LA Story

This continues the story from a previous post entitled, I’m Moving Out (link). 


We had decided to take a year off school. The main reason for that was to save money. If you were a resident of the state of California, you could attend any of the Cal State universities tuition-free. There were still the fees, which were approximately $750 a semester at that time. That is a lot of money when your wage is $4.25/hour, and you must stretch that out to pay for housing, food, and gas. Tuition would have been thousands of dollars more per semester for an out-of-state student. So, the decision was made to become state residents, which required a CA address for 12 months. But…we didn’t have to live in San Diego. We thought it might be fun to live in LA! Who knows, we could become famous movie stars, and we wouldn’t even have to go back to school if something like that were to happen, right?!? 

The Berbermobile pulled up to a stop in the San Fernando Valley. It was there where we stopped at a 7-Eleven and purchased snacks, gas, and a newspaper to thumb through the classifieds. The most reasonable-sounding place for the money was on Van Nuys Blvd in Panorama City, and it had a pool. We pulled up, and it was a taffy-pink stucco apartment complex. PERFECT! We had a good rent history in Chicago and quickly obtained a lease. It was a studio apartment with a small kitchenette connected to the main living space. We blew up ye olde air mattress, parked our bikes next to the door, unpacked the rest of our belongings, hid the loaded .38 Special that Dad gave me, where it would be easily accessible in the middle of the night (laying sideways in a nook under the counter), and passed out. Our new home was small, humble, and not fancy, but it was all ours.  

Now that we had our residence address, next on the list for the following day was to wait in the notoriously long line at the DMV. It was nerve-wracking to surrender my Illinois driver’s license and take the test. I recall not having very much time to study the California rules of the road, which did have some differences. I was still reading when they called my name to take the test. Berber and I both passed. We had our licenses issued back-to-back and cracked up about how our license numbers were sequential, one digit apart. We ordered specialized plates for the car, “BERBERZ” because “BERBERS”, surprisingly, was already taken. When the plates came in the mail, there was a space between Berber and Z, so it looked like “BERBER Z.” Not exactly how we wanted it, but what is.

Next on the to-do list was to purchase California auto insurance, where it was a mandatory requirement. We heard a radio ad about an auto insurance broker in Hollywood, “you could save money”, it said. We wanted to explore Hollywood anyway, so it made perfect sense to check it out. We showed up, and a handsome, well-dressed gentleman who had sparkling blue eyes (I think his teeth sparkled too) set us up with an affordable policy, liability-only, of course. We had explained to him that we had moved into town the previous day. “Really?” he asked. “Are you guys looking for work? Our main office is a few blocks up the street, on the corner of Sunset and Vine. My wife works there.” (My heart sinks a little right here). “We’re always looking for good people to hire!” Berber and I looked at each other, incredulous. “We better go check that out!” “Great, I’ll set it up; they’ll be expecting you!”

We made our way over to the main office, and sure enough, the receptionist was waiting for us. There was a large, odd piece of artwork in the lobby area of outer space and random planets. There was a backlit sign with the name of the business on the wall. The office manager came in, threw her hand out at us, and introduced herself. She was smiling ear to ear (more sparkling teeth), but the odd thing I noticed was that her eyes were not matching her mouth as she was speaking. Although her face was smiling, her eyes were not. In fact, her eyes were almost glassy, showing no emotion at all. We each interviewed separately. I didn’t have much interest in selling. I hated talking on the phone, I was still shy in those days, and I especially hated pushing products on people. So, it was in the file room for me. Berber, much more enigmatic than I, went for the sales assistant position.  

It didn’t take long for us to notice some strange behavior going on there. The agents all belonged to a religious organization that I’m not going to name. It was a high-pressure group, though, and before long, we were being told about classes that could change our lives forever, make us better people, improve our understanding of our personalities, and therefore enhance ourselves. We could make more money, become more confident, more successful. I started dating one of the agents that worked there. It was great in the beginning. I have fond memories of going out after work with him as he would race me around in his souped-up yellow Toyota, blasting loud rock ‘n roll music that I loved. It was so surreal, being swept away in this familiar city that I’d seen in the movies, with this cute older guy, wining and dining me around places like Mann’s Chinese theater, the Cinerama, Hollywood Blvd, the Hamburger Hamlet, and the Hollywood Bowl. Then, a couple months in, he asked me to marry him. Something was off with my coworkers. Everything moved so fast; they seemed to be following a script—even the boyfriend. Berber and I kept checking each other, keeping each other sane. While I was enjoying the work I was doing, I felt less and less comfortable in the environment there. I said “no” to the marriage proposal, and that was it for that relationship. After working there for nine months, I decided it was time to move on from the insurance company. Berber had decided to stick it out, taking on the proverbial stress test, staying clear of any confrontation or trouble, until ready to pursue her Bachelor of Science.  

Meanwhile, the homestead was becoming less comfortable, too. Ye olde air mattress that we slept on now had a leak, so every night, we would fill it up using a hairdryer, and every morning we would wake up with our asses touching the floor. We had roaches there. One time, I was half asleep and felt one crawl over my nose. I never moved so fast from a state of sleep! Another evening, after Berber and I came home from work (we often worked late into the evening), a shady character was sitting on the steps at our apartment building. We maneuvered around him, first Berber, then me. As I passed, he asked, “Do you like rock?” “I prefer disco”, I answered and accelerated past him. Berber and I were giggling and went into the apartment quickly, locking the door behind us. Later, as we slept, someone started banging on our apartment door, yelling. Terrified, I jumped up, hurdled over Berber, grabbed the .38 from its hiding spot, and trained it on the door. The banging continued for a bit, then stopped. Whoever it was had given up. It was a good thing. I was prepared to pull the trigger first and ask questions later if anyone had kicked the door in. Our apartment started to feel more seedy and gross — the novelty had worn off. 

By this time, we had met a friend at the insurance company interested in getting a place with the two of us. She was sleeping with the company’s VP, and he was willing to co-sign the lease for her. We wound up finding a 2-bedroom apartment in a tower building complex in the Miracle Mile District in LA, called Park La Brea. We still had no furniture, but it had a spectacular view of the city. I wound up getting a job as a messenger, making deliveries around LA. I’d worked my way up to get to have the cost of a CB radio rental deducted from my paycheck (before that, I had to find pay phones to get my next delivery), and they would call in my next drive. “Base to 34, pick up at the LAPD downtown, drop off at LA Times.” “Roger!” I replied. 

That time, the envelope was not sealed, so I peeked inside. It was a mugshot of Christian Brando. I’d also registered with several casting agencies and would take odd jobs as an extra, doing film shoots for TV shows and movies. On one set where we were all dressed up as high school students, I started up a conversation with a group of ladies, and when I mentioned that I was from Berwyn, Illinois, one of them responded, “I’m from Berwyn too!” We started examining each other, squinting even, and figured out we had both not only gone to the same high school but even were in a PE class together in 1987! Such a small world. I was a lot happier once I had broken free from the confines of the crazy insurance company. I made deliveries all around the county, learned my way around the city, and struck up conversations with delivery clients. I also learned a lot about acting and being on set. I met so many people, and everyone had stories to tell. I got invited to some parties. I was living life and enjoying freedom in a way I never had before or since. But most importantly, I learned how to survive.  

Our 12 months in LA ended, and it was time to move to San Diego and begin the 4-year journey at San Diego State University, as they had accepted our applications. We didn’t quite become famous actresses, but Berber and I learned so much that year. We learned about people and their behavior, we learned about trust, we had each other’s back, and we kept each other grounded. We remained focused on our goals and never forgot why we had moved out there in the first place. I could see how living on your own, one could easily lose focus (i.e., get convinced to take a “course” by a high-pressure group of religious fanatics) for the companionship and fellowship if for no other reason. But it was because I had my friendship with a person I trusted and whose opinion I respected that I did not veer off course.

So, once more, we packed up the Berbermobile. Tenochca Hall at San Diego State University had a room on the seventh floor waiting for us. We had a half pack of chewing gum, it was dark, and we were wearing sunglasses. Hit it!

By Dawn D


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5 thoughts on “LA Story”

  1. hi Dawn,
    another fun read for me, and made me think of my own first year or two in California in the Berkeley area. Everything felt so different and new and interesting, compared to the East Coast. What a creepy insurance company you worked in! My second year, I also lived in a little stucco apartment building with a little pool. And some shady residents. I remember getting my driver’s license too, and getting fingerprinted there, for the first time. I remember one of the CA rules of the road was that pedestrians ALWAYS have the right of way, even outside of crosswalks. Often, I would barely set my foot off the curb while jogging, anticipating a car would go by by the time I got to that part of the road, and the car would come screeching to a halt!

    • Hey Wendy, yes! I remember the first time I tried jaywalking downtown in LA and the traffic, both side, stopped! I was like…what is going on here? In Chicago it is perfectly normal to jaywalk. It was like moving to a different country, wasn’t it? Now I feel strange when I go back to Chicago. And they tell me I have an accent. I think THEY have the accents. LOL
      Thank you for the comment!

  2. Hi Dawn – What a great story and adventure. I had no idea – I thought you came straight from Chicago to San Diego. What a crazy period of time your life! I lived in Los Angeles too for a bit, and often heard rats in my fireplace and smelled cigarette smoke nonstop from my downstairs neighbor, but that’s as close as I got to what you experienced (thankfully, I didn’t have roaches running across my face as I slept) – UGH. Anyway, thanks for sharing this time of your life. I admire your openness for an adventure/new people and your drive to keep moving forward to better things! And look where it got you! Yay for you.

    • Thank you for the feedback, Jill! I’m glad you had a more pleasant experience in LA, haha! I’d take that any time over crazy!


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