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.