by Gillian Robin
“So where are you from?”
A simple, justifiable question to ask someone when you first meet them. It’s a way to tap into to a person, a way to figure them out immediately and allow (hopefully) for follow-up questions, usually along the lines of, “Oh yeah! I heard [insert local band] is from there!” or “Woah, my grandma lives there!”
But when someone asks me where I’m from, I retract, the butterflies in my stomach flutter, and any persona I fronted is dropped. Because I’m from Lancaster, in the Antelope Valley, in the Mojave Desert, about halfway between Bakersfield and Los Angeles. No, not the picturesque, we-should-start-a-commune-here Joshua Tree Desert that everyone in my co-op flocks to each three-day weekend, but the cheap, commuter desert that’s home to a ridiculous mixture of rocket scientists (thanks to the Air Force base), future professional athletes, scary, NIMBY, Tr*mp-supporting desert people, a large prison, and one single shopping mall that still happens to have a Sears in it. Streets don’t have names in the AV, they’re simply letters (which run east-west) and numbers (which run north-south). On your birthday, you go to the Olive Garden. You get the vibe.
Sometimes, admittedly, my long-winded explanations of the desert town where I grew up are premature, and I get the occasional “Oh yeah, I use to have soccer tournaments out there.” or the “I stopped to pee there once.” Though without fail, those are followed by the classic “There’s not much out there, huh?,” to which I always reply, “Yup,” with the ashamed, defeated expression that only people from places deemed “insignificant” know how to pull.
Usually, though, I’m prompted to explain myself to people from places that I know all too well. People from The Valley™, which is less than an hour away from me, look at me with a vacant expression on their face and reply with the unimpressed, “Oh, wait, how far is that from LA?” as if your proximity to Los Angeles determines your value as a person. When I don’t feel like explaining the exact coordinates of my town, I just say “around LA,” because *technically* my town lies on the correct side of the Los Angeles/Kern County border. But even then, my friends who are (very proudly) from approved LA sub-towns shoot me a look, as if I’m not worthy of wearing the Los Angeles title and the social prestige that goes with it.
The only reason I’m explaining the nuances of my relationship with Lancaster is because, although it’s a desert that regularly reaches 105 degrees in the summer months, deserts get pretty fucking cold.
“But, Gill, c’mon, it’s a desert!” I know, but no one tells you about the chill that deserts welcome every October. That’s why half of y’all try camping in Joshua Tree and end up at an Airbnb because you forgot the down-feather Patagonia jacket that you got for your study-abroad in Berlin last semester. What my LA friends underestimate, and what I take deep, self-validating pleasure in, is their ability to dress in cold weather. You see, the privilege of being from Lancaster, where it’s boiling in the summer and below freezing in the winter, has taught me and my body how to function properly in any climate. So here, to all my Studio City, Agoura Hills, and Sherman Oaks pals out there, is the Desert Rat’s Guide to Winter, because, well, y’all need it:
Step 1: Ditch the puffy jacket.
It’s Berkeley, it will NEVER drop below 55 degrees. I know, “I’m cold when the temperatures dip below 70, blah blah blah,” but your vintage North Face looks ridiculous in a heated lecture hall. Sure, we all heard the crazy, quintessentially Los Angeles story of how you got it, which is usually something like “I fought a Youtuber for it at Jet Rag’s Dollar Sundays!” or “I went to this estate sale of this old movie producer in Bel Air and is was tucked in the back of the closet!” But I promise, you’d be much less obnoxiously Southern Californian if you opted for layers, perhaps a nice long-sleeve tee under a jacket, or something else that doesn’t scream “Help, I’m frozen.”
Step 2: Your Golf Le Fleur high-tops aren’t waterproof.
No one wants to comfort you after you ruin your coolness-approved shoes on the rainy walk to Dwinelle. Yes, they match everything, and yeah, Camp Flog Gnaw had a great lineup, etc., but rain doesn’t discriminate based off of social media clout, and you will be wildly uncomfortable taking that 2-part American Studies midterm in wet socks. Perhaps throw on “your mom’s old Docs from the ‘80s!” instead of $100 “vintage canvas and burlap” sneakers.
Step 3: Finally, it’s time to swap the “Yeehaw, I’m a cowgirl” aesthetic for the “Call your Babushka” look.
Your pink cowboy hat won’t shield your wet, post-shower hair from the Bay Area breeze, but you know what will? The headscarf that your mom wore on her first date (a drive through Mulholland!) with your dad. Besides, if you’re going to look LA, go for the classy, intellectual Joan Didion-esque Los Angeles, the kind of LA where sunglasses are bigger than your face and you always have a copy of The New Yorker (how bicoastal!) in your tote bag. The “I listen to The Garden” LA vibe is strictly reserved for warmer weather, and UNIF never quite transitions well to NorCal anyway.
Well, Angelinos, I hope this desert rat from the middle of nowhere could help your winter-ensued identity crisis. If it makes you feel any better, we all already know you’re from LA, and we love how much pride, memory, and respect you have for your roots. Los Angeles will always be your home, and perhaps others could never understand that. But, sometimes, a little chill is good for the soul, and a little openness can definitely help warm you up.