Sarah de Leon
A Few of My Favorite Things
Updated: May 23, 2020
I love a lot of things. Dog parks on a Saturday morning. Being drunk in Vegas. The sound of my friend’s laughter. The way it feels when someone strokes my hair. The right song playing at the perfect moment.
But nothing quite compares to the taste of black coffee at a crappy diner in North Hollywood at 2 AM.
I didn’t sleep last night. Well, that’s a lie. I got a couple hours buried underneath the trash heap that is the backseat of my car, worried someone was going to find me somehow and get me in trouble. I constantly feel like I’m in trouble nowadays which is insane because I’m almost a 23-year-old woman and I really shouldn’t be yelled at nearly as often as I am. But I digress….
I got out of work at 6:30 PM, tired and disheveled. That’s my new 9-5 average ….looking my absolute average. At a certain point in my life I wouldn’t be caught dead without at least a layer of solid black eyeliner around my baggy eyes. Now it’s treated like a special occasion when I actually put anything on my face that isn’t soap and water.
It’s funny how the dread of traffic takes away the simplest of pleasures in life like enjoying how you look in a mirror throughout the day.
I went straight to North Hollywood where the 8th grader I tutor lives. I spent a solid hour and a half agonizing over the very same algebra I told myself I’d never do again after I walked out of my last math test in college.
Life has a way of screwing with you sometimes. In the industry, we call this irony.
Before I left I said to her something along the lines of, “We gotta work on getting you out of your head so much. You need to have more confidence in yourself before you walk into a test. You got this”.
Hypocrisy. All of it. I know exactly what she’s going through. I was just like her 10 years ago. (Oh God she’s a decade younger than me I can’t believe I’m 23 next week…. but I digress)
I’m feeding her lines out of a Full House episode that will go in through one ear and out the other because the truth is – she’s gonna be lost in her head for a while no matter what I say. She’s not going to truly have confidence in herself for a while. She’s a preteen girl, they rarely ever do.
But still. She looks up to me. Me, the almost 23 year old who comes by 2-3 times a week to make sure she doesn’t flunk 8th grade algebra. Me, the person she’d rather talk to about the problems in her personal life as opposed to the problems on her computer screen. (They do that now, by the way. Give HW assignments solely done & graded online. Isn’t that nuts?) Me, the person who has no idea how to help her get over her test anxiety. Or her anxiety in general.
But I still come. 2-3 times a week. Every week. And I’ll keep coming back as long as she needs me to – even if she does become a math genius.
Because if there’s anything I know she needs, it’s some consistency in her life from someone who will listen to her. So I will be her constant. Other variables in her life may change, but I’ll still be there.
By the time I left her house, it was 9:00 PM. I stepped into my car and took a deep breath, thankful for the fact it was my boyfriend’s night off and I didn’t have to rush home just to walk the dog.
A thought flickered through my head – that must be what a parent feels when they get a small break. That brief moment of relief it’s not their night to take care of the kids and they can relax. Just for a second. They can spend more time thinking about themselves instead of the consuming love that is being responsible for a living being whose entire livelihood depends on your presence.
And then the moment of relief passed.
I was immediately overwhelmed with everything I had to do. I have a crowdfunding campaign for a movie I produced a year ago that’s almost ready to launch. I was given three new scripts to cover for the director I’ve been assisting. I have an outline for a movie I’m trying to write that has gone ignored for the better half of a month.
In high school and college, there wasn’t an option. You get the work done. The grades depended on it, and your life depended on the grades. So you get the work done and worry about your health later.
And there I was…a college graduate almost 23 years old (wow) and somehow I managed to still have homework I saved till the last minute. Lots of it.
I started making my calls. It took me three tries before I found a 24 hour diner that had free Wifi.
It was your typical diner. Small & compacted booths. Old photos on the wall from ages ago. In this case, it was pictures from old black & white films. Overworked waitress’s and busboys. It was everything I needed. It was comforting…like coming home for the first time in a while.
My boyfriend joined me for a late night dinner. The entire time we were talking and laughing I kept thinking:
“God, I don’t deserve this man. This wonderful, handsome guy with a great beard who left his rent free life to help me take care of a dog in an overpriced room we can barely afford.”
The same man who never questions my whereabouts and never picks a fight with me when I leave my room – sorry, our room – a complete mess. And sometimes I leave it for days at a time, bouncing between my job(s) in the greater Los Angeles area and my friends who are literally everywhere else.
The best friend who used to climb in and out of my window in college just so we could see each other before we were ever dating is now the same man who subconsciously rolls over to hold me in the morning when the first of my many alarms go off. I don’t even think he knows he does this, to be honest. He’s so tired in the morning he forgets his own name. He once threw our dog across the bed (“Yeeted”, as the kids call it these days) when she was trying to wake him up one morning and he didn’t even realize it until I told him the following afternoon.
So in a weird way, even his tired, groggy subconscious knows just the right thing to do in the morning when I’m forced to open my eyes and remember how much money my apartment costs…the only reason I go to work. To pay for a place I barely get to be in.
He always knows the right thing to do and say. I don’t tell him that enough. Hell, I don’t tell anyone enough. To everyone my boyfriend is as much of an enigma as he was when they first met him.
Good thing they’re not the ones dating him.
I watched as he packed up a little to-go box of fries for our dog. He’d die for our dog, that man.
I gave him a kiss and watched as he left. His night was coming to an end. Mine had just begun.
I was sad for a brief moment…wishing I could follow him home.
But like I said…nothing compares to a hot cup of coffee in a crappy diner in North Hollywood.
There’s something special about the way a diner looks and feels at 2 AM long after most sane people have left. It’s cozy but not relaxing enough for me to get distracted. It feels social yet it’s just the right amount of isolating. Time ticks on yet seems to stand still.
The comfort of a waitress coming by every so often to check on me and refill my coffee is all I need to focus.
And focus I do. My best work has always been done at a diner, burning midnight oil.
I thought to myself…..even if I make it as a writer, and I have a big house with the library I’ve always wanted, I think I’ll still find myself at 2 AM sipping coffee and making small talk with waitress’s.
No one really bothers you at a diner. And between the hours of 12-6, My phone goes untouched. It’s just me, my laptop and a bottomless cup of coffee that only tastes better with every sip.
Maybe that’s why I was meant to be a writer. Deep down, that’s all I really need in life. To be left alone with a cup of coffee to do the only thing worth doing when everyone else is long asleep.
The only thing worth doing. Period.
It was 3:30 AM when the charge on my laptop and cellphone gave out. That’s the tricky thing about these late night diner sessions…sometimes you get lucky and an outlet is available. Other times, you just have to hope you charged your electronics enough to get you through the night.
I walked out of the diner into the brisk LA night knowing I had two choices. I could either go home and get a solid 4 hours of sleep cuddled up in my sheets before having to wake up and prepare for the early morning rush hour….
Or…I could go to work. My 1 hour trek would magically disappear and turn into a 20 minute joyride down the freeways that rarely ever feel a car go more than 15 miles an hour on them.
It seemed unfair to the roads to deny them the simplest of pleasures of being driven on the proper way; A solid 72 mph without a care in the world.
And God, was it beautiful.
You forget how beautiful LA is when you’re too tired to think. When you’re just in a rush to get from point A to point B and the cacophony of horns mixed with the dread of the work day to come hang in the air.
You forget how the dips in the slick road make you feel like you’re on a ride in Disneyland, coasting around at a decent speed as you admire the pretty lights and scenery around you….take in the history and the energy that’s Los Angeles.
You forget how beautiful LA is. Period.
When everyone else was asleep, getting ready to start their daily routine, I was taking advantage of the road. And for a brief 20 minutes it was just me, the pavement, and green lights all the way through Hollywood Boulevard. It was like something out of a movie.
Except this wasn’t a movie. This was real life. Me, an almost 23-year-old woman exiting a crappy diner with blinking neon signs at 3 in the morning…driving as fast as I wanted to on the 101…admiring just how gorgeous the city is when I’m not dreading being in it.
And that was the magical part. I wasn’t dreading being in the city. I was living in it.
When I got to work, the parking garage was closed. I found parking a block away but when I tried to get into the building, the doors were also locked.
I walked back to my car, locked myself in, and buried myself under a pile of clothes I keep promising myself I’ll take up to my apartment but never do. I pulled out a book I’ve been reading for a while and read myself to sleep—another thing I love. I was still worried in the back of my mind that a cop was gonna knock on my windshield any second…
But 5:45 AM rolled around and no one ever did bother me.
I drove into the parking garage that was finally open, pulled a dress out of the backseat of my car (Sometimes my messiness helps me in the best ways), and walked into my office a decent 3 ½ hours before I needed to be there.
Well, at least my boss couldn’t yell at me for being late again.
I turned on the lights. I set my stuff down. I looked out the window….
…and I saw something truly incredible.
All four of my bosses have a giant window in their offices that stretch the entire length of the wall. It’s the only thing I’m really jealous of, those windows.
Every night I see the sun set through the corner of my eye all the way from my cubicle. And every evening I feel like I’ve wasted away yet another beautiful day in California…buried underneath paperwork, emails, and phone calls that are never for me.
As I stood there…looking at this giant window I often fantasized about having one day…. I realized something.
For the first time in my life…I was watching the sun RISE in LA.
And it was breathtaking.
I’ve seen sunrises before. I’ve seen sunrises with friends after pulling an all-nighter, lying on the grass outside of my childhood home. I’ve seen sunrises as I’ve snuck out of my ex-boyfriend’s window…long before his parents would ever wake up.
But never had I seen it peek over the top of a city building like in a greeting card. I half expected the sky to say “GREETINGS FROM LA” in big, bold letters. Just like the ones they sell on the strip. Except this was real. And mine. And not $1.
So here I am. Writing.
I still have work to do. Sleep to catch up on. In fact, in exactly 2 hours I have an 8 hour shift I have to pretend to care about.
But I had to write. (You don’t understand) I HAD to write. So I am.
I wrote. For me, this time. And this is not a homework assignment. It’s not a crowdfunding campaign, or script coverage, or emails, or an outline I swore I do but never prioritized.
I just wrote. Exactly like I used to when I was younger.
When I was 13 years old and people would ask me: “Where do you see yourself in 10 years?”
I always said…. writing. Up late at night, typing away with my legs tucked underneath me. Probably in a big city somewhere: New York or LA. Preferably with a boyfriend. Usually with a dog. My hair was always a mess. Even in my daydreams, I was a practical mess.
And I had one of those rare moments where I truly realized I am exactly where I should be. Not even should be, but WANTED to be. Here. In LA—a place literally hundreds of people move into every day just to get a taste of something I’ve taken for granted for 8 months. Writing. With a boyfriend and a dog I don’t deserve who are always happy whenever I come home. Whenever I finally come home. Home—in this sense—not being a room I overpay for but a feeling I’ve come to associate with the people around me.
And man, am I broke. So broke, in fact, I’m filing for bankruptcy just to get a bit of a redo on my finances.
And I’m a mess. My hair’s a mess, just like in my daydreams. My eyebrows are a mess, my clothes are a mess… my personal life is not necessarily a mess but it’s messy…and I’m in the process of tidying things up a bit.
I have 5 jobs. I’m constantly exhausted. I drive more than I sleep, I worry more than I relax, and I don’t take time for myself nearly enough…but damn it if I’m not going places. Because I have been. And I am. I’m going places.
I’m staring at this sunrise thinking…it all feels right. It feels right that I’ll soon be quitting this job that I thought would be good for me. That I’m figuring out what I truly want out of life now that I no longer am held captive by an education system in a society that said I needed two pieces of paper to truly succeed in life.
It feels right that I’m finally finding my place in a city that couldn’t care less if I existed in it or not.
Everyone great started out as someone the city didn’t care about. I think the ones who made it out alive are the ones who stopped caring so much about what the city thought and just did whatever they could to survive.
For me? That’s 2 AM diner sessions, messy hair, and more cups of coffee I once told myself I’d never drink.
And I do have confidence in myself. It took 10 years, but I finally see myself for something more than just a dreamer.
I can only hope if I can’t teach math that well, I’ll at least help give my student the tools to find her own voice. I don’t care if she’s bad at math, I just want her to be fulfilled in life.
I see myself as someone who finally belongs in the world she’s created for herself…so I can keep creating worlds for other people to live in when they get tired of theirs.
I’m turning 23 next week and I’m the struggling writer in LA I always knew I was gonna be.
And I saw a goddamn sun rise over the Beverly Hills skyline next to a billboard that said “Believe”.
If that’s not fucking poetic, I don’t know what is.
I love a lot of things. Nothing will ever beat how much I love writing though