I came home from the airport last night after five days in Los Angeles. It rained all the way home, as I dozed in the back of the cab all the way from Oakland. When we pulled onto my street, it was clear there was a power outage; my entire block was completely dark including the interior of my flat, which always has the twenty bulbed tips of an industrial-looking retro-sixties Sputnik chandelier burning twenty quiet amber glows in the center of the living room. I paid my fifty bucks and dragged my bags through drizzled darkness to my unwelcoming doorstep.
Just twelve hours before, I had the windows down in my rental minivan, cruising in the sunshine up Fairfax to Melrose Avenue. The sun was warm and the radio played the new Radiohead song, and convertible tops were down and spirits were high. Los Angelinos have a worldwide reputation for glistening smiles fronting shallow, insipid souls. Ask any San Franciscan, they'll gladly confirm this image. After living in San Francisco for over three years, it's easier now to see L.A. more objectively when I visit; so I really paid attention to the differences between there and the now more familiar folks of S.F.
We all cruised together up Fairfax, and cars darted across lanes and into driveways. Everyone tried their best to keep chaos averted. A shiny black Volkswagen waited for a clearing to pull into traffic from a supermarket parking lot, and the car in front of me slowed as a jeweled and red-nailed hand popped out the window and gestured towards the VW, whose blonde driver smiled and waved like a prom queen as she pulled in front. It was a beautiful afternoon, and everyone seemed blissed out.
San Francisco and Los Angeles have one thing in common for certain: each has its own certain kind of self-consciousness. San Francisco is a city of politically responsible freethinkers; of artists and activists and intellegentsia. Local bumper stickers assert "Mean People Suck!" and "Kill Your Television!" People are opinionated and sensitive and care about everything. It is also a city of unusual people, where anything goes and nothing but apathy is forbidden. From here, Los Angeles looks like a dreadful shiny plastic diarama of palm trees and trashy clothes, populated by tanned, youth-obsessed plastic-surgeried 30-somethings and their poodles. The carefree demeanor, the glamour, the vanity, the happy "have a nice day!" all smack of falseness and stupidity to the San Franciscan.
In L.A., people smiled at me for no reason. People made conversation for no reason. Maybe it was the joy of feeling 78-degree sunshine on my skin, but it just seemed like they were happy to be there. I was. Sure, they check their hair in every reflective surface; but I'd have to say there is some kind of blissful comfort with it all which makes Angelinos seem so vacant to the rest of the world. I mean, what about the starving children in Bolivia, for chrissake?
The problem with San Franciscans is that they're so thoughtful and policially-aware that they tend towards self-righteousness. And is that better than vacuous friendliness, I wonder? When I'm in L.A. and I say I'm visiting from San Francisco, the Angelino will say, "oh, I LOVE San Francisco! What a charming town." When I'm asked by a fellow San Franciscan where *I* moved here from (because there are blessed few S.F.-born locals), and I say I used to live in L.A., the reply is always the same droll "oh, I'm sorry."
And so it goes... San Franciscans gather at City Hall to protest the arrest of activists who drove cars through Nordstrom windows displaying fur coats; and Los Angelinos sip cappucino on Montana Avenue, watching Hassidic jews walking home from temple and tossing bits of croissant to flitting bluejays, chatting idly in the sunshine. To the Northern Californian, Southern California is Part of the Problem. To the Southern Californian, there is no problem.