Sunday, January 25, 2015

Good to go

Putting up this entry has been delayed. The jet lag from flying coast-to-coast is fierce. No, I'm kidding, of course. I managed to snag nonstop flights both directions. For all the boredom and sometimes discomforts of cattle class, they aren't a patch on traveling by stage coach in the 19th century.

I've been on much longer flights (I think New York to Bucharest set personal record), but it still astonishes me that I can be in California looking at olive trees, date palms, and bougainvillea and a few hours later back in Virginia with its skeletal deciduous trees. 

Lots of people seem to find it weird to take a brief vacation in Los Angeles. But flying to summer south of the equator was unaffordable; I wouldn't go to Mexico to win a bet; and my wife and I wanted a break from the cold temperatures and 50 shades of gray skies.

It helps if you know the area. I say area because, as many have remarked, LA isn't a city in the traditional sense but a conglomeration of vastly distinct districts. There are plenty of parts I don't want to know, but am familiar with most of the good ones. They can be quite enjoyable.

We stayed on the affluent West Side. (The well-off have a few other enclaves, such as San Marino and parts of Pasadena.) Not out of snobbery but because it's relatively safe and pleasant. In fact, there is probably no lovelier residential area in the U.S. than around Sunset from the 405 freeway to the ocean. The landscaping and endless variations of housing styles, the hills and mountains in the background, can't help giving you a boost. 

Traffic (lots of Mercedes-Benzes, Lexuses, BMWs, etc.) can be a right bitch -- although it's no worse than in Washington and its burbs and probably many other cities. Parking is a form of abuse. Despite the widespread loathing of freeways, they are jammed mainly at rush hours; other times they are an efficient way to get around LA's galactic distances.

Social class divisions, as evident in for instance West Hollywood versus eastern Hollywood (central Hollywood is a catchment area for tourists), are glaringly obvious. There are clear borders between  haves and have-nots, although maybe no more so than in today's America generally. Ethnicity doesn't seem to have changed much since my last visit: Anglos, Hispanics, Asians are the dominant populations. There are more openly gay couples of both sexes than I remember.

One perhaps trivial but striking trend: the bumper stickers that used to be almost ubiquitous are now rare. Maybe Los Angelenos have decided it's too tacky to decorate their vehicles with culturally Marxist messages. Or maybe they're confident that the media and school systems are fully up to the job.

Even more trivial, but possibly signifying something, the huge billboards that used to pitch upcoming movies now seem mostly to tout television series.

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