Sunday, May 20, 2012

It's Always Armageddon Somewhere

The final story, the final chapter of western man, I believe, lies in Los Angeles.”
                                                                                                                        Phil Ochs

This past Saturday, I had an all-day meeting scheduled for downtown Los Angeles near USC, and I was worried.  According to media reports, this weekend was supposed to be yet another cataclysmic disaster for traffic on downtown streets as the Lakers, Clippers, and Kings all had home playoff games scheduled back-to-back over Friday, Saturday and Sunday, along with a bicycle race that would end at the front door of Staples Center.  If I believed the news readers, all Angelinos should head for the hills, or their backyard bunkers or other suitably reinforced shelters.

Over the last year, we have had several Armageddons that never materialized in L.A.  Probably the most famous was the weekend closure of Interstate 405, known locally as the San Diego Freeway.  This was the event known as “Carmageddon,” and had the entire country enthralled, if the coverage on CNN and MSNBC was to be believed.  We were warned that L.A. fire units and paramedics would be unable to reach calls in the hills above Sherman Oaks and west Los Angeles; LAPD would be slow to respond in the area of the closure.  It was all doom and gloom, and none of it materialized, thank God.  Carmageddon was a bust.  Everything proceeded normally, and the construction company even finished the scheduled work early.  The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) reported lighter than normal traffic across the region.  The closure did result in a funny photograph of a dinner party in the fast lane of the empty freeway.  The group managed to clear out before California Highway Patrol (CHP) showed up to cite them.

Photo courtesy of Jesse Glucksman

It still seems odd to me that so much of Los Angeles history is cast in terms of the end of the world.  Earthquakes, fires, floods, crime, pursuits, and sporting events all seem to come with the “Armageddon” tag, as if we expect that the Book of Revelation could only come true in L.A.  The thing is, we survive.  We recover.  May be it is just our Hollywood sense of drama that makes us blow the prophecies of destruction and annihilation out of proportion.  However, I feel our wails of trepidation might make the rest of the country think of us as cowards, and that would be a shame.  Citizens in this city do have resilience, probably to a greater degree than we think.

Los Angeles needs to toughen its image.  Not only did our basketball teams get pushed around this weekend, and will probably be eliminated from further playoff competition, one of the events scheduled for this Armageddon was a bicycle race.  On a normal day in L.A., bicyclists are forever in jeopardy on the streets of the city.  Although there have been several high profile attempts to promote bike riding in Los Angeles—even catching the attention of The New York Times—this city is a difficult one for the bicycling enthusiasts.  This is not a flat city, and the sprawl makes a cycling commute nearly impossible.  I applaud the work of CicLAvia, but they are facing a similar uphill battle to make L.A. more bike-friendly.

The Sunday Los Angeles Times did a front page story about the revitalization of the downtown area surrounding the Staples Center and L.A. Live.  It is “No longer the 9-to-5 area its once was…” said the headline.  New lofts and apartments have gone up, some of them in old refurbished buildings that had been empty for a while, and businesses anticipated a busy weekend with all the traffic headed for the sporting events.  But the article also points out that just a few blocks north, west, east, or south, things are rather dull.  Only the usual locals come out to hoist a few in the bars and restaurants.  In short, the crowds for events stay localized in the streets around Staples.  In many ways, Los Angeles lacks a heart.  The city center does not hold, unless there is a reason to go downtown.  Great dining can be had in Pasadena, Santa Monica, even the San Fernando Valley.  There is Citywalk at Universal, Disneyland in Anaheim, and Magic Mountain in Valencia.  The question must be asked:  is Los Angeles a city or as Dorothy Parker said, “seventy-two suburbs in search of a city?”

For the record, I made it to my meeting a half hour early in light traffic.  Coming home, I hit the usual congestion going through downtown on the 110, but once I hit the 101 I was home free.  And according to the news naysayers, traffic was light throughout the area all weekend.  Things were absolutely normal, at least for L.A.  But tomorrow, tomorrow is another day.

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