How to Find the Studs in the Wall, How Do Valets Not Lose Keys, and Other Settling into LA Conundrums

Aye, still trying to figure out how to live here… The other weekend I was perusing the antique shops on Magnolia Boulevard in Burbank and this piece of furniture stood out to me. I’ve needed a bookcase since I moved here but I haven’t liked anything I’ve seen in the regular furniture stores. But I loved this one. It’s actually a baker’s rack, not a bookcase, but it serves the same purpose. Plus, ever since shopping the Rose Bowl flea market, I’ve kind of been into unique furniture functioning as something other than it was originally meant for. So I bought the baker’s rack.

But I remembered reading in The Elegant Variation, one of my favorite lit blogs written by a New Yorker turned Angeleno, that when he moved to his new L.A. home, one thing he had to do before loading the bookcases was to earthquake-proof them, meaning fastening them securely to the wall so they wouldn’t topple over in the event of an earthquake.

So this was in the back of my mind when I bought the piece of furniture. The man I bought it from told me no worries, just go to a Home Depot and buy an earthquake proofing packet. It should have everything I need, with instructions. So I did. And the guy there also acted like it should be no big deal; just follow the instructions.

I thought package would consist of some burlap straps which I could tie around the furniture and nail into into the wall. Simple. But so not. According to the instructions, after finding an ideal place to velcro and snap the straps securely around the rack (which was hard because of the rack’s kind of ornate design), I was supposed to screw the things into the wall, for which I’d need a drill of course. But I couldn’t just screw anywhere – I needed to find the studs in the wall so that the furniture would attach to something that would actually hold it, which drywall would not. For this I would need an instrument called a stud-finder. You could also just knock on the wall, but you have to know what you’re listening for – ie: the difference between drywall and a stud – which I most definitely do not. So I bought the stud-finder.

When I got the stud-finder home, I found that it operated on these rather unusual batteries, which I didn’t have and which didn’t come with the instrument, so I had to go out to the drugstore for those. When I finally got the stud-finder all ready to use, I carefully read the back of the package, which contained a kind of hidden warning that you need to be very careful that when the little red stud-finder light goes off, it’s actually a stud it’s found and not a pipe or electrical wire. The stud-finder can easily mix all these up. If you drill into an electrical wire you might be electrocuted and if you drill into a pipe you could really screw up the plumbing. In order to avoid electrocution, the package recommended turning off all electrical outlets. Which of course I needed to operate the drill.

I finally decided to call my management company. I was trying not to be a helpless woman, but, seriously, I have no carpentry skills; this is just way over my head. And I don’t even own this place if I do mess up piping or electrical wiring. I don’t remember the lease saying anything about not letting tenants drill, but I wouldn’t want tenants who know nothing about studs and drywall and pipes and electrical wiring drilling about if I were the owner.

So, a nice man from maintenance came and fixed it up for me. Funny, because he didn’t follow the instructions on the package at all – or even use anything in the package. He just drilled a couple large screws into the wall in strategic places so that if the bookcase were to be volted forward, it would probably be stopped by a screw. Not as secure as the earthquake proof kit, but I guess at this point I’m just not going to worry about it.

When I went to work the next day and told everyone about my angsty weekend, pretty much all of my co-workers laughed, and said they’ve never secured anything into a wall. Most people here don’t, they said – they just figure if it’s a small earthquake like the vast majority are, nothing’s going to happen, and if it’s a big one, we’re all doomed anyway.

So I guess that’s that. Anyway, for better or worse, I loaded the bookcase:

I don’t know what made me think all of my books were going to fit on it. I sold about 80 percent of my print books in N.Y. to the Strand and gave about ten percent more away to Housing Works, but somehow I kept so many that I still have more than will fit in one large floor to ceiling wrought iron case. And of course I’m buying more here (thanks mainly to Book Soup in West Hollywood), which I said I wouldn’t do. Didn’t say I wouldn’t buy books, just that they be of the e-version now.

Speaking of books, I also joined this book club called Ladies’ Guilty Pleasures Book Club, which reads mainly mysteries combined with romance. It’s run by a fantastic book publicist I met here through a journalist networking event named Liz Donatelli.

Anyway, their first meeting at which I joined was at this Italian restaurant on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks. It was held on a  weeknight, so I left work as early as I could so that I could find the parking lot. Not so that I could find the restaurant, but so that I could figure out where to park. I’m not kidding. Parking is by far the most confusing thing about this city to me, far more frustrating than driving.

As expected, I found the restaurant right away, then spent the next half hour driving back and forth past it trying to figure out where the parking lot was, or if they had one, and if they didn’t, where else to park. I found several general lots on the street, but I couldn’t gauge how far they’d be to walk. Here, it always seems like something is close by, and then when you try to walk it, you realize the streets are wider and longer than in New York and it’s actually much more of a trek than you thought.

Anyway, I finally found a narrow narrow driveway with an arrow pointing down with the words Panzanella (the name of the restaurant) written underneath, so I slammed on my breaks and turned on my – at that point I think left – turn signal, and when traffic finally cleared, sped into the narrow driveway. The parking was valet only. I figured okay, fine, my first valet experience. More of an expense, but I’m just happy to have my car and myself in the lot with five minutes to go before the dinner’s set to begin. But it made me worry the restaurant was going to be all five course $250 prix fixe plates or something.

Of course the valet wanted my car keys and I was all butterfingers as I tried to detach the car fob from the rest of the bundle. When I finally got it free and handed it to him, he flashed me a suave smile and delicately placed my receipt in my hand. Definitely an actor. But then all throughout dinner I kept wondering how he kept all those keys straight. There were so many cars in the lot. What if he mixed them up?

But nothing to worry about. Entrees in the restaurant were priced in the teens and low twenties and most wines weren’t more than $10 per glass. This is one of the oddest things about L.A. to me: a restaurant doesn’t have to be at all high-priced to have a valet only parking lot. The food was very good, and the valet was really good looking and smooth, and he didn’t lose my keys. And the book club was fun, and I made lots of very cool new friends. Next time, we’re meeting Jackie Collins at a restaurant in El Segundo, which should be a blast!


  1. You need a separate room for your books LOL or just a librarian 😉

    Valets, have little hangers that have numbers on them, that they put your keys on when they park it in a numbered slot. Like this:

    I wish I was coming down for a conference down in Ventura this summer and we could meet up but alas I don’t think funding will work out 🙁

    • I do need a separate room for my books 🙂

      Thanks for the info on valets.

      Oh, too bad if you can’t come down! If you do, definitely let me know and we will get together!

  2. I’m surprised your LA co-workers haven’t paid attention to earthquake prevention. Perhaps they haven’t lived through a big one themselves. In the Northridge earthquake, 60 people died, many when things flew across the room and hit them in the head – microwaves, heavy pictures in bedrooms, etc.

    I’d worry about that framed picture on the wall next to your bookcase. Either bolt it to the wall or put it on the floor or a low table. And even though the bookcase won’t tip over, the books will fly across the room. You can put a strap across each row, as the Japanese do, but it’s easier to think about where you sleep and sit and what can fly around, hit you in the head, and possibly kill you. If a big quake starts with the sort of massive shift/jolt that Northridge did, that stuff will fly before you have a chance to take cover. Keeping heavy stuff near the floor helps, even when it’s not bolted down.

    I was 50 miles from the epicenter of Northridge, but my place shook so much I had to brace myself against the wall to walk to another room. Once you live through a big quake, you won’t ever forget it.

    Fortunately, the recommendations for an “earthquake preparedness kit” are the same as the “terrorist preparedness kits.” Most importantly, bottled water, first aid kit, canned goods, manual can opener, flashlight, battery-operated radio and — this will be obvious if you think about it — toilet paper! If you only have one kit, keep it in the trunk of your car, as you’re just as likely to be away from home when it hits.

    • Thanks for the advice! Yeah, people here really don’t seem to take it seriously – I was honestly laughed at for even thinking about the bookcase. No one said anything about the paintings, and I have several large ones. I just thought they’d fall straight down (nothing is near my bed, of course), but I didn’t think about the possibility that a jolt could send them flying across the room. Ugh, there is so much to think about… I am going to have to get an earthquake kit as well. I have some of that stuff, but not all of it…

  3. I read your site……………

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