LA has been on my mind all year. I think it’s been on a lot of the country’s minds, between their new NFL team, their on-going Olympic bid, and the different O.J. Simpson shows that have re-captivated our imagination (and fueled our collective fascination with the case, even if 22 years have passed). A few months ago, my girlfriend decided that she was going to sell me on LA. I have been in California for five years now, and though trips to other cities have begun to blend together (particularly in the case of repeat destinations), my LA trips have all been distinct and memorable in their own ways. Memorable, but not necessarily enjoyable.
And I have to hand it to her, she was right. I had a great time this time around in LA. It is a fun and cultured city, and it offers the same treats as San Francisco, just at a higher volume. San Francisco has a great restaurant? Well, LA has five of the same kind, but also cheaper. You like going out? Well, LA has more bars, clubs, and in-between spots than San Francisco can ever dream of.
LA is also interesting in a way that San Francisco has stopped being in the five years since I arrived. You see, LA is not homogenized yet. Frankly, it might be too big to ever be. And sure, it has its pockets of sameness: Venice has the requisite six dollar coffees you’d expect from any hip area, and Manhattan Beach’s population looks straight out of an Abercrombie catalog.
But San Francisco has become a exercise in mind-numbing demographic sameness. We read articles about how diversity increases creativity, but instead, we live in a city where everyone looks and acts the same. The Marina may be the butt of our jokes, but the difference between its inhabitants and those of the Mission is now minimal. As rent prices are driven up and tenants are evicted, the only diversity left in San Francisco is behind the counter of your favorite taqueria.
But LA is so vast that it cannot help but to show you the contrast between those that have and those that do not. As you drive through its streets, you slide from predominantely white neighborhoods to barrios and back. In that way, it is much more like a Latin American city, where the rich are neighbored by the slums and new German cars wait at stop lights behind twenty year old Hondas. The defining image of this weekend was in Manhattan Beach, where, in a sea of white people, a short, exhausted looking Latino man was taking his son to the beach. That just does not happen in San Francisco.
All of which makes LA feel much more real, a city where you can’t just buy your $10 smoothie without at least having to look in the face of the inherent privilege of that action; even if it is a passing side-eye look.