I Love L.A.

A few things about Los Angeles.

The ocean is always cold and rough and full of riptides.

The backbone of L.A. County is made of steep wild mountains covered with sweet combustible chaparral, and sometimes also with snow, and within 20 minutes you can be right in among them from most of the 626 and 818 area codes.

Most of the movie-and-TV stuff happens in a very small part of the west side. “Everyone on the West Side is ‘on location’!” a friend said, describing the showbiz self-importance which tilts into the ridiculous.

In most of the county, though, there's a huge and vital kind of human plate tectonics going on: Latin America's cultures grinding against the Pacific Rim's. An excellent place to see this in action is at the Costco in Alhambra on a weekend afternoon.

No place else changes as fast. “I think I get it,” another friend said thoughtfully. We were sitting outside the Melrose Avenue Johnny Rocket’s, watching the highly embellished human parade. “You might as well have your art on the hoof.”

You are free to invent and re-invent yourself endlessly there, and people will mostly take you for whoever you say you are.

Poinsettias will grow into fair-sized trees, given the chance. If you spit a date pit over the side of the porch, a little palm tree might pop up. There are black widows in the garage, and in bad drought years tarantulas come out in the daytime. A flock of feral parrots can screech loud enough to blot out thought.

If you get off the freeway, you’ll find the most anonymous-looking suburbs have little time-warp main streets that will just break your heart.

A little more about LA:

Chavez Ravine is the area north of downtown where whole neighborhoods of Mexican-Americans were uprooted to make room for Dodger Stadium. It’s also the name of two great related works, the reissued 1949 album of Don Normark’s photographs documenting the vanished community, and Ry Cooder’s 2005 music CD on the same theme.

Nobody gets L.A.’s smudgy pink air and belief in magical possibilities as well as Francesca Lia Block. Her Weetzie Bat books for young adults, and Quakeland for grownups, have equal parts glitter, loneliness, hope, and strong female characters. 

The electrifying documentary Rize shows African-American kids in South Central making beautiful community art - the dance form known as krumping - out of nothing but passion.

Follow the rise of the Crips in Monster: The Autobiography of an L.A. Gang Member.

Carolyn See is one of those authors who immediately seems like a favorite friend.

Her look at family weirdness in her memoir Dreaming: Hard Luck and Good Times in America is so recognizable that we all might have grown up next door to her; yet her blue-collar 1950s Eagle Rock - little stucco bungalows, cracked sidewalks, brown grass - is pure L.A.

She also gives us a terrific, racy fable about art, survival, and finding one’s vocation in The Handyman, which may be the perfect L.A. novel: funny, breezy, and wise.