Friday, April 9, 2010

oh you funny, sunny place!

I moved north at the impressionable age of 14. Wanting to be cooler than I actually was, I adopted the attitude of pitying snobbery that I heard every now and then when I told people I was from Southern California. "Oh," I would say, "southern California." And then I would talk about the smog, how brown and flat it was at the bottom of the sky, and the lack of culture (as if I, at 14, knew anything much about culture, or the lack of it). The dismissal of Southern California became such a habit that I actually started to believe it.

I moved back south when I was 19 to dance with a small ballet company in Orange County. I lived in a bland apartment, but spent glorious hours at the beach, flew down highways late at night with hot air and loud music spilling everywhere, and took for granted the luxury of coming home from work and jumping, five minutes later, into the pool (in November). Still... Oh, southern California, I would say. Vacuous. Land of shopping malls. And the traffic, don't get me started on the traffic.

Last weekend, I drove down to LA with some friends. We went down for an audition (which was interesting, moderately encouraging, and which reminded me exactly how bizarre the world of dance is), and squeezed around the edges of that, we just enjoyed Southern California.

Some of the particular pleasures that I had forgotten:
Gleaming late night diners where the wait staff are all absurdly attractive, the counters are graced with beautiful desserts under glass domes, and the menu includes a ridiculously long list of salad dressings.

Reading the LA Times in the morning. My roommates and I used to save the crossword puzzle for after work, when we would alternate solving them with polishing off a bottle of wine and reading questionably humorous stories in Cosmo.

Wandering a boardwalk, or some other slightly seedy, but generally safe, place late at night, surrounded by cheap thrills. It smells like ocean and people all wear flip flops, like they're the only shoe ever invented.

Days like this.

Southern California has this strange disconnectedness for me now. You have to drive everywhere, so you're forever climbing in and out of the little air-conditioned chamber that is your car. I never used to notice it, but every day is this odd collection of snapshots, interspersed with stretches of temperature controlled air, familiar music, and a blur of speed. It's always possible that you could go anywhere, turn up in a place you've never been before. There might be a thousand reasons why you can't actually go driving off into the sun, but there's so very little that is actually stopping you.

(Except, of course, the traffic. That remains as bad as I remember.)

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