Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Places We Think We Hate...and Love

One of the many travel bloggers I follow recently posted a thoughtful piece on how much he hates Los Angeles. The point of the entry was not "why I hate L.A." but rather "why DO I hate L.A.?" Why does anyone "hate" a place where they have never lived, or possibly never even been? I could apply this just as easily to why some people "hate" certain public figures like Oprah or Michael Moore. How can you really hate what you don't know? To push it a bit in the other direction, how can you hate what you DO know? I like to think we can find something non-hate-worthy in everything.

I am not interested in delving into this topic in some broadly philosophical way. Rather I want to explore my own perceptions of the places I have been and the places I will go. I am going to Indiana for Christmas, to visit family and friends. Then I am going to L.A. for New Year's to see more friends and enjoy a little bit of warmish weather (let's hope this is not a repeat of my freezing New Orleans adventure last January). My associations with these two places are worlds apart. Having lived in NYC or at least the Tri-State area for 17 1/2 years, I no longer identify as a Hoosier. I never fit in all that well to begin with, and now when I go "home" I focus on the things I did love...people. True, there is some pride associated with being from a small town in the midwest, but most of that pride comes from shallow boasts such as being able to tolerate blizzards considerably better than New Yorkers. But I spent years going on and on about how much I hated Indiana, how much I hated my hometown of Plymouth and how much I hated small town politics. Being from the place, there may have been some basis for my bitterness, but really, what did I hate so much? I had a fairly cushy childhood. I was a good student, I sang in swing choir and acted in school plays, played drums in the band and was one of the "stars" of the speech team (not tooting my own horn here, I actually won quite often). I also had good friends and a supportive family. If I had to pinpoint the one thing that distinguished growing up in a small town from that of a big city, it would be simply this - I lacked anonymity. It was never true that I lacked opportunity, but I believed I did, and I wanted out.

With my friend Beth...and Miny the cat (as in eeny, meeny, miny, mo) in my backyard...circa...1987ish?
I managed to get out. Then at some point I realized I don't hate Indiana anymore. True, I would never want to live there again, but I don't hate it. Maybe I never did. Maybe I have softened over the years. Or maybe it is from having traveled to other places in the world, finally seeing what I thought I was missing. Most likely, that contributed to a new worldview, one which includes my hometown in a more loving, respectful way. Now I think about the vitriol I once spewed and I'm a little bit disgusted with myself. There was no cause to hate. There rarely is. What is striking is that as far I can recall, there has never been another place for which I felt such revulsion. This brings me to Los Angeles. Unlike my fellow blogger, I do not hate L.A. I kind of love it. But I'm not sure why. My family lived in Riverside, California when I was three, a city east of L.A. We were there for less than a year. And hey, I was three; I don't exactly have meaningful memories of the place apart from some vague, playful memory of trying to ride my neighbor's dog. Yet I was apparently quite distraught when we moved back to Indiana ("back" because I was in fact born there). From that point forward, I associated L.A. with something I'd lost and something I wanted very badly. It was a big city, it was on the coast, it was filled with mysterious strangers and endless opportunities...it was far far away from Plymouth, Indiana...and I dreamed of going back.

When I was 13, my dream partially came true. My parents and I went to L.A. for spring break and I eagerly absorbed every eclectic aspect of our experience. My mom's cousin lived there. She was (and still is) an art dealer. She had fascinating artist friends. Her daughter took riding lessons at the same place where Loretta Swit rode (I know this because we saw her in the bathroom). We ate some of the best food I'd ever tasted and shopped at the Beverly Center. How much more glamorous and exciting could it get for a midwestern teenager? To add to L.A.'s allure, I was deeply in love with the "hair band" movement taking MTV and VH1 by storm in the mid-late '80s. Yes, I was one of those kids. L.A. was the epicenter of that movement (I realize "movement" is a gross exaggeration, but I feel it necessary to add some kind of self-respect to those trashy musicians who I once so admired). L.A. was where I wanted to be. Alas, it was back to Plymouth after a week. Apart from Chicago, I would not see one of our country's major cities again until I was 17 (I don't count Washington, D.C.). That trip was to New York City for a national speech tournament. It took me approximately zero minutes to fall in love with NYC. It was a no-brainer. I was home. Two years later I moved here. My first apartment was in a residential hotel on the Upper West Side. I attended a musical theater conservatory, shopped at Fairway, hung out in Sheep Meadow late at night with my acting buddies and ate bagels every day. But I never lost any love for L.A. Yes, I went through one of those typical New Yorker/Woody Allen-esque phases where I scoffed at the idea of ever living in L.A. The shallowness, the absurd health trends and lack of any "real" culture...but that was just my new hometown snobbery talking. I was going along with it. The truth is, deep down, I never stopped feeling like I was missing out on something that only existed in Southern California.

During my last trip to SoCal - San Diego 2006
Before you start asking the obvious next question, no, I am not thinking of moving. I love the East Coast despite my annual whine about "why do I live someplace that gets cold during the winter?"...and I have no intention of leaving. But since this is a travel blog, I hope that I will be able to talk about many future visits to L.A. and other areas of the West Coast in the years to come. I don't know if I am really missing out on anything there, but whatever I think I love must be worth exploring.

2 comments:

Red Nomad OZ said...

'Love' and 'Hate' are labels that are too extreme to use without careful consideration! Of course that's just my opinion...

Hope your Xmas isn't too cold - we've got a snowball's chance in hell of a cold Xmas down here in Australia!!

Happy travels!

Michael said...

Well, as someone who lives in Southern California, I personally hate LA.... or at least I thought I did. Your post makes me think about why I hate it... I think the main reason is that I love the mountains and I love San Francisco, and LA is in the way (and every time I drive on the freeway through LA someone, or multiple someones, almost crash into me). When I think about it, there is nothing really that bad about it, it is just big, and it takes loads and loads of water from places that don't have much water.

I think maybe it is easy for people to generalize, and hating or loving things is fun. Being logical is never any fun, you just end up in a grey zone where you don't really feel much of anything. Everyone loves feeling.