By day, the 110 freeway through downtown Los Angeles is a wasteland of ripped off bumpers and lost license plates. The asphalt is cracked and broken, the storm drains clogged with bird shit and dirt, the sloped sides leading to the street level littered with dead weeds, trash and cigarette butts. The light from the sun ricochets of skyscraper glass and superheats the car. It is an ugly, ugly thoroughfare stoked with traffic and noise and heat and people trying to get to work or get home from work or get on with their lives.
By night, however, the area is transformed, as long as you keep looking up. The skyscrapers bejewel the night sky and the air from the ocean wraps the towers in misty high clouds and brings a freshness to the city. It is as close as L.A. gets to a sparkling metropolis. It is almost enough to make us forget the day-to-day detritus and the arc of human misery playing out on the streets below, on Skid Row just a few blocks to the south, and under the overpasses where the homeless toss and turn in restless sleep.
Los Angeles is not beautiful in its decadence like New York or Paris. It lacks the pulsing life of the mind so common in the east or in Europe. It is a city of facades, each one good for a few years until it is torn down for some other build-up of an already broken dream. But there are moments of possibility, moments of slight-of-hand beauty if you look.
So it was one recent night-ride through Los Angeles on the edge of another summer.