Sunday, June 24, 2007

State update: California

Well, I'm back from two and a half weeks in California. Although I was very busy at work, which sufficiently filled my days and cumulated in a bizarre anti-climax (kind of like the "Sopranos" finale), I had enough time to experience Los Angeles and get to know my temporary host city.

And here's what I learned: L.A. is awful. We were staying at a particularly trendy hotel, swishy and swanky to a ridiculous degree, with a chic rooftop pool and hallways that smelled like pot. Pot was officially the aroma of the trip. At first, I thought maybe the hotel used a very particular kind of carpet cleaner or something, but no, it was pot. Everywhere in the hotel. Pot, and a too-cool pool, and me. Welcome to Los Angeles.

We did a lot of people-watching, seeing girls dressed like Paris Hilton with their fake boobs perky and perhaps slightly askew, accompanied by Jersey-like guys in their uniforms of untucked button-downs and carefully distressed jeans. I felt like an utter yokel in our hotel, especially the first night, as my New York friends and I swam in the pool as the socialite types glowered and strutted around us. (I think that in an urban environment, you can either project hipness by genuinely being hip, or being familiar enough with your environment to fake it. In New York, I can fake it. In LA, I was irredeemably uncool, like I was wearing the same pair of overalls the whole time.)

We stayed in the downtown area, a desolate district of high-rise office buildings and restaurants that close early and don't open on the weekends. It's a very commuter-centric area, where one can spend 40 minutes on a Sunday morning searching for a New York Times (the sign of a true Manhattanite, according to our friend at the bookstore) before one discovers the lone Starbucks that is open. Nobody walks in LA, and nobody reads.

Good things about LA: Dodger Stadium, which is small and disheveled like a beloved old person; hiking in the San Gabriel mountains, to be in an environment utterly unlike anything back east; seeing the Hollywood sign through the haze from our office window; the variety of R&B radio stations, which let me enjoy dance hour in the purest way, the way I did in high school; the ocean breeze you can feel from the PCH; karaoke in Koreatown.

It was an interesting trip. L came to see me for a weekend, which was exactly what I needed to pull through. Not only could she laugh at the ridiculousness of it all with me and charm the hell out of my colleagues, but she brought me the books and magazines and news of our culture that is completely ignored out there. In the midst of our trendy, spare hotel, with the ironic carpet and wall art and lack of comfortable seating, I missed our little apartment with the old furniture and the plants and the street noise.

And to arrive home -- I came home to find the city in the full explosion of summertime. The leaves on the trees were thick and mature, there was warm sun and a breeze, people eating on sidewalk tables and walking in pairs or with their kids. We wandered around to bookstores and movie theaters, through parks, enjoying the afternoon light that softened into night as the streetlights flicked on to signal a new phase in the urban day. Nothing was closing, nothing was ending. For a very brief moment, the night, like the summer, seemed endless.

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