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The Beautiful Weird Mess Called Los Angeles

'An ocean's garbled vomit on the shore: Los Angeles, I'm yours.'

(The Decemberists, ‘Los Angeles, I’m Yours’)

I think this is the best description of Los Angeles. Some may call it La La Land, Tinsel Town, or the City of Angels, but to me it's vomit on the shore of California. My parents fell in love with this vomit when they first landed in LA in the 1980s, just as a stopover coming back to London from Australia. This started their lifelong fascination with this bit of desert, which has now extended to me.

Since my parents first set foot in the golden sunlight outside LAX, my aunt and uncle and their kids now live there, my parents own an apartment there and are planning to move there. I have visited that city more times than I can count, but always as an outsider. I do not live there, it is not home, but I am not a tourist either. Los Angeles is a very good friend of mine, who is often a mess or crazy or hard to understand, but a friend I love dearly nonetheless. I may have affairs with other cities along the way, but LA is a frustrating long-term love which will always be mine.

This relationship fits with the character of LA itself: disjointed, confused, but beautiful in its ugliness. LA has no clear centre—no focus point. The LA river, in comparison to the Thames, is not a place for orienting yourself, but a dried-up piece of cement most often used for music videos. Like the Thames, the river is for trade—Los Angeles’s trade being movies. The highways are the real rivers of the city, streaming passengers in and out, hovering above houses and neighbourhoods. The houses themselves are a mishmash of styles and eras. As a child my mother and I would walk my baby cousin around the streets in his buggy, just looking at each house and evaluating which ones we would like to live in.

These highways, though always teeming with cars, produce the main feeling I always associated with the city—loneliness. The cars are full of people but inherently separate. Everyone’s commute is a private affair, unlike the public space of the London tube. Even though Londoners are less friendly than the people of LA, we spend much more time together, even if that time is spent with our headphones in. Los Angeles does have a developing subway network that can get you all the way to Santa Monica, but it is not as levelling as the London system. The tube is used by everyone always, regardless of class (unless you are in the top 1%). In LA it is still a slightly anxious space, where you’re not sure if you’re going to be mugged or harassed. It is definitely not full of the middle classes.

Photo by Mark Adriane

Regardless of whether you drive or get the subway, almost no one walks anywhere. Several times my jet-lagged brain has made the mistake of trying to walk to Target to buy a new toothbrush because I forgot mine. This simple journey becomes an epic hike due to the heat. Even if you want to be eco-friendlier in LA, it is difficult, as it is a health risk to walk the streets in the middle of the day. This is why the sidewalk would always be empty, making the city feel empty, even though the several lanes of traffic beside the sidewalk would be filled with people in their cars. Supposedly this is one of the biggest cities in the world, full of celebrities, and yet I have always felt like no one lives there.

The people of LA are ironically a very friendly, enthusiastic bunch when you do find them. The stereotype of blonde girls that go to yoga and drink smoothies is accurate, and everyone works in film. I used to always ask to pick up my cousin from school as you never knew if you would bump into a famous actor parent. The confident, hippy, airiness of the people is a joy to be around in comparison to the cynical, all-black wearing Londoner aesthetic. It is so hot there; you have to leave the dark colours and dark thoughts in London.

But there is a dark side to LA. Lots of people are fake or crazy or selfish. This is not surprising, as the city is filled with people paid to pretend they are somebody else. Even the architecture is a set, with many of the houses having fake beams or thatched roofs like countryside cottages. I’ve even seen houses with miniature turrets or balconies as if they were a castle, opposite a 7/11.

The liberalism also is not always as it seems. LA, like most big cities, is multicultural. It has Korea Town, Little Tokyo and a huge Mexican population, to the point where most signs are in English and Spanish. Yet at the same time, racism is rife. My aunt had a ‘Black Lives Matter’ sign stuck on the front fence, which got torn down. She then nailed it to the fence, and someone neatly cut it off. My aunt gave up after that.

So, this city is antisocial, awkward, fake, too hot and separatist. LA is one of the weirdest places on earth, but when you step out of that airport, and are greeted with the soft sunshine, the dusty sweet smell, and the palm trees, you cannot help but smile. LA holds hope, possibility, enthusiasm. Maybe like the Hollywood movies themselves, this is just a trick; LA covering its ugly bits with a dream life. Even so, I think I am buying in to the façade. Do I still love it? Of course. Los Angeles, I am yours, and you are mine.

Edited by Alexia McDonald, Digital Editor

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