“All come from somewhere/To live in sunshine/Their funky exile/Midwestern ladies/High-heeled and faded/Drivin’ sleek new sports cars/With their New York cowboys.” — Billy Joel, “Los Angelenos”
Where do the myths, the stereotypes, the cliches begin? Neighbors chatting over the backyard fence? Water cooler conversation at the office? A conversation over a beer at the local bar? The Internet?
I wondered about this while reading an obituary of Harold Ramis, the once-in-a-generation comedic genius who died way too soon this past week.
In a Chicago Tribune piece, Ramis, a Chicago native, explained that he moved himself and his family back to his hometown after his successes as an actor/director/screenwriter in Hollywood because “There’s a pride in what I do that other people share because I’m local, which in L.A. is meaningless; no one’s local.”
And that quote, along with the words of Connelly and Joel and many more, answered my question.
The people who perpetuate the myth of Los Angeles as a city of soulless transients seeking fast fame and fortune are the writers and filmmakers and musicians and actors and authors who have grabbed the golden ring in the very same town, then condemned everyone else as shameless opportunists.
It’s time to bury the image of Los Angeles as the home to the vapid and rootless. It has never been true and it never will be. It is fiction perpetuated by the same people who engage in fiction as a livelihood.
I guess I’m a little sensitive about it because I was born and raised here. With the exception of college and a stint in the military, I have lived here all my life.
My father came from “Somewhere Else.” He moved his family here in the late 1930s from New Orleans. It was the post-Depression era when any job was a good job. He found his in Los Angeles and became the ultimate “local,” one of the biggest civic boosters you would ever want to meet.
He had no particular financial motive for his boosterism. He was just a hard-working guy with a family to feed who honestly believed this was the greatest place to live on Earth. He never kept a bag packed. He never made a break for it. The concept would have puzzled him. And I guess it wore off on me.
Nobody claims this is paradise. Drive through some areas of L.A. and it’s a depressing journey through miles of shoddy apartment buildings and sleazy strip malls. We must be the mattress store and nail salon capitol of the world.
There is beauty, too. The beaches, the mountains, the canyons, the 300 museums, the 80 stage theaters, the dozens of parks. We have a breathtaking skyline that continues to grow. Los Angeles may not be Paris but it’s not El Paso, either.
The traffic is terrible. It takes and hour and a half to get from Point A to Point B almost anywhere in the city on a bad day. But we are on the verge of having a first-class public transportation system in spite of ourselves as subways and light rail expands. We should have done it 50 years ago but the freeways were less crowded then and the motivation and foresight was lacking.
Most importantly, despite the myth that we are a mass of people who are just passing through, we are fast becoming a population with local roots.
According to the new demographic projections conducted by USC’s Population Dynamics Research Group, the majority of Los Angeles residents will be California natives, rather than immigrants. By 2030, two-thirds of new residents will have been California natives, the report says.
Civic pride? Yeah, we have that. We’ve hosted two Olympic Games, seven Super Bowls and are home to World Series champions, NBA champions, Stanley Cup champions, NCAA champions.
We have survived earthquakes, fires and floods but our population and median income continues to increase. More than 20 million people come here every year on vacation.
Do we all come from somewhere else? Certainly we do. So does everyone else in the United States unless you’re an American Indian.
The difference is when people come to Los Angeles, they stay. We are the most ethnically diverse city in the nation.
About 48 percent of the population is Hispanic or Latino, nearly 13 percent is Asian and nearly 9 percent African-American. There are Armenians and Ethiopians and Iranians and Pakistanis in large numbers. More than 200 languages are spoken here.
And we all get along. Why? Because we love L.A.