Monday, April 20, 2009

The City of Angels has concrete wings and a heavenly glow.

The City of Angels has concrete wings and a heavenly glow.

Granted, I've only seen a portion of Los Angeles, driven through Hollywood and the near freeways and then Arcadia, and must admit this initial impressions are just that, impressions, but the remarkable thing about this segment of California, one of the youngest parts of our nation, is just how old it looks and how much it leaves the impression of a grouping on architecture sunk into the viscous flow of an ever expanding sea of concrete that's all held together tenuously by bailing wire, duct tape and car exhaust. The roads are disintegrating and the buildings appear to have been dragged from Mexico up through an especially briny mix of salt water and smog. There's a air of the resignedly ancient that stuccoes the exteriors around me and the long flat stretches of low lying buildings are broken so very rarely by the shock of an honest-to-god skyscraper* providing a rude eruption.

And here is the striking thing; no one here seems to notice this. Even my travel companion / colleague who is an ex-resident of L.A. and surrounding areas seem surprised by my take on our surroundings. And I think I know why. Even before landing I was entranced by what I saw framed in miniature far below. Mountains surrounding valleys next to huge lakes bordering vast desert with all of this snaking along the shoreline of the pounding Pacific Ocean. Stepping off the plane with the smells of palm trees carried to deep cranial cavities untouched since childhood and ferried by a sun-kissed breeze I immediately felt the pull of the West Coast. I could see myself relocating there. In an instant it was all clear: I would rent a small house, preferably in the hills, and I would take morning strolls and enjoy shows at The Hollywood Bowl, and sight celebrities working at In-N-Out Burger while scoffing at the visiting East Coasters who, could you believe it, still smoked.

You can surf and hike and climb mountains and sit in your car while people deliver food to you and sit in you car while people pass by in the HOV lanes** and there is LITERALLY a gym every block or so that people park in massive parking structures before accessing and I still have no actual experience with the night life but I imagine it to be both decadent and extremely self-conscious since that would be the logical extension of pretty much the way the area just instinctively feels deep down when you allow your eyes to close and you feel the thrumming of the millions around you slowly cracking the sidewalk beneath your feet.

You can cross the street at any crosswalk, no matter what the light signal, and drivers have to stop.

I think people move to the L.A. area because it truly is a place of splintered personality and multiple impressions, some cataloged above, and all of which, no matter how incongruous, are absolute truths in their own way. I think I need to visit here again to more fully catalog my impressions, and I suspect that's how it begins. The rational part of me knows I would never want to move here, never want to leave Chicago (at least not for Los Angeles, California (at least I can't actually fathom that, but then again who knows, things change)) but as someone very near and dear to me said yesterday, "The first time I visited there I spent the next six months trying to figure out if there was any way I could move there."

Previously such a statement about the West Coast, specifically L.A, would have confounded me deeply, but now I understand.***

*And by skyscraper I mean any building over eight stories.

**Which and yes I know stands for High Occupancy Vehicle (i.e. more than one person) lane but instead took to calling the Jay-Z lane after his statement:
Allow me to re-introduce myself, my name is HOV
H to the O-V. I used to move snowflakes by the O.Z.,
I guess even back then you could call me
C-E-O of the R-O-C, HOV
***I feel the need in full disclosure to admit that seeing the Hollywood sign both from the air and from our lumbering rented SUV provided a deep thrill I was not expecting and that deep unexpected thrill helped me realize what a primal pull this place must, well, in fact does, exert.

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