St. Louis vs. L.A.

On our honeymoon, my wife and I ended up stranded in L.A.  We didn’t see many sights, but we saw the hundreds of miles of sprawl on the way in.  The numbers don’t lie.  There are a lot of people living in L.A.  Roughly 10 million people.  That’s almost 1/4 of the people living in California and 10x as many as live in St. Louis.  A lot of people either choose to live in L.A. or choose not to leave L.A.  But how many are trapped either by circumstance or by ignorance?

It part it was the pushing and shoving, the five-hours stranded in line, but ultimately it was the L.A.P.D. bomb squad evacuating our terminal that forced our conclusion: we hate L.A.  Seeing celebrities and eating expensive food wouldn’t change our minds.  My best friend from 5th grade lives in L.A.  He hates it too.  Yet he stays.  Hollywood has a stranglehold on many innocent lives.  L.A. is big and busy without being the great city that New York is and possessing a certain sun-burnt superficiality that the Big Apple lacks.

And then there’s St. Louis, our some-time home.  It’s the biggest small town in America.  It’s small enough that I’m guaranteed to run into someone I know unexpectedly at most large-scale events.  It’s big enough to have a small, crappy version of whatever you want (as opposed to New York, which has the best version of whatever you want).  This is a great town with hidden glories.  The “City Museum” is an urban playground for grown-ups, with huge slides, a three-story outdoor jungle gym, and two sets of man-made caves.  Forest Park is larger than Central Park in NYC.  The art museum and zoo there are free.  So is the Shakespeare festival and the summer jazz festival.  The Cardinals and the Rams are worth cheering for.  And the gateway arch is the last great man-made monument.  St. Louis is one of America’s best kept secrets.

A friend returned to live in St. Louis after living in California.  He had decent job prospects and great wine, but there were two things that he especially lacked: a community of friends and places to think great thoughts.  Few things are more important in life and St. Louis provides a healthy context for both.

I don’t right this to convince you to leave L.A.  But if you’re already here, love where you are.

Published in: on August 5, 2008 at 9:14 am  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m sorry you guys got stranded in LAX for 5 hours. Getting stranded anywhere, much less an airport, for a long period of time is no fun.

    That said, I’m afraid you can’t really judge LA from the time you spent in LAX for 5 hours in the aggressive presence of the LAPD (who are some of the most notoriously asshole cops in the country). Or rather, you can judge it, but you shouldn’t, not from that experience. Evaluating a city based on the time you spend in its busiest airport (and LAX is one of the largest, if not the largest, airports in the country) is like trying to decide whether you like chow mein after watching someone puke it up all over the floor.

    LA is great in the sense that anyone pursuing just about any kind of artistic endeavor can find a niche and many ways to pursue it. It’s also got one of the biggest–if not the biggest–economies in the country, and thus many opportunities in just about every career you can imagine. It’s sprawled out, has too many people (most of whom don’t read much of anything) and centers around a single vainglorious industry that makes everyone feel like they’re all running in the same rat-race and losing. But like any city, you find the corners where you fit in and avoid the ones where you don’t.

  2. Touche. I suppose that L.A. might be the kind of place I could survive in if I found that niche, established myself, and repressed the preceding five years of memory. In the ironies of life, who knows, I could end up there some day. But I know that if I do, it will be in spite of myself… and my wife.

    But have you referred to the place in terms of “hell hole”? Or am I transposing my memory of how you would refer to Eugene?

    P.S. The puked chow mein was a nice touch.

    P.P.S. If you liked the puked version, are the odds pretty high that you’ll spring for the pre-digested one?

  3. I’m in the middle of a 3 week stint in CA. It has some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, many friends, and a lot of really fun thing I’ve never done. One of my STL friends was concerned I would never return to our great little city. I’m having a wonderful time out here, but it’s also confirmed that I am a midwest girl at heart and love, love, love our FABULOUS city!! But as a side note: California is a GREAT place to visit!

  4. I forget who said it, but a wise person once noted that A) you should live in New York once in your life but B) you shouldn’t stay. The same could be said of California.

    I probably overstated my case following our traumatic experience.

  5. Yes, I’ve referred to LA as a hellhole before, but it’s a strange thing with this city, I have a very love-hate relationship with it. It’s definitely a must to get out of the city limits every so often, which I’m pretty good about doing. But California in general is a great state that has probably the best weather in the country and the most environmentally progressive people. This state will be powered by wind and solar energy before any of the other 49, I predict. On top of all that, I’m a 25 minute drive from the beach. I can’t imagine being 3 days away from it!

  6. Three long and lackluster days.

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