In some ways it represents the future; 2014 was the first year in which a larger percentage (50.2) of American children under five were of ethnic descent. That's exciting for the United States, but for L.A. it's old hat. The largest major American metropolis where English isn't the dominant language, the city's percentage of ethnically descended young children is a staggering eighty-three percent. In that regard, L.A. is what the country will look like in fifty years.
In other respects, it's grotesquely antiquated. Look at the grimace on any urban planner's face when you mention Los Angeles. By far the country's worst example of urban sprawl, a staggering thirty percent of the city's land mass is given over to automobile use.* One and two-story buildings stretch out as far as the eye can see, and nobody but nobody can get around the sea of brake lights. Alfa Romeos and Pintos sit through the stuff together. Unless you live along one of the rail lines, the place is endless, in terms of both space and time. The marine layer in the mornings and the smog in the afternoons exacerbates the distance visually, the vapor giving size and heft to the vastness.
The City of Angels isn't really about the past or future, though, or even the present. You've heard the saying, and it's true: it's where people go when they have an idea and yes, a dream. Dreams are what the city is founded on, and the common element in the beating heart of every Angelino.
You go there because you believe.
It might be possible. It could happen– stardom, wealth, status, recognition, or– more modestly but no less massively– steady income, naturalization, certification, family, treatment, opportunity. Love. Self-realization on some level. Every good thing in life is predicated on a maybe, and the ones naïve and brave enough to try– some of them– will be the ones who actually make it.
I wish sometimes I were as strong as they.
I'm alive because my Korean grandfather had the will and resolve to start a new life there under enormous hardship, with every guarantee of failure and nothing to his name but a set of mouths to feed. My friends move there, or move out of there (you move out of LA, not away from it), as I have done more than once, as they wrestle with how they see themselves. I love the city desperately, that old human tornado, but I can no longer bring myself to live there.
LA also contains everything that comes with dreams: fear, loss, hope, disillusionment, tragedy, frustration, anger, anxiety, confusion, and crushing disappointment.
As much as there are dreams in that vast array of lights, so too is there reality. There's a woman I knew there whom I love immensely, a degree of sentiment I cannot overstate, but with whom I can't share a life. Things make sense in my dreams, but dreams aren't where I live– and reader, understand that this is coming from someone who believes in magic, who goes around trumpeting the idea that realists are forever doomed to mediocrity because they lack the vision to see greatness!
But I can't deny reality, and the fact that I am all I can offer. You know this feeling, I'm sure. The best I can ask for is what I have already received: the gift that she'll always be part of my character. I don't believe you'll ever read this, my dear, but if you do, bonne chance. You deserve every good thing in life.
Our dreams contain giants, versions of ourselves we know to be possible. I would ask all of you a favor, if I could, and that is to keep chasing those other dreams, even when the one in front of you is ended. When one dream gets broken, don't abandon the others too. There's a difference between giving up on a dream and giving up on the idea of dreaming. The former is a necessity we'll all do at least once; the latter is how people grow old, wooden, tired, bitter. Don't go there. You don't have to go there. Pick up the pieces. The other dreams are different, and in them the notion of bettering ourselves, realizing ourselves, lives on, and on, and on.
Another favor, not as crucial but recommended no less enthusiastically: go see La La Land! Watch this trailer, please, and then go see it. It's the film of the year by far, both aesthetically and in terms of content. It's about everything you just read, and it's not a mere celebration of following your dreams, but more fundamentally a commemoration of the very act of dreaming itself. We do these things because we believe, and that alone is worth is extolling, regardless of the outcome.
La La Land:
The teaser above was not in as heavy of rotation, but I love it. Here's the first teaser, and the domestic full trailer. Note the rich colors: shot on 35mm film!
Damien Chazelle on La La Land: 'Los Angeles is full of people chasing dreams' (The Guardian)
La La Land writer-director Damien Chazelle on subverting the things he loves most (The Verge)
Emma Stone and Damien Chazelle on the Magic and Alchemy of ‘La La Land’ (Variety)
L.A. land use:
*14 Percent of Los Angeles County Land is Dedicated to Parking (Curbed). Key quote, from Donald Shoup: "You can't have the number of cars we have in L.A. without our parking lots, and you can never create urban density with the parking lots we've built."
-The link above is just about parking. If you want the really exhausting stuff, try this 2012 report: Transportation Land Valuation: Evaluating Policies and Practices that Affect the Amount of Land Devoted to Transportation Facilities (Victoria Transport Policy Institute).
L.A. language and demographics:
-New Census figures show nation is following Los Angeles in diversity (Press Telegram)
-New data shows more than HALF of Los Angeles residents speak a language other than English at home (Daily Mail)
-Demographics of Los Angeles (Wikipedia)