Five Ways Something Ruined My Life Five Ways Things Set In California Ruined My Life Erin Mallory Long

I think we can safely say I’m obsessed with a lot of things: movies, TV shows . . . okay, well that’s pretty much it. But I’m still very obsessed with many different KINDS of movies and TV shows. One thread that I’ve noticed is that a LOT of the stuff is set in California (mostly Southern California): Clueless, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Saved by the Bell, California Dreamin’ (yeah, buddy), The O.C., Veronica Mars, Arrested Development, Beverly Hills, 90210, etc and it starts feeling like everything I love actually takes place in California.

I know the only reason I was aware of the La Brea Tar Pits (and therefore obsessed with going there) was because of My Girl 2 (that mood ring strikes again!). And I never got to go there until last summer! As an adult! (See above photo for my unbridled excitement). I remember being really disappointed on my first trip to LA that everywhere does NOT take “20 minutes” as Dan Hedaya tried convincing me in Clueless. Also, whenever I’m out with friends from high school and we talk about who can drive who home I always think of when they’re leaving the “Val party” and Elton makes Cher drive with her.

So, as I’m currently visiting the city of Los Angeles, let’s explore how “Things Set In California” ruined my life:

1. Sort of Just Assume It’s Always the ’90s

I just feel like in the 1990s, we were convinced that California was the pinnacle of awesomeness. You had L.A. Looks hair gel and I think those light-up sneakers were L.A. something too (I never had a pair but used to stare at them whenever I was near someone wearing them). I mean, most of these things are from the ’90s, so obviously they’re dressed like the ’90s in them. But like, you know how Seattle sort of still feels like 1994? I just feel like California and LA just REMINDS me of the ’90s. We made a playlist for a trip out here last summer and basically every song was from the ’90s. (Only good ones, of course.)

I don’t think it helps matters that now as an adult I’m allowed to go back and embrace styles from the ’90s that I either wasn’t allowed to wear or just am not over yet (I’m currently sporting a fluorescent orange sweatshirt from Forever 21). I mean, I feel so passionately about the 1990s that I desperately wanted to be a talking head on “I Love the ’90s” but then they did it in like, 2004 and didn’t call me. I totally would have skipped class for that!

2. Think All of Southern California is Involved in Intense Class Warfare

It just feels like so many of these shows dealt with wealthy people coming into conflict with less wealthy people. There’s a whole storyline on Saved by the Bell where Kelly’s family can’t afford Prom because she has 75 siblings (I’m estimating) and Lisa is always so judgmental about other people’s clothes.

Then you have Veronica Mars, which is completely centered on Veronica hating and being hated by the wealthy kids at her school (those pesky 09ers) and befriending the PCHers. (God, I miss this show, anyone want to re-watch?). And The O.C. where Ryan gets saved from his poor Chino existence by the wealthy Cohens. And then they learn from each other, guys! (First season of The O.C. is like, the best thing ever).

And, okay, clearly Brandon and Brenda Walsh’s parents were wealthy enough to move their kids to Beverly Hills. But there was still that friction of “You’re From Minnesota You Don’t Know These Cool Things” that basically made me terrified of Los Angeles as a child. Here I am in Upstate New York being like, well, I’m even further East from them! I couldn’t possibly fit in at West Beverly!

3. Assume High School is Set in a Magical Land of Warm Weather and Outdoor Lockers

I feel like I talk about this a lot. In real life and in this column and in my dreams and everything. But it really shocked me. I just was so convinced that suddenly, when I reached high school, I’d be transported to a land where it was always sunny and I could hang out by fountains on my school’s campus and we’d have outdoor lockers that we’d hang out by and it’d just be amazing.

I don’t really know how it never occurred to me that I KNEW what my high school campus looked like before I went there and it was nothing like West Beverly High but that didn’t matter to me. I also always thought (based on the senior girls in my high school) that suddenly when I was 18 my hair would be smooth and gorgeous and perfect. It didn’t work out that way.

4. Always Wanted a Cooler Mall to Hang Out At

This is another one I definitely remember thinking but I sort of want to talk to myself as a kid and be like, “you remember the mall, right? It looks nothing like this.”

But whatever.

I was convinced there were cool malls in Upstate New York like in Clueless and that it was just a conspiracy to keep me away from them (presumably run by my parents). Like any young girl I pretty much thought malls were the epitome of cool. Were the malls I had access to beautiful and bright like Clueless? No. But I could pretend. I also remember reading something in a magazine once about how trends traveled from L.A. over the country to New York so I totally felt out of the loop on stuff and was always convinced once I thought something was cool that all of California was already over it.

5. Those Little “Freeway Entrance” Signs Ignite a Horrible Deep Fear Within My Soul

As a resident of New York City, I don’t usually need to drive a car. And whenever I am in a situation where I have to rent a car my husband usually drives (I’m a really good co-captain and navigator).  So before this trip I’d never had to drive in L.A. by myself, really. I want to be clear, I’m not afraid of driving and I’m also not a bad driver at all, I just like to be familiar with where I’m driving since I’m just not used to having to figure it out.

So, fine, I have a rental car, I can do whatever I want and I can totally do this! Except every time I come up to those little green “Freeway Entrance” signs I can only think of Cher in Clueless.

It’s totally fine. But every single time I’ve gotten on the freeway since I’ve been here I kind of have that Cher Horowitz Oh-My-God-Dionne-Took-Us-On-The-Freeway feeling of terror come up with it.

But, okay, L.A. you win. I think we could start dating if you’re into it.

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  1. Veronica Mars is such a clever dangerous show. So many sneaky easter eggs you discover after a re-watch like the episode with Adam Scott…Mr.ROOKS, Carrie BISHOP, Susan KNIGHT.

  2. I just moved back home to Southern California TODAY after too many years on the East Coast! What a great post to come back to. And yes, California was and is as awesome as they make it look on TV :)

  3. Dude, The O.C. is 100% the reason my passion for moving to SoCal began, back in good ol’ tenth grade. Which was ten years ago. WHAT. Seriously though, I’m not kidding in the slightest. That show is the reason. And now…I live in West Hollywood! Sadly, Newport Beach is a lot further away from Los Angeles than I realized…but this place is all that I thought it would be and more. I LOVE CALIFORNIA!

  4. i felt exactly the same way growing up. watching buffy inspired me to move to LA and work in TV so needless to say real life was kind of a let down in a lot of ways. but on those rare instances when im driving around LA and i catch a glimpse of those storied tv/movie locations, my 90′s self comes out and gets totally geeky.

    also, i’m currently re-watching veronica mars and its just as good this time around. logan & veronica 4eva

  5. The whole time I was reading this article I felt like I was reading my own mind! I just recently moved to LA and reference a different TV show/movie EVERY DAY (plus a few Tom Petty songs). It doesn’t help that as an east coaster I’ve been told I “tawk” like Tai from Clueless my whole life and now I live “right above Olympic.” 4real. I am also terrified of the freeway due to that same scene you referenced, and when people ask me what made me move to LA I usually say, “Because 90210 is my favorite show.” Most people look at me like I’m a weirdo for that, but now I know there is someone out there who gets it ;P

    • Haha that’s amazing. My goal in life is to be able to understand the layout of L.A. well enough to understand that whole scene. I get bits of it so far but not the whole thing.

  6. Sarah Heyward | 5/18/2012 10:05 am
  7. once again, this is why you have to move here

    Sarah Heyward | 5/18/2012 10:05 am
    • And once again, this is why I’m upset about the missed opportunities. Everyone should have to carry their internet avatars around with them on a shirt. All day.

  8. I <3 LA GEARS!

  9. those sneakers, were la gear, i had lavender ones.

  10. My aunt used to live across the street from Torrance High which was where 90210 and Buffy were filmed. My mind was blown when I realized that it was the same school for both shows..I used to wander around the school yard after hours and during summer months and silently pretend I was Buffy or Kelly or Brenda (never Donna). It was never as magical as it felt on TV though. Damn you beautiful people and lighting making everything seem so cool…
    Love your post by the way! Took me back in time.

  11. Born and raised in LA. I went to a high school with outdoor lockers and walking distance to the ocean. Even now that I live in NYC, still obsessed with California.