It’s the strangest thing about Los Angeles.
You feel as if you’ve seen it before, and yet, in the same breath, you’ve never seen anything like it. It all seems so incredibly familiar because you haveseen it — in the movies.
The beaches, the palm trees, the Endless Summer, the fantastic-looking people in Gucci sunglasses (who arethey?) driving red Porsche convertibles through Beverly Hills yapping on mobile phones. Everyone you meet is writing a screenplay, and almost everyone has had at least a pinch of plastic surgery. Of course, it wouldn’t be Los Angeles — a city that makes its living telling stories — if the characters didn’t live up to their reputations.
But seeing a picture is not the same as seeing the real thing, a concept that becomes extremely clear once you’ve strolled down the Venice Beach Ocean Front Walk. They’re all here: the heavy metal Swami guitarist on rollerblades, the silver human robot, the wild-eyed guy jumping barefoot into a pile of broken glass; muscle boys pumping iron, gangstas, skatepunks, cute girls in fluorescent bikinis, henna tattoo artists and hawkers selling everything from cheap sunglasses to your name on a grain of rice. The experience confirms what you’ve always heard about California: it’s the land of fruits and nuts.
You’ll need a car to get around this vast metropolis. Yes, there are buses — and even a subway — but the public transportation is extremely limited. And walking? Don’t be silly. The City of Angels is, sadly, a driving culture, and the sooner you learn to ‘dig those crazy LA freeways’ the happier you’ll be. The city is famously a non-smoking culture, too — cigarettes are banned in all California restaurants, bars and public indoor spaces — though Los Angeles does have its share of smokers, and more than, say, San Francisco where restaurateurs no longer give out matches because it might encourage smoking. LA puffers congregate in the outdoor cafes, the only sanctioned places to get a nicotine fix.
The other thing you’ll need here is a sense of adventure. Despite the labels that are so frequently slapped on LA’s proverbial forehead — pretentious, shallow, cultureless — this city is a deeply tempestuous place, continually evolving. The ground it’s built on is, literally, constantly changing, being reshaped by earthquakes, fires and floods. The social landscape is always shifting, too, as people from all ethnic backgrounds, speaking hundreds of different languages, come to LA to make their fortunes.
There is an awe-inspiring amount of creativity in this town, fuelled by the winds of uncertainty and a genuine respect for weirdness. The whole city lies somewhere over the rainbow, where the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.
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