Routes. Better known to us Aussies as which way to go.
We call them “roots” they call them “rowtes” (row as in argument not what you do in a boat). However you say it Los Angelinos love to talk about it. It starts every conversation when you meet up somewhere, and it will be the last conversation you will have when you part ways.
“Which way are you going…?”
“Which way did you come…?”
“Did you take the 405…?”
“Which way should we go, the 101 is busy at this time of day, is it quicker to use the side streets?”
Even recently, when an Australian friend was talking about which way her friends were going on the way from the airport to her place, she said this:
“From LAX they took the 105 to the 10 to the 101….” Only at the end did she say “they went via Downtown.”
The sad part about that is not that she just didn’t say, “yeah, they went via Downtown,” it’s that I actually could picture the “route” (said with an American pronunciation if you will) they took.
One time when I hadn’t been here too long and went off to Disneyland for the first time my friend said, “Let me send you the best way to get down there.”
“Don’t I just plug it in my GPS and follow?”
Which way you go is a sport in LA.
And now it’s fuelled by apps like Waze (pronounced ways) that will tell you the “fastest” way to get to a given destination.
Waze has fuelled the discussion even more making it an extreme sport.
“Did you check Waze?”
“What does your Waze say?”
And Waze has a lot to answer for in the back streets of LA. I’m too lazy and selfish to suck up my phone’s battery to use Waze. My GPS will be just fine. But I have to confess I’m getting suckered into the “Which route …?” discussion too.
Halloween makes way for Thanksgiving and Christmas … but in Australia November kicks off with Melbourne Cup Day: Celebrating Melbourne Cup Day in LA
In one day here in LA the shops switch over from Halloween mode to “baking season” and, of course, “The Holidays” (as in Christmas, Hanukkah or Chanukkah). The pumpkin farms make way for Christmas trees—or holiday trees and the three-month long holiday session moves up a gear.
Meanwhile … in Australia the first Tuesday of November is Melbourne Cup Day. It’s the “horse race that stops a nation”.
It is by far my favourite day, so this week I thought I’d share with my American readers what Melbourne Cup Day is all about. (I think it would make a great episode for my Chuck Lorre-produced sitcom).
To start, if you hadn’t already gathered, Melbourne Cup is a horse race. As the name suggests it is run in Melbourne and if you live in Melbourne you have a DAY OFF work (that’s right, a public holiday for a horse race—don’t you love Australia?!). If you live in Sydney, like I did, then you either host or attend a Melbourne Cup function of some kind. Between my girlfriend and I we always hosted a lunch.
The rules of engagement are pretty clear.
This is a rule. You must serve and drink Champagne at a Cup Day function. The boys may drink beer from a bottle.
My theme was traditionally “hats and heels”. A hat, fascinator and dress are also compulsory. If you’re going to make an effort to dress up, today is the day.
I don’t know if you do a “sweep” here in the US. It’s basically where you put every horse racing into a cup and blindly draw names. There are usually few sweeps at different price ranges—say $2, $5 and $10. Then you work out the winnings according to winners for coming 1st, 2nd and 3rd; last place gets their money back. So if you put in $30 to the $10 sweep, you can draw three horses. The fun of it is you could draw a good horse—or you could draw a dud!
Lunch is served to a group of ladies, given the blokes are working hard at work. Even if you work, many of my working friends will try to get the day off so they can still join the festivities, they’re that important.
It is compulsory that the live telecast of the race be screened on your TV and everyone must critique the “fashion on the field”. Remember this is the day to make your mark on the fashion so you’re opening yourself up for scrutiny—it is possibly more serious than the red carpet on the Oscars.
The race itself
Literally the race that stops the nation, everyone stops to watch the race. Even if you’re not interested in horse racing for the rest of the year, everyone is captivated—and cheers for their horse to win.
Functions generally start at 12:00 and the race starts around 3:20. School typically finishes at either 3:00 or 3:30 clearly interfering with the race. So the kids get booked into After-school care (the busiest of the year!) and the Dads are on pick-up duty at 5:30. The older kids get their own way home because this is Australia and they catch public transport.
IMPORTANT: Unlike LA the race being raced signals more partying, time to open another bottle of Champagne or turn the music on to start dancing. It does not signal it is time to go home.
Then, when the kids and dads get home, the second leg of the function starts. This is usually a smaller version of the lunch as only typically a few friends kick on. The dads chug down 50 beers to catch up to their wives and the kids are fed dinner.
At sometime around 9:00 or 10:00 everyone has had a truck load to drink and walks or cabs home.
Celebrating Melbourne Cup Day in LA
This year I thought about doing a lunch on the Tuesday but it’s already Wednesday in Australia so it just wouldn’t work. And, most people have to pick up their kids because there’s little to no public transport so I doubted it would work.
In a fit of desperation, I texted a couple of friends to see if they’d like to have a glass of Champagne with me after school. I know, it’s a Monday night but it’s still Melbourne Cup Day!
Thankfully for me they answered my call and came over. Then my Australian friends FaceTimed me from their lunch. It was so cool that I got to introduce my friends to each other—not that anyone could hear what anyone was saying! We posed for photos together and I got to watch the race with them. The wonders of technology. How fun.
Watching Melbourne Cup Day in Australia in LA | It Started in LA | itstartedinla.com
The day after the night before and life is back to normal once again. And back in LA it’s finally cooling down meaning we might get to experience Fall rather than summer. How novel!
I often get asked the question: do Australians celebrate Halloween?
It’s a well-known fact that Halloween is an “American” thing. I wrote about it last year and how I was embracing Halloween now that we’re in America. In fact, we started embracing it when our gorgeous American friends “introduced” us to their favourite “holiday” while we were in Shanghai.
We were invited to a Halloween party at their house and the kids could go Trick or Treating in their compound. I’ve talked about this a few times now but the story never gets old (to me!) Thinking we all needed to dress up Mr H and I rushed out to the Fabric Markets and got Fred & Wilma costumes made. We were so impressed that we pulled it off in such a short time only to walk in and find that none of the other parents had dressed up. Yep, leave it to the Australians to make their mark.
Don’t we make a great Fred & Wilma?! It Started in LA
The Americans do Halloween well. And, if for no other reason, Halloween is fantastic because, along with Thanksgiving (to an extent), it keeps the Christmas stuff out of the shops until it’s over. It’s so festive to drive around and see the houses go all out and decorate as they do.
In Australia …
Australians don’t “do” Halloween. It’s true, that’s changing but it depends where you live as to what they do. The area I live in in Sydney’s inner west actually has quite a bit of trick or treating going on which is fun.
I listen to Australian breakfast radio via the Nova app. They were talking about who does Halloween and who doesn’t. While the spirit of Halloween is definitely growing, it can still be spasmodic.
The thing in Australia is we can be quite guilty of anti-American sentiment. So there are many Australians who refuse to embrace Halloween traditions America-style because, well, it’s American.
What’s the difference then?
Because Americans embrace Halloween they research the right areas to go and visit. I talked about how people flock to many streets well reputed to have great Halloween decorations and trick or treating (think Claire on Modern Family). It must cost them a fortune in “candy”.
So Americans generally gather together, eat, then when it gets dark will spend the better part of the early evening trick or treating.
Australians, if they go out, will come home from school, get dressed then go out before it goes dark. The tendency is to stay in your own neighbourhood—or your friends—but not make an entire (spooky) night of it.
This year there will be lots of Halloween parties around town because it’s Saturday. My daughter is going to one but sadly it’s kids only and we come to the sad realisation that our kids are growing up and don’t need us around as much anymore.
I’ll leave you on this note found a friend’s Facebook site and posted to my page:
I don’t know about you but when I think of Halloween I think of the fabulous Thriller by Michael Jackson. They’ve been playing it on the radio so I thought I’d share it with you.
Two years on: the first six months are the hardest
We’re in the thick of the first semester and it’s getting harder to work out what’s for dinner each night and we’re struggling to get up in the morning. Isn’t that a sure sign the novelty’s worn off and you’re in normality?
It’s a lot easier this time around than two years ago–our first six months in LA–though.
It’s nearing the end of October and it’s still so warm. Despite this everyone here seems to be very excited about “Fall”. I’m not exactly sure why. It could be the cooler weather (well that’s not happening), the smells of Fall like cinnamon and fires (that’s not happening either) or the prospect of a little rain (nope, still not happening).
I’ve started noticing people on the East Coast dressing up and the Coats starting to come on and the magazines are filled with darker colours. But here in LA the only thing that’s not playing the game is the weather.
I don’t get the Fall love. It feels more like Spring to me (apart from the leaves falling from the trees). It’s still warm and probably has more to do with the fact that I’m intrinsically trained to think that September and October are the Spring months. I don’t know, maybe it’s a wavelength thing.
When we first arrived we didn’t want the weather to cool down as we’d just come out of an Australian winter (yes it’s mild but still winter) and the prospect of back-to-back winters was not something I was looking forward to—no matter how mild they were.
The first six months
It’s time to continue with my series on looking back at our first couple of years here. I left you having found a place to live and the kids accepted at a private school here in LA. All was going well until reality set in.
It’s so true of moving anywhere that the first six months are the hardest. But you’d think a girl from Sydney moving to LA—California—with a few moves under her belt would not have such a tough time. Right? Wrong.
Let me tell you the first six months are the pits. The honest-to-goodness pits. Then they can be exhilaratingly good: everything is new, life is an adventure and things as simple as grocery shopping can be a challenge. I was used to that in China but not America—land of the ultra big supermarket. But when I had to buy bullet chilies for example, I had to go to an Asian grocer because they don’t sell them at the normal supermarket. That’s right, all the chilies are Mexican.
So then the challenges become nightmares. The glass half full starts to look more empty.
Even things like paying bills I have to think twice. No more BPay or Direct Debit. I’ve caught myself a couple of times saying, “how do I pay you?” to which the response is generally always, “Well I take a check,” yes not a cheque. That means I’ll have to go to the Post Office and buy stamps. Such a foreign concept for me.
Anyway, It’s true the most important thing to do is to find a school and somewhere to live. But once you’ve moved in, done a bit of sightseeing and getting around … then what?
So I started going to visit different areas checking them out, taking photos and posting lots of “cool” stuff on Instagram. But there’s only so much of that you can do. On your own. We all go through it. And we all get over it.
I remember hearing about some women in Shanghai living far out in the “suburbs” feeling lonely and depressed. If I felt lonely and depressed and I live in the middle of Beverly Hills—with a car to drive myself around and a working internet connection—it’s a wonder they survived their long weekdays.
That’s why you can’t write this post at the time. No, you need the benefit of “I live to tell the tale” behind you and a bit of perspective.
LA Private School
I remember the first time I went to school to the Orientation, the Welcome BBQ and even to pick up the kids in carpool I was feeling very intimidated. I imagined everyone being rich and groovy and famous. If not then they’d look like something out of Housewives of Beverly Hills. I thought I’d be the beached whale—helpless out of water and a little larger than my LA counterparts.
Last weekend–two years on–I volunteered to help at the school’s Open House and if I wasn’t comfortable with my place at school by then, I am now. Granted they’re not in yet but there were some interesting looking people. Why do we always doubt ourselves in a new environment? Why can’t we—I—back myself and be confident I would fit in?
Scattered amongst some rather good-looking people were fat people, skinny people, daggy people and just plain weird people. I actually started to think that I fit into LA life better than some of these people. How’s that for a turnaround? And, I wonder if the family that came in matching-coloured tops—five of them—and daggy footwear will get in?
It’s true as a family moving into 90210 and finding ourselves at a school with well-known identities we’ve done our fair share of Googling. What did we do without it?
I don’t remember if I’ve mentioned it before my daughter is friends with the son of arguably one of the most famous people in the world, certainly one of the most successful. She’s recently told us that her friend is obsessed with Mr H’s company and thinks it’s the coolest thing in the world. And, in an interesting turn of events he was telling her how he’s been Googling Mr H. Wow, Mr H being Googled by said famous offspring. How funny. It’s all about perspective.
What else do you need to know when moving to LA?
Back to those first few months. The most frustrating thing would have to be …
Credit rating, credit rating, credit rating
… it affects everything. Literally everything.
When Mr H tried to connect up to our Direct TV “cable” service there were specials on at the time. Ready to go ahead he found out that our price would be higher than the advertised special price. Because we had no credit rating.
Same thing when we went to open our Electricity account. We needed a giant deposit because we had no credit rating. Aren’t they supposed to help people with no credit? Isn’t that discrimination?
Everywhere we turned it came down to credit.
Luckily, with a Citibank account in Australia we were able to open up an account in the US. And, once Mr H said he’d get his salary paid into the account we could open a credit card.
To this date I don’t really have any accounts in my name—something I should seriously try to do.
We were also lucky we could get a car—actually two. That was thanks to BMW recognising that Executives tend to move around so if they’ve previously owned a BMW in another country they’ll take a look at you. Thank you BMW!
Two years later on the whole credit thing
Two years later and I’m still tossing up whether or not to buy a house here. The good news is we can get a mortgage, the bad news is we need a sizeable deposit. And they still look at your bloody credit rating. The rate they give you actually depends on your credit rating–the better your credit the sweeter the deal. The lower your credit rating, the higher the interest rate. Wow, way to go America, nothing like being supportive and helping those trying to get ahead in life. Keep the poor downtroden and the rich richer. OMG. Granted ours is better now but the fact that we’ve only had a credit rating for two years tends to go against you. Go figure.
I’m off to keep Googling. Who knows? Maybe my daughter’s friend will start Googling me and subscribing to this Blog. That’d be cool—so long as he tells Chuck Lorre he loves it.
I started this little trip down memory lane a few months ago, reminiscing about all the things we needed to do to see if living in LA would work out for us.
When I last left you we were on a plane bound for LA with appointments at two schools and time set aside with a relocation agent to try to find somewhere to live in LA.
One the plane ready to interview with LA schools & find somewhere to live. Wish us luck | It Started in LA
Our first step was getting through our interviews at the two schools we chose. Once we had a better idea whether or not we’d get in then we could start narrowing our search for somewhere to live.
Ten private schools to consider in LA
I realise I didn’t name the schools in my last post. And, if you’re coming to LA and looking for private schools you’re going to need a few names to start with. Here were some of the names on our list to help give you a start.
This is by no way definitive—do your research and check the area they’re in first. Unless you’re a good commuter you don’t want to work on one side of LA, living on the other and having your kids at school in the opposite direction to both.
Eight areas to consider when finding somewhere to live in LA
You’re getting the message there are lots of different areas to live in LA and, not unlike anywhere else in the world, it dictates the type of lifestyle you’ll have when you move. If you’re relocating for work then you know where your office is. We knew MR H’s office was going to be in Hollywood. I knew I wanted to be close to the action and I didn’t want him to have a long commute—we wanted to replicate our Sydney experience as closely as we could because that works for us.
I opened Google Maps and started to look at different areas that could work for us. Here are some of our choices and/or suggestions.
1. Santa Monica
We heard Santa Monica was a bit tricky to get into and out of but being relatively self-contained, and by the beach, it would be a great lifestyle choice for us. The bonus was that the public schools were good so the extra rent could be saved in free public schooling.
Pros: Beachside, up to 20 degrees (F) cooler than in town and with everything at your fingertips you rarely need to leave.
Cons: Much smaller houses and high rent gives you less bang for buck. The traffic getting into and out of Santa Monica could also be a downer if you’re not used to it.
2. Hollywood Hills
When you think of Hollywood Hills you think mansion after mansion of sprawling celebrity estates. But there are some nice neighbourhoods that don’t have to break your budget and I like the feel of the area, plus it’s convenient for all of us.
Pros: Great areas, good choice of houses, retro style.
Cons: nothing really—just have to find the house.
3. Pacific Palisades
It’s a lovely area but you can’t get much further away from Hollywood. For some reason our Relocation agent kept pushing us towards the Palisades. We’ve since found out there’s a great Charter School there and many people try to get their kids in here as an alternative to Private School but we weren’t told that at the time. Anyway, for us the commute is the deal breaker.
Pros: Great neighbourhood and community
Cons: A long commute to Hollywood for Mr H and I felt like I’d be isolated away from the shopping and restaurant districts of West Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
4. The Valley
Movies have been made on the area–remember Valley Girls? We were advised to consider the valley because of its more affordable houses, and if you go out further enough you get good schools and McMansions—bigger houses and better bang for buck.
After two and a half years of living in Beverly Hills we bought a house in the Valley (Sherman Oaks). It’s nice and close to school, it’s not far from our old house, it’s close to the freeways to get around town and we can walk to shops and restaurants. We feel like it has given us a new lease on life in LA. It’s great for us and it’s great for the kids.
Pros: Bigger houses, lots of pools.
Cons: 50,000,000 degrees hotter in summer.
5. Beverly Hills &/or West Hollywood
I didn’t really think we were going to consider Beverly Hills because it’s well … Beverly Hills. But like the Hollywood Hills Beverly Hills isn’t all mansions, there are some more affordable areas.
South of Santa Monica is still Beverly Hills and it borders West Hollywood. This is definitely the area I would have loved to live in.
Pros: Proximity to shopping and restaurants.
Cons: There is absolutely nothing wrong with Beverly Hills as long as you can find the house. West Hollywood too for that matter.
Pasadena comes highly recommended by a great many people for its culture, great schools and lifestyle. We didn’t consider it though as it was a commute for all of us.
Pros: Lots of people love it and a good school district.
Cons: The commute–unless you’re working in the area.
7. Brentwood or Westwood
Brentwood was nice and close to Santa Monica making it convenient to the beach yet still convenient enough for Mr H and work.
Pros: Great location with close proximity to beaches and still easy access to West Hollywood and Beverly Hills restaurants.
Cons: Not much good stock in our price range.
8. South Bay
Many people come to SoCal (Southern California) for the lifestyle. So it’s no surprise that people are attracted to the South Bay area encompassing Manhattan Beach, Redondo Beach and Hermosa Beach.
Pros: Good schools, beautiful shops and township, community feeling
Cons: Quite the commute!
9. Hancock Park
Bordering Melrose and West Hollywood Hancock Park is a beautiful leafy suburb in the middle of concrete-paradise LA. It has great schools nearby and lots of the private schools have buses to and from each day.
Pros: Convenient to Hollywood and Downtown, great community neighbourhood.
Cons: It’s pretty hard to find good houses available for rent–but do put it on your list if it’s convenient for you.
Plus two other neighbourhoods I’d add to my list:
10. Silver Lake & Los Feliz
Silver Lake is on the other side of the 101 off Sunset. It’s hip & happening, funky, groovy and an eclectic group of people. I’m not sure there are many private schools in the area but if I were a young family this is where I’d want to be.
11. Culver City
Culver City has come a long way even from when we moved here: new restaurants and shops and it’s close to the Studios, especially Sony Pictures.
Plus, many other studios and entertainment businesses are setting up shop there.
LA Stereotypes according to LAist
Our journey two years ago finding somewhere to live in LA
We spent a lot of time covering different areas of LA looking for something semi-decent in our price range. We wanted a spare room and a pool and didn’t think it was a huge ask. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. In a horrible wake-up call it felt like we were struggling Uni students on a measly budget. Every house we went into was depressing—wardrobe doors that wouldn’t open or close let alone you wouldn’t want to put your clothes in, small and dirty kitchens, rundown houses with filthy carpet and—if there was a pool—grimy and couldn’t be less inviting if they tried. I felt like I was visiting Neil, Vivienne, Mike & Neil from The Young Ones.
Not one house we visited in the first couple of days would be one we’d be happy to visit let alone call home. It was back to the drawing board—we’d need to up our budget and/or forgo the guest room.
It was easier to find a house to suit our needs in Shanghai—a city where the majority of people couldn’t speak English—than it was in Los Angeles, one of America’s largest and most prestigious cities.
To say our relocation agent was useless was an understatement. She seemed surprised that we didn’t like any of the houses she showed us so we took things into our own hands. We started trawling the rental websites looking for places, increasing our budget and seeing where the sweet spot would be for us to find something vaguely decent. I thought getting into a school would be the problem, not finding a house.
We found a few places in West Hollywood and I decided this would be a perfect area for us—close the action like we were in Australia, not far from Mr H’s work and it wouldn’t be too bad getting the kids to a nearby bus stop for school commuting.
Everytime we sent our relocation agent a place we wanted to check out in West Hollywood she’d ignore it. I’d ask her when I saw her next how she’s going securing us an appointment she’d defensively say, “it takes time to get an appointment, please bear with me.”
Then Mr H said, about one particular place that looked really quite promising, “that was one of the first places we sent you,” she finally started saying something about West Hollywood being a questionable place to live.
She was alluding to the fact that—shock horror—there were a lot of gay people that lived in the area. We reminded her that we lived in inner city Sydney and we’ve always had lovely gay neighbours and we were very comfortable with this. Despite writing her a brief on our family and our tastes, she couldn’t relate to us because her picture of us had us in a family-oriented neighbourhood with conservative values.
After brushing us off to a Real-Estate agent to continue house hunting we hit the ground running with a full schedule of houses to visit. The Agent would give us a list of houses, we’d check the maps and drive past the house, then provide a short list of the ones we liked that we wanted to see inside.
That’s when we thought we were going to end up living in either the Hollywood Hills or Beverly Hills—great proximity to Hollywood and not bad for the kids for school.
After a week of solid searching and being totally despondent we settled on two houses—one in Beverly Hills off Mulholland Drive and the other in the Hollywood Hills. I was overruled and we put an application in for the house in the Hollywood Hills. It had a pool that was swimable and whatever made them happy I was happy enough to go with.
In our application we explained that we don’t have a credit history in America but we have a good one at home in Australia and that we’re being moved to LA by Mr H’s new company. For whatever it was worth they would back us if necessary. We also said we were pretty keen to stay longer than 12 months as it wouldn’t make sense for us to get settled only to have to move again.
Our application was rejected—apparently someone else had put an application in at the same time and were offering more money.
To me this didn’t make sense for two reasons—one we weren’t told anyone else was interested in the house let alone let looking let alone miraculously putting in an application at precisely the same time as us. Secondly, if there are two people putting an application on a property wouldn’t you go back and create an auction situation and try to get the best possible deal for the house? Exactly. So clearly our lack of credit history meant that we lost out on this house.
That meant it was Plan B and the Beverly Hills house I was keen on. It didn’t have a pool but it was the sort of style we were used to in Australia and a house we wouldn’t be ashamed to have the rich and famous over to visit.
When we were visiting the house we actually got a call from one of the schools saying we were accepted. What a relief, now we just have to find the house and our job here in LA was done for now.
We put an application in for the Beverly Hills house and it was accepted. The owner—a movie producer and composer came to LA from Austria a number of years ago only to find himself in the same position so he was sympathetic to us. We’ll never know whether we’d struggle to find another house but we were so thankful the search was over.
Plus, we later realised that the school was an incredible ten-minute commute away so we couldn’t be luckier.
It was the most stressful week and enough to put us off making the move to LA quite frankly. I actually don’t know why we persevered. Yeah, I actually do, it was the allure of Hollywood and the wonder of what life would have in store for this ordinary but happy Australian family about to move to Hollywood.
Now, two years on, I wish we’d chosen a bigger house and held off to get the pool we so desperately wanted. It’s one thing to get a house close to your needs in Australia but it would have been smarter to get a house different to what you’re used to so you get a different experience. And, as a growing family we could have grown into that “big American house.”
If only we were a bit more realistic and weren’t looking at the opportunity through rose-coloured glasses.
Did you make your move in a hurry? Did you find finding a house easy? Hard? Did you know where you wanted to live? Did you have anyone to help you? Would love it if you’d share your stories.