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20 under 30: Leah Dieterich

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LAist's "20 Under 30" interview series with interesting Angelenos under 30 continues with Leah Dieterich, a 25-year-old who lives in West LA. You might have seen her at galleries, or run across a video she's made, or heard her playing drums in her apartment's bedroom. You might bumped into her buying coffee (she tells us she buys a lot of coffee). But it's a big city, so maybe you don't know her. Yet we're sure you know of her through her day job: she works at Secret Weapon Marketing writing TV ads for Jack in the Box.

You write Jack In the Box TV commercials! Which ones?
Let's see. Its funny because a lot of the time I don't know whether the spots are airing in LA or elsewhere in texas or something, but eventually I think they always make the rounds to most markets. I did one about Ciabatta Burgers where an employee puts talking parrots in all the restaurants to help people learn how to pronounce Ciabatta. I did another for a contest called Win Jack's Stuff, where an employee of Jack in the Box sees the contest poster and gets really excited about all the prizes he could win, says he wants to win a night with Jack's wife and when he realizes employees aren't eligible, he rips the poster down, and of course Jack is standing on the other side of the glass wall the poster was on, pouring coffee. And Jack has a straight mouth in that one. Which is my favorite expression of his. There's one with a focus group of guys who'd rather check out one of Jack's combo meals then two girls pillow fighting. Another spot features a PR guy who suggests Jack make "Ciabatta" rubber bracelets to promote the sandwiches a la Lance Armstrong. Cuz bread's more fun than cancer, right?

How did you get into ad writing?
I used to be a ballet dancer. Which actually has nothing to do with how I got into ad writing. But it is how I got to Indiana University on a scholarship to their music school. Once I decided that being devoted to a dying art that you can only do until you're 30 was shortsighted, I decided to pursue writing. I became a Journalism major. But I was interested in advertising for some reason. I didn't really know anything about it, but it seemed like a way to be creative, and support myself, which as a ballet dancer I would never have been able to do. I transfered to the University of Colorado, which has an incredible undergrad ad program and got into ad writing there. Two years of internship at a great little agency in Colorado and then I moved here and hostessed for 2 months while I sent out my portfolio. It's all about the portfolio. I always hated the concept of bullshitting on your resume and this job doesn't require that so I knew it was right for me.

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Where did you live before Los Angeles?
I moved here from Boulder, Colorado where I'd been living for about 4 years. I grew up in Connecticut. I'm rather proud of the fact that I've lived in all three "C" states. By proud I mean I find it marginally interesting.

Why'd you come to LA?
My husband and I came here for him to go to grad school at ULCA for architecture. I had studied advertising in school and done an internship and came to LA with him hoping that I could find a satisfying job as a copywriter.

What's been the most surprising thing to you about LA?
That I love it. I came here with a minor fear of driving and a bad sense of direction, so I assumed I was doomed. Also growing up in Connecticut, I had always thought of New York as the holy grail of places to live when you "grow up," so I was skeptical of LA. All I had ever heard were the bad things, the stereotypes that we all hear. So, the most surprising thing to me is that I love it here, and that most of the negative things people say about LA either aren't true, or are completely avoidable. For instance, I never really encounter traffic as I live 10 minutes from my office. So I'm protected from that aspect of the city.

Have your neighbors ever asked you to keep it down when you're playing the drums?
Nope! I have this crazy Pearl set that has mesh practice heads you can put on that respond like a real drum head but make virtually no sound. They still are pretty satisfying to bang on, which is most of the reason I started playing. I'm an avid cook, so I'm sure for the downstairs neighbors, my incessant banging of pots and pans is far more irritating.

What is/are your favorite book(s)/CD(s)/movie(s)/TV show(s) about LA?
When my husband and I came to LA for him to check out UCLA, we missed the plane in Denver and were stranded at the airport for like 4 hours. I got a lovely copy of Less Than Zero at the bookstore, which is a feat in of itself, considering airport bookstores are usually stocked with little more then than the hot pink foil paperbacks. I read the entire book before we touched down in LA and was completely in love with it.

So once we got to LA I had all these landmarks that I noticed from the book like Cedar's Sinai and the like. The first time I drove up Mt. Olympus, I freaked out because it was exactly how I had pictured the neighborhoods as I read Less Than Zero. I am always on the lookout for more LA-centric literature and music, but that one as a particularly special place in my heart.

What's your favorite LA place to get coffee?
Far and away it is Cafe Balcony, which is right off Santa Monica Blvd, just east of Centinela on the north side of the street. The guy who owns and runs it, Ray, makes the best espresso I have ever had the pleasure of drinking anywhere in the world. Besides espresso, which is my particular passion, he brews his small selection of coffee with a siphon, which is some old method of making coffee and is really impressive to watch. It looks like a bunsen burner from chemistry class or something. When I can't get over there I just have to make do with the espresso makers at my office and apartment.

What is the "center" of LA to you?
LA has no center to me. I mean geographically, for my purposes, Westwood and Beverly Hills are kind of halfway between where I live and where I like to hang out, (which is more like from La Brea to Silverlake etc). But in terms of a less functional definition of "center" I really don't think LA has one. And that is part of what I love about this city. I feel like "center" connotes importance of some kind and to me, no one part of LA feels more important than another really. Each place has such a strong sense of itself, that I'd say each little area of LA is it's own center.

It's 9:30pm on a Thursday. Where are you, and where are you going?
Most Thursday nights, I'm at home, working on my laptop, which functions as my entertainment and communication center, and occasionally workstation.

If you could make one thing be different in LA for your 30th birthday, what would you change?
I would make a subway line down Wilshire from downtown to the beach, that stops at virtually every cross street. Is that so much to ask?

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Where do you want to be when the Big One hits?
With my husband of course. But that's the obvious answer. I guess technically I'd like to be in Europe. But that's true regardless of impending natural disasters. I kind of have a fascination with earthquakes, having not really been through a real one, so a twisted part of me wants to be here. But don't hold me to that.