a pit stop.

There were some things that I had to get used to when first moving out here. Being from southern California, I never really checked the weather, but now I had a weather app on my Droid. I never even knew what a winter coat was until I got to DC, and enduring sub-40 degree temperatures for months on end was something that was foreign to me. The orange and yellow autumn leaves that painted the sides of every highway were very beautiful, and the abundance of red brick buildings made me feel like I was transported to another place and time. The Metro, DC’s subway system, allowed me to drink the city like a fine cocktail, sipping in measured intervals by observing the people and culture on a daily basis on my rides to and from work. The monuments gave the city a sort of skyline, but the history and achievements of the people that they honored enriched the city more than any structure ever could.

The people were different, too. Everyone was here for a purpose, whether it was school, or interning on the Hill, or working as a government contractor, and they seemed to have that extra bounce in their step. They were eager to meet people, attend networking happy hours, discuss politics, and advance their own careers. They all had business cards, if not several. But most of them belonged to the fraternity of cross-country migrants, and perhaps that alone was enough to stir up an immediate affinity for most of the people I met.

carne asada friesAt the same time, I sorely missed LA. Good Mexican food was hard to come by on the East Coast, and I had to settle for Chipotle to satiate my cravings. After having perfect weather for 24 years, I was beginning to understand how spoiled I had been. I also missed being around chill people who weren’t on the grind 24/7, but moved around at a more leisurely pace. I missed barbecues at the park and beachside bonfires, Lakers games that ended at 10pm rather than 1 in the morning, and afternoon Superbowl parties. There were plenty of things to miss about home. But strangely enough, after a couple years, the return flights to DC started feeling more like returning home. I became a visitor to my own hometown. Sure, there was an immediate familiarity that I instantly absorbed when I was back, but LA had been changing too, and my heart felt engaged in a geographic tug-o-war that left me stuck between coasts.

So I decided to write out a list of pros and cons to evaluate these cities. In no particular order:

Food. Washington DC introduced me to Mediterranean food: kabobs, baba ganoush, tzatziki, pitas, hummus, and falafel to name a few. But other than that, DC is not really the best place for good eats. My trips to NYC were productive in expanding my tastes, but I have to say, there’s not really a better place than LA to get cheap Mexican food, Korean BBQ, Pho, and other Asian food.

Edge: Los Angeles, by a mile

Scenery. There’s nothing quite like the monuments. Even outside of that, the Potomac River, countryside wineries, and fall foliage provide plenty of different landscapes to appreciate. There are even mountains nearby in western Maryland and the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. But LA’s got the Pacific coast beaches.

Edge: Push

Weather. Seasons are great, but after the initial beauty wears off, it can become painful and tedious. Layering every day for 3-4 months is tiring. Being able to wear my Rainbows 345 days out of the year is priceless.

Edge: Los Angeles

People. Superficial people are everywhere, but DC breeds a certain species of superficial people that pass judgment in a manner that isn’t as obvious as LA. What’s worse? I’m not sure. In a city full of Type A personalities, it seems as though everyone is pretty cutthroat in order to advance in their careers. That being said, DC is the non-profit capital of the world, and there are plenty of passionate and compassionate people here. They are really intelligent. Smart people are everywhere, but Arlington has the highest concentration of Master’s degrees in the nation, and it really shows. But what DC has in ambition, it lacks in relaxation. I oftentimes miss the laid back attitude of southern California. In DC, schedules are always back to back-to-back, running from meetings to happy hours, from brunches to lunches, from drinks to dinner, you get the idea.

Edge: Push

Sports. DC sports has seen a resurgence in recent years. RG3 has the attention and loyalty of all Redskins fans and expectations are very high for the Skins next season. Strasburg and Harper represent two young, once-in-a-generation players for the Nationals who underperformed in the playoffs last year. The Capitals still remain a force the Eastern Conference of the NHL, although their poor showings in the playoffs these few years have been painful. And the Wizards… well, they recently became winners when New Orleans decided to change their mascot to the Pelicans. I love how close the stadiums are to each other, although FedEx Field is in Landover, MD. Chinatown, home of the Verizon Center, is in the heart of the city, and you can always tell when there’s a game. The fans here are great. They are hardcore. I know LA has the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, Kings, and Angels (kinda), but the Skins and Caps fans out here put DC over the top.

Edge: DC

All in all, I would have to say LA is where my heart is. I like a lot of things about DC and the East Coast, but there’s nothing like the sunshine and Pacific waves to brighten my day. Besides, don’t I want to sing Biggie’s famous lines with true conviction?

“I’m going, going, back, back, to Cali, Cali…”

Paul G. Lee
Paul is a displaced Southern California native who currently resides in Washington D.C.. His post-collegiate experience was highlighted by his move to the East Coast where he worked briefly for Congress. After his stint as a public servant, he jumped into the private sector and currently works as a consultant with a D.C.-based technology firm.

7 thoughts on “Stuck Between Coasts

  1. Great post man. Definitely agree with the leisurely pace out here on the West Coast. Still getting used to it and not having to look at the clock or back-to-back happy hours.

  2. I miss all the people you get to meet at the most random places in DC. This was a great post! It makes me realize that while I continue to look for a place to plant roots, DC was a great home.

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