I’ve lived in Southern California ten years as of this week, and that seems like an appropriate time for some reflection on a place I wouldn’t have expected to find myself before this decade started. Sometimes I still wonder at the fact that I’m here at all, but I’ve rarely questioned my decision to come here.
There are so many ways in which my life here is better than I had any reason to expect a decade ago–and there are irritations and aggravations that weren’t part of my life before I lived here. While Los Angeles and its environs have their virtues, they have some pretty big drawbacks too.
And so, on the occasion of our tenth anniversary together, here’s the second half of my SoCal Top Ten, which effectvely constitutes the Bottom Five.
THE TRAFFIC. “Car culture” was born here, and it continues to rule. A driver’s license is considered a right more than a privilege, and a car is a necessity in a metropolis that is seriously lacking in public transit. But the five- and six-lane freeways built decades ago are inadequate for the volume of cars that use them now, and a prudent person will always allow an extra 20-30 minutes for potential traffic snarls when going anywhere. Sadly, too many people aren’t prudent, and that tends to make them cranky, careless, and rude.
THE SPRAWL. The car culture goes hand-in-hand with the familiar archetypes of suburbia, and this is a city without a real core. It seems to be comprised of lots of oversized neighborhoods and poorly-defined subdivisions that leak and bleed into one another, without much to distinguish them individually. Stuck in traffic, sometimes it’s alarmingly easy to lose track of where you are.
THE INSULARITY. When it’s all here–the coast, the beach, the mountains, the desert, the forest, the city, the suburbs, the farmland–there’s not much need to go anywhere else. And when a day’s drive barely gets you across the state line anyway, why bother? As someone who grew up in the opposite corner of the country–in the Northeast, you can pass through three states over the course of a morning–the scale out here is still a wonder to me, but I can understand why it might discourage exploration. What I don’t understand is the lack of curiosity about exploration or interest in what’s beyond the borders of the nearest freeway…unless it’s just been beaten out of people by the sprawl and the traffic. I’d understand that.
THE OUTSIZE SELF-ESTEEM AND SENSE OF ENTITLEMENT. The “star system” was born here too–although “Hollywood” is more of a concept than a place nowadays –and it seems to have rubbed off on far too many people, even if they have no connection to Hollywood at all. There’s very little reluctance to ask for privilege or special treatment, because people really believe they deserve it. Not everybody is a star here, but anybody can demand to be treated like one–and they frequently get their demands met.
THE POLITICS. I have issues with the state as a whole on this matter, not just my region. The level of political dysfunction here is hard to fathom and even harder to explain, although almost everyone has a theory on it. All I can tell you is that our elected representatives don’t represent, and considering how much lawmaking is placed directly in voters’ hands through the initiative process, I’m not sure what they actually do at all. However, among other things, I’m sure they’re at least partly responsible for the steep decline in the quality of public education here during the last couple of decades. When I moved here from Tennessee, I thought the political climate would be more compatible and the schools would be much worse. Although my blue-party leanings are a better fit here, I was way off about the schools.
All things considered, however, I could be in a much worse place, literally and figuratively. I don’t love my two hours a day in commuting traffic, but I have a good job and a nice home (that I’ll probably never be in a position to own, but that’s another issue). And if I hadn’t come here in 2002, I wouldn’t have the second family that I joined in 2006–and having family around is the thing I love most about living in Southern California.