It's a place where you visit cupcake vending machines at midnight, where homeless people are as docile as the quilts they cloak themselves with, where billboards litter the airspace so much that you recognize an accident lawyer just as easily as you can spot a movie star. You sit at a restaurant, surrounded by Mexicans and Koreans and the occasional gaijin, and the speakers blare an order number you can only respond to with finesse if you're conditioned to it.
But it's also a place of your youth. You've come to understand that those whiffs of nostalgia, like an ex-lover's cologne, those ones that are strong enough to create a pit in your stomach are only for the nights here because that was really the only part you liked about it. That feeling associated with the endless, liminal nights where the possibilities were infinite -- those summer nights where you drove around the city with the windows rolled down, sometimes with the unenduring soundtrack of our youth playing from the speakers -- that's actually what LA meant to you.
It meant those empty spaces at night that were haunted by the ghosts of the day's bustle and desire. Maybe it meant those playground swings that only cradled adult whims at night. It was an understanding of what Linklater was getting at with his odyssey of possibility, where his characters travel through the night, trying on different places and identities, all the while embracing who they really are. It was dancing in a grocery store parking lot inhabited only by light poles, traversing the fluorescent-washed aisles of the H-Mart when everyone else was gone, and those warm rooftop nights after a gig looking out at the city with people you'd never talk to again.
But you don't belong in this land of sun where broken hearts jockey for space with hopeful ones at every party. Not really. You come from a place of rain and occasional snow. Where the promise to hang out is left politely (and gratefully) at that. Where lyft drivers are so lonely they ellide into passenger's conversations. Where your distance isn't measured by which hands you've shaken but by which pop-culture-Dan-Brown-like books you haven't read. Where women look askance at you for not speaking up, rather than men not looking at you at all because you're not expected to be heard.
You've never been a night owl, so you couldn't really live in a place where the sun burns away your identity like the consumption of a lotus flower does. Even as you sit in a cafe, recognizing the ghost of a past self during a late night grind, you recognize that that person is ten years gone, for better or worse. More better than worse.
Because it was a good time and you're grateful that that invincibility isn't actually wrapped in some memory gone to seed like Rob Lowe's character in St. Elmo's Fire. You're grateful that the you of ten years ago that knew you couldn't stay here understood the present you. It's a town that worships the old while trying to usher it out, so you're grateful that the space of what you loved about it still exists even as it brings in soju pops and girls coasting down the street in rentable scooters with their long wavy hair and long denim jackets floating behind them.
You're grateful, too, because that invincibility is not tied to a place or a time but is actually tied to you. That the taste of that perfect burger, perfect taco, perfect hodduk from a food cart on cross-streets you can't remember, is a dreamer's high you'll never be able to chase down, but that's okay. Because the buzz of excitement, those summer nights where the shadows swallowed up any rejection of self, the feeling that what's unfolding before you is a bittersweet moment that can never be replicated -- that's an infinite that has never been tied to a place or time, but is actually tied to you.