People move to LA in flocks creating a constant and heavy influx that drives up real estate prices and clogs the freeways. I’ve heard, however, that we transplants turn around and hoof it out of here in an average of seven years. Why? What’s so bad about LA, I mean besides the obvious exaggerated real estate prices and not-so exaggerated smog layer (excuse me, marine layer)? It’s a huge city, with tons of night life, tastes of every culture, beautiful beaches, year-round summer, and let’s not forget the oh-so-frequent Starbucks celebrity sightings.
What do I love about LA? Where could I possibly begin…oh, let’s start with that perpetual summer, shall we? Today, in the dead of winter, where New York is covered in snow and bears in Montana are still in too deep a sleep to even wake up for a mid-hibernation pee, the high was 72 degrees. My winter coat is still at my mother’s house in Albuquerque, stuffed in a closet and covered with dust. I don’t even remember what color it is. There is no winter in Southern California. No chance for eager young children to awaken to a world blanketed in white, no opportunity for them to sit glued to their radios and televisions waiting for news of a snow day. Shopping for clothing during the winter season is an exercise in futility, as I will have no need for all those beautiful cashmere sweaters, the trendy scarves, or the matching knit hats and mittens. I will never need to wear a classy overcoat or cute little snow boots. Packets of hot chocolate grow lumpy and stale in my cupboards, and their mini-marshmallow sidekicks congeal into a solidified mass from disuse. Fires remain unlit – unless they reside in faux fireplaces – and my cozy quilt languishes on the top shelf of my closet. My flannel pajamas, abandoned in their drawer, have taken on the stench of old cotton. I watch a December NFL game in Green Bay and I feel like weeping. Somewhere on the planet, it is winter, and I want to be there.
I don’t have a shot at that, however, as I am stuck in traffic. It would take me three years to get to Green Bay, one just to get to the airport. Traffic has no rhyme or reason on LA freeways. A mire of honking horns and smog-feeding exhaust can give way to free and clear 80 MPH roads in the blink of an eye, with no explanation as to why it ever stopped in the first place. It could be something as innocuous as a fender bender at 3 p.m. that leads to a 5-mile jam at 5:30. Or it could just be a sneaker that inexplicably shows up on the shoulder. Who knows? Certainly not the traffic reporters – who only report on the half hour, as if that did any good – because as soon as you hear the report of an accident, you’ve already been stuck in the resulting stop-and-go for fifteen minutes. And I dare you to try alternate routes using surface streets. No surface street is a through street in Los Angeles. They want you to be stuck on the freeway. That way you can’t rush home to turn on all your major appliances, thus contributing to a power shortage.
Once I eventually get to my destination, I find that there are very few available parking spaces, even for my little Honda Civic. This is an endless mystery to me. I grew up in the land of wide open spaces (New Mexico, which is wide open because no one lives there). We had no shortages of parking spaces. I’m not sure I’d ever even been in a parking garage or parked at a meter until I moved to LA. There was no need. We had room for everybody. Not here, though. Here, the percentage breakdown of a parking lot is 75% compact spaces, 10% motorcycle spaces, 10% handicap and 5% regular spaces. The percentage breakdown of vehicles in the county of LA? Going by my own observations, it’s about 30% compacts, 60% SUVs and 10% Arnold-wannabe Hummers. Translating this to my parking situation, that means I’m generally left with two options: park somewhere in Ontario and walk to my ultimate destination in Santa Monica, or somehow accordion-fold my car into a compact space between a yellow Hummer and a pimped-out Escalade. SUV drivers are just too high up in the air to see the compact labels on parking spaces – or they’re just too damn big to care.
For that matter, they’re too high up to see anyone not also driving a vehicle the size of a Lear Jet. Complicating matters is the prolific use of cell phones while driving. We are stuck in traffic so much in Los Angeles that we feel we might as well make use of our downtime by making all those necessary phone calls. So Soccer-Mom Susie tools around Beverly Hills in her Lexus SUV with a Motorola glued to her ear. She can’t see around the blind spots in her NASA-engineered roadcraft, and believes the mirrors are only to be used for checking to see if her Estee Lauder lipstick is smeared on her teeth. She pummels through the other cars on the road without making use of that sticky-out-thingy the rest of the world recognizes as a turn signal, yakking away on the phone so she can extend her credit card limit for another day or give her nanny instructions on where the kids’ soccer matches are, and how loud said nanny should cheer in Mom’s absence.
Don’t get me wrong. LA isn’t all about cars and smog and traffic. It’s about nightlife, right? Hollywood, hip restaurants, and getting into places where admittance is based on who you know. It only takes a savvy clubber to realize there are only three types of people in the bars in LA:
1) The up and coming actress/actor, who is only there to be seen. They are dressed in the absolute hippest and sexiest outfits – which they will wear back to their studio apartments in WeHo and wrap in plastic while they wait tables at CPK during the day.
2) The entertainment crowd. These are the agents, the casting directors, the assistants – all the peripheral people who put the hot people up on the screen, but who nobody ever knows or cares about. They’ve got hot clothes and big egos, and chips on their shoulders because they work 25 hour days, they don’t get paid as much the extras on According to Jim, and nobody knows who the hell they are.
3) Folks who are not as hot as group 1, but would like to be laid by someone from group 1. Not a pretty sight. The most notable representative of this group is the ‘producer.’ The closest this guy has ever come to producing anything is when he sits down on the toilet after a bowl of chili. But since no one really knows what a producer is, and no one would recognize one if they saw one, any sleazy guy in a leather jacket can get laid at least once with this line.
This is the overwhelming culture of LA. Oh, sure, we’ve got tons of ‘ethnic’ neighborhoods filled with immigrants, teeming with tiny shops and eateries with cuisine from all around the world. Unfortunately, it’s damned hard to eat at any of them when you’re a single white girl who only has rudimentary foreign language skills. I can’t read Arabic. I’m only slightly better in Spanish. Forget about Korean, Mandarin, Japanese, Ethiopian…Is it too much to ask to just have one menu and one server who can communicate with Americans? I love that we are a country of immigrants, I love that we come from all over and bring so many different cultures into one big pot, but why can’t we share? I always feel like such an infidel, like it’s my fault my folks came from English-speaking countries several generations ago.
I have a culture, too – but it’s not represented in LA cuisine. Not even close. Just try getting a good piece of brisket here. They don’t sell grits in the grocery store, not even in the ethnic aisle. I can’t get a fresh catfish, or Hatch green chile, or even any decent barbecue sauce. Where’s my ethnic neighborhood? Where’s my special menu?
More than anything, completely topping the list, walking away with the statuette, the thing I love most about LA (and if you can’t yet recognize my tone when I say “love”, please flush your head in the toilet now) is not home. It will never feel deep, familiar. The infatuation this city’s inhabitants have with always looking young, always changing to meet what’s new and cool and hip, never aging, that obsession has infected the city as well. Stay here five years and the cityscape will change before your eyes, like a time-lapse photo spanning the Pleistocene Era. Boulevards succumb to decay only to be revived as the new Westwood, the next Hollywood. Ten-year-old buildings are ancient, razed to make way for another generation of chrome and over-hyped architecture. Your favorite neighborhood bar will have fifteen different life changes in a three-year span. Nothing stays the same here. No one ever stays on top. LA never provides a home for your heart, never stops moving long enough to offer comfort.
It’s a one-night-stand city, where people come to find their sweet spot, and – hit or miss – get the hell out before anyone gets drawn into a long-term relationship. I’m not 21 anymore, and I want a city that knows my name.
Los Angeles, we need to talk.