Why Lu Loves the Valley
Sometimes it’s hard to live in a city and feel comfortable with people all of the time but the people of The Valley are some of the nicest folks I’ve ever met. They remind me of the people I grew up with. They have families and regular jobs and the majority of the people who live in The Valley do so because they were born here and grew up here. I was born and raised in the South and, growing up, often heard stereotyped descriptions of Southerners, as a whole, such as, “People from the South are racist, redneck, backwards, ignorant, Bible-thumping dumbasses” or “You mean, they smoke pot in Arkansas?” I would often find myself explaining to “ignorant yankees” that each Southern state carries with it its own brand and flair, not all Southern accents are the same and not every Southerner has had the same “raisings.”
Like the South, Los Angeles is often stereotyped but, in reality, it’s an extremely diverse, richly cultural city boasting different “towns.” I came out to Los Angeles in the fall of 1984. During the next six years I lived in various neighborhoods including Silver Lake, Los Feliz, Atwater and Burbank. Being the rambling woman that I was back then, I tried out Nashville for a while but, happily, moved back to Los Angeles in 2001. After I returned, I moved around from Burbank to North Hollywood and then to Silver Lake. But when it came to deciding where I wanted to live, if I could live anywhere in Los Angeles, I chose the neighborhood of Studio City, in The Valley.
Some people ask me why and I do my best to explain. Mainly, it’s a feeling of comfort that I get here. For me, it’s the best of both worlds. It’s just over the hill from the whirlwind of Hollywood and yet it offers privacy and a kind of sanctuary for me. I live in a rambling, mid-century house on a hill surrounded by trees and every type of plant imaginable. I share this space with lizards, spiders, ants, mice, raccoons, possums, coyotes and even deer. And yet, just a few minutes away I’m on the Boulevard amid the hubbub of the city. Part of The Valley used to be ranch country, at one time. Some people remember riding horses in Encino. Many of the houses were built in the ‘50s and there is still a feeling in the air harkening back to that time. For those of us who grew up with cowboy hats, metal lunch boxes, Andy Griffith and knotty pine walls, this is a place that still carries a certain aura of nostalgia. There are areas around here that haven’t changed much since those days and people who haven’t changed much either. Like the 70-year-old woman behind the checkout counter who regularly has her nails and hair done, in the same style she did 40 years ago. Or the elderly couple who have been happily married since high school and meet every Friday night at Bob’s Big Boy in North Hollywood to enjoy milkshakes and take in the vintage car show, an exciting, regular Friday evening event.
People will say, “Oh, you live in The Valley?” and roll their eyes. The Valley—devoid of culture, bland, suburban and un-hip. I have found that the best places to live are often places that have not been endorsed by the “counterculture.” The fact is, a lot of people who now live in L.A. were raised in the equivalent of what is commonly referred to as “The Valley,” people who are trying way too hard to forget where they came from. They will never admit to an upbringing in Austin, Minneapolis or Ames, Iowa. They’ll talk about searching out a vegetarian BBQ joint in Silver Lake but won’t talk about the BBQs they used to enjoy in their childhood backyards. They’ll dress in vintage aprons tied around polka-dotted vintage dresses but won’t remember the stains on their mothers’ kitchen aprons. They’ll dye their hair all shades of blue but then speak with disdain of their blue-haired aunt back in Idaho.
Ventura Boulevard: Shopping in The valley is the bomb. I have friends who live in West Hollywood but do all of their shopping in The Valley because it’s so much easier. There is nothing quite like driving down Ventura Boulevard, especially in a yellow El Camino, on a bright sunny day when you’re not in a hurry.
Waitresses who like their jobs: These gals aren’t paying their way through art school and do not talk about their boyfriend’s band while you’re trying to read the menu and then insist on handing you a demo tape while you’re writing the check.
Valley girls: Yes, they really do exist and they’re proud of it. If you look closely you can see them driving down Ventura Boulevard, brown-skinned, top down, radio blasting. Check out Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’’’ and Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer.”
Amazing cars: You have never seen lowriders like the ones you see in The Valley. And the deeper you venture into The Valley, the cooler cars you will see. Cool cars are an important part of the L.A. culture and The Valley represents cool cars, big time.
The heat in the summer: Love it. I’m from the South. Some people complain because the temperature in The Valley is always about ten degrees warmer than it is on the west side. Big damn deal. Turn on the AC,jump in the pool, whatever! Trust me, it’s worth the compromise.
Driveways: I will never again live where I have to compete for parking on the street.
Cheaper rent: Do you want to have to park on the street and pay more rent?
NOHO: Acronym for North Hollywood. Come on, you’ve gotta love it. Get in while the rents are still cheap.
The Valley is completely underrated, as far as restaurants go. A few of my favorites…
Don Cuco’s: My favorite Mexican restaurant in the neighborhood. It’s been there for probably 50 years. The same waiters have worked there for about as long. Where else can I go for a late-night dinner at 10:45 p.m., talk politics, have a conversation about Vicki Carr and sing along to “Besame, Besame, Mucho”? And on your birthday, they bring you flan, serenade you, plop a big sombrero on your head, snap a Polaroid and give it to you to take home. I have celebrated three birthdays there, so far, and have the Polaroids to prove it.
The Eclectic Café: Great wine list, Dexter Gordon in the background and local art on the walls. I have become fast friends with the manager and some of the fun, feisty girls who work there.
The Firefly: Late-night menu, buzzing, neighborhood bar, no sign on the door, and on the weekends you’ll see dressed-up, mini-skirted girls and dressed-up Euro guys on dates, checking out the girls (you have to see through all of that and have a sense of humor, which is generally a good rule of thumb to follow if you’re going to live in Los Angeles).
The Sportsman’s Lodge: Fifty-year-old Sherman Oaks institution. This is where you will find tour busses parked in the expansive parking lot and maybe run into Dwight Yoakam’s tour manager at the poolside bar.
“Eeeww, you live in The Valley?” Yep!
Lucinda Williams released her ninth studio album, Little Honey, on Lost Highway Records. Check out the new track, “Wishes Were Horses,” on this issue’s CD [Relix, Nov '08] .