The first thing you notice as the plane flies over the southern suburbs of Los Angeles is that this place is flat. Really flat. Flat square grids of houses and factories and buildings with great white crisscrossing lines of freeways like a tic-tac-toe board. All the way up the coast until you realise that it’s a basin, with the Santa Monica Mountains in the north, and the Santa Ana Mountains and Santa Joaquin Hills to the east and south.
Is it nestled and protected by these burly beasts? Maybe … but maybe not. Underneath it all the Pacific and North American continental plates butt heads, pushing against each other as part of the Ring of Fire. An undercurrent of angst and torment that surely isn’t lost on the inhabitants above. And like those earthquakes, people simply move on as if nothing has happened with the common visions of homelessness, crime and anger. Who knows when the big one will hit.
Los Angeles is just it’s nickname, something to let the foreigners get their tongues around. It’s full throated version is El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora la Reina de los Angeles del Río de Porciúncula (The Village of Our Lady, the Queen of the Angels of the river of Porziuncola), given by Spanish governor Felipe de Neve in 1781. Isn’t that great? Kind off leaves my home town of Swansea (originally known as Reid’s Mistake) for dead. Australia was only three years in the making then.
You can’t help but notice the smog. It dominates the skyline at times. People choke the air with their SUV’s and Utility Pick-ups, as they drive to the beach to breath in the cleaner air and flex and strut their muscles for all to see. This is the land where the lines between artificial and natural beauty collide and blend until you are left guessing what is real anymore.
But you’d be forgiven for thinking that I dislike this place. Far from it. Just as the ground that gives them a home and could possibly swallow them whole when the big one arrives, the people who have seen it all before can be genuinely engaging and authentic. Maybe I am one of the lucky ones, my accent tends to get me an free pass in any given situation. People are fascinated by Australia, and want to know where I am from, and why I am here. They have opened their hearts and minds, and at times their wallets just to have a few moments to engage in a small amount of discourse that they can repeat to their family and loved ones a little later in the day.
While wandering the Hollywood Hills a lady a little down on her luck and carrying her cat asked me for some spare change. I of course refused. She was not phased, and complimented me on my shirt and genuinely wanted me to have a fine day. If in this land of actors and con-men this was her shtick, it made me want to run back and hand her a few of my green paper bills regardless.