Bruce Lai: Los Angeles

What’s your historical Los Angeles and New York connection?
I have served on the board of a Los Angeles-based national nonprofit called Public Health Foundation Enterprises (www.phfe.org) for the past seven years. For the first six years of board service, I flew out to Los Angeles for board meetings every quarter — and every time, I would stay the weekend to explore LA. I fell in love with the city because I just felt more relaxed in Los Angeles — sitting outside, sipping a drink in the cool, dry nighttime air always felt amazing (and still does).

Describe your experience in LA.
My wife and I were going to the move to the Bay Area to be closer to family, but after a few unsuccessful tries, we decided to look for a house in the Los Angeles area, Pasadena to be specific. We are incredibly happy with the decision. My daughter is super happy to be able to play outside, go swimming and play at the beach. Plus, we’ve met a ton of great people in the past year. After I left my last education technology startup, I decided that my goal was to create a job so we could stay here as opposed to moving up north (to the Bay Area) or back east (to NYC). So I’ve found some great partners to start up a few companies, one in the social innovation space (mergers and acquisitions for nonprofits with Paul Hudson) and another in education technology — specifically educational games (with the creative studio, backCODE lead by Grant and Sophia Viklund). I am truly enjoying myself.

Describe your experience in NYC.
I lived in New York City for almost 14 years. Because I spent a good chunk of my career in local government and politics (including a stint as Chief of Staff to Council Member Gale Brewer, the newly elected Manhattan Borough President), I got to know all five boroughs. I love New York for the people. Everyone is striving to do something interesting and amazing. That energy is contagious. I also love New York because it’s an immigrant town (as everyone is from someplace else), but everyone becomes a New Yorker if they stay long enough. That’s where it’s messy, lovable diversity comes in. I think Los Angeles is the same way. It is a immigrant town with the same type of messy diversity that New York has.

What was the biggest challenge of moving from NYC to LA?
It’s been pretty easy. The lifestyle is much easier. However, one thing that is definitely different is that New Yorkers are direct, very direct — both refreshing and tiring. Angelenos are less so.

How can NYC and LA best engage with each other?
New Yorkers need to keep an open mind about LA. A lot of New Yorkers want to move to San Francisco because they see it as the West Coast version of NYC, but I think Los Angeles is much more fun.

Favorite LA secret spot
So far, it’s Norma’s Tacos on Colorado Ave. in Pasadena. It has awesome grilled fish tacos and the red chipotle salsa is to die for.

Favorite NYC secret spot
This is a tough one. Most of my favorite spots are pretty well-known. I’d say that the places I miss are Taim in the West Village (the best falalel you’ve ever eaten), La Esquina in Soho (great tacos! yes really!) and Lucali in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn (miss Brooklyn-style pizza).

What’s on your playlist right now?
Lots of Shout Out Louds. I’m really digging Swedish hipster music these days.

From the 2462 Miles newsletter: connecting NEW YORK CITY + LOS ANGELES

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