I found my apartment on a terrible date

“Just make sure you don’t order too much food, because I only brought a certain amount of money with me.”

My date told me after the Bossa Nova waiter handed us our menus. It was a Saturday night in Hollywood, and this was my first date in Los Angeles after being offered a job at UCLA. I was looking forward to a date with a hot new guy to celebrate my achievement and my impending move to LA

He had lived in San Diego for 20 years. I moved there from Chino, my hometown, to attend San Diego State University, and spent many years as an executive assistant in higher education. Over the years, most of my closest friends moved to Los Angeles and life in San Diego became much more lonely. Between 2016 and 2018, I lost my father to Alzheimer’s, a young man to drug addiction and my confidence and enthusiasm to meet someone new and trustworthy.

In 2021, after landing my interview at UCLA, I was finally ready to move to LA. I was fully vaccinated and had stimulus checks saved in my bank account. But which neighborhood in LA would you call home? I couldn’t afford the luxury homes in Brentwood, but I also didn’t want to spend hours in traffic trying to get to my preferred Eastside and Valley neighborhoods: Eagle Rock, Glendale, or South Pasadena.

The week of my interview at UCLA, I crashed at my friend Kim’s house in El Sereno. While at her house, she was chatting with Antonio on the dating app Hinge. He was of Brazilian descent, tall, dark, and handsome, and a professor at Mid-Wilshire who was very charming over text. As the daughter of Ecuadorian immigrants, I was excited to meet a fellow South American.

Growing up Latina in Southern California but not of Mexican descent always made me feel like an outsider. Living biculturally comes with many unique challenges, like translating documents for your parents while trying to complete your Shakespeare homework and explaining to your parents what prom is and why it’s important.

Then there’s that extra feeling of not belonging to a specific culture or place (say, telling my Mexican-American college roommate that I grew up eating bread instead of tortillas and chili instead of salsa verde). This has been my lifelong struggle, and the possibility of finding an empathetic person in my next town excited me that afternoon in El Sereno as I exchanged messages with a beautiful stranger.

While walking around the area behind Cal State LA with Kim, Antonio called and asked if I would like to have dinner that night.

“I live in Park La Brea. You know that, right?”

“Umm, no,” I said, “but I can google it.”

“You can park in my place, and I’ll drive us to the Grove.”

He seemed like a nice enough guy, and I liked that he had a plan, a rarity in the dating app world, so I agreed.

It turns out that Park La Brea is a behemoth of an apartment complex. It took me at least 15 minutes to figure out how to get into the complex itself, and then I walked around trying to find which building Antonio was in. I finally found it. He was wearing a flowy, button-down shirt perfect for the warm July night, and he had a giant smile on his face. He guided me where to park in that beast of a parking lot, and then we were on our way to the Grove.

Although he was originally from Los Angeles, Antonio did not realize that the Farmers’ Market next to the Grove closes early. After seeing the food stalls closed and the lights dimmed, he suggested we go to a Brazilian restaurant.

“It’s very good. I think you’ll like it,” he said.

As we waited to exit the Farmers Market parking lot, there was an idling black BMW in front of us blocking the exit. I thought the driver was on the phone. Instead of honking his car horn, Antonio put his Jeep in park, jumped out of the driver’s seat, and walked to the driver’s side of the car.

I should mention that Antonio was a little over 6 feet tall, had a muscular build and shaved head, and had a bravado that would make anyone nervous, especially if he was outside someone’s driver’s side window at night.

The BMW sped off and Antonio got back into the Jeep.

“What happened? What did you say?” I asked

“Aw, I just needed a little wake up call.”

At that point, I should have asked to be taken back to my car, but my desire to avoid conflict and my hunger overcame my apprehension at Antonio’s strange behavior.

We got to the Bossa Nova restaurant on Sunset Boulevard pretty quickly. While looking for parking, I noticed how nice some of the apartment complexes on Hawthorn Avenue were. I saw twinkling lights hanging from a balcony and giant blue and gold flags fluttering in the light summer breeze announcing “rental” possibilities for buildings not normally known to have vacancies. I could smell jasmine in the air, and I saw the tiny white flowers sprouting from the deep green bushes that adorned the facades of old Hollywood buildings.

“This is kind of a nice neighborhood,” I said.

Antonio took a quick look around and said, “Hey, it’s a bit trashy.”

Once Antonio made it abundantly clear that he had no interest in spending more on me than you would on a Farmers Market stall, that he was an anti-vaxxer, that he wasn’t really a teacher but a karate instructor and was between gigs, I it was called with him, but not with that neighborhood.

Hollywood is a chaotic area, but my lovely 1940s apartment with crown molding and hardwood floors is walking distance to Bossa Nova. It was a great first apartment in Los Angeles. It’s where I lived when I finished a long-distance master’s degree and when I switched jobs from UCLA to USC. And it’s where my current boyfriend snuggles up on the couch with me as we scour Zillow listings for the next place I can call home.

The author is a freelance writer and graduate of UC Riverside’s low-residency MFA program. She is working on her first memoir and novel, and lives proudly in LA Follow her on Twitter: @MichellePoveda

LA Affairs chronicles the pursuit of romantic love in all its glorious guises in the LA area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email LAAffairs@latimes.com. You can find the shipping guidelines here. Previous columns can be found here.

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