A quick, painful look back

I spend so much of my life looking forward (where should I go next? How do I get there? I wish…), but sometimes it is really special to take a look back, even to the bad times. On the surface, I lost everything during the 12 months I lived in this apartment, but even as I thought my life was OVER, all kinds of things were brewing in my little home, not only in my own life but in the lives of at least two of my neighbors, one of them a fellow travel blogger, another now in the international news for all the wrong reasons….

This innocent-looking bright yellow building in Santa Monica  is where I spent the hardest, dare I say darkest, year of my life. I moved to L.A. for what I thought would be a job at a trust-worthy company I had worked for for years — and would offer the stability I was lacking at the local magazines I had been working for in Vegas. Instead? I was laid off four months later. I had not made friends in LA yet. One of the two I had lived far away in West Hollywood. It was a lonely year. Despite my best attempt at savings, that ran out pretty fast. My TV broke about a month in, and construction started on the building next door, so I was up to start my day of nothingness bright and early not just five days a week, but six, every morning before seven am Monday through Saturday. No wonder I started booking big trips to get away. If things hadn’t gotten that bad there, I wonder how long I would have stayed in that situation that wasn’t for me.

Someone once told me that when the universe is trying to tell you something, first it tries nudge you with a feather — but it’s not afraid to throw bricks. I got the message, believe you me. The second my year-long lease was done, I threw everything I owned into storage.


A few months later, I saw that unmistakable yellow building on the news. Michael Jackson’s doctor, Conrad Murray, now embroiled in a major court case, was hiding out there. It was so surreal to see that from so far away, on a neighbor’s TV in Costa Rica. Then I tweeted about that — and something stranger happened. Abbey Hesser, of the blog A Chick with Baggage, wrote me that she, too, had been living in that very building, planning her long-term travel at the same time as me. The building was only a few floors high, we had the same name, and we had never met.

As I look back, a lot went down in that building that year!

I drove by just for kicks last weekend. I had to take this snapshot leaning out of my rental car, since there was not a single parking spot on the block. Santa Monica Place is open, so my sleepy little neighborhood now had parades of cars waiting to park so they could hit up the gigantic Nordstrom and Kitson that now dominate the block I used to go jogging down towards the beach. I recently mentioned that I hadn’t been back to LA since I moved back to the US 14 months ago, to nearby Las Vegas. This was a quick trip, and everything about it was as much a pain as I remembered. That city is not for me, but I don’t think I’ll stay away as long this time. I have wonderful friends there, and for 24 hours (maybe next time I’ll try 48!), I had fun.



Los Angeles and Hollywood are where so many people’s dreams come true, but for me it was a wrong turn. That yellow building represents a slight detour I took to find the job that would blow up in my face so I could leave behind an industry that did not allow me to be my best, and to meet friends who would invite me down to Costa Rica, a move that would change transform me from a workaholic to a wide-eyed adventure-seeker.

I do thank my little apartment for that, but I am also happy that I now never, ever have to think of that place again.

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I'm a life-long travel junkie journalist who works hard to find adventure in everyday life after two years of travel and expat living.

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  1. insightful post, Abby! Life is truly full of bumps and detours… but if it were all easy, we probably wouldn’t ever take the risks that can lead to a fuller life.

  2. I read that first paragraph wrong, and I was trying to figure out what “A Chick with Baggage” had done to end up in the international news for all the wrong reasons!
    I’m glad the bad memories of L.A. are softening on you. Santa Monica is such a beautiful place, it would be a shame to avoid it just because of a few bad memories.
    Here’s hoping for only positive memories of your time in Las Vegas!

  3. Very true, Margo. 🙂 Also, if it hadn’t gotten SO hard, I’d still be there, where I don’t belong.

    Santa Monica was so beautiful! I was so happy to be moving there after the craziness of the Strip. Now I’m right back in Las Vegas — where I belong!

  4. If I were you, I would stay far, far away from that yellow building for the rest of your life!!

  5. YES, MA’AM! I never want to go there again!

  6. Wow! I couldn’t imagine having a year like that. It has obviously made you stronger and more appreciative of everything great in your life since that time.

  7. I felt this way the last place we lived – just about everything was screaming at us to leave! I also find it interesting to meet people that lived in the same place you did at the same time!

  8. True, Stephanie!!

    Love it, Andrea! So many people write of counting down the days until their Big Trip. The universe had to shove me out kicking and screaming!

  9. What a beautiful post dear, I truly believe that when one door closes another more amazing one opens!

  10. So true! I hope I learn that lesson more quickly next time. 😉 Thank you, Andi!!

  11. that’s how i feel about atlanta 🙂 and, i truly believe that everything happens for a reason, and you’ve got to have the bad to get to the oh-so good! x

  12. Both of us tried to leave Las Vegas and were greeted with hardship!! And then we “saw the world”… and moved back. So funny!

  13. It´s hard to go back and definitely say – yeah, that totally sucked and I am uninterested in this place. I´m glad you made it through that dark time and have done some amazing stuff since!

  14. Thanks for this post. I’m having a ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ sort of period right now. Always helpful to get a reminder things will get better.

  15. Oh, it comes in waves… It’s so unfair. Yes, it does get better!!

  16. I have the exact same feelings about my apartment in Toronto before I left on my big trip. A totally different situation, but that lonliness and need for something different. Thanks for sharing, totally takes me back as well.

    It also takes me back to how AMAZING my trip was. I forget to remind myself about the super awesome and life-changing experiences I’ve had sometimes. Don’t forget to look back on those too!

  17. I mean loneliness…. I swear I can spell!

  18. I misread that first paragraph too…and wondered which blogger was in the news! A painful look back for sure, but a great chance to see how far you’ve come and for us all to remember that bad situations often lead onto something better…

  19. I need to edit my writing for quick reading on the web. 🙂

    Hogga, I bet there are a lot of us out there! At the time I felt like the only one though — I was being shoved out, but others were so brave in choosing to leave before they had to!

  20. Every place is for someone possible ticket to new heights or ticks for downfall , when you expecting the least your happiness will knock on your door and when you expect the most your will passed by…you never know where your sun will shine the brightest 🙂

  21. It’s SO true!! Life is funny that way. 😉

  22. It’s weird, I’ve realized lately that I think a lot about my version of your yellow apartment — the tiny studio outside Philly I was forced to live in for six months of a lease when I got laid off — but in a good way. That time alone and in a cash-strapped place really forced me to have a reckoning of sorts with myself and it’s where I finally decided to come to Australia and begin freelancing full time. I even look back fondly on the Friday nights I sat alone because I had no money to go out and just watched Forensic Files, haha. I am glad you have enough distance that you fully grasp what your old place means for you now.

  23. I love the good, respective posts. Makes me want to do some more thinking about aspects of my life gone past. Then again, I want to think about more good stuff 😉

  24. You see, for me it is totally the opposite at the moment. I am living abroad right now and subletting my Montreal apartment, and even though I will be visiting Montreal in December, I can’t bring myself to go to my apartment – I would never want to leave!

    But I get the idea. I have had a rough patch when I was 16-17 and I never want to set foot near the place I lived back then. Too many bad souvenirs… But sometimes it’s great to go back just to see how far you’ve come and bury the hatchet 😉

  25. one of the most heartfelt post ive ever read… happy to know that you’ve moved on and doing better now… hope in the future, when you remember it… it wont be that much painful anymore… wishing you more happy memories abby 🙂 and thanks for sharing this with us…

  26. LA seems an especially harsh place to be lonely in. You moved on and are probably stronger for it.

  27. You know, I AM glad I am stronger for it — I can always say I lived in LA!

    That was a strange aspect about living abroad, that I didn’t have a home to be homesick for. Weird!

  28. Your experience in LA must have really bad if you remember it like this… It’s good that you have constructive feelings over it, it’s the past and for sure the future is proving better 🙂

  29. It was a loooong year — and the first time I tackled anything that big on my own. Never again! Now I know what NOT to do!

  30. I got a film degree and tried to avoid Hollywood like the plague. At least you got out!

  31. Haha Hollywood is just a beast that is not for everyone!

  32. I’m so glad you were able to go back there, even with such a painful memory. The ability to do so just shows that its all behind you now. Your experience there did not define you, instead it recreated who you are today and that is the positive of what was a negative time for you. I’m not a fan of LA either. If it weren’t for the Steve Madden store, I probably wouldn’t go so often 🙂

  33. I don’t have particularly bad vibes from a place I lived in previously, but I do have a great sadness about houses I lived in that have disappeared. One was my family’s 150 year old four-generation home that got moved to build a grocery store parking lot and later burned down by the fire department for practice.

    The other was a house that my husband and I contracted to have built which was torn down 30 years later so a McMansion could be built in its stead.

    Those make me sad.

  34. Haha they DO have good shopping!! LA also happens to have a few of my very best friends. So I’ll be back!

  35. that’s so funny – i instantly recognized that building! 😉 it’s such a shame that it’s got such stressful memories for you – what a great area to live in! sorry i missed out on meeting you when you were living here! 🙁

  36. I enjoyed a great nine years in Hollywood, but like yourself, I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not sucked it up, accepted that I wasn’t going to do what I wanted there, and packed my things and left. I saw Hollywood change a lot of friends… most for the worse. It’s definitely a pool full of sharks.

  37. Jen, if you’re in LA, we need to meet soon!!

    Hart, thank you for understanding!! There are some great things about it, but…just not for me. 🙂

  38. I think some cities are like that, I lived in my last city for 10 years, but never really liked it. Good for you for getting out, can you imagine how chaotic it would have been living there with all the press?

  39. Awwe- Abby, so sweet and heartbreaking at the same time. I’m SO happy that out of this despair and heartache that you were PUSHED to get out, reexamine and redefine what type of life you wanted and needed. I live in LA and have some of the same feelings (if Bob wasn’t an actor- we would not be living here!!) but hopefully we can meet up soon, in VEGAS!!!

  40. Laurel, that is SO true! For some reason, I never thought about how I would have felt in that chaos, in the bad state I was in!

    Jade, I am dying to meet you — in whichever city!!

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