Making Life Choices When They Matter

I’ve been considering the future more than ever. When those who are close to you come close to death — and then pass away — it makes you rethink everything you’ve ever done. Did I waste time when I was younger? Did I make the right decisions? Do the decisions I made really matter? How can I make more of a difference? I don’t want kids. So how can I make sure I leave behind something else: a legacy?

The answer is easy. Making an impact to as many people as possible means that I’ve done all I can in life. But I’m still wondering how to make that impact.

Recently, I contacted a friend from an old law firm who I used to exchange information with often.  He came for a visit here once. We agreed that a hostile work environment isn’t a right fit for me. We also laughed when we discussed the irony of a hostile work environment resulting from providing legal help to clients who are suing due to…a hostile work environment. Sometimes those people are angry. Lawyers get splashed even when trying to help. They live with it and cope however they can.

Anyway, this has all been on my mind. I’ve been wondering and wondering, and leaving you all in suspense as to what I’ll do. I came up with something! …Decision making classes!

These classes specialize in specific subsets of skills, all of which have to do with improving decision making. For example, they will teach me to solve problems. I will learn to act as a leader. I will learn to reason, both with others and when exposed to the aforementioned problems. I will learn teamwork, time management, and organizational skills. In addition, I will learn the importance of intuition, emotional intelligence, and creativity.

Will these classes make a difference? I have no idea! But I’m hoping they leave me with more confidence.

When I look down that list, I think my biggest problem is organizing my own thoughts and ideas, and then reasoning out which are the ones to turn into action versus which ones should be filed away into the deeper recesses of my mind. We should all be more informed about the decisions we make. That means researching every possible contingency about the things we wish to do in life, and then making a decision. We can use new information to adapt to the decisions already made, but for the most part we need to stick to the decisions we’ve already made.

I think it will feel weird learning about intuition and creativity in a classroom setting — or at least one that has nothing to do with writing — but I’m willing to give it a try. Not knowing what to do is exhausting. This is especially true after the last year of hell. Mes amis, I wish you all the best. Hopefully you’re making better decisions, and faster decisions, than I have!

The Best Way To Write Home

Because the past few months have been so difficult, I’ve started to make pen pals of my own parents. Mes amis, sometimes the best way to write home is the oldest. It can be fun to receive an email. But more often receiving a physical letter is much more special! The best way is to simply send a letter without letting the recipient know they should expect it. My parents were supremely delighted.

Of course, they admitted to having a near heart attack when they first received an envelope with my handwriting and return address. “Your father put his head in his hands right away,” my mom wrote back. “‘She’s pregnant,’” he said. It was only a half-joke they acknowledged. They knew that my grandparents’ deaths hit me hard and that I’ve been living in a dark place. It was even harder for them. They know I’m still young and like to go out and hit the town for some fun. They know I take pride in my independence being single. I’m not the type to let some guy I barely know impregnate me, though. 

Mom wrote that she was much more optimistic: “Maybe you eloped up in the LA mountains on a beautiful moonlit night. Or on the beach!” 

These are translations of course. My parents don’t write in English, even though they can speak it well enough.

This has become an odd new tradition. My parents paid it forward to my still-living grandparents on my mother’s side, and they were pleased as well. We all agreed that we could use a more formal method of correspondence nowadays. Especially when some of us are too far away to travel back home — or when we don’t have the option at all because of COVID restrictions.

That’s my challenge to you! Pick up a pen and put it to paper. Write your loved ones. Or even write yourself. It can be cathartic to say things to people in a letter — even if you never send the letter!

Looking For Volunteer Work In Los Angeles

Mes amis! I hope everyone is looking forward to Thanksgiving (although it seems on the verge of cancellation). Whatever you believe, the holiday spirit is important. Let’s try to be positive and upbeat instead of depressed. It’s been a tough couple of years, but we can make them better. I’ve decided to volunteer at a local retirement home through L.A. Works in order to enrich my own life and the lives of others.

Volunteers who work with senior citizens through L.A. Works shouldn’t be nervous about their first visit. After all, that’s all you’re doing: visiting. The program trains volunteers. As a volunteer, you can opt to stay where you were trained or move somewhere more convenient. You are trained to recognize certain disabilities that are common with advanced age. You need only be 12 years old, but if you’re a minor you need a parent with you when visiting.

L.A. Works wants to know that these seniors are secure in their relationships with volunteer visitors. That means that visitors should expect to make themselves available at least once a week for an hour and for a period of no fewer than six months.

My first visit went well enough. My person was a retired Viet Nam vet who also served in numerous European locations. This provided us with lots to chat about. My story is unique after all. How many of his visitors have been young women who were born in France? He may have been a tad too happy about that. It was clear we respect one another a great deal, though.

It also inspired me to get in touch with a contact who works for a law firm in Pennsylvania. The firm in question has many practice areas, but we talked about the possibility of a career in estate planning. It would be a lot of work — and the job itself sounds mundane and boring. But it’s the people who you work with who make any job worth performing. Estate planning means working with people from all walks of life. In particular, it means working with people who want to prepare for the future. 

That’s something I think we should all be doing right now.

Helping others is an enriching life experience everyone should have at least once! Most of those who guide volunteers through their first act of kindness will tell you that volunteers usually come back for more. There’s a special feeling you perceive only when giving. It’s an important feeling.

There are plenty of opportunities even if you don’t live in Los Angeles. It doesn’t matter whether you live in a small community or a larger one. Your task might involve feeding the needy. It might mean painting the side of a building. You might ask about volunteer work through your own job. Companies like Home Depot have employees who devote their time to the community by doing work related to their skills learned on the job. 

Whatever you do, do something!

A Word About Community

Mes amis, it has been a long time since we last chatted — and it’s with a heavy heart that I come to you now. In late July, my grandmother became sick with COVID-19. Shortly thereafter my grandfather did too. When they were hospitalized, the doctors told us they were optimistic but to be prepared for the worst. My grandfather passed away first on August 3. My grandmother left us next on August 5. 

Although I longed to be with them, travel restrictions — and common sense — kept us apart. I was allowed to say goodbye via video chat with the rest of my family. 

It’s difficult to comprehend this kind of loss. We know we should “keep on keeping on,” but living in the real world is so much more difficult. I didn’t want to do anything. My family and I continued to chat online. My friends continued to drag me from home for a breath of fresh air whenever I would let them.

For the interim, my plans for law school had been put on hold. There were more important matters on my mind. That’s why I was gone for so long — but that’s also why I’m back! Mes amis, COVID is still with us. New strains mean new problems. Please get vaccinated! If you were vaccinated more than six months ago as an adult, you have the opportunity to get a booster shot. Please get one! It’s not about individual freedoms or your own beliefs. It’s about keeping our fragile community safer. 

Los Angeles has always made me feel at home away from home even when the culture shock was so very real at the beginning. And we need to protect that sense of community. Scientists believe that new coronavirus strains might very well be worse than those we’ve already seen. They might be deadlier. They might be more contagious. They might be more resistant to vaccines. They might be more likely to bypass our immune systems.

Please do everything you need to do to keep your loved ones safe.

Traffic Accidents In LA

A friend of mine was involved in a traffic accident a few days ago. The other driver was texting while driving — while turning — and hit him dead-on while he had a green light driving forward. The light had only just turned, and my friend was the third or fourth car to go through, so no one was driving too fast. Still, his leg was shattered by the impact. Who knew that someone could sustain that kind of serious injury from an accident at such low speeds? I think I’m more traumatized from the ordeal than he is.

He’ll be fine but he’s decided to lawyer up while the insurance companies communicate with each other. It’s probably unnecessary, but taking the precaution doesn’t hurt. And okay, mes amis, you probably already know that I’m the one who urged him to do it!

Personal injury law doesn’t work the way most people think it does. You don’t “retain” a lawyer like you might when arrested and charged with a crime. The U.S. justice system assumes innocence until guilt can be proved (or so we like to think), but criminal law pretty much assumes that a person who is arrested will be proved guilty sooner or later — which is why the accused is forced to pay to retain a lawyer up front. 

But personal injury lawyers work on contingency, which basically means they never get paid until their client wins the case. That works in everyone’s favor. The person who was injured will only be represented if the facts provide a strong foundation for a lawsuit, and no one can really be sued for personal injury if they weren’t responsible. Of course there are probably lawyers who draw outside the lines, but they’re few and far in between. The system cuts down on frivolous lawsuits, which are notorious in California.

After the accident, I did some research on traffic accidents in LA. We all know that traffic is horrible in the city — which is why I almost always ride a bike, walk, or Uber when I need to get from place to place — but some of the information I discovered still surprised me.

Want to visit LA when you’ll avoid the most traffic? Oddly, it seems that traffic congestion is at its worst in January, February and March — but at its lowest in April! Interestingly, April is actually a decent time to visit weather-wise. It’s not too cold and not too hot. And apparently tourists aren’t out in full force yet. No matter when you visit LA, you’ll want to avoid the roads from 5 to 6 PM each night, but especially Friday. 

There are an average of 150 accidents every day in the LA metropolitan area. That means on any given day, the chance you’ll get into an accident is low — but that sooner or later you’ll probably have an unlucky day. In 2019, around 235 people died. But there were tens of thousands of injuries. So be careful when driving, and try to walk if possible!

Backpacking The Pacific Crest Trail

A few friends and I have decided to hit the trails again. A few months ago, I wrote about how we did the Lost Coast Trail last year. It was such a great experience, and hiking really is addictive when you kill the miles day after day! The great views are a huge bonus. The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) isn’t so far from LA, so we’ve decided to go out for a week or two and “section hike” a portion of it. 

There are dozens of long-distance hiking trails in the United States, and even more abroad. Some are way more popular than others. For example, many people have heard about the “Triple Crown,” which includes the Appalachian Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. These are all over 2,000 miles and most people tackle them in that order.

But for those who don’t have months and months to devote to these epic journeys, there are a number of “shorter” long-distance hiking paths. The “Triple Tiara” includes the Vermont Long Trail, the Colorado Trail, and the John Muir Trail. Most people have only heard of the last. The Colorado Trail and John Muir Trail are especially beautiful. 

Coincidentally, all three run concurrent with Triple Crown trails for some miles. The Long Trail runs concurrent with some of the Appalachian Trail in Vermont, The Colorado Trail runs concurrent with the Continental Divide Trail (in Colorado of course), and the John Muir Trail runs concurrent with the Pacific Crest Trail.

The PCT near LA is mostly dry and arid, but that isn’t stopping us. We’re accustomed to this environment by now! But it does mean we’ll need some new gear. Some people bring sunscreen, but we’ve opted for umbrellas instead — and we know how crazy that sounds, but it’s apparently becoming more and more popular to carry an umbrella. We’ll see how it goes. Wish us luck!

The Debt Collectors Are Coming!

A friend of mine recently received a note in the mail that said he was being sued for unpaid debt. I was familiar with this stale old routine in France (where it works similarly), but the indignity of going through it still shocks me. Big banks will provide loans to people who will never be able to pay them back — and all without doing any real background check or research to find out the person’s financial status. My friend was sucked into a black hole without even knowing it. 

Sooner or later, he’ll be in court because he can only pay so much and the bank won’t negotiate in good faith. Debt collection from Bank of America works differently than it does with other banks. Bank of America sends their own people after you, while other big banks sell the debt to a third party and let them come after you.

That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to settle — it just means the process is a lot more difficult and my friend will probably need to hire a lawyer to square the debt owed. He’s recently out of work because of COVID, he had major health-related expenditures because of COVID, and he’s couch surfing…because of COVID. He called me crying, and it’s not like I don’t understand why. I love this country, but the way it treats its own citizens is heartbreaking sometimes. 

Los Angeles is notorious for its high rent, and my friend is having trouble finding a new roommate. That means he’ll probably have to leave the city and find someplace else to live. He’s worried that it’ll be just as hard to find a job anyplace else, and he’s not sure what financial assistance he’ll be able to find in a different town or state. Nothing is standardized for simplicity’s sake. What’s worse, he knows any wages he earns after he does get a job will be garnished sooner or later if he can’t come to an amicable deal with Bank of America.

Thankfully, I’ve been able to connect him to some of my legal contacts — I haven’t even decided whether or not to enroll in law school and I’m already reaping the rewards! They haven’t been able to sit down with him yet because of the influx of new clients and delayed legal action due to COVID, but it should happen very soon. I’m optimistic they’ll work something out on his behalf.

He’s not. I say he’s pessimistic, but he says he’s “more pragmatic than pessimistic.” I think that’s just another way of saying you’d rather sit on your butt and worry about the future instead of getting off the couch to do something about. I’m sending him dozens of job applications in the mail without a return address. Maybe he’ll think they’re from an angel or something! Hopefully his situation will turn around soon.

Unemployment Rates Still High In LA

It’s been a scary year filled with uncertainty and dread for many Los Angeles families. Mes amis, I’m lucky not to count myself among them. Many of my friends are still searching for work with little to no luck, though, and I wish there was a way to help. Tens of thousands of new jobs were added (or more likely old jobs added back) as of February, but that still puts the unemployment rate at a staggeringly high 11.5 percent.

That’s still a pandemic low according to the Los Angeles Business Journal, so that’s something.

One of the issues we’re seeing right now is that more people are starting to attempt to pick up the pieces by reentering the workforce. In February, 242,000 people began looking for work. Throughout most of the last year, the vast majority of unemployed Los Angeles residents were simply staying put to recuperate or look after their families. This can skew jobs reports, which don’t take into account people who aren’t even looking for work.

Probably not a surprise, but the vast majority of jobs added came from the food service industry. That’s because the more people are vaccinated or have had coronavirus, the more the city is allowed to open up. Businesses that could only allow outdoor or reduced capacity seating are slowly able to fill to capacity — and business has been growing since people have so much pent up energy.

I’m not ready to risk going out yet, but I did recently receive the second vaccination. It feels safer knowing that the risk of serious complications from COVID is greatly reduced or eliminated, but the nagging feeling that the pandemic could drag on forever is still there. Some scientists believe that the coronavirus will become endemic — meaning it will be more like the flu, a virus for which we are routinely vaccinated but still presents a huge public health threat. We’ll find out sooner or later, I guess. Stay safe and stay healthy, mes amis!

Rent Still A Problem In LA

Millions of people in and around Los Angeles are still struggling to pay for basic living expenses, including food and rent. Thankfully the COVID-19 Emergency Rental Assistance program that helped so many of us keep paying our landlords is giving us a second round of relief. Mes amis, I say “us,” but I was lucky enough to hold out long enough that I never missed a payment. Lots of renters and landlords are in trouble even with the assistance, though.

It’s different here than in other cities, where you won’t find any help at all except from the federal government — and even that is limited. Technically, our assistance programs are limited too. The relief will only help 64,000 families. That might sound like a lot, but it’s a drop in the bucket compared to how many people actually need help in total.

$235 million goes to rent assistance while another $3 million goes to eviction protections. It’s a start.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said, “The nice thing about this (program) is it goes backwards, it’s from April 1 of last year to March 31 of this year, so it’s not just about paying a month of rent or two forward. It’s about erasing that debt that is stressing out families today that wonder whether or not they will be able to make their rent, not just this month’s rent.”

The first package included $98.26 million for rent subsidy. 

BUT…City Council President Nury Martinez acknowledged, “A year into the pandemic, 90,000 Californians are still behind on their rent, the city’s unemployment is still over 10% and families in our city owe anywhere between $4,000 and $7,000 in past rent due. This program will bring working families one stop closer to recovery.”

The program works in one of two ways, depending on whether or not a landlord wants to cooperate. If both tenant and landlord agree to apply for assistance, then the landlord will be compensated for at least 80 percent of the unpaid rent that built up between 4/1/20 and 3/31/21. The big question mark is whether landlords will agree to the final term of the deal: waiving that last 20% of unpaid rent completely. That could be a huge sticking point unless they think they won’t get anything without an agreement.

The second option — if the landlord doesn’t agree — is for the renter to receive a quarter of the unpaid rent and assistance for the upcoming months. It’s not as good as the former option — and to me it hardly makes sense at all — but it’s something. Still, why not give the 80% directly to the renter and ask them to take responsibility for the remaining 20% if the landlord doesn’t agree? It’s putting the burden on the renter for no reason.

People forget this: renting land and infrastructure is an investment like any other. There’s no guarantee you’ll get a return on your investment. Sometimes, the world doesn’t cooperate. COVID happens!

Earthquakes In Los Angeles

J’aime les tremblements de terre! That’s how we say “I love earthquakes!” in French. They’re scary, but they create an adrenaline rush at the same time. For all the horror they create around the world, they show that humans know how to help one another out in times of crisis. What is it, you say? Death is the great unifier? Natural disasters are the reason we’re built to think this way, I believe. 

On April 5, there was a 4.0 earthquake near Inglewood. That’s not strong enough to mean big damage, but there’s always the chance that a bigger quake can be followed by a small one. And so everyone was understandably worried.

The good news is this one probably won’t have a follow-up quake, because scientists don’t believe it was along a known fault line. Dr. Lucy Jones tweeted, “The M4.0 that just happened was under Lennox, CA, near Inglewood. Very deep at 20km, so everyone is at least 20 km away. Would have been felt by most people awake in LA. Movement was thrust, probably not on any mapped fault.”

There were a couple of even smaller quakes beforehand, a 3.3 and 2.5. No big deal!

The 1994 Northridge earthquake occurred before my time, but it’s the biggest that most LA residents remember. It coincided with Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Jan. 17. That’s to the far northwest of Downtown Los Angeles deep within the San Fernando Valley (a place where I avoid because it’s 10 degrees hotter than the rest of the city). It only lasted up to twenty seconds.

But it was so strong that it was felt as far away as Las Vegas. 60 people died and thousands were injured. At least two major aftershocks were recorded, both relatively powerful 6 pointers. Thousands of smaller quakes were recorded in the days afterward. There was around $50 billion in damage.

J’aime les tremblements de terre…but not when they’re that big!