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Lose the map and have an adventure

By Jenae Cohn

June 2, 2009 9:14 p.m.

Anyone who has dared to go on an excursion with me knows I will inevitably and always get lost. I can’t help it; I believe I was born directionally impaired. Even with close and careful map examination, I will walk down the right street in the wrong direction. Don’t even ask me to distinguish north from south.

Primarily, I adventure alone, which, given my impairment, is probably a pretty stupid decision.

Yet getting myself lost has created some of the greatest memories of weekly excursions this year.

While visiting the Los Angeles Flower Market earlier this year, I spent 45 minutes trying to find the bus stop, only to realize that I really did not know where I was. I felt like the mini-orchid I carried with me the entire time: wilted and completely parched.

Along my journey, though, I found a store with shoes stacked up to the ceiling and an outdoor vendor (who only spoke Spanish) selling bags of hot cinnamon donuts for $1 each. When I eventually caught the bus, riding back to Westwood felt all the more pleasurable ““ I had made it! I had finally made it! ““ as I sat sandwiched between a man in a three-piece suit and a woman in an apron balancing a baby in her lap.

When I visited Venice Beach at the beginning of this school year, I found myself wandering street after narrow, windy street in search of the ocean. The ocean, theoretically, shouldn’t be that hard to find ““ if only I really knew what it meant to walk west. Yet along the way, I browsed the shelves of natural food markets, marveling at the dreadlocked, barefoot, guitar-wielding souls purchasing bags of salted soybeans and bottles of protein smoothies ““ all vegan, of course.

I’m not sure I can adequately express the joy in simply walking, noticing and enjoying a particular moment in a new place. There is a distinct pleasure in anonymity, in strapping on one’s imaginary explorer goggles and delving into a crowd huddled and waiting for a poetry reading at UnUrban Café, or trekking up a mountain-side road through Runyon Canyon.

I began this year unable to truly embrace a love for this city, unable to really understand its congested freeways and its seemingly unending spread of low, concrete buildings. In my heart of hearts, I still feel a little hesitant to accept and embrace all of Los Angeles’ character because, really, there’s some ugliness in a city known for its superficiality and its urban sprawl. It doesn’t help that I’m of Northern Californian ilk, born to loathe all that Southern California represents.

Yet what is unceasingly satisfying about exploring Los Angeles is that behind every stretch of concrete buildings and storefronts are surprising people, surprising food, surprising products and most importantly, surprising feelings and experiences to uncover. There is delight in the necessity of uncovering these gems to delve past what seems an inaccessible exterior and become lost in the spirit of exploration.

I don’t profess to be any kind of expert on Los Angeles. On the contrary, exploring different places every week this year has made me realize perhaps even more than ever that I still know so little about Los Angeles. I have yet to visit Silver Lake or East Los Angeles, for example, and I’ve been downtown only twice.

At this point, I can’t imagine remaining content anymore with Friday nights eating pizza in Westwood. I’m 20 going on 21 ““ why not embark upon a taco crawl, wander through cemeteries with buried stars, pretend to understand modern art, and feel like I spent my college years understanding and appreciating what other people in this beautiful city ““ there, I said it ““ have to offer?

Thank you for sharing these experiences with me. I’ve received wonderful suggestions for places to visit from readers, faculty and friends throughout the year. My heart always swells a little bit when I know that someone else understands how enriching it can feel to escape one’s everyday routines and go.

I can only hope that by writing about these experiences, I’ve encouraged maybe a couple more of you to take advantage of what lies just on the periphery of Westwood.

If you find yourself lost, I’ll wander with you. Let’s see what we’ll find.

If you want to wander with Cohn, e-mail her at [email protected].

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Jenae Cohn
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