Posted by: martinworster | February 28, 2013

147. SHITTY OF LAeh?

I’ve lived here (Southern California) for seven years now. Okay, I know it’s Orange County, which isn’t exactly Los Angeles, but I’ve spent a lot of time in the City of Angels which is only just up the road. And I just don’t get the place. I thought: ‘give it some time, it’s obviously a place that grows on you, subtly revealing it’s plethora of delights as my relationship deepens with the city.’ It hasn’t. Almost every trip of exploration I make to the city finds me leaving with a profound sense of underwhelment, an intense feeling of being somehow short changed.


It’s not without some highlights – Malibu, Santa Monica, Venice (Camden with palm trees), Griffith Park, the Getty Museum, the Greek Theatre, Amoeba Records, the Hollywood Bowl, parts of downtown. A lot of my fave places are clearly where the Ocean meets the sea. It’s mainly the coastal cities where the California stereotype permeates – a stream of bronzed beauties, bikini clad hotties on roller skates, square jawed surfers, athletic Aryans playing volleyball, all worshipping at the California temple to eternal youth, aka the beach.


When I have visitors from the UK we’ll probably do an LA day. I often struggle with where to take them. Hollywood is always requested. A polluted thoroughfare lined with tourist shops and the odd celebrity foot and hand print on the walk of fame. Oh and you can look a sign on a hill that say’s ‘Hollywood’. I imagine other global cities advertising themselves by giant lettering on a hill. Hey everyone, we’re in ‘Rome’! Look it says so up there, yonder on hill. Can you take my photo next to it?


The sign is the perfect metaphor for my experience and perception of the city.  A hyperbolic statement that when you cut through the chaff quickly reveals a failure in delivery. A box of thin tissue paper filled with air. Empty promises. A flakiness. The young blonde from the Mid-West who comes in search of movie fame and finds herself being gangbanged for a cheap internet porn site over in the Valley.  A scriptwriter who waits tables. Dreams turned sour. Most people who come here probably find there expectations aren’t met. I often chuckle to myself when listening to the LA radio station that bills the city as the ‘Entertainment Capital Of The World’. I don’t think that’s strictly true? On what criteria are they measuring that? If it’s all entertainment – theatre, comedy, music – I’d say it’s probably either London or New York? I’d give LA the title film capital of the world, although that’s a shrinking market. Oh yes, and it’s also the porn capital. Or so I’ve been told.


LA has some very swanky neighborhoods – Bel Air, Beverley Hills, Hollywood Hills, Pasadena, Malibu – names that conjure up images of movies and stardom, opulence and celebrity. But LA is mostly made up of poor, run down neighborhoods, dissected by endless freeways and concrete, strip malls, choking smog and the stench of desperation. East LA, Compton, Watts. Names that also conjure up images, mainly of riots, drive by shootings and gangs. The better areas are generally higher up or by the sea. Little enclaves of wealth surrounded by the self-replicating exurbia where everyone dreams of escape. Of course, the rich – poor division is not unique to Los Angeles, its just that much more extreme here.


I think one of the cities problems is the bad public transport. There is a very small Tube type network but it’s not used a lot and covers only small parts of the city. I think public transport really adds some form of civic pride to a city, a place where denizens rub shoulders and offers a certain sense of community. In Los Angeles you go out in your little pod car, do whatever you do, and then leave in your pod car, cocooned in your air conditioned vacuum as you cruise down endless freeways back to where you came from. Where’s the centre of the city? The heart? Who is an Angeleno? What do they stand for? What do people do here? 


Silver Lake is the hipster hangout near Echo Park inland along Sunset Boulevard (another name that conjures up an intense frission of mental images). Like Camden, Williamsburg, NYC or Portland, it’s a mecca for twentysomethings who want to work in the creative industries but probably end up being web designers. The ZIP has the highest quota of indie bands, DJs and synth pop outfits in the US. Silver Lake is basically a junction with a few shops – sure, there’s a splattering of the usual hipster tropes, like used vinyl shops, vintage clothes, artisan cheese, a micro brewery, organic coffee and a Saturday farmers market. But it’s over a very small area and lacks a vibe. Again reading about it in the press, the bark doesn’t match the bite. When I walk in Camden I get the profound sense that I AM IN CAMDEN. There’s a high street, an energy, lots of people, a sense of a centre, you know you’re there, atmosphere and vibe, I AM HERE. It’s easy to get. Silver Lake is a small junction on a road busy with cars and once you’ve walked a block it goes back to anonymous thoroughfare. On first visit I walked through it, double taked, and thought, ‘is that it? Am I in the right spot?’ 


I’m obviously missing something here. Is this the whole point of Los Angeles, that it’s not so obvious, it takes a bit more to dig deeper before you get under the surface and it’s joys are revealed? I’ve been digging for seven years and haven’t got there, someone please give me a hand.


  1. I’ve seen a program called the Shield and there looks to be a lot of crime there too. Corpses everywhere by the looks of it.

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