After visiting Orland in 2012, I flew down to Los Angeles to see a friend.
I had been dreading a little this part of the trip. Tremendously excited to see my friend, yes, but less so to see Los Angeles. My brain had been warped by James Ellroy’s gritty noir tales oddly juxtaposing with glamorous visions of Hollywood. I was expecting seedy streets and beautiful people, decadence and despair not seen since pre-revolutionary France.
And, in a way, that’s what I found. Poor neighborhoods–slums, really–and overpriced tourist areas. Trendy, arty clusters in a sea of suburbia. Groceries and chain restaurants and malls abutting movie studios and Lexus dealerships.
Hollywood was neither glamorous nor beautiful. Unathletic men in Batman and Captain America costumes shilled for money on the sidewalks while the Church of Scientology’s art deco building loomed on the horizon. Homeless people slept along the Walk of Fame, their meager belongings spread out across the accolades of millionaires.
The Hollywood and Highlands Center was a strange homage to dynastic Egypt, with the idolatry of chain stores replacing that of the pharaoh.
Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills was lined with Cartier, Armani, and Bulgari, but the shoppers were tourists who had scrimped and saved for months to afford a small trinket of opulence with which to impress their friends back home.
Downtown was eerily vacant. The Music Center was a strange glimmer of modernity in an otherwise stagnant ghost town.
Olvera Street–the oldest part of Los Angeles–was lively and colorful, businesspeople mixing with curious tourists. The Avila Adobe, though, was empty, despite its free entry and its distinction as the oldest standing residence in LA. Tourists were much more interested in the overpriced taquitos outside the museum than the history inside of it.
This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy my time in the City of Angels. Santa Monica was hypnotic with energy, from the pier’s spinning Ferris Wheel to the open-air restaurants and swarming people of all nationalities and resources.
Hermosa Beach, too, was a welcomed sight. Less populated beaches, blue skies, and a laid-back mentality.
Maybe, in the end, LA is just like any other city. A lot to love, a lot to hate. Wealth and poverty, residents and tourists, activity and idleness all tied up in the same few square miles.
Have you been to LA? What’d you think?