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A photograph taken of Rodeo Drive in Beverly H...

A photograph taken of Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we were living in Glendale in the early 90s, my mom got lost in Watts, which at the time was widely considered one of the worst neighborhoods in LA. She was low on gas and pulled over to a gas station, and after filling up her tank, a cop approached her and said she needed to leave.

“You don’t belong here,” he said. “I’m going to get you out.”

She’s never had a good sense of direction, but managed to avoid Watts for the rest of her time in southern California. Twenty years later, I’m back where I started, and with the help of Google Maps and an iPhone, I can move through the city without a GPS or — my mom’s longtime favorite — Mapquest. There’s no way I could have navigated LA before the days of smartphones, but even my iPhone gets me into trouble sometimes, and I’m learning it’s best to go with my instincts when lost on the road.

I started my screenwriting classes this week. The first is held at UCLA’s downtown campus and the other is at the main campus in Westwood. At first, I was bummed that the sitcom course is downtown, as I love UCLA’s setting in Westwood, but it turns out the parking situation is less chaotic at the downtown campus.

The classes themselves are awesome. I love my professors, who are really funny and honest. My intro to screenplay writing instructor said within the first few minutes that anyone offended by the “f” bomb shouldn’t be in the course, and a couple people didn’t return after the bathroom break. I have no issues with his teaching style, and I laughed a lot through the firs session. He told us we actually receive bonus points for laughing at his jokes, but I laugh at everything anyway, so it’ll always be genuine on my part.

I appreciated how open all my classmates are. They’re also my age, and I wasn’t expecting that. One guy said he’s from Chicago and chose to enroll in the course because he wrote a screenplay and even his mother hated it. A few others are actors looking to write parts for themselves. I don’t see myself as an actress, but I’d love to do something like that in the distant future. There are many other New Yorkers in the class, and it was really nice talking to them about the city. Believe it or not, I miss the sense of community I had in the Upper East Side.

I can’t decide whether I like intro to sitcom or screenwriting more. TV writing is my ultimate goal, so I’m a little more invested in that course, but there’s so much to be learned in the industry that I’m not going to pick favorites. We can’t forget that I’m new to all this.

As for UCLA, I’m seriously impressed with the buildings and overall vibe, even though the parking situation had me pretty jumpy yesterday. There was a dance class in the garage, which I found kind of bizarre, but it was even more disorienting to step on campus and see a bunch of guys fighting with sticks:

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My alma mater had some unusual folks in the courtyard area as well, but none with the enthusiasm of these participants. Maybe I’ll join them next week, as I initially thought they were participating in some sort of Quidditch match. I could always use more friends here.

That is, if I’m not too old for UCLA’s undergrads. I felt like such a freaking grandma strolling through campus last night. I glanced at the people around me and couldn’t believe they were old enough to be in college. Then I remembered I’m 25 and started school seven years ago. I’ve been out of college almost as long as I spent in college. I may look young, but the reality is I’m not — at least compared to these dough-eyed kids who have yet to gain the freshman fifteen.

UCLA’s 2013-2014 school-year only recently started, so no one looks haggard just yet. A part of me wants to warn them, as I went through my own sloppy undergrad phase and packed on tons of weight thanks to bad habits, but I’m not here to bear bad news about growing up. Like these 18-year-old nubiles, I’m here to learn. I just forgot to, you know, learn about this particular field the first time I went to college.

Anyway, I really like UCLA. It reminds me so much of U. of Arizona. The architecture is similar, but of course southern California has more foggy days. Not many, though. I think there’s more of a collegiate air to UCLA, but that’s no surprise. It’s not too hard to get into UA (graduating is another story). UCLA only takes top students. At UA, I always felt surrounded by bubble headed sorority girls who thought I was a total weirdo for not wanting to drink in the dorms. UCLA is a little less stereotypical in that sense. I think I would have fit in here really well during my undergrad years.

UCLA

My class ended really late, and it was only when I stepped out of the building that I remembered the paralyzing fear I once had of walking around the UA at night. An RA straight up told us we “would get raped” if we did that, so I spent the first six months of college carrying around mini flashlights, a rape whistle, and pepper spray, which my boyfriend at the time bought for me. He was living in another state and felt really helpless, but as we’d soon figure out, my RA’s comments were extreme and misleading. I was never bothered on campus, but my RA’s claims stick with me to this day.

I thought about it on my way back to the car last night, but realized nothing could really scare me after living in New York. Yes, I could be bothered here, and I’m not saying it won’t happen, but after walking around late at night many, many times in NYC, I can’t bring myself to get worked up over the dangers of a college campus after dark. I’m also tired of living by the fear that maybe someone bad will be near me at the wrong time and all hell will break loose.

Besides, more people seem to hang out on campus at night than they did at UA. I guess there’s more to do at UCLA after hours, but students were everywhere. The UA campus clears out around seven, and that used to bring me great loneliness and sadness. I don’t feel that at all here.

Classes have been awesome and I’m actually excited about my homework assignments, but getting to and from UCLA is proving to be a challenge, not simply because of traffic, but because of the way everything is structured as a whole. I drove from Long Beach to LA with half a tank of gas, but it just so happens my gas meter wasn’t working properly, so I was barely at a quarter tank by the time I (eventually) got home.

I say eventually because it took me more than two hours to drive from LA to Long Beach when it should take 30-40 minutes at night. I got turned around on Wilshire Blvd and my iPhone app didn’t take into account the fact that every freeway I needed to take was shut down for the night. That’s alarming long-term, as I don’t want to be stranded anywhere thanks to constant construction on southbound highways, but after frantically driving around Beverly Hills for a half hour, I just decided to pray and get myself out of there — not with the iPhone, but with my own instincts.

When I reached Rodeo Drive, I decided there were many worse places to get lost than Beverly Hills. Compton, Watts, South Central, so why was I so rattled? As they say, it could always be worse, but as usual, I couldn’t fully believe that. All I could think about was my faulty gas gauge reader, bad directions, fluttering heart rate, dehydration, and ever-present nervous energy.

I took the 405-N, which is the opposite of where I needed to be, and 15 miles later, I found myself on the 101-South, which eventually got me to Long Beach. It took me more than twice as long to arrive home, but once I was there, I wanted to kiss the ground. Everyone says driving in LA is stressful because of traffic, but so far, that’s not really my issue. My issue is how poorly constructed all the roads seem to be, and that more lanes just kind of appear out of nowhere and force you to scramble to change lanes when you need to take the next exit. It’s a little scary, especially when your gas reader isn’t functioning.

Getting lost in Beverly Hills is annoying if nothing else. You’re surrounded by swanky buildings and expensive shopping venues when all you really want is a gas station and the streets you know. I’m not totally certain how I got to and from both my classes, as I missed a bunch of necessary turns on the way to each, but I made it and will surely be less flustered during week two.

During my shaky drive home, I thought about the NYC subway system and compared the transit back east to driving in California. Even though I worry more than necessary behind the wheel, I still prefer that to NYC transportation. Crammed subway cars were just so annoying and uncomfortable, and that wears on you day after day for two years. I never feel anger in my vehicle. In New York, I was irritated and impatient, but in LA, I’m just scared, in part because I’m very much a “new kid in town,” as one potential employer said on the phone today. These aren’t great things to experience, but I would always choose a little fear over immense irritation, which was bringing out the worst in me on a regular basis. I just have to work on not being so fearful here, and I’m sure I’ll reach that point — once I’m not relying on my phone to get me from A to B.

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