human behavior

From Sydney to Hollywood

Posted in American Culture & Politics, Travel by humanb on December 11, 2009

It’s been a year since I’ve been back home to the US. This means I get to see my country with a bit of objectivity. And it’s been 25 years since I’ve been in L.A., which means I get to see this city with fresh eyes.

L.A. is more visually enticing than I expected. It’s a shockingly large urban sprawl with very few high rises, but with wide boulevards lined with palms (of course) and every manner of shop and eatery. Every three blocks seems to boast a psychic, a LIQUOR store, a burgers and milk shakes joint, a hookah bar, a smoke shop selling colorful glass bongs, a unique Mexican dive, and a Coffee Bean chain – not Starbucks thankfully.

L.A. is also frankly multicultural – with Latino culture overwhelming but not effacing East Asian, South Pacific, Middle Eastern, white Pacific coastal and black American culture. It’s a colorful cultural chaos.

And it features, of course, a cast of colorful characters…

… including pagan ones recruited by a thriving Church of Scientology…

But the most interesting characters in L.A. are undoubtedly the run-of-the-mill L.A. residents who I chose not to photograph – including the four poor kids with their faces pressed against a brick wall being arrested as I drove by.

L.A. is a city of human graffiti. Its inhabitants come in every saturation of color, boldly drawn and larger-than-life at times. They can be vividly idiosyncratic. Unapologetically particular in their opinions. And a pleasure to engage – polite, hospitable and interesting.

I’m reminded of one young black guy having dinner with – and easily charming – an Irish girl who sat at the table beside ours one night. He bought us both cocktails because he thought we looked too uptight. We had a good deal more fun after his generosity.

As for food, well, no one will go hungry in L.A. There are a dozen eateries on every block for every palate and income.  You can eat on the cheap in this town and eat far too much. And the American diner is ubiquitous…

… and the menu, predictable: burgers, fries, and milkshakes…

In truth, the menu at most quick-eats joints in LA is predictable. Burgers, burritos and pizza abound. And America is true to its reputation for portion sizes. Consider this side order of fries and onion rings. They were damn good, but obscene in their size.

For the tourist with an appetite for celebrity, only L.A. can satisfy. We stayed at the famous Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel on Hollywood Boulevard, located directly opposite the Chinese and Kodak Theaters.

During our three-day stay in Hollywood, Robert Downey Jr. had his hand and foot prints imbedded on the sidewalk in front of the Chinese Theater, the film version of The Lovely Bones premiered there, and the cast and crew had an after party in the lobby of our hotel.

Alas, L.A. was only a short stop on an extended and scenic trip that will culminate on the East Coast. I don’t pretend to know L.A. much better than I did before, after so brief a stay. I had very little time to drive through South Central, which boasted more picturesque working class residential streets than in popular imagination. And I had time for only a glimpse of Venice Beach.

So after only three days, L.A. strikes me as an interesting place to visit, a stimulating place to live in one’s twenties, but a city far too decentralized to ‘own’ or understand, and with a culture too strongly associated with celebrity, status and dashed hopes at gaining either. This is not to say that L.A. is not a visually titillating and culturally rich place. It is a gem of the United States – of the world, really. There’s ‘something for everyone’ here.

Just not for me.

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