Wednesday, December 26, 2007
Visiting My Home in Los Angeles
Just got back from a visit to LA, my hometown. I get down there a couple times a year, but this time, I had a few hours to take a good look. Just like when you see someone you've known well after a span of a decade, I noticed how my dear city has aged.
Judging by its face, not so gracefully.
Ironically, Hollywoodland could use a shot of Botox. It was built up, but not cleaned up. Streets in neighborhoods where a modest three bedroom, two bath house built fifty years ago cost $2 million were lined with squashed fast-food cups and wrappers, and collected brown palmtree dirt like dust bunnies.
An area that had been a wetland now holds dozens of high-rise condos and the businesses to profit from them. But instead of the strip malls of the past, the stores were merely the lower levels of "multi-use buildings" that held more condos on top. The neighborhood where I'd lived--where we'd worked hard to build up a Jewish outpost on the beach--had never become upscale. The housing was the same, except that beat-up plywood-topped "RVs" now lined the thoroughfare we once walked every Shabbat, and the houses on my street all seemed to need paint.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of new Los Angeles is the traffic. Everyone we saw discussed it--or how they averted it. Some scotched a move, preferring cramped quarters to two hours daily on the road. Others described the circuitous routes they devised to avoid crowds. Some merely groused about it, employing distractions like lectures or books on tape, or using the time to make cell phone calls.
Jewish Los Angeles, however, is thriving. We were treated to dinner at Prime Grill--yes, the Rodeo Drive incarnation of the famous Manhattan restaurant. Loved it. Loved it even more because we didn't pay for it. Pico Boulevard felt much like Israel with falaffel and thickly Hebrew-accented English and in-your-face signage and stores wedged together.
The number of synagogues is growing; the Persian community burgeoning. New schools are opening; Touro College welcomed its first students to its west coast campus. Communities are blooming in far reaches of the San Fernando Valley, and the stretch between Century City and Hancock Park is becoming solidly observant. When I was a kid, the Orthodox had left Boyle Heights and clustered around Fairfax, huddled against Reform domination of the region. Now, the streets of Pico-Robertson are alive on Shabbat with families walking; you hear z'mirot (songs) through windows, and passersby greet each other, "Gut Shabbos!"
I believe God smiles on all this, as more and more Jews take His commandments seriously. However, I also see zealousness, division, and sometimes disdain toward those deemed "modern."
The best surprise for me was the winter weather. After two days of rain, and then wind, when my plane descended into LAX, I could see the entire region. The Hollywood sign to the snow-dripped San Gabriel Mountains; the tall buildings along Wilshire to Loyola-Marymount University in Westchester. I saw downtown with its clustered high-rises, and even the outline of the old City Hall. There's nothing more beautiful than a clear, sunny day, crisp and invigorating (while 65 degrees) in my home town. After enduring weeks of northwestern wet, sitting in the sunshine renewed and reinvigorated me.
And I did see many old friends. After ten years, some had indeed aged, but others seemed much the same. My dear friend from high school, our neighbors, our street, all felt embracing and homey. The house where I lived, once with a mezuza on its doorframe, now boasted a wreath on the portal and a twinkly Christmas tree in our dining room window. Still, it was the same house where I brought home my newborn babies, and where I welcomed hundreds--probably thousands--of Shabbat guests. It was the same gray-blue color, with its expanse of green grass in front, and the low brick wall where my preschoolers balanced, holding my hand.
Yes, I'm sad so much treasured time has passed; I miss those little kids who needed me so much. But like my town, there's too much new to face, too much to accomplish...and precious few clear days in which to savor the entire view.