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No Place Like LA: What death taught Vivienne about life in Los Angeles




KPCC listener Vivienne Elliott (L) and her late friend Fred at a company dinner in November 1993.
KPCC listener Vivienne Elliott (L) and her late friend Fred at a company dinner in November 1993. "No one knew how sick Fred was, I had helped him get dressed to go," she says. "Three months later he was gone."
Vivienne Elliott

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NO PLACE LIKE LA IS OUR NEW SERIES THAT ASKS LA TRANSPLANTS AND IMMIGRANTS: "WHEN WAS THE MOMENT YOU FELT THAT LOS ANGELES WAS TRULY HOME?"

THIS IS THE STORY OF Vivienne Elliott FROM San Pedro.

I lived in Northern California before I moved to Southern California.

I made sure that the company that I worked for agreed that I could move back to Northern California – San Francisco – in 18 months. I couldn't imagine living in Los Angeles.

It was flat -- I couldn't understand where one community started and one community stopped.

But I had a really dear friend that I worked with: Fred.

He found me a place to live in Pasadena.

What I didn't know at the time, was that if it's not within a six block radius on a weekend in LA, you don't do it.

I said to him, "Let's drive here! Let's drive there! Let's go here!"

He was the first person to call me Vivianna. He said to me, "Vivianna, we're not going anywhere!"

Fred was the first person to take me to Mariachi [Plaza], and take me to a little restaurant called La Serenata De Garibaldi before anybody really knew that it was going to become as famous and wonderful as it did.

I was here for about a year when Fred got sick.

He didn't want to know what was wrong with him. There was diabetes in his family and I had hoped it was diabetes, but in my heart I had a feeling that he might have AIDS.

Not only did the results come back positive for HIV, but it came back positive for AIDS. 

This was 1993, when people were dying daily, and I kind of became his caregiver because he was uncomfortable and afraid to tell his family what was really going on. There's a special place in heaven for people with AIDS, and there's a special place in hell for people who don't help them.

When we had the Northridge earthquake, I called him that morning and I said to him, "Fred, are you okay?"

He said to me, "Why, what happened?"

He wasn't making the connections anymore.

And so I drove to his house and drove him to a hospital in Pasadena.

Fred didn't have any sort of living will, he had not made a trust. He had not done any of those things. He was only 33 years old.

Hospice told me and his sister that he had only four weeks to live, and his mother at that time made a decision that she wanted her son to die at home.

February the 13th was the exact day when hospice said he would die.

What was so amazing about his funeral: I would say all the family members that attended, and all of his friends were mostly Latino, so for me, it was a very different kind of experience. 

But what was more amazing to me was the cemetery itself.  People had placed pictures on gravestones, and it was that first year that I really came to learn about the Day of the Dead and what that meant to Los Angeles -- as opposed to other parts of California.

In that moment of seeing that following November's Day of the Dead, it sent a message to me that life and death were celebrated differently here in Los Angeles.

It spoke to me in a way that said: I didn't need to go back to San Francisco anymore. I needed to stop asking about that.

There is a community here. There's the larger community – the spirit of what makes Los Angeles so very different than other places.

I was home. 

TELL US YOUR OWN STORY, TOO. IF YOU'RE A TRANSPLANT OR IMMIGRANT, WHAT WAS THE MOMENT WHERE YOU THOUGHT TO YOURSELF, "L.A. FEELS LIKE HOME, NOW?"