Image from Google Maps 28/09/17 https://www.google.com/maps/place/Marina+Del+Rey,+CAfirstname.lastname@example.org,-118.4653791,14z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m5!3m4!1s0x80c2b08af005b32d:0x9756dab19b0bce9e!8m2!3d33.9802893!4d-118.4517449
“Some people just need sand. You know?” Our ‘relocation agent’ (I know, bit much) caught my eye in the rear-view mirror. “They say to me, ‘Julie, I just need sand’, and they’ll pay for it too.”
We were an hour into our orientation tour of different neighbourhoods in West LA, a precursor to our choosing where to move when we left our ‘company housing’. Julie had stopped periodically and with terrifyingly gay abandon, in traffic, the middle of junctions, oblivious to the sound of horns blaring, to point out places of interest. Places which serve cocktails seemed to feature highly: a hotel in Culver City which does really great cocktails, one in Santa Monica with the perfect terrace to enjoy a sundown cocktail, a restaurant on the water which is the best place for cocktails in Marina Del Rey – although Julie pointed out that it is “right next to the Sheriff’s office, so you can’t drink and drive, which is a bummer” (cue polite laugh from Adi and me).
This time though she’d parked up on a quiet side street to show us an inlet from the ocean to the marina, so we could get our bearings. To our left was the grey-blue ocean, to our right a peaceful, green lagoon populated by wading birds with splashes of springtime flowers. A heron was hunched in the middle of the water, grumpy in the drizzle. You can see nature all around LA, the snow-capped mountains, the green-when-we-arrived now faded-and-dusty hills which loom over the canyon roads, the ubiquitous palm trees*, the aggressively manicured lawns and meticulously planted borders, but this was gloriously mutedly, shabbily lovely. Julie knew what she was doing. That was the moment Adi and I left behind the idea that the city by the sea – Santa Monica – was the place for us. Marina Del Rey’s sleepy backwater was an oasis of calm after the tourist hive of downtown Santa Monica.
Julie waved her hand towards the houses backing onto the water. “You’re looking at a couple of grand difference between each side, obviously nearer the ocean is more expensive.”
We moved off, the car turning down a narrow road running parallel between buildings and unseen lagoon and ocean.
“And then of course for the ones that need sand, you pay a whole lot more on this side of the road.” I glanced out of the window expecting to see apartments, surrounded by terraces, on a sea-front road, car parks separating the road from the beach. But Julie had meant what she said, these buildings were for people who need to be on the beach. Nothing separating the two. Ahead, two surfers strolled barefoot across the sandy tarmacked road between the blocks, surfboards under their arms.
We do not need sand. I don’t mind the sand, and I love the beach. Adi loathes both, and the sunshine, and swimming, in the pool or ocean (oh yes, we have a shared pool now). As my friend Maeve commented, “It’s a good thing he moved to LA then”. But it did seem a little absurd to me to move to Marina Del Rey and not be on a marina. Or at least be within sight of a marina.
The list of essentials and preferences which I gave Julie read as follows:
washing machine [This is not standard or even common in Westside apartments. It’s something to do with the plumbing apparently, but launderettes can stay in my student days, summer school teaching days, and on Eastenders.];
more than 1 lavatory;
light [The company housing was Seasonal Affective Disorder inducing-ly lacking in natural light.];
some sort of nice view [The view from the company housing was of a wall/ into a very pregnant lady’s apartment. A very pregnant lady who liked to do a lot of pottering without knickers on.];
walking distance (20 mins max) from the ocean;
walking distance from some sort of shop;
if possible, some sort of gym [According to Julie ‘Amenities are a big thing. You want amenities. Unless you don’t, some people don’t.’].
Julie did us proud. On our second tour – this time centred in Marina Del Rey, but still with the terrifying lack of regard for traffic regulations or the preservation of life – took in a number of apartments, in a number of locations, with varying views, amenities and floor plans, but all, to her credit, with washing machines.
The Shores offered impossibly tiny bedrooms and views of a central pool complex. The primary coloured stucco and bumpily shiny concrete created the sense of being in a multi-storey carpark – cum – Benidorm resort hotel. I was not for us.
We loved the loft-living aesthetic of the R2 apartments in the Del Rey ‘Arts District’. The rooftop ‘mood pool’ (that’s a hot tub to you and me), the ‘zen garden’ (that’s some rocks and pointy grasses where people inevitably ‘do yoga’) and the ‘gym’ (that’s a room with a couple of those sandbags with handles, where I can only imagine people go to talk about how ‘bodyweight exercises are actually the best workout you can get’), were however not enough to compensate for the ‘view’ of the concrete roof of an actual gym and the 40 minute walk to the ocean.
I was ready to move into either of the waterfront apartments we saw at Marina Harbor. One was a penthouse (la-di-dah), both had large balconies looking onto the basin, and are part of a complex with two proper big gyms and too many swimming pools to count. However, having lived off our savings for the first couple of months since relocating, Adi persuaded me that, lovely as it was, two months’ rent as a deposit, plus another month up-front was quite frankly ridiculous, given what they were offering just down the road.
Just down the road offered a paltry half a month’s rent as a deposit as well as the first month free due to some local construction work. The apartment we saw looked out onto a marina basin with boats bobbing happily in the sunshine. Light flooded the rooms, so much so that it was only after we moved in that we realised the bedrooms and living rooms were completely sans lighting fixtures. The complex is small enough that the modest but well-equipped gym is never overly busy, and during school time the pool and spa are blessedly deserted. The lagoon which first drew us to Marina Del Rey is less than a ten minute walk away, and the beach and irresistible Pacific just a couple of minutes more.
This apartment that we now live in is ridiculous. Square footage, like population size has always been too abstract to be meaningful to me, so I’ll put it in my terms. It takes me five hours to clean. The furniture which dominated our house in the UK, filling our rooms, forcing us to sidle past sideways, now sits unassumingly in acres of space. The quite startling quantity of geeky-game-based paraphernalia which emerged on moving day from our loft in box, after box, after box (so much that in a loftless apartment it seemed like we’d have to hire a storage locker), looks like laughably little, a few boxes in the corner.
*2 fun games I like to play, with Adi or sola:
Imagine the palm trees you see are chattering incoherently and imitate them. For example, one of the insanely tall, thin ones on a windy day will be screaming in a panicked, high-pitched fashion ‘eeeeeeeeeeee!’ while a short, squat, lusciously leaved one will be humming a Barry White song to himself – I mean itself – only remembering some of the words.
Or, imagine they’re different breeds of dog and name them.
(Disclaimer: Overactive imagination required for both games… and an encyclopaedic knowledge of dog breeds.)