This is my valentine to Los Angeles, a dusty, crowded, noisy, sprawling, chaotic city.
We’ve had an on-again, off-again relationship, but though I once had my doubts, I’m now head over heels.
There are other cities with energy, others with a more urban ambience. But there is no other city in the world quite like LA. It is unique.
Drive down Wilshire Boulevard, up Sunset. See the Deco theaters with boarded-up windows, the endless garish billboards selling conspicuous-consumption manic grins.
Down La Cienega and up Sepulveda. There’s a Vons, there’s a Ralph’s. Tiny shops selling used leisure suits, giant shopping malls touched down on their real estate like alien mother ships.
Look at its thousand tract-house bungalows, each tarted up in pink and yellow, with a surreal topiary garden along its foundation.
Stop at its aging Moderne luncheonette for a scrambled-egg breakfast served by a wrinkled waitress in a starched white uniform.
She speaks in a voice like beans in a coffee grinder.
All around there are signs that you cannot read, in languages you don’t recognize. Those in English often are so crowded with type, you cannot get the gist of them in the few seconds you have as your car zips past the intersection.
There are open markets selling leather handbags and cheap jewelry. A dog is tied to a fireplug. Posh shops in Beverly Hills. The sleazy agora of the Sunset Strip.
Get on a freeway and be prepared to stop. Take a surface street and make your appeal to the gods for a place to park.
And when you do, try the Persian lunch, with its dried limes, lamb and pile of basmati rice with a fragrant streak of yellow down the middle.
The car in front of you pours blue smoke from its pipes like sewage from a culvert, and when the light changes, he sounds like a B-29 and you can’t hear the traffic report on the car radio.
The choking smell of partly burned petroleum comes in through your vents. It feels slightly oily in your trachea.
On one side, an in-line skater wearing a bikini over her long johns glides past, and a BMW on your left looks like it is being driven by a hung-over wino.
Up the Baldwin Hills and down Chavez Ravine. The city’s river runs in a concrete gutter ornamented with broken shopping carts lying on their sides.
I love it all.
Los Angeles has more than its share of bad taste mixed in with some surprising good taste. But, most of all, it has taste. Most places in America are way too bland; LA doesn’t suffer from that.
It is a stylish city. Look around where you live – do you see much style? I didn’t think so. There is a sameness to our city blocks, a developer’s efficiency that makes our houses useful but not very individual.
Look at our downtowns and see skylines of insipid boxes, the visual equivalent of the lowest bid.
Then see LA. Everything screams style. From the Arts and Crafts Movement homes in turn-of-the-century neighborhoods to the new postmodern megagargantuan offices downtown, everything speaks of its self-awareness. In a city of toys, style is not an option; it comes standard equipment.
Like the extra chiles that heat up your papusa in the Salvadoran restaurant that charges you $6.95 for the best dinner you’ve had in months.
You ain’t eatin’ if you ain’t sweatin’.
What you get in Los Angeles is a great big buzzing alarm clock to jolt you awake. It is the vial of smelling salts under your nose. In LA, you feel more conscious, more aware. It provides you with endless stimulation.
You can complain that not all the stimulation is entirely pleasant, and that is certainly granted. But you cannot say that taken as a whole, assault on senses and sensuous pleasure, the city is not more alive, more electric, more ”more.”