Thursday, November 25, 2010

Los Angeles 101

Moving to this town can be a challenge in a number of ways. Maybe it's not so different from any other in that respect, but I can't answer for many others very well. Some three years ago when I came to LA, I knew hardly a soul, and had to figure out a lot on my own. Coming from Phoenix, there are some things that are about the same. I was not surprised, for example, to learn that here a street may seem to run clear across town but is in fact interrupted by dead ends at countless points in spite of bearing the same name throughout. Other things were less immediately apparent, and there was no one really to tell me- at least there was no one I could trust. I try therefore to be as helpful as I can when faced by a newcomer. The common attitude in teaching people about LA is interesting.

I remember a story from Jackie Chan's autobiography about his first day in Chinese opera school (which is something like an intensive performing arts school). At first, a student there was treated like a king, but upon being fully enrolled, a rude awakening marked by a beating showed him the true nature of things. Far from feeling saddened on his behalf, fellow students relished viewing the rude awakening which had already been doled out to them. Misery loves company, as they say.  In covering things that are bad or baffling, there is a perverse kind of pleasure taken in breaking the news to a doe-eyed young lady from Cleveland. We act sometimes as if we like the horrendous driving conditions or the deplorable fact of homeless people on the streets. I guess it's what you have to do in order to cope with it when it's exposed for what it is by the observation of an outsider.

On the flip side of things, which is to say where the good things about LA are concerned, there is an interesting attitude as well. The veteran resident has the bearing of a hand reaching down from the heavens with tips about great restaurants and local parks. He is doing a favor for the newly-arrived hayseed from the heartland that cannot ever be paid back, and gives no indication of having ever been in the hayseed's shoes. No matter what is on the bad side of the scale, he is the world's biggest booster for the town. Everyone who moves here becomes, like him, extremely provincial. By that I mean that the attitude forms that there cannot be anywhere in the world any burger place as good as the one here, or for that matter anything anywhere as good as what is here. LA is isolated, and one can't help but become disconnected that way. Maybe that's what gets passed down to the new guy here more than anything.

I for one openly admit in such situations that I had been there. I believe in showing empathy and compassion for the hayseed, that they may strive to be a cynical and jaded local someday. I may have a few hundred friends in town and know the lay of the land, but I started with one friend and positively no idea of what was beyond my own block. It was hard and sometimes scary, but I got lucky and met some amazing people. It took me a year to get to that point, and I might have lost heart before I got there. It was near absolute chance which brought me to every reason I'm still here. I'm very happy to furnish any help I can, and there's apt to be plenty of opportunity for that with my two new roommates, each fresh from afar. I admit that I get caught by surprise when I state an obvious place name or street and get confusion in return, but I relish the chance to offer aid. I like to talk anyway, and this is as good a subject as any. I just hope there's some wheat amidst the chaff.

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