Los Angeles – Bright Lights, Big City

As I mentioned in the previous installations in this series, having grown up in Chicago my impressions of the other two large US cities was similar to that of a sibling who feels another is getting more attention. New York is a bigger city, but Los Angeles had bypassed Chicago and became the second largest city in the US. Then they had the 1984 Olympics which were largely popular and successful.

Also during our childhood, our family made cross-country trips every other summer. We went east a couple times and west three times. But we tended to stay north and managed to miss the southwest. It was a long ways and who really wants to go to the desert in summer. Chicago summers are bad enough.

But in the late winter of 1986 my father signed up for a conference in Anaheim across from Disneyland. My parents decided that we would all go along this time and visit Southern California. Now that I look back it really was a trip of firsts. It was the first time my sister and I had taken a plane. I’m fairly certain that this was the first time we stayed in a real hotel. Our cross-country trips were spent camping with an occasional stay at a motel. So the city was already winning me over with a fancy place to stay. We also had our first rental car. And I remember when we picked it up from the airport because it was also the first time I had seen real live palm trees. The rental car was a Ford Taurus right after the line had been introduced. Although it was neat to be in a new car, the overpowering smell gave me a headache. And speaking of smells, this was the first time I experienced that aroma that is unique to warm sandy places. I can’t really describe it, but I’ve also experienced it in Florida, Hawaii, the Mediterranean, and even Myrtle Beach.

As for the place, we saw many of the major sights but I only remember a few since it was quite a while ago. I remember many of the rides at Disneyland along with many of the sights at Universal Studios. We visited Mann’s Chinese Theatre. I also remember some of the streetscapes as we passed through the city. But apart from the palm trees and more spread out urban landscape, there wasn’t anything that really jumped out at me. I understood the place better and I had a nice impression of it, but it really didn’t jump out and Wow me.

Then after moving here to Montreal, I became involved in a project in Torrence, a suburb of Los Angeles. As the project was being constructed, the client required that I go down for a while to follow the construction and verify it was being built to our specifications. Our work was not very complicated, but the equipment that would be sitting on it was very expensive, so they wanted to assure it was built correctly. Since it was a construction site, work began at 6am and finished at 3pm. So I had evenings and a weekend free to visit the city.

And I really made the most of it. I had bought guidebooks and outlined everything that I was interested in seeing. So I had tons of possiblities planned for all of this free time and I managed to see and do numerous things. The Getty Center, Mulholland Drive (I drove the length of it mostly at night), The Disney Concert Hall, Hollywood Boulevard, the length of shoreline from Redondo Beach to Malibu, the Mount Wilson Observatory (again at night, but it was closed), Venice Beach, Frank Gehry’s home, Malibu Beach, the tar pits, and a few trips to Pink’s hot dog stand.

But I came back with quite a feeling for the attitude of the place. I had only been living in Montréal for a few months and I was beginning to experience what it is like to live on the east coast as compared to midwest living. Although it’s different here in Montréal, I’ve noticed that the attitude on the east coast was a bit more business oriented and fast paced. Even if it is more liberal. My experience of it has been through television, but even the one hour time change has been enough to better understand the mentality.

In LA, it really was the stereotypical laid back California attitude. It wasn’t that people didn’t work or didn’t care. It was a bit more openness and a bit more calm. My main contact while I was there was the foreman on the job. He seemed to be a former surfer who as some point got a real job. He took care of business as was required, but seemed quite open to taking about stuff that others might want to relay. For instance he was talking about how he once took his clothes to a Chinese laundramat and how he so impressed because they even got the ‘skid marks’ out of his underwear.

Although others didn’t reveal that much about themselves, I did get a different vibe. Even from what I saw on television. It’s pretty much the same stuff shown on the east coast, but the timing of things due to the time change seemed to have an affect on how it came across. On the east coast they tend to be later in the day. But on the west coast it seems to be at a more reasonable hour. I might be reaching on this one, but it was my impression.

As for the physical environment, it was quite similar to what you’d expect. Warmer climate buildings that took advantage of the sun or protected you from it. Buildings and roads that did not need to contend with extreme colds or freeze-thaw cycles. And of course the prevalence of palm trees of all sorts and sizes. But I did not run into the traffic for which LA is known. Probably because I wasn’t travelling during rush hour.

So after having grown up quite jealous of the city, I now appreciate it as place of great interest and somewhere that I’d be more than happy to return to.

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~ by Frank on September 16, 2007.

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