So now we understand. Don’t get the OG wrong: the OG continues to hold the NYC subway system close to his sea-creature heart. The OG actually hates driving and cars generally. But the observation about New York was true. You almost always ended up spending most of your life near or around the stops on the the subway line closest to your apartment; your life took on a very repetitive feel. Riding the F train back and forth, I realize now, felt a bit like taking the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, again and again. There’s Katz’s. There’s the Sunshine Theater. There’s the West Village, once again. There was a period of time when I was living in New York when I seriously felt like I was at 9th Street and Avenue A every single night.
In L.A., sloppily gridded blob that it is, you’re always ending up in some new place, along a new path. There’s no one set track, but many possible tracks from which to assemble your route to some undiscovered portion of the city. Choose your own L.A. adventure.
Salman Rushdie’s latest book, Shalimar the Clown, begins in Los Angeles. The book is not blowing my socks off just yet, but here’s Rushdie’s take on the form of L.A., much of which will sound tired, but is interesting to me, coming from such an unlikely observer of L.A.:
So now he praised the city, commended it precisely for the qualities that were held to be its greatest faults. That the city had no focal point, he professed hugely to admire. The idea of the center was in his view outdated, oligarchic, an arrogant anachronism. To believe in such a thing was to consign most of life to the periphery, to marginalize and in doing so to devalue. The decentered promiscuous sprawl of this giant invertebrate blob, this jellyfish of concrete and light, made it the true democratic city of the future. As India navigated the hollow freeways her father lauded the city’s bizarre anatomy, which was fed and nourished by many such congealed and flowing arteries but needed no heart to drive its mighty flux.From Shalimar the Clown, p. 21
Jane Jacobs is rolling her eyes on a pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use neighborhood street somewhere. The OG is certainly not hoping that more cities around the world follow L.A.’s pattern of development. We’re most definitely not going to be able to zoom around cloverleafs and off-ramps and idle in traffic between Santa Monica and downtown forever. L.A. will likely one day (soon?) have to Balkanize and segment, its various neighborhoods becoming more self-enclosed and self-sufficient. But in the meantime, in the beautiful dirty sunsets, L.A. is quite marvelous, in its depressing, sloppy unsustainability. It is not the “democratic city of the future,” I think, but a city of the past, one whose current form cannot last and which will inevitably be forced to shrink and divide itself to survive. (Mostly we’re excited for the Mad Max stage of L.A. development, when we get to start wearing heavy metal chains across our chests and accentuating our cheekbones with daubs of motor oil.)