Korea Town, Los Angeles. From Western to Vermont and Beverly to Olympic, the border lines containing one of L.A.’s most sacred lies. You can live here alone and not end up eating Ramen and slurping tap water to make ends meet. You can be alone and still afford a night out in more affluent areas you know you will live in one day. You can afford this area and still believe it’s just temporary because your headshots will find their way to THE casting agent, or your script will be read by THAT producer. You can live here and still afford to believe in your dreams. Korea Town is in the middle of it all, the clearance shelving unit in the middle of the gauche department store. You’re surrounded by wealth and every once in a while the wealth touches you. After a time you realize this wasn’t the area you thought it would be. Korea Town promised a “young and new night life” and “affordable luxury” for the influx of young film grads who don’t know any better. Year after year they come for the cheap housing, arriving from places too far away to actually see this deteriorating landing strip for Hollywood Hopefuls. K-Town looks good from afar, but it is far from good.
You look up this cube of zoning that the L.A. elite attempt to gentrify every so often and you discover through the L.A. Times Crime Map that there’s a lot of crime here. And you never see it happen. Even when crime hits your block of ancient hotels-turned-apartment buildings you never see anything. You hear the sirens, but you never see justice. You sit writing that script or planning your web series in an old, former hotel room that is sweltering in summer and the landlord reminds you there are no A/C units allowed because they’ll scratch the peeling paint on the window sill. Your room is colder than the air outside during the crisp L.A. “winter,” which is really just a brisk spring for the freshly transferred East Coasters who still have their thick blood. The room transforms into a dry sauna without any breeze through the open window when summer rages late August. You live in L.A. long enough and you hear snippets of conversations between twenty-somethings at Starbucks “If I had known I would never have moved to K-Town” or “It’s affordable, but no one wants to come to my place. I’m not gonna get laid for a year!” Eight hundred bucks with utilities included didn’t look bad when you were planning your big move from your parents’ basement after saving for your coming career in showbiz.
But when you get here you see the Latinos selling street food on the corners, the homeless staggering around, the trash filling the gutters, and the discarded mattresses and furniture from those who got the fuck out. The only clean things you notice are the new restaurants that will go out of business in six months and the blocky Korean storefront signs that are neon beacons in a zone of brown, gray, and pale red.
You move in anyway. You move in knowing you gotta start somewhere and you’ve got high hopes. Really, you just fucked up and there’s no backing out. You left home, you crossed thousands of miles, you signed that lease. You’re gonna do one year. One year is all you need to make something of yourself within the four streets that may as well be the nicknames given to the invisible walls that make your prison. They will be your compass from now on, clockwise: Beverly, Vermont, Olympic, Western.
In three months you’ll get used to falling asleep to Mariachi music, babies crying, and emergency sirens, in six months you’ll have tough skin for tuning haters out when you say where you’re living and the haters make passive aggressive comments, and when you’re drunk you’ll hear yourself defending your living situation. In nine months you’ll be furious with how Korea Town is advertised (gentrified buildings, clean streets, night life) versus what you really get for shelling out for this bait and switch deal (squalor, filth, crime – the affordable K-Town). In a year you’re more focused on getting out than on your still-budding showbiz career and your degree is collecting dust. You have the days counted down to when you can get out, you call friends for tips on where to live and who you can room with, and those calls are not returned. You realize you are in the middle of it all, the glitz, glam, but no one sees you anymore. A year is almost up, your lease is about to switch to month-to-month, you can leave anytime after that date you have X’d in red. You will leave. You will get the hell out and make up for lost time and sleep. You’re gonna be a star.
Forget it, Jack, this is K-Town.
I love K-Town, baby. Most people give it a bad story and blame it for their stunted lives. Let me tell you one true thing, these young white college boys and girls were stunted long before they got here. The other ethnicities here have actually moved up in life when they get to K-Town. They know what bad living situations are. Regardless, any part of L.A. can get shitty real quick. Just go into the Trader Joe’s on Hollywood and Vine, 1600 Vine for those of you getting a ride there, and odds are you can catch security using pepper spray on someone for shoplifting or just being a wasted piece of shit in public. Security tries to pepper the perps outside the store, but most of the time things get out of hand too fast and they do it right there in the frozen foods aisle. The way the wind rushes into the store due to the ventilation system the pepper spray disperses and for half an hour everyone is coughing and red-eyed right in the middle of family friendly Hollywood where the star walk gathers the most gawkers. Any place in L.A. is ripe for chaos. Don’t let the advertising fool you.
K-Town has the best bars and that’s good enough for me. It’s a town you want to visit briefly – get drunk, eat good food, and then bail at high speed on a full stomach spiked with soju. You don’t want to live here unless you’ve had worse, like MacArthur Park, but that’s another blog post lurking in my memory.
I came to L.A. full of wonder, innocence, and Hollywood dreams. The only thing that remains now is the wonder. I saw a body last week here in K-Town. No news vans, no chaos, no crowds. Slow Korea Town nights, just part of the natural cycle of a city caught in its own whirlpool of hype.
Coroners waved flashlights around the bloated body that sagged over the sidewalk and into the parking lot. The homeless man’s possessions lay about. A filthy sleeping bag lumped over strips of cardboard. A pink hair brush. Two garbage bags and a shopping cart. I felt bad for him. He probably wanted the same things I took for granted and he did the best he could on a sidewalk outside a place where people cleaned their clothes.
I was the only one watching, everyone else close by was either getting paid to deal with the body or walking home to recharge for another day of what the world forgets happens in L.A.; normal life. I love K-Town because it makes no apologies or distractions. Stay ugly, K-Town, L.A. needs your aches and disorder to stay in touch with reality.