Sunday, February 20, 2005

A Tourist In Her Own City

Okay, so technically speaking, I live in the suburbs of L.A....which means I’m no more of an “Angeleno” than someone who lives in, say, Detroit or Topeka. In fact, truth be told, I’m more familiar with New York City and Buenos Aires than I am with the place of my birth (my passport says I was born in Los Angeles).

So, it was with both awe and shame that I walked around downtown L.A. yesterday. First of all, every time I paused to look at a map, someone asked me for money. Now, I’m no stranger to the less fortunate scrabbling for enough change to snag a sandwich or a beer. But, at least in Mexico, beggars understand quid pro quo—whether it’s a packet of chicklets or a woven bracelet...whatever, it’s a market economy transaction. Everybody walks away happy. L.A. doesn’t work that way, although I must say that on the whole, these down-on-their-luck people were exceedingly polite. Even passersby who refused to give it up were sent on their way with: “Thank you, anyway. Have a nice evening.”

As I dug in my purse around the new cell phone, around the wallet filled with vacation cash and credit cards, one guy felt compelled to absolve himself of guilt. “I never meant to be in this position,” he said. “I used to be the guy giving money.” Dig, dig. “I’m making her nervous,” he says to my friend. “No,” I say. “I’m just a little disorganized.” He shifts his backpack, saying: “I understand. You think I could be a murderer or something.” Well, I hadn’t really thought that before, but now that he mentioned it....

The truth is, no one goes to “downtown L.A.” They go to Santa Monica...or Westwood...or Beverly Hills...but not the city proper...unless it’s to a wedding or a play. (Hey--the new Disney theater is simply GORGEOUS...from the outside, anyway).

For dinner, my friend and I took the Metro (rapid transit!) to Olvera Street. First, we consulted the concierge who advised us the subway was a hassle. Take a cab, he advised, even though it’s more money. But, I persevered. Dammit, I’m downtown, I wanna try the subway. Well, what I learned is this: L.A. is in desperate need of SIGNAGE. Memo to the City Council, Board of Supervisors, Mayor Hahn: spend a few bucks on SIGNAGE. We were directed to pick up the Metro at Pershing Square, but when we got there...nothing. Finally, we located a security guard who sent us across the street, we traipsed down a stairway, and what? A couple of trains? trams? subways? passed before we figured out all of them went where we were trying to go. Once we got to Union Station, then what? No signs to Olvera street? Isn’t this a tourist destination? (Observation on the “new” L.A. subways: clean, empty, confusing.)

Back at the hotel, we sat in the lobby bar. No matter what anyone says, history is history. And, the L.A. Biltmore reeks of it. The ornate high ceilings, the black and white photographs of the first Academy Awards, the indoor pool with inlaid mosaic... I snapped a few pix with my new cell phone and wondered what the ghosts thought of modern technology.


John said...

I used to live in California, San Diego, Vallejo, Castro Valley, Navy stuff. I've been to LA about a dozen or two times, but never to LA as a destination. It was always in the way to somewhere else, Disneyland, Santa Barbara, north, south, even east to the desert. I didn't even know LA had a downtown. Just had an enormous number of people trying to get from one side to the other side.

randy said...

LOL...that's a pretty accurate description and probably explains the trapped expression on the faces of those stuck in the middle.