Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Getting to Los Angeles, Part 1

I’ve been off the grid for the past couple of months trying to figure out how to move to Los Angeles in 2018 without breaking the bank. For two years my husband and I have been making periodic trips out to LA to check out neighborhoods, apartments, acting classes, travel distances to the studios, and the feasibility of getting to auditions by driving the grid and staying off the freeways. (As Bette Davis famously said, “Take Fountain.”) We really thought we could make it work, but the more research we did the less it seemed feasible.

Paramount Pictures where Gloria Swanson makes her entrance in Sunset Boulevard.

Single actors may join forces with a roommate or two and romanticize the Bohemian life, but husbands frown on additional bodies in the home and I’ve reached a point in life where dirt and junkies are just…well…dirt and junkies. Last August we flew out to LA to check out apartments in a few neighborhoods we’d identified as pleasant, reasonably safe, and within easy commute to the studios. The results weren’t encouraging.

First, whatever neighborhood we lived in, we'd have to consider state taxes. This is something actors often think of after the fact, but that’s a mistake. In California taxes are sky high, and although you’ll be taxed on any income earned in the state anyway, living there means getting taxed on any work you do anywhere. Overlook this at your peril!  Also consider fees and taxes on vehicles and the golden state loses some of its glitter.

Then there are the sky-high apartment rents (the purchase of a house being completely out of the question.) Outside of the areas dominated by inner city gangs (and you'd better know where they are), an 800-1200 square foot, two-bedroom apartment is going to run you $2,600-$3,600 a month and up, plus another $1,000 a month in utilities and fees, which can include add-ons for a parking space, a refrigerator, and pets.

Pets can cost you a fortune. After apartment managers dictate size, breed, kind, and number of pets, those pets they DO let in the door will cost you $300-$500 each in pet fees up front, plus $25-$50 a month tacked on to your already exorbitant rent.

Finally, even if we met all the requirements and covered all the costs, the grim reality, according to apartment reviews online, is that we could still end up with hallways that smelled of urine, homeless individuals sleeping in our doorway, the usual hazards (because of paper-thin walls) of noisy teenagers and loud domestic disputes, and a one-year lease that we couldn’t get out of should an acting gig take me away from California for an extended period of time.

(Sigh.) We were so discouraged. After two years of planning, we just didn’t see how we could make it work. Besides the cost, the lack of control over our lifestyle just rubbed us the wrong way. We didn’t want to feel “stuck” if the area or neighbors turned out to be problematic, didn’t want to pay a luxury price for a less-than-luxury place to live, and we certainly weren’t about to give away one of our three pets (two cats, one dog) in order to meet some apartment manager’s two-pet limit.

Was Los Angeles slipping away?

Game night at Dodger Stadium
On the last night of our August LA trip, my husband and I went to a Dodger baseball game. We had $60 tickets; not super expensive, but not nosebleed either. We were vacationing after all. Just to my right in the stands were three older couples wearing fashionable, expensive clothing and shoes, and flashing jewelry. Every time a food vendor came by one of the husbands would open a wallet stuffed with $50 bills and buy a round of whatever anyone wanted. Were these retired people from the film/TV industry, I wondered?  They certainly seemed to be well off.

We chatted. "Do you live here in LA?" I asked the man sitting nearest to me.  "No," he said.  "We all have apartments In Las Vegas. We just come to Los Angeles for the summer to beat the heat."

(What!!!) And an idea was born.  Read on....

Getting to Los Angeles, Part 2

We’d never thought of creating a base in southern Nevada, or of splitting the year between two (or more) locations, but the minute we got home I was online and looking into it. The distance (about 300 miles depending on the route) was about the same as from my current location to New York, so even when I wasn’t physically in Los Angeles I could still make it to scheduled call times and classes, and there was still the option of uploading audition tapes.

Taxes? Nevada has no state income tax, check.

Apartment costs? A two-bedroom in Las Vegas can be had for around $1,000 a month. In some of the small towns to the south, like Laughlin, it drops to $550. So rent for a whole year in Nevada is roughly equal to the cost of one or two months in Los Angeles, which eases the pain of paying rent for a year when we may be away for long periods of time.

Pets? We didn’t see any massive up-front pet fees, but breed and number limits are in place in some places, but not all.

Location? The desert is beautiful in winter and the temperatures are sublime. You have the whole Lake Mead Recreation Area, including Lake Mohave, which is mentioned in several episodes of my favorite old radio show, “Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar.” Mountains and snow are as close as an hour away in Arizona, or two hours away in California at Big Bear Lake or Lake Arrowhead. Lots of beautiful country in the southwest, once you get away from large urban areas.

But how to be available in Los Angeles for in-person auditions during the prime months of the year? (Actor friends in LA have told me that it's slow during August and from about mid-November through mid-January.) The couples we’d met at the ball game had found short-term rentals, but that option was still costly and might actually involve moving stuff.
Didn’t want to do that.
Matthew McConaughey in front of his Airstream in 2009

Then I thought, what about a travel trailer or other recreational vehicle (RV)? Musicians often travel in RVs, those huge, bus-like things. Still, when I think of RVs I usually think of old folks touring in their Winnebago. Do actors live and travel in RVs too?

As it turns out, yes, they do. Actors like Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey, who lived in a customized van before taking to an Airstream travel trailer at Malibu (the RV park is right on the beach). You can read about it here.

Actor Jeff Daniels both vacations with his family and tours with a band in a Class A bus.  He posted a funny song on YouTube about driving away from a truck stop minus his wife, as well as a series of videos on taking to the road on a band tour to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in winter. His series about the band tour begins here. His comedy song video is below.

Now to choose the magic vehicle that will get us to LA for part of the year on a budget. We were pretty sure right off that it would NOT be a 42 foot bus. That's in Part 3.

Getting to Los Angeles, Part 3

The more we thought about getting an apartment in Nevada, and taking our own mobile accommodations to Los Angeles for that prime part of the year for auditions, the more it seemed like a good idea. My husband will be polishing his three draft novels - and developing new ones - so he can work anywhere. We would be out of the desert during that part of the year when it's ridiculously hot. We could park ourselves in different locations, from beach to mountains. If neighbors nearby got noisy or unpleasant, we could move. Plus we could stay mobile for location filming and take our pets with us. We're Westerners by birth. No limits, Baby!

But what kind of mobile accommodations were going to feel most comfortable and at the same time be the most mobile? We found out that with more and more employment being do-able online a lot of working-age people are ditching the 9-5 routine and opting for a place-to-place life on the road, so researching RVs and what is involved was easy (search RV Living). Pippi Peterson, who has a HUGE following online, explains some of the pros and cons below. Her YouTube Channel has scores of videos on how she renovated her used Class A and now maintains it. Note that in 2014 when the video below was made she reported living in Southern California in her RV for just $800 a month, not the $4600 (rent plus utilities plus fees) that we saw with a two-bedroom apartment (and getting a one-bedroom would have taken only about $1500 off of that.)
We looked at Class C motorhomes because they seemed more drivable for us novices, but since we knew the rig would sit idle for weeks and months at a time, and we'd end up having to tow a car as well, we had our doubts. They didn't quite look like a "home" on the road, so we started looking at travel trailers. Well-loved (i.e. used) travel trailers and RVs can be had for less than $20,000 dollars, especially if you're handy, as Ms. Peterson is, but taking our cue from Matthew McConaughey, and knowing that we'd be living this mobile life for about five years, a trailer for us (used or new) meant an Airstream.

Airstream started building travel trailers back in the 1930s, and almost 70 percent of them are still on the road. The reason is that they're extremely well-built, they're aerodynamic (they tow really well!), and the silver-bullet design means they hold their value. When they start to look shabby owners simply polish them on the outside and renovate them on the inside.

I will say too that when we drove 75 miles to the nearest dealer and actually saw the models, we fell in love with the light-filled interior and the fact that, even on rainy days (sunny days you have the whole outdoors) the 25 ft. model had enough floor space for two adults, two cats, and a dog without us stumbling over each other. New they're pricey, but less than the cost of a small condo in major cities. Take a look at the International Serenity model below. It's beautiful.

So in a few months we'll be in the market for an Airstream and a Dodge Ram 2500 to tow it, and then we'll be off for Nevada to find a home base and settle in before heading over to LA. This is going to be quite an extreme lifestyle in many ways, including the fact that we'll spend part of the year among 10 million people and part of the year among 12 thousand people (or even fewer!)

But I'm so glad we found what seems to be a solution. There is only so much film work you can get outside of New York and Los Angeles. Even Atlanta, a hot spot for film, really tops out at day player roles, so if you want a chance at roles with a bit more meat on them, you have to go to where they are.

So, who knows? Maybe next year, this will be us.  If not at Malibu, somewhere in LA for sure.