[This is historically interesting, as a picture of aspects of Southern California in the boom days of yore. The photostream is on flickr.]
I’m so excited--This is my trip into the belly of the beast—Southern California. I can hardly wait to see all my worst imaginings confirmed! I re-read “Orange County, Yugoslavia,” by Dean MacCannell, from Empty Meeting Grounds,to get myself primed for this treat. The home of Disneyland, postmodernism, freeways, suburban greed, megaplastic surgery, wretched excess of all kinds! I will be thrilled. I will see idiotic affluent people being served by deferential surfers! I will eat food prepared in hidden kitchens full of undocumented aliens! There will be nothing to do but shop and eat! [Wrong, wrong, wrong, as becomes clear below. You have to take it as it is and experience its unique joys. ]
May 15—Well, here we are in Long Beach, CA. Finally made it to the LA area, which we know so much about, or think we do, thanks to TV and movies. Lotsa blondes and lotsa blacks, mostly young and good looking. Long Beach isn’t Orange County, but it’s right next door. The Orange County throwaway, OC, had several satirical pieces on denizens of Leisure World, who have reacted badly to a bunny population explosion there. The bunnies are nibbling the shrubbery, fornicating on the golf courses, and dropping shit everywhere, which the oldsters track into their white-carpeted living rooms. The comic exploitation of these circumstances, from “The War on Bugs” to “Teaching Tough WWII Vets to Cook & Eat Wabbit,” gave me a good laugh.
May 15—Well, here we are in Long Beach, CA. Finally made it to the LA area, which we know so much about, or think we do, thanks to TV and movies. Lotsa blondes and lotsa blacks, mostly young and good looking.
Long Beach isn’t Orange County, but it’s right next door. The Orange County throwaway, OC, had several satirical pieces on denizens of Leisure World, who have reacted badly to a bunny population explosion there. The bunnies are nibbling the shrubbery, fornicating on the golf courses, and dropping shit everywhere, which the oldsters track into their white-carpeted living rooms. The comic exploitation of these circumstances, from “The War on Bugs” to “Teaching Tough WWII Vets to Cook & Eat Wabbit,” gave me a good laugh.
Last night we went with a group of friends to a Mexican restaurant on the pier. The margaritas were too weak and very sweet and the food just so-so, but what an ambiance! A large, loud family with several kids at the next table, canned mariachi music, and two (2) TVs with closed captions, running a show of old Saturday Night Live clips, kept the noise and distraction level way up there. The men grouped themselves at one end of the table and talked shop, and the women sat at the other and talked housing, husbands, kids, and pets. I sat in between so I could catch both conversations and not get bored.
One woman went lugubriously on and on about how their dog died when they were moving, which made me feel sad, because our old cat died last week. Actually, I saw a pet grave memorial kit for ten dollars somewhere. This stuff with pets is getting ridiculous, for sure. (Later note: In the next few days, traveling around with a group of scientists' wives, I was to hear a lot of horror stories from women about dead children, dying husbands, painful operations, marriage-busting affairs. People do level more about these things with strangers than they do with neighbors, I guess, at least the feeling part. It may be the captive audience syndrome.)
Anyway, the margaritas were so sweet that we took the limes from everyone’s drinks and mashed them up into the drinks and then added all the straws and Mexican flag toothpicks as a festive touch. They tasted tolerable then.
It’s pretty nice here, kind of radically superficial, but you can do what you want with it! It’s the real ersatz! On the tube I saw an interview with a man named T. Jefferson Parker, who writes mystery novels set in Orange County. He says his dad was a Bircher in the 50’s, and the cops would come over to get their instructions from him on how to do their job, who to protect and who to run out of town.
May 19. To my surprise it seems democratic in LA. This is in spite of the obvious differences in wealth and so on and the restrictions in movement via every form of locomotion but the automobile. In fact, the service people are making a fortune. Everyone has a job. [Those were the days. M.S.] There’s tons of energy here. And I have never been in restaurants with the professional approach to food and service that seems just standard here. The waterfront area is ridiculous of course, that aquarium (How original) etc. but it generates a lot of revenue from visitors, mostly because of its well thought out convention facilities. This visitor and tourist area is only two or three blocks deep and behind it is a large run-down area.
The prosperity is moving inland, though. In this second tier area there is, for instance, an open market that runs every day and has fresh produce and flowers and real chickens. It was full of people of all kinds, some just wandering around and others doing serious grocery shopping. Very positive. In another district I saw, around California State at Long Beach, expensive houses and gated communities predominate. But--It’s not bad, not bad at all. The air’s even pretty clean this time of year, and the plantings and gardens charming. One thing is clear—the blacks and Latinos and their well wishers are making a flat-out major effort to get the kids educated. I saw groups of school kids on excursions everywhere.
Most of the women here with their husbands share my outlook on social matters. Our origins are modest; none of us ever expected to be so well off, and it’s because our husbands are in high tech that we are affluent. Their careers have been in social work, teaching, and nursing. Like us, several had made major changes, such as moving to less crowded areas with a better climate, and most of them used to have full time jobs but have been pushed out of the job market by younger people. That’s how it goes.
A woman from England took charge of our expeditions and so we had the experience of muddling through and having some adventures with someone more lovable than efficient. The places she found for us to go to (once we managed to get there) were really outstanding:
Rancho Los Alamitos (highly recommended)
MoLAA—Museum of Latin American Art(highly recommended)
May 15, 2000 Thank goodness Terry came back with the Palm Pilot! I was forced to use low-tech pen and paper. Guess I need a PP of my own!
May 16 –I get a chance to use the PP before Terry takes off for the day. Got some good photos of the harbor, which is so delightfully phony. I took a walk down to the aquarium (15 dollars admission for adults, 7 for kids) and got some cool photos of the postmodern architecture in all its hyperreality. The aquarium parking lot garage is a particularly outstanding example. I thought at first it might be an apartment house or a shopping center. The false front hearkens back to pioneer days. Or maybe, since it's an aquarium parking lot, the portholes and the wavy roofline are intended to remind one of the sea. Yeah,that's it!
May 19- LA Airport on our way to SF for Bay to Breakers--My, I seem to spend a lot of time in these red carpet rooms! This one's jammed, due to flight delays, but still way better than the concourse! And we get good machine espresso and little crackers and cheese to go with them. I hope our flight doesn't get delayed again. But, as Terry says, it can't possibly happen to us more than once on one trip (There's a Dangerous Thought). Anyway, the canceled flights are to the east coast, where it's snowing. I have ironed my Bay to Breakers T shirt for the run on Sunday in SF. You can look here at some photos of my expedition [newly moved to flikr]. All in all, a great trip!