The Big and Small of It
The population of Los Angeles is over 4 million people, duly noted on the big green sign on the highway on the way in. Even with movies, television, and now the internet, it is next to impossible to imagine that a community could exist in a place this large. And it is not just the amount of people, it’s the shear square mileage of the city, about 502 square miles to be exact. Miles upon miles of concrete, houses, and palm trees that barely provide shade from the Southern California sun, and yes, it is actually sunny pretty much every day. Riding through the repetitions of taquerias, auto repair shops and corner markets with faded signs promoting Alkaline water, which apparantly hydrates you better than regular water, you are constantly reminded of when America was great, the first time.
Downtown LA is small in proportion to the sprawl, and like most cities in the US, is being redeveloped, with young millennials moving into tiny apartments and hitting high concept clubs at night. Quick service restaurants where menus are handed out on iPads and small made in the USA manufacturing businesses that started from Etsy shops are sneaking in to the once skid row. Tall and artfully shaped urban apartment buildings are in various states of construction, and down below, people in orange construction vests direct traffic and pedestrians through the scaffolding and metal plates that line the streets. The young hipsters riding their fixed gear bicycles cover up their lack of experience with energy and excitement. They don’t know the answer to the question “where is the grocery store?” but that is not because they are naive, it is that groceries are better delivered through the technology of an app on their phone while they can still be social with their friends. Taught by parents who drove them to soccer practice, this group learned at an early age the value of free transport and conservation of energy.
Tall concrete walls line the freeways which seem to protect the homes below from the noise of cars, but this hardly works because there are just as many cars on the streets below. People in LA do take driving seriously, so the walls make perfect sense for focus and concentration. Only the tops of palm trees are visible from the freeway, and sometimes you can peek over the walls and see the miles of houses, concrete and cars. The hopelessness goes on forever. We were lucky to have arrived LA after a heavy rainy season, when most of the streets as well as the Hollywood sign had been washed clean making the dream slightly more alive.
To be a part of the city of Los Angeles, you must own a car. I know one person who walks in LA and he doesn’t even know the band that wrote that song (Missing Persons, by the way). A few commuter train lines have been added, however true to the culture of the LA inhabitants, strangers do not talk to each other on the train, and none of them are happy as they would much rather be driving.
We parked our Airstream right on the beach at Dockweiler RV Park, about 10 miles south from famous Venice and Santa Monica beaches. In March, the well manicured endless white sand beach are empty, save for a few cruiser bikes and well leathered runners passing through on the cement beach path. I was told that it isn’t that the weather is too cool for the beach (which it is not by any means true), it is simply that it still isn’t hot enough in the East for people to need the break from the heat that the beach provides.
You can bet that pretty much everybody in LA is involved in the film industry. The topic of knowing someone who is famous or knows someone is famous always comes up. It is not simply who you know, but it can also be who your friends might know, or even who you saw at a party, but were not introduced. And, because entertainment is always associated with money, a friend tells us that in LA you are constantly reminded of the status of your money situation, and that, coupled with a quickly increasing cost of living, can be very stressful, despite the happy sunshine.
I popped into an empty small cafe near the beach. I ordered the green smoothie, because most cafes in LA offer smoothies and I wanted to fit in, and the guy at the counter asked if I wanted a banana in it, because usually that’s what other people get and I should get it that way. So I did. His poor tip jar was nearly empty, so I helped him out with a few bucks and he was grateful. I sort of get the feeling that nobody tips in LA, maybe because most of the food service people are actors or musicians, so maybe they don’t deserve a tip since they are just waiting for their big break. Drew, the tall dark and handsome surfer at the counter had a deep and brooding vibe, and his sentences were poetic, succinct and well versed.
Since I had been sitting there for a while, Drew asked if I wanted a sandwich, and I seemed uncertain, but he insisted and offered that the gobbler was the most popular. I sort of got the idea that maybe the gobbler was just his favorite and he made it popular by suggesting it to everybody. He didn’t charge me for the sandwich, probably pay back for the tip I gave him, as I eventually learned he believed in karma, which became more and more clear as I sat there eating my lunch and the story of his daily life seemed to unfold in front of me.
His girlfriend Hayley walks in with her Mac Book Pro which she still carries in the box it came in. Her shorts are way too short, but she pulls it off since she is young and her legs are amazing. The bosses wife walks in and warns everyone that her Yorkie is still wet from a bath, and when she says she baths him once a week, Drew replies casually that “it is probably a little excessive”. A few moments later, the guy from the post office walks in, sits down, and opens a tupperware container to eat his fourth lunch, because apparently he has four different women that feel sorry for him as a single guy working in the post office and they bring him lunch, which he can’t refuse because who knows. Drew manages to saunter back and forth in his flip flops from behind the counter to the table out front to kiss his girlfriend. As he turns his back, the woman from the convenience store stood in the doorway for a moment but said nothing before turning around to leave. Apparently, she was avoiding confrontation with Drew, because a while back, she had accused him of stealing a mirror that she said he could have, but it turns out it was just a misunderstanding due to the language barrier. Now she tells everyone he is a thief, but, because of karma, he knows he is safe.
And so inside this little mall, of which thousands of similar exist in LA, a small community is alive, which surreptitiously debunked my previous assumption that the greatness had ended, leaving the vast city of LA behind as fossilized evidence. I wanted to stay there all day, but my free hour of WiFi ran out.