Why My Father Hated LA: A Love Story
Traffic in Upstate New York. Also, my parents' favorite restaurant. ALSO, Amish people think getting their picture taken is a sin. Whoops.
When you live in Los Angeles for too long, your mind starts getting clogged with the smoggy air and fake conversations that surround you, and you lose the ability to make reasonable assertions about the rest of America. I've been here for a year and I'm already forgetting the small stuff. Is Wichita a city or something I ate downtown on a dare? Probably both. Or neither. See, I don't know anymore!
And if you're from California to begin with, may God help you. I bet if you had to draw a map of the United States it would just be the great Golden State with a pair of sunglasses on it, a little bubble for New York City with a skull & crossbones and question mark next to it, and the rest is vaguely defined with large white crosses and guns that shoot cowboy hats at you.
The truth is, most of America is comprised of hard-working folk who have to do manual labor to survive. I didn't move to LA because I wanted to give handjobs for promotions at Fox Studios, I came because I was lazy. I know what a cord of wood or an unplowed acre looks like: work. And I'll be damned if I'm going to take any job that means I can't wear my Chuck Taylors. However, my father doesn't believe in Chuck Taylors. He believes in Red Wing boots and Wranglers and facial hair in an unironic way. I don't know if he believes in God, but I bet if he did he would think God was lazy too. He also believes that Los Angeles is the worst place in America to live.
A little background: my father lives in upstate New York. Not Catskill upstate, where people have million dollar cottages next to streams and Starbucks. My father lives 20 miles south of the Canadian border at the TOP of America. The town he lives in measures 400 families, with a median income of $18,000. They got a Starbucks last year and it closed BECAUSE NO ONE WENT TO IT. In upstate New York, you get 8 feet of snow for nine months a year and you buy your Folgers in a 40 gallon drum and have it hand-delivered by the Brawny Man. That's how it works.
So naturally, when my father arrived at LAX, he was confused by the multiple lanes of traffic and the electronic billboards. And when he showed up to my apartment in a rented PT Cruiser (I know, I know...he really decided to spoil himself on this trip), he was almost unintelligible. Sensory overload had forced him to get off the freeway two exits late and spend half an hour looking for La Brea by driving up and down Crenshaw. He told me he didn't know who Amber was but there were a lot of people looking for her, and some crazy asshole had tried to take his arm off with a motorcycle as he was sitting in the parking lot that is the 405. When I tried to explain that lane-splitting is legal, he got so confused I had to sit him down and give him one of my $7 Fiji waters.
Hard as she tried, the City of Angels held no charms for my skeptical father. We went to Venice, where he gave every bum he saw a dollar, until they formed into a pecking mob around him, like pigeons with bandanas. We tried the upper-crust Caffe Primo in West Hollywood where I pointed out Jessica Biel, but my father only cared that "foreign foods" (read: paninis) 'gave him gas'. This from a man who has had exactly one burrito in his life. We toured downtown, but the big buildings were confusing because it meant you couldn't see the horizon line. We even stumbled onto a film set off Figueroa, where my father got chided by a 30-pound teenager in a headset for trying to see if the leading man was Charles Bronson. Yes, my father still thinks Charles Bronson is a working actor.
My father hated Los Angeles in ways that don't even make sense. He said the Hollywood sign was too small, and and he confused more than one Charlie Chaplain look-a-like for Hitler. He said there weren't enough pools. I tried to take him to Pink's but he said the "last thing he needed was a titty bar." He flatly refused to support Dodgers of any kind, especially draft, and at one point I caught him looking for Reba McEntire's star on the walk of fame.
It's not that my father is a curmudgeonly old farmer; far from it. He has absolutely no problem driving the hour-plus to Syracuse, NY to check out the Barnes and Noble at the mall. He enjoys an upscale J.C. Penny as much as the next folk. And maybe it's my fault, for flying the coop and heading to the biggest hen farm on the west coast. It's a different life in upstate New York; my father's neighbors are a corn field and a cemetery. Here, my neighbors include: someone with a television that only gets CourtTV, a dog that's routinely beaten with what sounds like a harpsichord, and a smell that may actually be someone's dead carcass. I thought my father would at least respect that similarity with his own house, but no.
Three days later my father left, knowing nothing of the Los Angeles I have come to love. We did not taste of the heavenly Book Soup, we abstained from the greasy taco trucks that serve our fine city, and we did not tackle the PCH in the PT Cruiser. But that's OK with me. I'm beginning to think like the rest of California, and maybe it's better that way. Maybe the all-encompassing and insular nature of the great left coast, and of this amazing city, really should be left to the professionals. I think next time my father wants to visit, I'll meet him halfway. I hear Oklahoma City just got a basketball team AND electricity.