So, I wasn’t expecting this blog to become a meditation on city life, but I’ve been traveling a lot and it just seems to be the thing that I’m most interested in right now, aside from the usual comic bookery that occupies nine-tenths of my non-working time.
For a little background on myself, I’m an off-shoot Los Angelino, having been born and raised in Long Beach California, which is the southernmost point of Los Angeles and borders Orange County. I’d like to think that Long Beach embodies the best of both counties, which have pretty divergent cultures, but others might say the city embodies the worst. As the name would imply, Long Beach is a huge beach town, but while many of Orange Counties waterfront strips have been turned into sun-drenched playgrounds for the upper class that lives on them and the lower classes that visit them, Long Beach was transformed into one of the nation’s largest ports, completely industrializing and commodifying what was once, I can only assume, a rather long and lovely beach. Because of this, Long Beach has quite a bit of squalor, and while it borders on sunny Orange County on its south side, it’s north side shares streets with Compton, Inglewood, Carson, and other cities that are known more for their criminal element than for any type of relaxation culture. Long Beach also has a pretty thriving music and arts scene. It can’t really compare to Brooklyn, but a night on the town in Long Beach will have much more in common with scenes like Silverlake and Echo Park than it will Peoria, Illinois.
And while I grew up in Long Beach and went to college in Claremont, two towns on opposite ends of LA County, I really haven’t spent too much time in Los Angeles proper. When I did, it was either after a show we saw in college or as a returning Southern Caifornia expatriate. (For the record, I saw two of the best shows I’ll ever see in Hollywood as a college student: Mars Volta and MF Doom, both at what were their creative peaks.) I’m much more knowledgable about the New York scene than I ever was about the Los Angeles scene, which is pretty distinct from the Long Beach scene.
The reason that I never knew a lot about after-hours Los Angeles is due to the lack of a transit system. Both Long Beach and my college in Claremont are about a 30 minute drive from Downtown LA, West Hollywood or Santa Monica, but getting out there by car is often a nightmare. Traffic and lack of parking spaces are pretty big deterrents from skulking around warm LA streets at one in the morning, and the long drive home is even worse. Additionally, and this is the point that I set out to make with this post, it’s not nearly as fun to walk around in LA as it is in New York City. Even more spread out parts of Queens make for a better late night pub crawl than the most densely packed parts of LA.
I was home for the holidays this year, and had the pleasure of spending one of my few free nights in Santa Monica. I was dispatched to retrieve The Club, which is a brand of canned martini and my most favorite of West Coast-only confections, and though I only walked about 12 or so blocks to get them, it felt like a million miles. Had it been New York City, there surely would have been a bodega or liquor store much closer to my friend’s apartment, but it wasn’t and there wasn’t. And though the distance I trekked was one that I wouldn’t have given a second thought to in Brooklyn, it was annoying as hell to do it in LA, and I found myself wishing that I had driven.
There was plenty to look at during the trek, from the fancy boutiques and classy restaurants along Wilshire Ave to the neighborhood streets I took on the way back as a means to enjoy one of the Clubs that I had just purchased. If I had to single out a reason why it was so unpleasant to make the trip on foot, I would have to guess that it wasn’t the trip itself, but the fact that I was the only one out walking. Sure, I saw other people out on the streets, but there were either walking to their car or away from the car, and absolutely no one was actually walking anywhere. It made me feel like I was the odd man out, missing some bigger picture, and made me want to retreat to the safety of my own automobile, even though I would argue that I was doing what actually made more sense.
I actually did a fair amount of walking during the time that I was actually in Long Beach and Los Angeles, which wasn’t much. The Long Beach journeys, one along the aforementioned beach and the other to a high-end grocery store to purchase ingredients for Pimm’s Cup, were less awkward, not only because they were taken during the day and with family members, but because I was retracing routes I utilized frequently as a youngster. It was much more pleasant.
Interestingly, and this is the last pseudo-point I’ll try and make, some friends and I were at a bar late in Long Beach late one night. Because of some bad decision-making, I found myself stranded at a bar with one other, car-less friend, and we had no idea how to get back to our respective homes. (Not because we were lost, but because we were so far from where we needed to be.) I was having a classic social freak out and had to leave the bar instantly, but my good friend was with it enough to let me cool off in isolation while he charmed us a ride home from a lovely young lady, who I had neither the wits nor the wherewithal to say more than two words to. (“Thank you” was all that my shell-shocked, booze addled mind could muster as we left her car.)
Regarding the walk home, we could have made the trip, but it would have taken us at least an hour, and in LA conditions, with warmth but nothing open and wide, deserted streets, it would have taken a long, long time and felt even longer. Of course, there is always the urban hitch-hiking option, but I’ll have to go into that at another time.
So, New York is a pedestrian-friendly city in more ways that we might think, and we should thank our lucky stars and also our burnt-out, worn-down Nike’s that it’s easier to walk where we live than it is to drive. Now get out there and take a stroll.