When you move out to California from back east, you come for a reason: You’re leaving behind a bad relationship, or escaping your hometown, or thinking you’ll be a star. And what you find when you get here is that things aren’t what you thought they’d be. There’s some of what you expected—sunshine and palm trees and long, wide beaches. But there’s more: houses with cacti and succulents in place of the green lawns you grew up with; women in bikinis climbing ladders; trees groomed in an archway, the expected path between them blocked by a gateless chain-link fence. You answer an ad on craigslist for a used car and find yourself in a boxed-in car lot in Van Nuys and go for pie at Du-par’s afterward, because pie makes sense when you’re on Ventura Boulevard and it’s 95 degrees and the car wasn’t what the ad said it would be. And you’d think that, after all this, you’d become disillusioned and go back home, and some do, of course, but many more of us stay and instead of growing bitter, we hang on—hang on to a world that, to us, is even more fantastic than the one we thought we’d find, because it’s real in its absurdity and because we have stories to tell.