Wednesday, December 01, 2004

DO: Walking in L.A. (Nobody Walks in L.A.)

A great way to know a city and appreciate it is by taking public transit and walking. Since the majority of the population in Los Angeles do neither, I don’t think people who have lived here for even decades really know this city. Knowing where the nearest freeway on-ramp is and being familiar with all the freeway interchanges does not truly count as knowing L.A.

I’ve definitely grown to appreciate and enjoy this city more as I walk through its streets, take the bus, ride the subway, and use the light rail. I see the city from a different perspective, notice new and beautiful things, and discover hidden treasure. Because when you’re not too busy driving 80 mph and instead you’re walking or taking the bus, you allow yourself the time to look and observe – to soak in the environment around you – as you weave in and out through the veins of this metropolis.

I think this is the reason why when I travel I fall in love with the cities that I visit. In foreign cities I have no choice but to walk and take public transit. Therefore, I become very familiar with the place and discover reasons to appreciate it. Taking the bus makes me feel more connected to the city. Not only do I get to observe it as I look out the window, but I also get to study and analyze the inhabitants of that city - those outside and inside the vehicle.

As I became a tourist of my own city beginning last year, a new love for Los Angeles has been developing. Yes, it’s been a tumultuous love-hate affair, but I think I’m finally starting to accept and love L.A. for what it is.

For example, yesterday I took the Metro Red Line (subway) from Western/Wilshire to Pershing Square in downtown. I walked up the long flight of stairs on Bunker Hill, next to the twice-again defunct Angel’s Flight (oh how my legs wished the trolly was still working). As I walked through Cal Plaza, I saw a young Asian mother play a sweet game of hide-and-seek with her son. Approaching the Colburn School of Performing Arts on 200 Grand Ave., I saw these WASPy-looking kids getting dropped off and picked up from their music lessons in their luxury sedans and SUVs. A bum came near a young red-headed boy, who was waiting on the edge of the sidewalk, to strike up a conversation with him. "What instrument do you play?" I heard him ask. "The cello," answered the kid in his timid pre-adolescent voice. I thought to myself, What an opportunity! I get to witness this encounter between these two people from two very different worlds, with a huge socioeconomic gap in between them. That anthropology major is ingrained in me, I tell you. I notice and analyze the most random things.

Passing by the Colburn also took me down memory lane. This school once was a part of my childhood. I had piano lessons at Colburn back in the days when it used to be near USC, under the shadow of the formidable Shrine Auditorium. I remember when my lessons had to be re-scheduled whenever some big award show was taking place in there, like the Academy Awards. And in those days (oh my God this is making feel old), luxury cars were not as prevalent as they are today. After all, the country was in a recession and it was the pre-90’s-bull-market era. So there wasn’t no Mercedes Benz or Lexus driving up to the front door of the school every three minutes. My mom took me in our big old tank, the Ford Allstar van, I think it used to be called.

Anyway, as I neared the Music Center, I was greeted (or more like visually accosted) by the now-finished "space-agey" tin can that is the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Not too fond of the exterior but the interior is gorgeous. Additionally, there is some lovely landscaping in the back.

I met my friend in front of the Mark Taper Forum to get our rush tickets to see the play, Topdog/Underdog. I noticed that she and I talked about what people who usually go to plays talk about: what we watch on PBS, philosophical observations about human social behaviour , independent films, and a slew of other esoteric topics. Haha. I only have conversations like this in L.A. It’s quite funny actually because even though our conversations may seem untypical and "alternative," there is a people group that talk like us. In our unconventionality (is that even a real word?) we are actually being very conventional.

After the play ended, I treaded down Grand Ave. again. As I casually walked down on my way to the subway station, I watched on my right Chrysler filming a commercial for their luxury cars. It’s all part of an ordinary, glamorous day in L.A. And in one five-minute subway ride, I found myself in a distinctly different world. When I got off at the McArthur Park/Alvarado station I was in the middle of a Latino "ghetto." In front of me stood infamous McArthur Park where Robert Downey, Jr. and other druggie celebs like him, obtain their heroin and other mind-altering pleasures. Now that I understand and speak Spanish again, I don’t feel so estranged from this part of town. The throngs of Latinos who walk on the streets and loiter by the station are not as "threatening" as they once appeared to me. I, along with millions of others, grew up watching the news and shows like "Cops" that demonize Latinos and African-Americans, making them out to be "scary." Now they seem more accessible, people whom I can get to know. Language connects people in an incredible way. And it’s not only because I know how to speak a language, but because I recently lived for 6 months in Latino culture, I feel an affinity towards Latinos.

As I stood on the corner of Alvarado and 7th, I soaked up my surroundings. Across the street stood a tree on the periphery of the park, with beautiful, colorful little houses sweetly hanging from its branches, slightly swaying in the barely-there breeze. It must have been an art project. Spanish music was blaring from a store nearby. To my left, a street vendor was busily selling corn-on-the cob to passersby. I realized that if I had just got around in my car today, the day wouldn't have been as satisfying as it was. I would have missed out on the richness of details that I got to witness.

Shortly, my ride came by and whisked me off back to suburbia.

::5 stars::