Fear and Loathing of Los Angeles: Let Them Keep Hating. We Know Better.
Photo by Mark Luethi/LA Weekly Flickr pool What a city!
They hate us, they really hate us!
On Friday came the news -- reported by the Weekly's Dennis Romero -- that L.A. had finished close to last in a new popularity poll from Public Policy Polling. Of 21 prominent cities coast to coast, only Oakland and Detroit drew more unfavorable responses in a national telephone survey. This wasn't a case of being mired in the middle with Philadelphia and Chicago -- we were back there with Detroit, a city that's been hemorrhaging residents for decades.
Yet, frankly, the news didn't surprise me much. Everybody hates L.A. -- everybody who doesn't live here, that is.
When I was offered a job at the Weekly a year and a half ago and began eagerly packing my bags for California, I found myself getting remarkably downbeat reactions. "L.A.? Really? Do you have to take it?" "Oh man, that sucks for you!" Or, my favorite: "Los Angeles? Is that safe?"
Keep in mind, at the time I was living in St. Louis, a place I'd grown to love for its cultural vibrancy and no-nonsense bar scene, but which had been recently crowned the most dangerous city in the U.S. During the brief time I lived there, roving packs of youths would try to fell random strangers with a blow to the head. (They called this game "Knockout King"; a coworker was a victim.) Closer to home, a young woman was abducted in broad daylight a block from my apartment building -- and soon after I left, another one was shot point-blank in the head right where I used to park my car. But my Midwestern friends and family were somehow convinced that St. Louis was a nice wholesome place -- Los Angeles was a different story.
Then I showed up here, and quickly got schooled in the fine art of L.A. love. Just about everyone I met enthused over how happy I must be to have landed a job here -- and began to work at selling me on the place.
Los Angeles didn't always have this kind of pride. I'm sure some people were always smart enough to love this city, but overall, 30 years ago, L.A. had a clear inferiority complex: When Woody Allen dressed us down as culturally inferior to New York, we honored him with the Oscar for Best Picture. Twenty years ago, of course, we were dealing with not just the black eye the riots gave us nationally, but ruins that were still smoldering. Then came O.J. Who could defend that -- and by that, I mean any of that? Racist cop, inept judge, runaway jury? No thanks.
But that's all ancient history, or at least it feels ancient in a city this young. Today, we may complain about the traffic (OK, so complaining about traffic is the hobby that unites us, somewhat akin to pickling things in Portland). And yes, our local government is ridiculously inept -- and don't get me started on the idiocy of our insistence on moving 200-pound refrigerators from one rental property to the next.
But overall, we love L.A.
"Things are better here than they used to be," one friend, a native Angeleno, tells me. "Everything's less rundown."
Says another, "This is where things are happening."
I think L.A.'s image problem stems from the fact that everybody's got a reason to hate it. People in the Midwest justify their regional loyalty by insisting that the coasts are a cesspool of godlessness, crime and traffic congestion. Strike one. East coasters insist we're a bunch of shallow lightweights. Strike two. All those twee people up north in Seattle and Portland hate our hustle and bustle -- and, yeah, I'm pretty sure they're jealous of the weather. Strike three.
But the only people who are striking out are the idiots who don't see what they're missing.
Where else but in L.A. can you get the amenities of a world-class city -- and still afford a (rental) house with a yard? Where else is the weather almost always good, the vistas superb, the light glorious?
And where else, these days, are there so many smart, creative people? They live here not because of some accident of geography, but because they have big plans: They want to write, and direct, and act and sing and invent. They give L.A. an energy you simply can't find in most places -- certainly not Manhattan these days, which has become a whitewashed borough for investment bankers and foreign investors.
Sure, some people who move here get overwhelmed by the traffic, the taxes, the sheer aggravation of dealing with a dense, sprawling city that still requires the use of a car. But by and large, the most striking thing about everyone I've met in this city is just how happy they are to be here. "Don't you just feel so lucky?" they'll ask. "Isn't this just the best?"
Yes, I tell them. Yes, it is.