In Defense of Los Angeles

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Author: Chloe Jenkins-Sleczkowski

I’m getting tired of hearing all this Los Angeles-bashing business. Yeah, I get it. The smog sucks. Materialism is stupid. And the car culture is not only a pain, but an environmental hazard. But we all moved here for one reason or another, and the truth of the matter is that you live in Los Angeles. So you can keep complaining about it and count down your days until graduation, or you can realize that you’re living in a city with personality, originality and diversity. Despite all its faults, Los Angeles is one of the richest cultural metropolises of the country.

“L.A. Culture” – what exactly is it? Although the Sunset Strip Clubs and Beverly Hills malls grab the spotlight and pretend to represent the heart of the city, Los Angeles in fact has a quieter identity sitting behind the flashy, stereotypical attractions. The less-represented parts of L.A. also maintain their own culture.

There’s always something going on here, whether it’s a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, a play at the Pantages or a philharmonic orchestra at the Disney Concert Hall. The city is yours for the taking. You’re always a part of something because the whole community – the whole life of the city – while distant from your own home, is still connected to you, whether via the local Ethiopian restaurant or the new club in a nearby neighborhood.

Have you ever walked in L.A.? It doesn’t look like much at first – whizzing by in a car bypasses the sidewalk life, the real life of the city. But take a walk – a real walk – through the city and you’ll find the other side of life in the city of angels. If you’ve done any amount of exploring in L.A., you might be aware of, or even confused by, the notion of neighborhoods here. It seems as if Eagle Rock, Silver Lake and other neighborhoods exist as independent cities. But this international and individualistic metropolis is actually a melting pot of diversity.

While much of the city remains separated into neighborhoods – divided by country and region like Little Armenia, Chinatown and Koreatown – each section houses a richness of culture unparalleled by other cities. Koreatown’s Korean BBQ restaurants hold a legendary place among foodies. The yearly Lotus Festival celebrates with flourish the Asian and Pacific Islander communities. Historical Alvera Street hosts a variety of Mexican celebrations and art exhibits throughout the year.

In this diverse town, each part has its own feel, its own flavor. The pride of L.A.’s inhabitants is the juxtaposing opposites and dual sides to every street. L.A.’s cornucopia of diversity naturally gives rise to a multitude of events that are off the beaten track. If you want something other than the Staples Center concert or Santa Monica clubbing, the city houses alternative options for the adventurer in everyone.

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Hollywood, Los Angeles. It looks a little weird at first – a huge crowd of 20-something-aged people lined up to enter the cemetery after sunset. But on closer inspection, they are all carrying a picnic basket of food or a cooler full of beer. This is the regular Saturday night film projection upon the mausoleum wall, where Angelinos gather to watch a chosen cult classic in the middle of the cemetery. Under the darkening sky in the chill of the twilight, with a few beers in your stomach, any movie is ten times more enjoyable.

L.A is without a doubt a concrete jungle, full of busy streets, towering buildings and angry drivers. But located within the urban wilderness, the city’s various parks present an oasis of greenery next to the gray of the freeways. There is, of course, Griffith Park, which towers above the city and houses a classic carrousel, multiple picnic spots and the L.A. Zoo.

But on a smaller scale, nearly every neighborhood has its own secret park. Eagle Rock has one, Echo Park has one, even Hollywood has one. There’s green out there if you want to find it, and a day’s worth of experiences wait in each one.

MacArthur Park, Westlake, Los Angeles. Pedal-boating around the giant geyser in the middle of the lake, you catch a whiff of marijuana coming from the bushes beyond the lawn. The smokers are out of sight, but you can see picnickers sitting in the sun and even a crowd of children running across the grass. In a corner, high schoolers loiter on the sidewalk and whisper to a fake ID salesman. But the eccentricities of the park send a quirky, vibrant feeling. It was designed to be the “Champs-Élysées of L.A.,” and now MacArthur Park is a cosmopolitan oddity, an urban watering hole where the animals of the city check each other out.

L.A. is a weird city – it’s quirky, dirty, exciting and ultimately original. Whether you’re standing in line at Pink’s for two and a half hours waiting for the city’s best hot dog, or eating at Fred 62’s at 3:30 a.m., the city never fails to provide stimulation. And the thrill of it all is that you don’t know what’s coming next. You don’t know if that man on the corner is selling drugs or flowers, or if the wrong turn you just took will lead you to an entirely new neighborhood. Mistakes turn into experiences; outings turn into adventures.

The heart of L.A. lies in its oddities, the random neighborhoods and the great finds that you can only come across in this town.

Venice Pier, Venice Beach, Los Angeles. You’re staring straight into the ocean. The waves look cobalt, and closer to the shore, assorted surfers wait for the big one. Old fishermen are lining the walkway of the pier. Although the fish smell blows away with the wind, the sounds of street performers and a nearby drum circle on the beach carry out to the sea. After a long exploration of wandering along the boardwalk and searching for signature Venice, California earrings, the seagulls over the horizon give the day a nice close.

People who label Los Angeles as a superficial city are themselves being superficial in their judgment. If you think that the only qualities the city offers are the fashion, the film spots and the celebrity sightings, I recommend you peer a bit further behind this well-plastered facade. Check out a neighborhood farmers’ market. Climb the Eagle Rock mountain.

The road to finding the real L.A. is like a drive on Mulholland – winding, suspenseful and a little bit sublime. And you never know when you’ll suddenly round a bend and see the whole city in front of you.

Chloe Jenkins-Sleczkowski is a senior ECLS major. She can be reached at cjenckins@oxy.edu.

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