Here’s what I don’t understand about California: San Francisco: Beautiful. Big Sur: Amazing. San Luis Obisbo: Handsome. San Diego: Pristine. Santa Barbara: Elegant. Monterey: Charming. Pasadena: Lovely. Los Angeles: Why? Why are you like this, LA?
Everyone bitches about the auto-centric nature of Southern California, but hey, when they were building these highways, cars were for the well-off and they probably only thought there were going to be 400 automobiles on the road at any given time. And by the time those highways were congested, in the Space-year of our lord 4,000 AD we’ll surely have flying cars by then. The human race has a special talent of putting the burden of innovation onto the next generation.
But okay, since the only infrastructure Los Angeles has to upkeep are the roads they must be spackled so tight by a crack team of road maintenance workers ready to dispatch like the Ghostbusters at a moment’s notice. Surely if you expect wealthy patrons to buy automobiles in this town, you maintain a certain amount of maintenance to ensure their Bentley wheels don’t fly off in the middle of a highway. Nope! Even the most heavily travelled portions of road, like the onramp to the 101 seems like it’s been abandoned by the city since the 1970s. I want to bitch about traffic but it’s not what you think. It’s not always slammed. It’s completely sporadically slammed. Santa Monica to Los Feliz on a Tuesday at 4pm: 35 minutes. The very same trip on another weekday: 2.5 hours.
The sprawl is ugly and soul-sucking. It seems like everything was put up as quickly as possible with no oversight to any kind of aesthetic cohesion beyond ‘stucco’. Any attempts to beautify the city are half-assed and dismissed. People always tout the ‘natural beauty’ of Los Angeles. It’s a desert. The imported Palm trees are sickly and gross. The air is dry and smoggy. Your car is covered in a fine mist of dirt and debris within a week. “But you can snowboard and be at the beach in the same day!” Great! I’m sure seven people have done that. Driven 2+ hours each way to Big Bear and gone to the beach that no one swims in due to the frigid, contaminated water.
This sprawl makes it very difficult to meet up with people. Often I find I am regressing to old teenage habits, mainly driving to the mall listening to Portishead. I’ve literally driven to a store in Echo Park, and then given up on that high-perched dream after looking for parking for 25 minutes. The default mode of living in Los Angeles is to stay home. The ‘activation energy’ to do something is too high. Once I found myself at home at 7pm, and my friend invited me to see his show at the Improv at midnight. So around 11pm, I would have to drive 25 minutes to West Hollywood, pay $10+ for parking, pay the two drink minimum, see my friend’s set for 10 minutes, and then have to worry about DUI checkpoints on the 25 minute drive back at 2am. But it’s cool because everyone flakes in LA. Flaking is totally acceptable. The difficulty of navigating the city has become a normal excuse to shirk social interactions. It has all the inconveniences of a city and all the inconveniences of suburbia. At least in normal suburbia you never have to worry about parking. Luckily, I have a difficult 9-point parallel park carport next to my building, because my friends often need 20-30 minutes at the end of their day to find parking, and often when they do they need to wake up at 7am to move it. If you ask someone to meet up after that ordeal, you better be offering some magical. So you end up seeing people once every 2-3 months and if you’re trying to make connections in ‘the biz’ you find yourself compressing those interactions into transactions as suavely as you can. Often the suaveness is the first thing out the window as you have a time limit of two drinks before everyone has to drive home. Apply these principles to dating and you will have a dry spell that rivals Palm Springs.
Certainly I am not the only ones to take notice of this lack of civil oversight, as the most successful communities (West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Culver City) have shucked their mortal coil to become independent cities, and the difference is palpable the second you cross their borders. Well designed, manicured streets designed for pedestrians, bike lanes, uniform street signage, happy people. Even Santa Monica has incredibly reasonably priced public parking, and pedestrian malls filled with global chains to walk around. But don’t get me started on the vapid beach culture. The sun truly does make you dumb.
The two best ‘neighborhoods’ in Los Angeles are the Grove and the Americana in Glendale. These are upscale outdoor malls (also private property owned by global development firms) with luxury condominiums attached. These are painstakingly designed to replicate an ‘old-world’ Parisian town center, except it is populated by global chains and there’s a trolly for those who find walking around the 2-acre lot too intimidating. There is a whiff of “Can you imagine people used to live like this?” which makes me want to put my head on the tracks of the aforementioned trolly.
So far the LA bike stance is ‘Every Lane is a Bike Lane’, which is such a severe cop out, because mixing bikers into the narrow streets of LA which are already so saturated with cars you have to wince every time you pass someone, waiting for your side mirror to get knocked off. This is merely a cheap fix-all to make LA seem bike-friendly, but I barely feel safe driving on these drunk-driver filled streets let alone trusting the drivers of LA to stop texting long enough to notice me merging into a lane. And this is coming from someone who loves biking in Manhattan traffic. Your best bet is to put your bike in your car and head to ‘The Strand’ which is awesome when it isn’t populated by Segways and some odd new motorscooters they rent out to hoodlums. And once you’ve relieved all that stress you get to replenish it merging from the 10 to the 110 to the 101, where it will take an hour to cover two miles.
They say it takes 2-3 years of living in Los Angeles to truly appreciate it. What kind of learning curve is that? I’ve probably spent 6 days total over many years in Montreal and I would have sex with Montreal with no protection pleading to God I get it pregnant. I don’t think that’s 2-3 years of learning to appreciate something, I think that it takes 2-3 years for your brain cells that know what a city is to die off. And those 2-3 years seem like one long, grueling sunny day. Everyone loves a sunny day. But this isn’t ‘Return to the Blue Lagoon’ sunny, this is ‘Cool Hand Luke’ sunny. This is a scorching, dry sun which kills every living plant matter/will to live. But don’t worry, there are millions of sprinklers to water the grass every night, even if most of it ends up on the sidewalk.
So is worldwide ‘recognition’ worth years of your life? Why? So you can live in a secluded mansion in Calabasas? Leaving your gated community once a week to ‘take a meeting’ and groceries? This is a life? Everyone is out here to write/act/direct, but they’re stuck in the most mind-numbing environ I can imagine. Do you want to live an exciting/dynamic life or do you want to write about one? Los Angeles is the suburban hellhole I moved to New York to get away from. In New York, the rich/dirt poor share the same streets. The entire city is open to you. In every LA neighborhood there is a main drag and 90% private property you are not allowed to venture onto, leaving about 10% of ‘the city’ to ‘explore’. Silver Lake, for example, was recently called ‘The Hippest Neighborhood in the Country’ by Forbes. Silver Lake has one main drag, Sunset, which comprises of maybe 4 or 5 restaurants and 5 bars. It’s one street. Also, none of these establishments are within walking distance to each other. The rest of the neighborhood is a hilly residential area which I mistook for a Mexican shantytown in a recent pictorial. There is also the Silver Lake itself, which is a gated reservoir you are not allowed to touch or go near. There has been the recent addition of some green space, which is always soggy due to the constant watering it needs to survive and one (1) tree that offers any kind of shade. There is Runyon Canyon, which is nice, but it’s not a park, it’s a hill with a paved road you walk (hike) up. This is also a recent addition to LA in 1984 so God knows what people had to do before that. And before you tout about Los Angeles’ ‘deep heritage and ethnic culture’, I have yet to hear about a transplant going south of the 10, where all of the ‘rich diversity’ (East LA/Compton/Torrance/San Gabriel) is. So what are they talking about? Taco trucks?
The most fitting metaphor I can construct is New York is the party: you’re dressed up, the energy is high, the possibilities for the night are endless. Los Angeles feels like the morning after, groggy people in sweatpants nursing their hangovers by lying on the beach or ‘taking it easy’. They say LA is what you make it, which sounds a bit like Stockholm Syndrome to me. Yes, there is plenty to enjoy if you’re adamant about making the best of living in a subpar city to pursue your dreams of celebrity, which usually is composed of narcissistic and self-absorbed qualities that run opposite to those required for any sense of community. I’m jealous I don’t see what others see in LA, if only because of the expensive move back East.
P.S. The Getty is great.