by John Keeler Mitchell
The changes – or lack of – after 40 years
I really did come to California in the late 1960s, on Route 66 no less, and encountered a Los Angeles not of lush hills and a preponderance of palms, but rather of endless brown. The disappointment was intense and to my eyes it looked like I’d made a 3000-mile mistake as I thought back to upstate New York of a week earlier. “Time will change that,” I was advised, by a man who had lived here for what sounded like a daunting 15 years. “You will like it,” he insisted, “after you’ve been here for a while.” How long is “a while?” I wondered.
Eventually he was right, given that I’m still on site. Maybe that’s because not a whole lot has changed in the interim.
“Whoa!” you say. “Everything has changed,” and you quickly reference the electronic toys, instant and constant communications, cars that talk to you (more communications), new music – that isn’t really music but compilations of musical fragments – 3-D movies (wait: wasn’t that all the rage in the ‘50s?), Disney Hall, and…well…
…well, in my view, not a whole lot.
There’s just more…of everything. More cars, more people, more houses, more freeway pile-ups, more outrage. But real, honest-to-god change? Nope. There’s still no easy way to get around the city: average speed on the freeways is what, about 12 mph? There’s still only marginal mass transit. And there’s still a county government that rules as a fiefdom, with lifetime jobs for a half-dozen guys.
But a 2010-vintage metropolis? Not really. And truth be told, I have to admit I like it that way, and I’m betting that Raymond Chandler would concur. Maybe it’s always been the reliability of certain things being in the same place, decade after decade: The Greek Theater looking like it has since Day One; Dodger Stadium still being called that; the Santa Monica Pier a dead ringer for what it was more than a half-century ago; and still-jarring patches of the 101 that I’ve rumbled over thousands of times.
And off the freeways there’s a comfort in streets that one can ply without effort or rapt consciousness. In a way, it’s like being surrounded by friends everywhere you go. Safe. Non-threatening. And as the population continues to grow older, such familiarity grows ever warmer.
Yes, there are those teeth-grinding moments when I conclude that the rotten kids who careen through corners will drive me out of this place, yet I always recover and the love affair moves on.
A wish-list? Oh sure, just once I’d like to get a little relief on the 91 freeway or find a valid all-night restaurant in the Valley. But I like it that my city is the only one that is known world-wide for just its letters. A few years ago I was having my passport stamped in Paris before boarding the Eurostar bound for London and the agent’s eyes lit up as he recognized my home. “Ah! Hollywood! L.A.!” he cried. I offered a smug smile as he handed my passport back.
And I suppose that’s the gist of it: I like being in a city that matters, for good or ill. Small towns are fine; I grew up in one. But here there’s real weight, and though not generally seen as such, there’s what amounts to tradition. The film community is what it is, of course, deserving mostly of rolled eyes, while in contrast a significant portion of the city can be described as cosmopolitan and elegant.
All of that has remained constant over my tenure here, and again, is much to my liking. Trends and breathless fashions notwithstanding, L.A. is one special town…just the way it is and has been. Only Route 66, to my regret, is long gone.