Thursday, April 29, 2010

"A Tale of One City"

When a person from here is out of town and someone asks them, “Where’re you from?”, they say, “L.A.” or “Los Angeles”, or, if they’re feeling bitterly poetic at that moment, “The City of Shattered Dreams.”

That’s a generic answer you give to strangers, so they won’t get confused. To the outsider, Los Angeles appears to be one place. But it isn’t. L.A. is a bunch of separate municipalities that, over time, have spread, until, like pancakes on a griddle, you know what they do, you’ve got a couple of pancakes cooking too closely together, and if you don’t do something with the edge of your spatula, they merge, like two amoebas getting friendly, morphing into one large, misshapen pancake.

That’s Los Angles. A giant, misshapen pancake.

Los Angeles may be one place to strangers, but people who live here answer to a more specific geographical designation. And not just gang members – everybody. You ask someone here, “Where’re you from?” and, among dozens of other answers, you’ll hear, “Silverlake” (where my daughter Anna and the other cool people live), “Venice”, “Mar Vista” or, if they’re from “the Valley”, “Van Nuys”, “Sherman Oaks” or “Studio City.”

Some of these spots are incorporated cities, with their own police and fire departments and local governments. Some are ethnic enclaves, like “Koreatown” or “Little Tokyo” (as far as I’m aware of, there is no “Jewville”.) Some “Where’re you froms?” are simply boundaried and clearly identifiable neighborhoods.

One of the joys of living here is that you can easily visit these various locales. There are, maybe, a dozen of them within a half hour’s drive of each other, their borders, usually so indeterminable, you can’t tell when you’ve passed through one area and entered another.

“Are we in Santa Monica?”

“We were in Santa Monica. Now, we’re in Brentwood.”

Five minutes later…

“Is this still Brentwood?”

“No, it’s Westwood. Five minutes north is Bel Air. And to the south, is Cheviot Hills.”

“What’s east?”

“West Hollywood.”

“And west?”

“Brentwood! We just came from there!”

These places are very close together. The thing that makes you feel like you’re out of town is that is of them is uniquely different. In some cases, startlingly different.

Three examples:

Beverly Hills is a city. They have a mayor and everything. Somebody like Bob Barker, or Zsa Zsa Gabor. A lot of Jimmy Stewart-era actors once lived in Beverly Hills. That’s where the “Tour of the Stars’ Homes” buses drove around. I believe they still have those. But now it’s the “Tour of the Homes the Stars Used to Live In, But Now It’s Rich People You’ve Never Heard Of.”

We go to Beverly Hills primarily to eat at Nate ‘N Al’s Deli. It’s famous. Larry King eats there. For me, the drive to Nate ‘N Al’s is worth making, because of their mushroom barley soup, their still warm, hard-crust–mooshy-in-the-middle rye bread, and their dark meat turkey, served by no other deli I know.

When you walk the streets of Beverly Hills, you may spot a famous person, you may not. I am notorious in my family for thinking I’ve spotted a famous person, but it’s not them, my most recent boo-boo being a “not Diana Ross” spotting.

In Beverly Hills, everyone you see is exquisitely dressed and impeccably groomed. (This immediately causes me to stand out for shlumpiness, for which, in Beverly Hills, I believe you can get a ticket.) You can imagine citizens of Beverly Hills hiring specially trained wardrobe and hair and makeup consultants to come at their house and prepare them for their public appearance.

“So what are we dressing you for today? A wedding? An awards ceremony?”


The Beverly Hills wealthy come from the “If you got it, flaunt it” School of Ostentation. “You see this magnificent gold jewelry I’m wearing – the necklace, the rings, the bracelets, the thing around my ankle? This is nothing compared to what I’ve got sitting at home. This is for walking my dog.”

Not all rich folks are conspicuous showoffs. In Malibu, a short drive up the coast, the affluent behave entirely differently.

Unlike in Beverly Hills, the denizens of Malibu do not “Dress to Impress.” Instead, they dress like their children – t-shirts, jeans, baseball caps and sneakers (though they’re all the most expensive versions you can find.)

Malibu’s defining motto could quite easily be this:

“‘Old?’ Never heard of it.”

In Malibu, you’re only old if you’re dead; otherwise, you’re under forty.

What you regularly see in Malibu are men in their seventies (they’re gray and balding, though there’s still enough left for a ponytail) roaring into the Cross Creek shopping center, riding enormous motorcycles, their newly minted babies strapped securely in the back.

You heard me – Social Security recipients, blessed with infant children. Courtesy of wife Number Two, Three or Seven. It’s the Standard Malibu Couple – a deeply tanned codger, dressed like Gilligan, accompanied by a mouth-droppingly youthful wife. I don’t know where they stash the earlier wives. Maybe be in Beverly Hills.

Coming somewhat back to earth, my hometown of Santa Monica, upscale, though well below the Beverly Hills or Malibu stratosphere, is generally considered to be an ocean-abutting enclave for liberals.

If you were looking to define Santa Monica by a single, personal possession, it would definitely be the Prius. The place is swarming with them. Our family alone (if you included Anna’s b.f., Colby) owns four. Rachel, Anna, Colby and Dr. M. (For what I drive, See: Yesterday’s posting.)

It’s very possible to stand beside a black Prius, your sensoring device firmly in hand, and not be able to unlock the door, because it’s not your black Prius. Look down the street, and you’ll see half dozen other black Priuses, any one of which could be yours. A couple can be ruled out, because they’re sporting bumper stickers trumpeting causes you don’t care about. Otherwise, they’re entirely interchangeable.

I can imagine easily getting arrested for trying to break into somebody else’s car. Though a Santa Monica conviction is unlikely, due to the “multiple black Prius” defense.

I hope you enjoyed my superficial tour through some of the many cities in the city of Los Angeles. Come and visit sometime. Who knows? Your stay may inspire you to generalizations and clichés even shallower than my own.

Though, admittedly, I have set the bar pretty high.


Anonymous said...

As a blue Prius owner in the greater LA area, I have to completely agree. The weirdest feeling was when I went out of town and we rented a blue Prius. We kept saying "oh, I have that in the back of the car", only to realize the blue Prius we were driving was not the right blue Prius...

cb said...

as for graph 5:

Greetings from the Fairfax District

dodz said...

yeah1 L.A is one of the greatest county in the world.