Tuesday, October 10, 2006
From: Los Angeles Daily News
Yvonne Velez loves L.A.
You get the message from her convertible sports car, her spiritual leanings, her career rebirth.
Even her license plate proclaims it:
"I ♥ LA"
Velez is a classic California dreamer, a New York transplant who still believes life is better near the Pacific.
All those reasons to hate Los Angeles - the traffic, the smog, the people, the home prices - Velez overlooks. All she sees are sun and sand and a slower pace of life. Slower.
"Wow," the 58-year-old Chatsworth resident said she thought after arriving, "this is where I am supposed to be."
Velez had left behind the poor Puerto Rican childhood in the Bronx; the completing of college and a master's in finance while toiling away at full-time jobs; the long and cold days.
In 1980, the aeronautics company accountant was transferred to a Burbank office. Tired of New York winters, she jumped at the chance.
She quickly noticed the coastal differences, for better or worse.
"In New York, Mrs. Goldstein would come over - `Do you have a cup of sugar?' - and she would stay and talk for an hour and forget the cup of sugar," Velez said. "Here, you could live next door to someone for 10 years and never meet them.
"I had a mission: to bring a little bit of home to L.A."
Ten years later and burned out on bean-counting, she left Bendix Corp. and began soul-searching.
"What am I going to do when I grow up again?" she asked herself.
Five feet tall, with a tanned, muscular build and tightly spiraled golden-brown hair, Velez had become a health nut and an amateur bodybuilder. She was embracing LaLa Land and wanted to turn her new lifestyle into a standard of living.
She settled on massage therapy and physical training, later added assisting women during childbirth, and created a business: Yvonne's Touch.
The career change became a major factor in her happiness. Though self-employment carries its own stresses - inconsistent income, higher health-care costs - it meant not having to deal with a boss, making her own hours and choosing when and where she wanted to work.
Velez has opted for clients who live near her home, which has afforded her a relatively traffic-free life - a good thing in L.A.
"The key to life in Los Angeles is learning how not to commute a long distance," said urban historian Joel Kotkin.
The most recent report by the Texas Transportation Institute found that the average Angeleno loses 93 hours per year - 2 1/2 workweeks - sitting in traffic. The Bay Area is runner-up with 72 hours lost per year.
Another common knock on L.A. is that it's a lonely place, and that its suburbs are the most lonely of all. Friends of Velez, however, describe a vibrant and dependable woman eager to assist neighbors with the trash or fix their washing machine.
"She is always there like Johnny on the spot, helping," said Vicki Ahlers, a 66-year-old neighbor. "She is the type of person everyone would love to have as a neighbor."
In 1999, Velez decided her life again needed some new seasoning. Desiring a car that would let her savor the Southern California sun, she chose a white Mitsubishi Eclipse with a black convertible top.
"I was entitled to a fun, little, black-and-white convertible," she said. "And black and white is like the yin and the yang."
In picking a customized license plate, Velez listed 12 possibilities. She didn't think her top choice - "I LA" - would be available, so she placed it at No. 12.
But as the DMV checked No. 1, No. 2 and on through No. 11, the clerk had the same response.
"Sorry. Taken. Taken. Taken."
No. 12 was available - and a rare find.
"I wouldn't be surprised if somebody offered her $10,000 for that," said Richard Barnett, president of GreatPlateExchange.com, a site through which collectors can buy, sell and trade vanity plates.
A few months later someone spotted the license plate and offered Velez $1,000.
"Sorry. Not tempting enough," she recalled saying. "Then he asks, `Do you know Randy Newman?"'
Newman, whose publicist said he was too busy for an interview, wrote the 1980s hit "I Love L.A."
"From the South Bay to the Valley/From the West Side to East Side/Everybody's very happy/`Cause the sun is shining all the time/looks like another perfect day
"I love L.A."
Velez does not know the Oscar-Emmy-Grammy-winning composer. But she shares his sentiments about their adopted hometown.
"Most New Yorkers, or most people from out of town, they hate L.A. I truly, truly love L.A.," she said. "I'm a transplant and I love the place. Pollution and all, I love it. High real estate prices and all, I love it."
She later added: "I feel like I have been on vacation 26 years."