October 16, 2007

"There are three great cities in the United States: there's Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York – in that order."

Well, that doesn't sound right to me, but BldgBlog says it; I have to pay attention. I note that it doesn't seem to be about the buildings:
No matter what you do in L.A., your behavior is appropriate for the city. Los Angeles has no assumed correct mode of use. You can have fake breasts and drive a Ford Mustang – or you can grow a beard, weigh 300 pounds, and read Christian science fiction novels. Either way, you're fine: that's just how it works. You can watch Cops all day or you can be a porn star or you can be a Caltech physicist. You can listen to Carcass – or you can listen to Pat Robertson. Or both.

That's how we dooz it.

L.A. is the apocalypse: it's you and a bunch of parking lots. No one's going to save you; no one's looking out for you. It's the only city I know where that's the explicit premise of living there – that's the deal you make when you move to L.A.

The city, ironically, is emotionally authentic.

It says: no one loves you; you're the least imporant [sic] person in the room; get over it.

What matters is what you do there.
Read the whole thing. It's a sustained riff, which ends:
And it doesn't need humanizing. Who cares if you can't identify with Los Angeles? It doesn't need to be made human. It's better than that.

38 comments:

peter hoh said...

It was a great riff.

Still doesn't make me want to visit.

Zeb Quinn said...

Okay, having spent a lot of time there growing up and having actually lived in LA for a few years back in the day, yeah, I accept the premise. In truth, LA long ago supplanted New York as the epicenter of American culture, and everything that goes with it, probably in the 60s if not even in the 50s. So in that sense what he says is kind of a yawner. But why is he having Chicago coming in ahead of New York? He doesn't explain himself there.

ricpic said...

Amurricah has great cities three:
LA, Chicago and NYC.
That the one most like a whore
Is first 'tis a pity, I'm sure.

Ron said...

Yes, a non-human place where no one cares or loves or looks out for you is authentic! That's my benchmark for not just a place to live, but the greatest city in America! Someone needs therapy, not a condo...

ricpic said...

Second try:

Amurricah has great cities three:
LA, Chicagoland and NYC.
That the one most like a whore
Comes first...'tis a pity, quite sure.

Ron said...

Plus, I don't agree with his basic premise. I worked there for 6 months, and daily got abuse for my weight, got snotty remarks about being Midwestern and not "getting" West Coast attitudes about diet and exercise. I've got a long list of other things where they are quite willing to pass judgment on you , but I'll let it go.

But his idea that they just don't care? Nonsense.

Balfegor said...

If you can't handle a huge landscape made entirely from concrete, interspersed with 24-hour drugstores stocked with medications you don't need, then don't move there.
It's you and a bunch of parking lots.


Well . . . at least he's honest about what it is. I see that and I think, "what a miserable hole!" and if he thinks that's the greatest city in the US, well all right then!

That said, the whole thing about being free to be whatever you want to be in LA? Not . . . entirely true. Maybe it's true if you're interacting with the city solely from the insulated vantage point of a car and a hotel. And you like concrete and roads and parking lots and fascist/brutalist architecture. But there are real neighbourhoods and communities in LA -- it's not just all commuters and tourists and movie stars. And there, alongside those strip malls and car parks, we've seen racism explode into widespread violence within recent memory (the Saigu). There's vast slums -- ghettos, barrios, etc. -- and just walking through the city, you can see the physical rot and decay underneath the bright shiny Southern California idea. Cracked paint and all the rest.

It's not, to be fair, a terrible city. It's not, say, Baltimore. And sure, the populace are less judgmental than, say, New York. Or San Francisco. But the best city in the United States? Hardly.

SteveR said...

In some ways, being the greatest city in the United States is like saying the best day of the week to get a colonoscopy. How good can it be?

But OK I guess some are better than others.....

J said...

"If you can't handle a huge landscape made entirely from concrete, interspersed with 24-hour drugstores stocked with medications you don't need, then don't move there"

The "I hate NY" stuff I can handle, but when you start running down Duane Reade...

"It's you and a bunch of parking lots"

Oh - you're talking about LA.

PatCA said...

I think it was Wallace Stegner who wrote about the West, how the geography renders humans secondary features therein. This essay reminds me of that. LA is so huge geographically that it does feel anonymous at times--maybe because it dwarfs the little humans living there.

I would say though that rather than being "anything goes" LA subjects you to the examination of whichever subculture you find yourself in at the moment. Yes, I do agree with Ron on that.

Trooper York said...

LA is to cities as tofu is to real food. It is tasteless and bland without getting flavor from outside sources. LA is tofu. New York is of course a NY Strip steak. Chicago is a healthy porterhouse. And Boston of course is scrod.

Pogo said...

Minneapolis is lutefisk.

Don't ask.

Paul Zrimsek said...

I thought we already established that New York is a grotty-looking tomato slice.

paul a'barge said...

That's how we dooz it

That right there sends the mutt into the dust bin.

Paddy O. said...

There are two LAs in fact. There's the LA that he talks about. The LA that came to life post-WWII, that's filled with jaded midwesterners and people who were too artificial and desperate for their bland hometowns, who wanted to be someone, see life, who didn't care about others and wanted to take hold of everything they possibly could, and stand out, before realizing there were a million others just like them.

Those people never cared. LA is filled with these people, and it's these people who say LA is uncaring. They operate in their own little world.

Then there are the natives. The folks who have LA roots going back to before the war.

These LA people are not fake or uncaring. They are westerners, descendants of pioneers, who left the east to make a life for their family, and only stopped going West because there was an ocean there. These people are free, innovative, unrestrained. Willing to make a break with the past in any field, taking on the future.

They are the children and grandchildren of farmers who planted some of the most fertile land in the world.

They are those who pushed for a new life. And who continue to push.

These people care, but they don't care for the foreigners from other states who come uncaring and expect to be doted on and served and honored for some supposed prized trait that made them queen of the corn parade. Lonely people who abandoned their families come to LA to find fulfillment, and find nothing because they give nothing.

Those who came with and for their family found paradise. And are happy to have LA split into two cities. Have to keep the tourist dollars coming in, even as we keep the wilderness trails to ourselves.

Chicago is still the best city though. LA is a great, maybe the best, region, but it's not a good city. Nothing in "LA" is really in Los Angeles, and that makes for a bad actual city.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Ah, one of the xenophobic neighbors heard from.

Luckyoldson said...

Ron said..."I worked there for 6 months..."

Well, that should pretty much establish you as an expert on Los Angeles.

*And by the way...you don't "deserve a break today."

Luckyoldson said...

Trooper York said..."LA is to cities as tofu is to real food."

Oh, please.

I lived in Los Angeles for years, still visit many times a year, and if that's your take on the Los Angeles...you need to spend more time experiencing the many facets of the entire city.

I love New York and Chicago, too, but because there are so many distinctively divergent areas throughout both cities, I couldn't possibly typecast it in such blunt terms.

Where do you live, Trooper?

Paddy O. said...

Not entirely xenophobic. We still heartily welcome folks who represent the old values. I've met some wonderful newcomers who resonate real LA within a few weeks in a way that some who linger here for years and years never find. Some of my favorite people. Even if they don't remember the orange groves and strawberry fields.

It's just the new ones who bring nothing, find nothing, and then try to define LA with their nothing that we'd like to keep out. Or at least separate.

Luckyoldson said...

J said..."It's you and a bunch of parking lots..."

That would not be Los Angeles.

That would be Houston...and you have to add in one hell of a lot of strip malls.

Trooper York said...

I live in Brooklyn Lucky, but I have been in LA quite a few times. I will admit I don't know well enough to dispute your description.
I did like the very small Vietnamese section for example. But a lot of LA left me cold. If you ever come to Brooklyn I will be happy to give a tour. Maybe Paddy-0 can point out places to check out for my next visit. I am always open to learning new things.

Luckyoldson said...

I get the feeling many here have spent very little time in Los Angeles...if any time at all.

Luckyoldson said...

Trooper,
I've been to Brooklyn and New York many times, and actually worked there and in Washington, D.C. for a few years back in the 70's.

To experience Los Angeles you would need at least 3-6 months. I lived there in the mid-80's for about 5 years and I really didn't think I knew the city until I had been there for about a year or so.

It's so big and spread out, encompassing everything from mountains, valleys, industrial areas, business districts, suburbs, beaches, hiking trails, etc. it takes quite a bit of time to get a feel for its overall magnitude.

I certainly understand the usual perception, but most who visit do just that; visit.

Trooper York said...

That's the problem Lucky. When you visit a city, you are really at the mercy of your friends who take you from place to place. But it's what they like, not what you would like to see. No one can experiance a city like a native, so you need a born and bred Los Angelino to take you out and give a sense of what the city is all about. I wouldn't want you to get a view of Italian New York from Little Italy, so I know that I don't have a true feel for LA. Plus I don't drive so that inhibits my exploration alot. Walking is not an option and thats where I really get to know a city.

Trooper York said...

Still smells like tofu to me.

Luckyoldson said...

Trooper,
L.A. is not a city you "walk."

As for having to be with a Los Angelino to really get to know the city, I don't think I agree.

I've been in California for almost 30 years and I could probably give any visitor a pretty good idea of what L.A. and San Diego are really like.

And by the way, I think I may know one person who eats tofu.

Sigivald said...

Ah, but is there anywhere in America you can't listen to Carcass?

Death Metal is a uniter, not a divider, I say.

Trooper York said...

So Lucky we finally agree. Tofu sucks.

Trooper York said...

By the way, San Diego rocks. It's great and I only have good things to say about it.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Paddy, welcoming people or not welcoming them according to how much they resemble you is what xenophobia means.

Windbag said...

Let's hear it for Scranton, Pennsylvania. Anyone, anyone?

Paddy O. said...

Paul, that's why I said not entirely rather than saying 'no way'!

And it's not about them being like me. I liked that part of the article. People don't care what you do or your uniqueness. The midwest, I found, was significantly more judgmental about people being different. As long as you fit into their mold and the way things are done you were accepted.

In LA it's not about being similar, but it's hard to be accepting of someone who comes only to take. They are the ones who are snide when they are welcomed by neighbors, who dismiss anyone who they don't see as being worthwhile for their ambition, who reject and take.

These kinds of people surround themselves in a ghetto of grabbers and think that defines LA. Meanwhile real LA people are having barbeques and spending time at the beach or going up to the mountains.

And Trooper there are great places, but like I said hardly any of them are actually in Los Angeles. Which is why I disagree its the best city. It's an awful city for being a city. A person can't walk or depend on public transportation to see or find anything of value. Do that and it's really disappointing. Most of Los Angeles is really in Pasadena, or Santa Monica, or other directions west or east. In LA you're about an hour from just about anything you'd possibly want to do, but there's nothing in LA itself that really stands out.

Though this is changing. Lots of investment going into making LA more of a city.

Blake said...

There are some unique aspects to Los Angeles--the city, and not just the area, as Paddy O. would have it.

I lived for years in a section of L.A. where I routinely saw deer, bobcats, owl and other fauna. The Santa Monica mountains divide the San Fernando Valley from the rest of the city, and when they're not on fire, they're quite refreshing.

If you've ever seen the TV show "Shark", it has the most magnificent exteriors of the city I've ever seen. In a lifetime here, I've seen the city look that gorgeous--the city itself, not the weather, which is pretty much always gorgeous--maybe three or four times.

And let me apologize for everyone here, Ron, and say that the judgmentalism isn't really characteristic of the whole city, but certainly easy to find.

Paddy O is on to something, though, when he says it's more the area than the city. What makes this place remarkable, I think, is mobility. It makes for a good economy--but it doesn't really do much for culture, architecture, etc.

In closing, I'd just like to point out that, yeah, we have barrios--but they're full of $500K houses....

Paddy O. said...

Blake, you're not supposed to mention the wilderness areas!

Blake said...

Oh, sh--

Sorry. I forgot the rules.

EARTHQUAKES! Constant 9.9 earthquakes! And fires, mudslides and flooding!!

Trooper York said...

Lions, and tigers, and bears, oh my. Wait a minute, the bears are in Chicago. And they suck anyway. Nevermind.

Johnny Nucleo said...

Fantastic. So many great lines. Here is just one: "L.A. is the apocalypse: it's you and a bunch of parking lots. No one's going to save you; no one's looking out for you."

Los Angeles is the the girl of your dreams but she hates you - actually worse: she does not know you exist. But still, you love her.

Revenant said...

The important thing to realize about Los Angeles is that the movie "L.A. Story" is actually a documentary.

That's really what life in southern California is like.