I love Los Angeles. The first time I came to America (aside from the time I cannot remember when I was a toddler) I flew into LAX. It was 2004 and I was 19 and terrified. I was convinced that I was going to get some combination of mugged, beaten up and kidnapped the moment I stepped off the plane.
On my first visit to the city I stuck closely to the tourist circuit (Hollywood tour, walk of fame, Universal Studios, etc.) but as I've got to know people here and come back and seen the variety and fun that is to be had, Los Angeles has struck me as a city of overlooked depth.
I've noticed that when I speak to people about Los Angeles who have never been here, or who have never been to America, there are three common criticisms raised that are absolute baloney.
I get why these come up. Los Angeles is one of the cities that becomes a venting point for tensions and frustrations people feel toward, and about, America: there's too much pollution, everybody just wants to be famous, rap music is corrupting the children.
But they're still wrong...
The Los Angeles obsession with the entertainment industry doesn't make the city heartless... it is the city's heart
The most redundant comment about Los Angeles is that its preoccupation with the entertainment industry makes it soulless. This is crooked analysis.
The entertainment industry is Los Angeles' soul; it is a conglomeration of multi-multibillion-dollar industries all with a global footprint that have their epicentres right here in town. Complaining about the fascination with celebrities in Los Angeles is like going to Detroit and moaning about the focus on car companies.
Of course, you can reject the values of Los Angeles outright. I spoke at a wedding recently with a lawyer who lives here. He can't wait to leave, he said, because the single-minded quest of Los Angelenos to succeed in entertainment can border on self-obsession.
But reject Los Angeles on its substance, not the misguided view that it has none.
And besides, every time any actor of note moves to New Zealand to film a movie, the towns become a buzz with sightings and anecdotes of celebrity interaction that border on harassment (Jack Black, Adrien Brody, etc.). So our values are not too different. Let us not forget the Wellywood saga.
Sadly, I never see any good celebrities. Well, I saw Ryan Reynolds watching the National play in Boston once, and LP keeps telling me that I lost my cool and got too excited and stared a bit too hard.
Here everyone has a few "I guess they are real people too" star-sightings. These things happen here a lot.
Granted, movie star sightings don't make a city, but it is titillating in a way.
"Los Angeles" doesn't actually exist
When you fly over Los Angeles, you take in an expansive and flat city. It continues farther than the eye can see and then way off in the distance you see a small, isolated bubble of tall buildings, which constitutes "downtown".
I hadn't been back to Los Angeles for a few years before this week and I see that downtown has been developed somewhat and improved upon, but it is still a relatively docile, quiet-ish and slightly random configuration of apartment blocks, hotels and office buildings.
I never feel like I am "in" Los Angeles when I come here, even when I am in downtown Los Angeles. The sum total of the city is an endless collection of disparate neighbourhoods. Often when I've come here I've stuck closely to Melrose and Hollywood, with trips out to Venice and Santa Monica beaches. This trip I've been staying in Koreatown, with forays into the hyped hipster-traps of Echo Park, Silver Lake and Los Feliz. I've been down to Newport Beach. I've also been to the desert.
I've been maybe six times to Los Angeles, and each visit is not like the last one. In the past week I've bowled with friends at a strange-slash-brilliant Korean bowling alley, played shuffleboard at a steampunk-themed Americana bar and bounced on a waterbed-cabana with a beer in my hand at the rooftop bar of the famous Standard Hotel, which has a pool.
Everyone can have a different Los Angeles and these conceptions can all be different and equally magical, but still never overlap.
There's a lot of beauty here, even within a supposedly dirty city
I had some work to attend to in Newport Beach on Friday, and spent a lot of the day looking out down a long, golden beach lined with palm trees and smelling the fresh sea air. Yeah, it has some of America's most expensive real estate, but it was still great to visit.
Yesterday we went out into the desert. We're going to take a swim today probably, before heading out past Pasadena to go hiking with some friends.
My friend Jon, who I have come to the city to see, and I were discussing that for all New Zealand's venerated scenery, and the boast that you can get from the mountains to the sea in a short trip, Los Angelenos appear more actively outdoors-y. Which cuts a little against the overriding notions that it is filthy here, and you have to drive too far through the concrete jungle to get anywhere you want to be.
Los Angeles is a city with its problems. It is choked somewhat by a labyrinth of freeways and traffic problems that would make even Aucklanders blush. It is implausibly located. It is very big. The smog is a drag, and don't forget the crime.
But don't dismiss it offhand. There are many joys to be had here.
And besides, if you dismiss a city with a greater metropolitan area that has three times the population of the country that you live in, it is fair to say the joke is on you, yes?
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