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Southland Diaries: Long Beach

Photo Illustration by Ellinor Rundhovde

An ode to a Perfectly Imperfect City

By Shannon Hewkin

Twelve years ago, I moved into my first apartment in Long Beach. For $765 a month, I was a proud renter of a tiny, 1920s-era, one-bedroom apartment. It had an ironing board built into the kitchen wall, a built-in desk and bookshelves in the living room, a clawfoot tub, and plenty of closet space. 

Yes, the carpet was an awful rust-colored shag, every single cabinet, door, and shelf hadn’t been painted in a lifetime, and my queen bed didn’t fit in my room. But, I was in love with its unending charm.

After my family and boyfriend hauled my entire life up the rickety wooden stairs to my place, I took a drive around to check out my new neighborhood. I ended up going the wrong way on 1st St, which I now know is not only a one-way street, and also a bus only lane.

I made my way home, only to spend the first of many hundreds of nights attempting to find parking in an impacted city. This night ended with me crying myself to sleep listening to my clock radio since my cable wasn’t hooked up.

Days have gotten better in the years since. My boyfriend and I bought a condo in Long Beach, got married, became pet parents to four awesome cats, my best friend lives down the street, and my mom and brother both live within a mile distance of me. 

I’m walking distance to the beach, the gym, restaurants, and a great record store. I’m now a fantastic parallel parker, and not turning down one-way streets.

Long Beach is like a long-lasting friendship or a romantic relationship—it only works if you accept Long Beach for what it is. 

If you want to hear a mariachi band serenading a woman outside her apartment, you also have to hear the occasional homeless man screaming obscenities outside the Vons Market. If you want to smell the honeysuckle bushes in spring and the salty ocean air in the summer, you also have to smell the cigarette smoke wafting from the neighbor across the alley and street corners that smell like urine.  

If you want to feel the pride of living in one of the more diverse, progressive, inspiring, and active communities in the Los Angeles area, you will also have to feel the anger, fear, confusion, and poverty still present in this diverse city. 

Walks from my house to the beach have become increasingly shaded by the rise of $500,000 condos filling up empty lots. My thoughts flex between “it’s better than a dirt lot” and “who can afford these condos?” 

I’m continuously conflicted by the progress of the city. 

Mayor Robert Garcia was elected in 2014 as the youngest first openly LGBTQ, and first person of color to hold the position, who is a huge source of pride for the community. 

Today there is a petition to recall him.

Recently I’ve been making changes in my life, new job and finishing college, and I’ve been heavily contemplating one more major change—moving out of state.

The move would have financial positives, but I’d be part of my life behind. 

Can I leave you, Long Beach? 

I love your cool streets and gritty run-down alleys. I love your vibrant rainbow crosswalks and your uneven sidewalks. I’m not sure my heart is ready to leave, even if my head seems sure. 

So until I do leave, I will keep enjoying you for everything you are.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Michele Gulli

    September 16, 2020 at 5:43 pm

    That was so well written. I can actually see what you’re talking about.

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