So, I am inspired to write this week’s post on Los Angeles for a number of reasons, but mostly because there are so many thoughts about this city percolating in my mind, if I don’t express them soon, I think I’ll forget them.
Los Angeles, we’ve had issues. Every time I’ve visited, you give me a warm hug, a beautiful rainbow sherbet-dappled sunset and then leave me waiting for you in traffic.
Los Angeles, let me give you some feedback that is meant to be a compliment but you probably won’t take that way. You’re everyone’s dream of a city, everyone’s nightmare of a suburb, a paradise fit into a traffic jam. Some people point to Las Vegas as the quintessential American city, but in my book you will always be what I love about the U.S.A. You are boundless energy, countless people with strange dreams all striving for some piece of an American life that no longer exists.
OK, I’ll be honest, the first time I saw you I knew I had to know you. I watched The Muppet Movie religiously on VHS as a kid and each time that Kermit reached Hollywood I would rewind. It made sense. Where does a frog and a bear and a pig and a gonzo go in a Studebaker? Oh, duh, Los Angeles. The destination. You start in the swamp and if you’re really lucky you make it to Hollywood. If you’re not lucky, you’re stuck with a banjo and a dream. My family and I visited Disneyland when I was about eight and I was even more convinced—what other town has its own “Fantasyland?” What other place offers that experience? Disneyland Paris, but who wants to commute that far?
And then I moved here this past summer and I found another aspect of you. You’re not perfect. In fact, even though you offer everything, you really give away nothing. The metaphor for my six months here is the freeway—an unnervingly convenient eight lanes always packed with cars. You either see yourself in the adjoining cars’ reflection or you look out into the traffic and you see nothing, you see brake lights, endless lines of brake lights carelessly spreading to the ocean.
Los Angeles you are lights, pollution, people, traffic, sprawling suburbs reaching across Orange County or into the hills and the San Joaquin, cars stretching from beach to desert to valley and in between, careening everywhere and nowhere, constantly turning around, being stopped, crashing, washing away to the ocean. You are a monolithic scape constantly changing but never changed. On the sides of Boyle Heights bodegas are Stars of David, abandoned factories are newly renovated hundred-seat theatres, and former beauty salons on Wilshire are statuesque relics.
Los Angeles, you think you’re all that and you are. I have seen your best aspects, your Beverly Hills and Bel Airs and I am amazed. But I’ve also seen your slums and your shantytowns and I can’t help thinking that those things are even more indicative of your character. You are everything the movies, America, the world promises but you are the stark reality of those things coming true. You are heat, light, endless summer and the perpetual anger of living in a well-lit urban wasteland offering no escape.
Well, there is escape. I can just as easily leave as I came, I think. It doesn’t really matter, anyway, nobody will remember or care. But when I leave you, you’re gone and I will miss you. Where else do I go? Peoria? New Jersey? How boring! Imagine waking up and not being a stone’s throw from the Universal lot? How could you go to the grocery store in Akron in the middle of the night without expecting the paparazzi (even if they never come)? You are my city and here’s the tragic thing, you don’t even care.