Hello. I'm Roy. Get in. We're going for a ride.
Right around the time I started writing this story, I picked up a book about tribal tattoos, written by a Samoan chief. The opening line began, "I had to write this book." That first line was so powerful to me. It struck me then, as I started putting the pages of my life together, and it strikes me now, as I sit here writing this Introduction after, funny enough, I'm finishing this book. He wrote that line because he was compelled to tell the story of his tribe and his islands. Because he thought it was his destiny to help keep future generations alive by documenting the folklore, the information, and the stories that are passed down through the art of the tattoo. So it wasn't that he wanted to write that book. He had to. It was his spiritual duty.
In a small, weird way, I feel the same about this book.
I had to write this book. To tell the story of my journey from immigrant to latchkey kid to lowrider to misfit to gambler to a chef answering his calling. To tell a story of Los Angeles and the people who live here. And to preserve it all on wax.
But before we get knee deep in the messy yet beautiful chapters of my life, maybe it'll help to have a little map in your pocket. L.A. is a huge place, and sometimes the glare of stereotypes and television screens blind visitors to its true character, the amazing cultural diversity of our residents and the food. That muthafuckin' L.A. food.
So let me play tour guide for a minute and show you around.
We'll start in the same place I started when I immigrated here with my family from South Korea in 1972: Olympic Boulevard and Vermont Avenue. This is a big intersection in the middle of a neighborhood that's now the hardworking community of Koreatown, where the smoke from the Korean BBQ grills will stick to your hair for days no matter which fancy shampoo you choose and where you'll wash down your beers with crispy Korean fried chicken before hitting a multitude of other bars. A few miles north of here is Hollywood, and a dozen miles to our west is Sawtelle Boulevard, a little street with some of the best ramen and sushi in the country. Keep going west to see the canals of Venice and to kiss the sands of Malibu. UCLA and Beverly Hills aren't too far from the beaches, and if we hop northbound on the 405 and 101, we'll hit the San Fernando Valley—Granada Hills, Burbank, Tarzana, Sherman Oaks. Or if we ride the 405 southward instead, we'll drive right into the cradle of the South Bay—Torrance, Gardena, Carson, Long Beach.
East of Koreatown is downtown proper, where Hill and Broadway split like wooden chopsticks through Chinatown and the wind tunnels of Pershing Square whoosh us through the Jewelry District. Farther northeast of downtown is a whole other world: the hills of Pasadena, back down to the tacos and burritos and families in East L.A. and Boyle Heights, across to the amazing noodles and pho and soup dumplings in the San Gabriel Valley.
And there's so much more: From the SGV, we'll jump down the 710 or 605 freeway and drive through Commerce or Bell Gardens, passing factories and a casino or two along the way. Roll down your window and smell the sweet drippings of lechón and carne asada smoking in backyards as we swing by Cerritos or Whittier. Keep going south, and there they are, our neighbors, Orange County and Riverside.
To loop back to L.A., we'll head up the 110 freeway, pull off in South Central and Inglewood for a hot minute to ride the wide streets and grub on BBQ and soul food, and then swoop west on the 10 freeway, through downtown, to end up right back where we started—right here on the corner of Olympic and Vermont, the heart of Koreatown.
I know. We covered a lot of ground. But don't sweat it. I got the wheel and a full tank of gas. All you have to do is sit back and trust. In the pages that follow, you'll see a little bit of this magical city through the lens of my life and through the food of the people who really live here. Through all of that, you'll start to understand this amazing place that I was raised in and taste the flavors of the streets of L.A.
Thank you for picking up this book. Thank you for joining me on this ride through the crooked journeys of my life. L.A. welcomes you, and I welcome you, with love.
Oh, by the way, are you hungry?
Let me cook for you.
I got that, too.
You're riding shotgun with Papi now. What could possibly go wrong?
Excerpted From L.A. Son by Roy Choi. Copyright 2013 by Roi Choy. Excerpted by permission of Ecco.