It’s funny how most people associate Los Angeles with the rich and famous. To them, this town is synonymous with extreme opulence, fame and materialism. While these assumptions are not necessarily false, I had the unique opportunity of interning in California that summer, where I saw firsthand both the light and dark in the City of Angels.  

❖ ❖ ❖

The office building where I worked was right on Wilshire Boulevard, complete with all its Hollywood glory and horrendous traffic. If there’s one thing I can say for certain about my journey this summer, it’s that I developed a thick skin from the brutal traffic and callous people.

I worked three days a week and spent my off days exploring my new city solo. I biked to Redondo Beach, drove to Santa Monica, Malibu and Venice. I explored the Getty, shopped in Manhattan Beach and ate at as many chic cafes as my wallet could afford. I even took a couple of weekends to go yachting in Newport Beach and kayaking in La Jolla with some college friends.

The days I was not waltzing around Los Angeles, however, were spent behind a desk from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. My tasks included researching designer contacts for New York Fashion Week, pitching to various film sponsors and making sure I stayed in my boss’s good graces.

My coworkers, on the other hand, were a different story. They possessed this sort of coolness about them I had never before seen in a person, and I wonder if I’ll ever see again. Spinning classes and Botox seemed to be their top priority, and when I first got to the office I was in awe of them. Tall, beautiful and 24, their careless composure began to seep onto my demeanor like honey. Part of me longed to be like them, but most of me hoped  I would never resemble a single one.

These girls bought everything the media threw at them — hook, line and sinker. Their idea of “beautiful” meant fitting into size zero clothes and they didn’t possess the kind of consideration my fellow Texans had.  They were truly the most self-obsessed people I had ever met. Whether they were talking about their weekend getaway to Palm Springs, the annual New Year’s bash they attended in Park City, Utah. or whether or not their boyfriends noticed their new eyebrow job, almost every conversation was about them. I remember feeling considerably out of place.

One particular instance stands out to me. One of my coworkers had silently dialed the phone in the conference room and I heard her voice echo against the glass panels. I stopped dead in my tracks once I realized what she was doing. . . scheduling Botox injections in her forehead. “No way,” I thought. This was the kind of stuff I’d heard about in movies, but I had no idea that some people took it so seriously.

As lonely and strange as work could be, I did make friends on my various adventures, and each of them was a cog in the Hollywood clock. Dara, an ambitious screenwriter from England, had given me editing advice at the afterparty of “Irrational Man.” Joe, an actor in the most recent season of “Grey’s Anatomy,” had taken me out for the most delicious sushi I’ve ever had. They both confessed to me how refreshing my presence was for them, how warm-hearted and sincere I was, and that I wasn’t like the other girls they knew in the industry. I will never forget their kindness.

As my summer progressed, I was becoming more and more confident. Maybe it was the detail-oriented tasks that I had been assigned. Maybe it was learning to navigate the generally cool demeanor of Hollywood. I’m not sure, but I know when I returned home to Texas, I found I had become a new person. I had become self-assured in my ambition and I looked on with excitement to my next adventure.