Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Hill.

Los Angeles is different than New York or Chicago when it comes to a social life. I'm not altogether sure of the exact reasons for this but I suspect the sheer size of this city has something to do with it. And, of course, LA is a car town. You drive everywhere. There's a little store up the street on the corner where Angie and I occasionally get cigs (we're both about to quit smoking...AGAIN...more on that later) or cookies or milk or what have you. It is, I'm guessing here, probably three hundred yards from us, door to door. I walk to it when I need something. Angie drives.

In any event, unlike NY and Chicago, if you wanna meet up with a couple of friends for coffee or dinner or maybe catch a movie, the planning starts weeks, sometimes months, in advance. In Chicago let's say you live in Edgewater and your buddy lives in Lincoln Park and you want to meet for coffee in Andersonville. You call, you set it up, you meet, ba da bang, ba da bing.

In New York, let's say you live in Astoria and your friend is on the Upper West and you wanna meet in call, you set it up, you meet, wham bam, thank ya' ma'am.

This would never happen in Los Angeles. It becomes an endless series of phone calls, texts, emails, planning, scheduling, waffling, yes, no, how about 4 instead of 3, sorry, but I have a yoga class then, what's your Tuesday look like? I don't know how people do it.

The most common and exasperating excuse is, "I don't like to drive over the hill." (The 'hill' is the small, mountainous barrier between the San Fernando Valley and the rest of the civilized world, apparently.) Sometimes people use that excuse even if they don't live over the 'hill.' They just like to say it. Sometimes a friend will live in Studio City and you live in Burbank and they'll still say it. Los Angeles is the perfect place to live if you're really into isoloating.

The mass transit system out here is treated as one might treat a leper in the second century AD. In New York and Chicago EVERYone uses the subway, the buses, the el, etc. In Los Angeles if one is caught using public transportation, it's sometimes announced on the local news..."And when we come back, Clifford Morts allegedly took the bus sixteen blocks to North Hollywood. We'll have the shocked reactions from local residents."

Here's what a friend of mine often says, "You know, after driving all over the place all day, when I finally get home I just can't stand to go out again." This always gives me pause. I mean, you're DRIVING places, you're SITTING DOWN, you're in a comfortable seat, the window is down because it's in the mid-seventies outside, you're listening to your favorite music on the CD player. It's not like you're in a Flinstones car and you're running to get it started and using your heels to brake. People out here act as if driving is something akin to lumberjacking all day. It's utterly exhausting to them. "Oh, I couldn't possibly drive ONE MORE SECOND. I'm just pooped!"

I think one of the reasons Los Angeles is not as healthy, socially speaking, as NY or Chicago is because of this rampant car culture. When I first moved here a few of my buddies from NY would meet up almost every week at this little diner in Studio City called 'Sitton's.' We'd sit out on the patio, smoke cigarettes, have coffee and eventually eat an egg or two. We'd discuss the myriad twists and turns of our careers, our hopes and dreams, laugh about past misadventures, recount our perplexing love lives, encourage each other, etc. And afterwards we'd all feel connected, we'd feel a part of something. One by one, however, we all stopped meeting up. I asked a friend of mine why we stopped meeting the other day. He said, "Oh, I don't know. I guess we all got tired of driving over the hill." None of us live over the hill.

That's it, you know. There's the rub. That damned 'hill.' It took me awhile, but I finally realized 'the hill' is actually a metaphor. It's a way of saying, 'I don't want to exert the energy to let someone into my life, not even for a few minutes, the time it takes for cup of coffee, not even to meet for a stick of gum." No. The 'hill' is the perfect excuse not to share our lives. It is Frost's good neighbors and good fences. It is the symbol of of our fear, at the risk of sounding dramatic. That damned hill.

The longer one lives out here, the larger the hill gets. Eventually, I suspect, the 'hill' becomes almost impossible to navigate. "I'd love to meet for dinner, I haven't seen you for ages, not since we celebrated Clinton's inauguration, but the hill, you know, the hill, I just can't get over the hill. I don't think I can make it over the hill ever again. It's just been too long. I don't think I can even try. The hill is spreading. It's almost in my backyard now. It's blocked our view. We used to have a glorious view from our front window. No longer. These days all we can see is the hill."

I miss having coffee with my friends. I miss connecting, face to face, sitting on the patio, laughing at stuff only we would laugh at, eating bad omelettes, drinking bad coffee, saying things out loud I would never dream of saying out loud to anyone else. But I've been in Los Angeles for over a year now. And when I stand outside and look around, all I can see is the hill. Sometimes, and this is really scary, I can see the hill in my own living room, my own kitchen, my own bedroom. I'm really beginning to hate the hill.

See you tomorrow.