Rules of Hollywood #6:
Let's first start this rather odd entry on one thing. If you don't currently live in Los Angeles, I'm willing to think that when you think of "Hollywood" you think of things like the Walk of Fame, the Hollywood Sign, Griffith Observatory, Theme Parks, Mann's Chinese and Rodeo Drive. So understand one thing first: like any major metropolitan city, from Paris to New York or Tokyo to Venice, there are two sides: the tourism side and the living side. If you read my first Rule, still the most important, you'll soon learn that all those highly popular tourism points mean nothing once you live here. They especially mean nothing once you work in the Entertainment Industry.
These places are completely nonexistent once you actually plant your roots and start working in the Industry. In other words: they are defining aspects of your city, but they aren't important once you move there. They're for those visiting and to have a good time while they're here. Outside of that, their existence is irrelevant. That side of Hollywood is something you must get rid of in your mind and focus on the task at hand.
Speaking of which...let's talk about the good ole city of Los Angeles: its sprawling metropolitan areas that go on for miles, its weaving highways and freeways, its complete lack of intelligent urban design and strangely absent parking lots. Its traffic jams and overly priced parking garages. All this hassle sounds as though you would be better off without a car. You would be wrong.
Location Location Location
Know, first, that Los Angeles was founded as a "car culture." Lots of roads, lots of freeways, lots of tollbooths and residential hidaways. It's full of parking garages, congested traffic and a gastation on every single corner and outnumbering the Starbucks 50 to 1.
I could easily just say "public transportation in Los Angeles sucks" and be done here. That phrase alone should tell you plenty for those of you looking to relocate to Southern California, but I have to fill up a page here.
Let me first say that, yes, you can still get around without a car. In a couple of cases, it's actually more convenient to not drive (such as using the Red and Blue subway lines to get a Lakers game, spending the day in the Hollywood tourist area or getting to Union Station to take the Amtrak). In reality though, a day-to-day use of public transportation is out of the question and most of Los Angeles is inconvenient or flat-out inaccessible without a car.
To understand this, you need to take a look at Los Angeles and how it's laid out. So take a quick look at the main central hub we'll be discussing: Santa Monica west to Downtown, and Burbank south to about LAX.
If you're going to be working in the film and television industry, the places/districts you primarily need to know are:
-Universal City (where Universal Studios is located)
-Burbank (where Warner Brothers and Disney are located)
-The mid Hollywood area (the area away from tourist traps, includes Paramount Studios and smaller production companies - this area is primarily centered around Highland and between Sunset and Beverly Blvd)
-Beverly Hills area (where a lot of production companies and agencies are located)
-Century City/Culver City area (where more agencies reside, as well as Fox and Sony Studios)
If you look at the map, those are the areas you should be really focused on. There's little in relation to the industry east of the 110/Griffith Park and the furthest south you'll go is probably LAX.
The valley is north of Griffith Park on that map - the large open area between the Ventura Freeway (in the valley) and the area marked "A" is the Hollywood Hills and what divides the regions. Again, lots of places to live but there's nothing industry related in the valley save for a few small companies here and there. Just know the valley is pretty isolated due to the Hollywood Hills, or as we call out here simply as "The Hill." It towers over Los Angeles, is home to the legendary "Hollywood" sign and has some of the nicest houses you'll ever see. There's also a few places in the entertainment world in Westwood or Brentwood or Bel Air, but these are primarily residential, though you might find yourself heading to Santa Monica on occasion where Lionsgate and a few other production companies are located.
Oh, and don't ask me about anything east of Downtown. They're pretty far removed from everything. I think I've been there once and there's little to note outside of Disneyland. Technically these areas are not part of Los Angeles but a part of the "Greater Los Angeles Metropolitan Area." Still, though, you should at least be somewhat familiar with them as to where they are...everything blends in together as one sprawling and interconnected urban area.
You have bus transportation and you have the subway in terms of public transportation. To really get to a specific area, you will likely be using both. Now if you live in Santa Monica and work down near Highland on Wilshire, sure, go ahead and take the bus. If you live in Silverlake, though, and need to get to Beverly Hills, forget about it. If you live in the valley, there's no question you need a car because no buses go over the hill that divides the city and you have to head all the way east near Burbank to catch a subway line to go under the hill. Pretty inconvenient if you live in Encino, don't you think?
Then take into account that there is no subway west of Wilshire and Western in the primary Los Angeles area either. You have to bus it if you want to get to Santa Monica, Culver City or Westwood. This is a huge problem considering you'll likely be working in those areas but living someplace else. Buses are plentiful, but unreliable and don't work the timetable as close as the little busmaps indicate and, more importantly, if a bus if full during the peak hours you could find yourself standing around for a good fifteen minutes or longer until one arrives that has room to squeeze. Los Angeles if severely overpopulated making public transportation absolutely impossible outside of simple direct-routes. But there are many streets and they can go on for miles...direct routes do not exist for the most part.
With a car, though, an hour-long trek jumping buses and subway lines can turn into a simple twenty minute drive. Over time, you'll learn back ways and shortcuts and soon find that avoiding the highways is often the better deal during certain hours. If you have to get to a daily job, internship or even doctor's appointment, a car is beneficial and superior in every single way.
Let's say you move to LA, get a job in Century City working at Sony or something yet you live in Burbank because housing is cheaper in the valley (and it is). The answer to your problem to avoid an hour-long (or longer) commute? Ask around at work about carpooling. Few people are actually lucky enough to live near work, so finding someone who lives in your area and works at or near your current job is a great asset. This also brings up the notion of my last article: networking. Knowing people before you even step foot in Hollywood is a great advantage and can help set you up much quicker. I know, for me, it took a good couple of years before finally feeling comfortable and "settled" with job location, housing and transportation. If I had known any of this stuff before hand, it would have cut down that time much quicker. Los Angeles is designed with a car in mind first and foremost, dating back to the innovations of the highways and freeways that now dominate its landscape and the Route 66 mentality a part of American culture. It's still very much alive today, this I can assure you.
Plus, I'll be honest, there's not a lot of security on the subway lines. It can be uncomfortable, especially when the crazy people decide to hop aboard. Believe me...they will hop aboard. The homeless guy is a standard, as is the guy who sleeps in the corner or the woman who preaches the bible. All are residents underground in their little metal tubes traveling 50mph. It's easy to ignore, sure, but in reality you just want to get away as fast as you can and if something should happen, God forbid, there isn't a person around that will probably help you.
Places to Avoid
There are a lot of mini-towns and districts in Los Angeles. From Inglewood to Sherman Oaks, Reseda to Marina del Ray, Glendale to Koreatown, Conoga Park to Pacific Palisades. The fact is, you need to know the general vicinity of these places. It's the easiest way to know where a place in Los Angeles is. If someone says "Yeah, we're located in Century City" you should know exactly where that is.
You should also know the primary roads: the roads people reference when talking about directions and locations. Pico, Olympic, Wilshire, Hollywood, Melrose, Sunset and Santa Monica all run east to west. La Brea, Highland, Western, Doheny and the like run north to south.
Knowing these provides ease of travel, as already covered, but also lets you know where to avoid driving. For example, Hollywood and Vine on a weekend is horrible and the morning freeway traffic down the 101 or the 405 consists of jams and, nearly every day, an accident or two. You need to also grasp with tourism, and these are the biggest areas to try to avoid.The summer brings the most, obviously, so try to avoid the area around Hollywood Blvd and Highland down to Hollywood and Vine (the walk of fame area, basically) and be cautious around Universal City as well, which gets a large influx of not only tourists due to the Studios, park and hotels there, but shoppers there along the Universal Citywalk as well. Thanks to the larger roads and highways, though, this area isn't so bad.
Then you have the beach areas. Good lord, I almost forgot about how awful these can be during the summer. Santa Monica's boardwalk isn't horrible, but nearly everywhere else is an absolute stand-still, parking impossible and you spend more time driving and looking where to go than actually being there. Huntington, Redondo, Venice...these places are just awful. There's also downtown...and if there's any example of the subway working to an advantage should you work there, it is the traffic during the day. At night, though, it's relatively clear...but you won't be going there much during night anyways because there's little to do in downtown Los Angeles outside of a couple of bars.
Now You Have a Car and All that Comes With It
Now that we've established you need a car and to understand the general areas you'll know, let's talk even more generally about owning a car in Los Angeles itself. I think five simple points will work nicely here:
1) Be aggressive. People call LA drivers rude. They are. Welcome to car culture. So instead of just sitting back and let them all do what they want, take initiative. Sometimes being hesitant and passive hinders more than helps, plus you can get where you're going faster by being a little dickish at the right moments. Just don't break a lot of rules in doing so.
2) Know where to get cheap gas. Gas in LA is expensive as is, but some locations have stations with higher prices that others. Wherever you end up working and living, make note of the regular stations you pass by and observe their prices. We're not talking just a few cents here in difference either.
3) Maintain your car. You are going to be driving. A lot. So keep your stuff up and running.
4) Be aware of time of day. This plays into the "be aware of LA" an "places to avoid" scenario. Time of day, and certain days, is what helps you determine how long it will get from Point A to Point B. People are find with lateness in Los Angeles, it comes with living here, but only to a certain extent.
5) If you have a place in mind and where you're going, ask about parking. There are few actual lots in Los Angeles, mainly garages and street parking. So it's wise to know the nearest garage if you're going to see the doctor and even wiser to know if they validate.
I think that covers most of the issues regarding traveling in LA. If you plan on working out here, especially from the ground up where you might be asked to use your car, having a vehicle is simply essential. Eventually, as a person working in Hollywood, you'll be heading to meetings, screenings, lunches and after work networking functions such as drinks pretty much making a car a requirement. I can't tell you enough on how much easier my rung-climbing would have been if I actually had a car when I moved out here and how lucky I am to be at a position where not having a car isn't that big of a concern (in other words, I don't need to go run errands...I send interns to do it).
That luck won't go for everyone, so I'm telling you now. No matter what little jalopy you might own, no matter if it's just a bucket with four wheels and 100,000 miles that goes through gas like an alcoholic off the wagon, drive that thing out here. It's better than nothing. If you don't own one, then seriously look to getting one. You will thank me for it in the long run.