Even after all these years, it feels weird to be in the Los Angeles area.
I was raised in San Francisco. We learned that Southern California steals all our water (actually it mostly goes to wasteful corporate agriculture) and that you can cut the air with a butter knife (this is certainly not true now).
Oh yes and, of course, the traffic. The traffic is Southern California is the stuff of legends. When I first encountered what we in the San Francisco Bay Area call the “South Bay,” I referred to it as a northern outpost of Los Angeles because it boasts something of a maze of freeways, smog, and urban sprawl.
I drove down for some training and all along Interstate 5, the main north-south thoroughfare in California, I saw hyperbolic signs warning of a “Congress created dust bowl” (sorry, it’s always been that dry, and sagebrush is nothing new) and protesting that it can’t possibly be a waste of water to grow food (this depends on what you’re growing, especially livestock, where). Some of these signs were marked as “Semitropic” something or other, suggesting that the southern Central Valley is a semi-tropical zone (umm, no, it is, and always has been, a semi-arid zone).
When I got off the freeway to check in at my hotel in Van Nuys, practically the first thing I saw was a billboard promoting water conservation.
It is a very car-centric place, which is one reason I insisted on driving, not flying. But frankly, so far, I’m seeing lighter traffic than I do in the San Francisco Bay Area (okay, I’m definitely not banking on this and I saw electronic signs warning of a 90 minute delay on northbound Highway 101, another major north-south artery in California).
It’s also considerably warmer than I like. Even in late October, as I write this, temperatures are soaring over 80 degrees.
But I think I might manage to eat at a different vegan restaurant for dinner every night this week. I’m writing this at O’Cado in Sherman Oaks and most of the beers they offer hail from Northern California. That’s part of the relationship, too: Southern California has always held Northern California in higher esteem than the other way around.
And as I drive around, I’m seeing place names I’ve only heard about. Van Nuys. The Santa Monica freeway. Others that slip my mind at the moment. Southern California is the place I’ve always known was here but which I never explored in the over fifty years I’ve been here. Remember, I’m a San Francisco kid—Southern California is enemy territory.
The Dodgers are in the World Series, playing against the Red Sox on O’Cado’s big screen TV. It’s 3-3, bottom of the fifth, but only a couple people are paying any attention at all. If it hadn’t been on, I might have overlooked this altogether. By contrast, in the Bay Area, if a local team made it this far, I wouldn’t be able to escape it.
It’s always been weird to me that the Oakland Raiders moved here and, even though some called them (deservedly) the Los Angeles Traitors, Oakland welcomed them back and remains faithful, even as they now plan to move to Las Vegas. I’m not a fan of any sport, let alone organized sport, let alone football, but I see the relationship Oakland has with the Raiders. The Raider organization is, quite simply, fucking up hugely, blowing off a profoundly shared identity, fueled by a shared lack of respect (Oakland has always played a distant second fiddle to San Francisco), that runs much deeper than I can fathom—I’m a San Francisco kid, not an Oakland kid.
But here I am in Southern California. And that’s pretty weird too.