The Geography of Los Angeles

One thing about Los Angeles is its distinctive geography, much celebrated in literature and film. You can always tell when some New Yorker just deplaned at LAX and started spouting inanities that displayed an ignorance of this geography. That’s what happened when I read Megan Abbott’s neo-noir thriller Die a Little. There were a few names like “Pico Boulevard” (which everyone here just calls Pico), the giant doughnut at Randy’s in Inglewood, even several restaurant names like the Apple Pan and Ciro’s—but they just didn’t hold together. It’s as if she was using a map and a guidebook and just pasting the places together.

Take Woody Allen’s film Annie Hall (1977) with its tone-deaf attacks on L.A.

After all, it’s been more than 35 years since Alvy Singer hilariously dissed the city in “Annie Hall,” saying that people here “don’t throw their garbage away, they make it into television shows” and that “the only cultural advantage is that you can make a right turn on a red light.”

I can only hope he enjoyed the mashed yeast he ordered on the Sunset Strip.

When you read Raymond Chandler or Ross Macdonald, you get a feeling for the crumbling sandstone of the coastal mountains, the transverse mountain ranges running west to east, the vast distances going from one point to another, as well as the odd architectural vibe of the place. When I first came out here in 1966, I was confused by all the stucco and chicken wire architecture, until I experienced my first real earthquake in 1971.

You can always tell when an east coast writer is slumming in Southern California. It doesn’t come across as real.

The Smugness of The New Yorker

Postcard from Los Angeles

I have always loved reading The New Yorker, but I continue to be dismayed at the peculiar relationship The Big Apple has with Los Angeles. It grates me like that scene in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977) in which Allen is ordering lunch at a Sunset Strip eatery: “I’m going to have the alfalfa sprouts and a plate of mashed yeast.” Another line from the same movie: “I don’t want to move to a city where the only cultural advantage is being able to make a right turn at a red light.”

We know that Woody Allen doesn’t like Los Angeles, and the feeling is more or less mutual. It tends to be shared by The New Yorker, which seems to include half a dozen articles each year that come under the heading of slumming in the sticks. Witness the following, which is shown on a hand-drawn cartoon of an L.A. postcard:

Greetings from Los Angeles, California. Come for the sunshine, stay for the dream that may or may not happen, but feels as if it’s going to happen like … four years in, when you score that big meeting and everyone says, “This is it—don’t blow it!!,”  but on your way there there’s a huge backup on the 5 and you’re forty minutes late so they never call you again.

Oh, come off it! This is that same Annie Hall Los Angeles that consists of the film studios and the Sunset Strip, leaving out EVERYTHING ELSE. It’s as if they’re still stuck on that Nathanael West image of The Day of the Locust.

IMHO, if you miss that big meeting, you should have gotten on the freeway earlier. No biggie! Get there early, have a coffee, arrive relaxed. Leave your Gotham edginess in the trunk of your rental car.