Here's What L.A. Looks Like To A New Yorker Who Has Never Been
As a lifelong New Yorker who eagerly tells anyone within earshot about how I am going to die in this rat-infested, trash dump of a city (dear lord, I love it), I don't know why people are surprised when I tell them I have never been to Los Angeles. On the surface, it has always seemed diametrically opposed to everything I love about NYC, from the climate to the "vapid" lifestyle to the food culture (I will die stuffing my face with street meat at a grimy food cart before I try a juice cleanse).
On the other hand, L.A. also seems like a magical, ocean-kissed paradise filled with endless skateboard parks and hard-working, elaborately coiffed artists. Its reputation for shallowness doesn't mesh with the very good people I know who have moved out there in recent years. I have stronger negative feelings about Boston than I do L.A. (and for good reason, Boston is a terrible place, everyone knows that).
So what is L.A. like? Sure, I've never been, but thanks to a lifetime of absorbing popular culture, I do think I have a pretty meaningful and accurate understanding of what life is like for Angelenos. I may not be able to prove that everyone is a blood relative of a Kardashian/Jenner, or that Johnny Depp has been cursed to haunt the abandoned bungalows along Venice Beach, but know that I have my suspicions. Below, you'll find all the other things I definitely think I know about L.A.
L.A. Is Filled With Macrobiotic Health Nuts Whose Parents May Or May Not Have Been In A Sex Cult With Charles Manson: There's a lot to unpack here, I admit, but let's take this one backwards. It is my understanding—based on the book Helter Skelter, the South Park episode "Merry Christmas, Charlie Manson," and an admittedly-disturbing obsession with the song "Home Is Where You're Happy"—that everyone in L.A. circa 1969 either partied or slept with Manson at some point. If he was good enough for Dennis Wilson, then he was definitely good enough for the rest of you lot.
But once you've injected a literal madman into the bloodstream of an entire city, it's hard to just flush him out. Manson hangs over my image of the city much like a blood moon hangs over a werewolf, or an all-day margarita brunch hangs over Monday morning. All that self-destructive, new age energy has been passed down over generations, creating an immaculately-dressed society ripe for the cult of "healthy" organic eating. A kale salad with half an avocado is not a meal! I still hear Woody Allen's words from Annie Hall echoing in my head: "There's no economic crime, but there's ritual, religious cult murders. There's wheat-germ killers out here."
You Will Be Stuck In Traffic For Most Of Your Life: You might be involved in a high-speed car chase at some point (Speed, The Chase, OJ Simpson). You could get inducted into underground Race Wars by a sentient Q-tip in white pants (The Fast And The Furious). But the thing I know for sure is that Los Angeles is the closest America has come to realizing JG Ballard's fever dream of a mechanophilia paradise.
I'm not even sure if there are sidewalks in this city (You're The Worst has sent me some mixed signals on this count), not that it matters: everyone drives everywhere and they love it more than they love stories about Turtle's latest unsuccessful business start-up on Entourage. If you live in this city, you will spend a majority of your time stuck in traffic, possibly singing to yourself insufferably (see: La La Land). You may even BE a car (see: Lindsay Lohan documentary Herbie: Fully Loaded—though to be fair, I have no idea where this takes place, I just associate Lohan with L.A.). And no matter what age, race or creed, you will definitely have strong opinions about the best routes to get around town (SNL's "The Californians").
Joni Mitchell Is The Patron Saint Of Laurel Canyon And Coachella: Everyone is pretty in LA. This is probably the most positive "stereotype" I have absorbed about the City of Angels that is not related to Nicholas Cage drinking himself to death there (I fear I may have mixed up two movies...). And I give all credit to Joni Mitchell for this.
She's one of the most brilliant, fearless popular musicians ever, and emblematic of an entire sonic landscape that I deeply love (you can throw Neil Young, The Byrds, Carole King, and Love in as well, among others). Her legacy hasn't only been passed down to fellow musical geniuses like Kate Bush and Joanna Newsom—it's also embedded in the look of the place (at least the part of the city that isn't trapped in an Athleisure fog). You can skim through those Coachella/music festival fashion roundups and choke on the garbage trends, or you can squint and see the legacy of one of the all-timers.
I've also associated Joni with some of the best scenes from the emotionally bruising Six Feet Under, a show that was always as empathetic in its depiction of the denizens of L.A. as it was hilarious in showing the absurd ways they died.
L.A. Residents Are Universalistic Sun Worshippers: You don't need to have watched Fast Times At Ridgemont High or Point Break a dozen times to pick up on the fact that the most important deity in this town is The Sun (I think 'Fame' is more of a Loki-like character). It's more than that: the sun is a literal solar deity. I assume people follow The Great Hierarchy. Californians regularly sacrifice their skin to please the immortal yellow dot in the sky. Do you want to know what the opposite of a vampire is? It's an Angeleno.
No Matter How Much You Want To Avoid Seeing Someone, You Will Inevitably Run Into Them In Some Ironic & Tragicomic Setting: Call this 'The LAX Rule,' or 'The Lost Singularity Theorem.'
L.A. residents have a certain reputation for flakiness: everyone always talks about "grabbing lunch," but nobody can ever get anywhere on time (if they arrive at all). But if you've seen Short Cuts, Crash, or Magnolia, you know that intentionality is besides the point, because there are cosmic forces at work turning your life into a heavy-handed tragicomic tapestry of coincidences while putting you through an emotional ringer. Some have even estimated (some = me) that Angelenos will spend up to 33% of their lives staring solemnly off into the distance.
The Pool Cleaning Business Is Booming Year Round: I didn't grow up with a backyard pool (most New Yorkers don't have these "backyard" things in general), so it's hard for me to understand why people who live next to the freakin' Pacific Ocean—which is way nicer than the Atlantic, I hope you all appreciate that—would need yet another body of water in which to soak their feet. There are nearly 50,000 pools in the city? Isn't there also a pretty consistent drought problem?
Putting that aside, it is important in an exercise such as this to acknowledge the great work done by all the various industries in the city, including the good people in the porn industry. And one of their greatest cultural contributions has been educating the public on the fact that pool boys will never run out of work to be done.
Everyone Who Moves There Wants To Be Famous And/Or Knows Someone Who Wants To Be Famous And/Or Loves The Song "Famous" By Kanye West: This seems like a no-brainer right? I think of it the same way I think about D.C.: everyone who moves there, whether they want to or not, will end up sucked into the political machine that drives that city, even if they're not trying to run for Congress (otherwise...dear lord, why on Earth would anyone move to D.C.?!). Every movie ever, from Sunset Boulevard to Mulholland Drive to Boogie Nights, feature ambitious people trying to make it in the ~Industry~, so who am I to argue with this?
But to me, the best/saddest example of this phenomenon came in the second season of Nathan For You, when Nathan Fielder transforms a Hollywood souvenir shop into a fake movie set, only to have dozens of volunteers lining up for the chance to appear in a film—even if it means paying $87 for some tourist crap.
L.A. Is Filled With Attractive Idiots With Low Self-Esteem Who Would Definitely Ignore Me If I Sidled Up To Their Table At The Local Taqueria And Asked Them Their Thoughts On Local Politics: Look, NYC is filled with Wall Street douchebros, street harassers, crooked real estate brokers, and people who stand on the left side of escalators, so we truly are an imperfect species no matter where our grandparents decided to lay down roots. Having said that... L.A. couldn't even get a 12 percent turnout for the most recent mayoral election. The city has considered paying people to vote. And have you watched The Hills? The cultural damage wrought by that show will leave scars on generations of Angelenos.
Anyone Who Says They're "Bicoastal" Could Potentially Be A Bored Rich Nomad Living A Vagabond Lifestyle: And it probably has something to do with taxes. I'm not saying everyone who offers to bring you with them to the Bahamas is definitely on the run from the IRS, or hiding out from a terrible secret in their past involving stolen identities and the hollowness of the American dream (Mad Men), but...there is a definite chance that is what you're dealing with.
Palm Trees Are The Main Vegetation: Everything I know that truly matters in this life I learned from Entourage.
Ben Yakas is an editor at Gothamist, LAist's New York-based sister site. He was born and raised in New York and subsists on a diet of chinese food, billiards and concerts. And as he has made abundantly clear, Yakas has never been to L.A.