Or, Vacationing Correspondent Says: Upon Closer Inspection, I’ll Hear the Attributes of L.A. in Court
There are roadside bong stands in Los Angeles. As we trudged along LaBrea, forging our path down flat, sprawling blocks drenched in unadulterated sunshine, toward Spritney’s house on Orange (we were going south, perhaps? My knowledge of the city’s layout is shamefully lacking), we passed a street-facing cart about the size of an 8th Avenue sidewalk newsstand, advertising “cigarettes.” Upon closer inspection, though, it became immediately clear that cigarettes were not, in fact, this modest business’ primary commodity. Rather, the stand specialized in a particular variety of black market commerce that’s inextricably woven into the fabric of Los Angeles culture: marijuana.
The relative nonchalance with which Angelenos (as they’re apparently called) regard the forbidden herb is indicative of a greater trend in the cultural landscape of the City of Angels. The presence of medical marijuana in the city, often publicly displayed in the form of glowing neon pot leaves beckoning from the windows of “alternative” doctor’s offices along major L.A. thoroughfares, has essentially caused a mass acceptance of the drug and, in turn, has afforded marijuana the luxury to peaceably coexist alongside society’s more “wholesome” institutions, so long as it stays just below the radar enough to maintain orderly appearances. Pot is, after all, still technically illegal in California, even though pretty much everybody you encounter there either has a medical marijuana prescription, or knows a dude whose brother got one by saying he hurt his back moving his dresser across the room and now he totally gets so baked every day on, like, pot lollipops and shit.
Point is, Angelenos are kinda laid back about some things. And this complacence with the ebb and flow of life translates into a sort of warm, pleasant ambience that hovers over the Los Angeles County area. And this ambience, in turn, is amplified by the over-abundance of brilliant sunshine, which results in a sort of convergence of positivity—which makes it pretty much impossible to not be sort of in a good mood all the time. It’s annoying, actually. As a New Yorker, I really wanted to spend the duration of my trip to L.A. just scowling at things—chain-smoking cigarettes and grumbling about how I couldn’t wait to get back to the cold weather, tiny apartment and shit-smelling streets I’d left back home.
But, ultimately, I fell victim to the seductive call of Los Angeles, and luxuriously drank in its splendor and decadence. While I expected to be put off by the sleek, commercialized Hollywood glamour that seeps into every facet of Los Angeles life, I was, to my surprise and horror, swept up by the spectacle and delicious seediness of it all. Yes, everything in L.A. could very well be written off as “fake” by an outsider—the weather’s too good, the people are too pretty, the presentation of the movie industry is a little too in your face to the point that it encumbers the ability to discern fact from fiction—but it’s just such a good time that you sort of forgive L.A. its obvious, glaring shortcomings. There’s something just impossibly sexy about driving down Sunset in a Nissan Altima, wearing garish sunglasses and bobbing your head to anything with a throbbing bass line. And once you allow yourself to surrender to these unique, West Coast pleasures, it becomes difficult to be as staunch an L.A. hater as you’d hoped when you were first boarding your flight all the way back at La Guardia, convincing yourself, as any good New Yorker should, that you weren’t going to have that good of a time.
Before you write me off as some googly-eyed zealot, though, lemme set the record straight on a couple things. New York remains the best city in the world. Duh. New York is a vital, thriving, visceral shit show, and every moment spent within its limits is a reminder of the chaotic, breakneck pace of life in the city, and the vastness and scope of the humans who choose to call New York their home. And nothing makes you feel more alive. The close quarters, public transportation, garbage, towering infrastructure, massive crowds, alienation, high prices, epic history—these are the things that serve as the backdrop to your small, mundane, hapless existence—and make your day-to-day life all the more important as a result. As Talib Kweli put it, it’s a Beautiful Struggle, and there’s no place on earth I’d rather struggle than here.
It’s just that L.A.’s kind of a good time, that’s all.