Sunday, August 29, 2004


Manifest Destiny

It seems only right here to make a couple of notes on the whole idea of a yuppie couple from the Midwest pulling up roots and heading to California. People are bitterly divided on the idea of manifest destiny these days. I mean, on the one hand, everyone agrees that there’s something wholly American about going west. Everyone, even folks who don’t like to drive, talk about wanting to take a road trip cross country – and from the East to the West, people, into the sunset. There’s still a class of people out there (I’m among them) who imagines taking the mother road – Route 66 – all the way from its beginning at Buckingham Fountain in Chicago to its end at the Santa Monica Pier.

On the other hand, a goodly portion of the folks back East – from North Carolina to Ohio to Chicago – are among the first to tell you that they’d never go out to “that place”, meaning southern California. It’s expensive, they say. The people are all completely fake. Everyone’s had plastic surgery. Everyone’s just looking to hook up, or get ahead, or something.

Of course, when you’re being told this sort of thing in a Wrigleyville singles bar, you have to be careful to not step on all the irony.

There’s smog, they say. It’s too expensive. The government has too many regulations. And so on, and so on.

Well, be that as it may (and I’m not that it may, to be honest), the wife and I took the deepest of all breaths, and we up and moved to the West Coast. We’ve traded in our two and a half bedroom, 1 bath apartment in a Roscoe Village two-flat for a two-bedroom, two bath place in a complex in the Palms neighborhood just north of Culver City. The complex is in a nice, safe neighborhood, and it’s got the pool, the fitness center, the basics.

For the rest of the report here, I’ll break up the information with subheads and whatnot. If you get bored, skip to one that interests you . . .

The Relocation Information

So what are the details on the new place, you might be asking? Well, here it is:

The Palms neighborhood is firmly ensconced on the West Side of LA. It’s about 15 minutes down Venice Boulevard to the infamous Venice Beach, and it’s close to Santa Monica and Westwood, not to mention Pacific Coast Highway. It’s a real mix of folks in Palms – not like any neighborhood in Chicago, really. The people are a combo of young professionals both single and married, the occasional young family, and the occasional grad student at UCLA.

Folks in Chicago freaked out a couple of years back when Trader Joe’s came to town. It was the talk of the town. Here in LA, there are three of them within a mile radius.

Here’s another note worth mentioning. If you lived, as we did, on the North Side of Chicago in the last ten years, you saw a particular type of person. We called them Chads and Trixies. They drove Ford Explorers and Volkswagons. They worked at the Board of Trade and the PR agencies. Throw a rock at Wrigley Field or the Cubby Bear and you hit dozens of them.

In LA, there is no such animal. There’s no majority type of person here – at least not on the West Side. This is a city with more diversity than I’ve ever seen, and it’s completely melted together, the way America’s alleged to be. I’m told – and I haven’t checked the statistics on this (and probably won’t) that there is no majority in Southern California. Racially, ethnically, nobody dominates – Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, Asian Pacific Islander populations all have similar sized pieces of the pie.

The New Car

OK, it is LA. Everyone drives everywhere. The subway only exists for action movies – and it’s not on the West Side, anyway. And the buses, I’m told, are not that reliable.

So we bought the wife a new car. She’s now the proud owner of a new Toyota Rav4, which, as an SUV, is no doubt contributing the famous smog problem that LA is known for. What the hell, if you can’t beat them, join them.

(Of course, the irony here is that my Volvo, product of naturally beautiful Sweden, and a car from allegedly less-polluted Illinois, failed the smog test).

So whatever. We’ve passed the California DMV test and have new licenses on their way. Soon both of our cars will be registered here. The practical stuff is getting done.

Weather Conditions

What can I tell you? Today began like pretty much every other day so far. It was chilly and hazy in the morning – say 64 degrees or so. Right now, at 3 in the afternoon, it’s in the mid-70s. This evening, it’ll get back down to that mid-60s temperature again.

And you know what? That’s it. That’s the whole thing. Get used to that. It’s like that pretty much every day. And it’s humidity free. For those of you back in Chicago, you know that sticky, gross feeling you have every day that you’re outside when it’s not winter? That’s not here. You take a walk outside, and you don’t feel like you’re walking through a haze of swamp air. No sir.

But I don’t want to spend a lot of time on the weather here. There’ll be time enough to gloat about it when it’s winter back there.

Well, OK. Here’s one more tidbit. We were really concerned about air conditioning when we found a place. After all, it’s warm weather year round, so we’ll need A/C, right? The locals told us that they never used it, but we knew that they were “California people” who couldn’t possibly know what they were talking about.

So OK, we do use it a little. But we turn it off a lot of the day. It’s just not that necessary. There’s usually an ocean breeze flowing around, and that helps out a lot. Sometimes at night, it gets a little warm for the heavy down comforters. Ah well.

Celebrity Sightings

Clearly, we’ve been in the wrong places, but we haven’t seen too many celebs around. My wife’s cousin hangs out all the time with Marcia Wallace, the voice of Mrs. Krabappel on the Simpsons.

I did see Fred Willard of Best in Show at the airport when we were here to find our place. But honestly, that’s about it. I’ll try harder.

Oh, it is worth noting that Jonathan Brandmeier and Danny Bonaduce, two radio hosts that used to play Chicago, are both out here doing that wacky morning shtick. My buddy Rob is a Brandmeier freak, and so he’ll be happy to know that today he interviewed a deputy sheriff from somewhere who’s completely obsessed with the TV show Miami Vice. The deputy, who owns a basset hound named Crockett (a pet alligator seemed wrong for his split-level house), said he would choose his Miami Vice collection over his wife if forced to choose.

Bonaduce, on the other hand, and his wacky morning co-host were talking about a guy who cheated on his girlfriend in Las Vegas – in Vegas!


At this stage of the piece, I think it might be wise to talk about those subject matters that all guys everywhere can relate to, namely sports, comics, and movies. We’ll start with the sports.

Before I left Chicago, my buddy Chris Glynn threw this bon mot out at me: “You can’t leave Chicago. You’re going to miss all this good baseball.” Now, I’m not the hugest baseball fan, but I thought it might be a pretty easy transition from Chicago to LA, baseball-wise. Both cities have a favored National League team in blue, and an underappreciated American League team. And while the Cubs and White Sox haven’t won or been to the World Series since the 40s, the Dodgers and the Angels have . . . won them in my lifetime.

OK, so I haven’t been out to a game yet, but in the words of sportscaster Lee Corso, I’ve got to tell my buddy Chris “not so fast, my friend.” The Dodgers are in first place in the West by five games, and last I checked, the Angels were in the thick of the American League wild card race. They beat the Royals yesterday by a score of 21-6. That’s a football score! So while neither Chicago team might make the playoffs, both LA teams might. And while neither team plays in a beer garden quite like Wrigley Field, Dodger Stadium’s still a pretty storied venue.

Oh, and it appears that LA likes its baseball more, too. It seems that the LA market leads the league in attendance. The LA Times reports that the Dodgers are the 2nd best attended team in MLB, and the Angels are like 3rd. First place belongs to the Yankees, but whatever. More than 7 million fans will see a live game either in Chavez Ravine or with the Rally Monkey this year. Will this translate into a Freeway World Series? Probably not. But stranger things have happened (Nicole Ritchie, David Lee Roth, a team called the Jazz that’s based in Salt Lake City are all examples).

Next report: Pre-season college football rankings.

California Myths Shattered

With each report, I’ll take aim at a myth about Southern California, and I’ll question the veracity of the thing.

This week: the traffic.

All right, so the traffic out here’s pretty bad. If you hit one of the freeways at the wrong time – like say rush hour – you’ll be in a parking lot for a long, long time. And the drivers here aren’t so much rude as they are lost in their own worlds. They may or may not be paying attention to other motorists as they’re driving along.

But it’s not all freeways in this here town. I can go from home to office all on surface roads. My wife’s got it the same way. And our commutes are actually shorter than the ones we had in Chicago – whether we took Lake Shore or the Kennedy.

Really so much of it is where you choose to live and work. If you want to live way out in the Valley or the Inland Empire (which sounds ominous, but is apparently pretty boring) and you want to work downtown, well, then yeah, you’re going to have a long commute. But my West Side to Mid-Wilshire commute ain’t no thing. And there are tricks for the motorist to follow, once you’re comfortable with the city. Don’t like the 405 freeway? You can take Sepulveda, which runs parallel from South Bay to the Valley. And so on.

Final word on the traffic: Well, sure, it’s not quick and painless. Find me a big city that is. There are more than 8 million people here, Cochise. You want a commute like you find back in Rock Island, you’ve got to live in Rock Island.

Comics Note

The wisest people to ever touch comic book material – the creators of Batman: the Animated Series – have done something really amazing for this season of their Justice League animated show. They’ve decided to open up the books in DC Comics and feature guest appearances by as many as 60 super-heroes previously untouched by animators anywhere.

This is how it works. Every episode, a couple of the Justice League mainstays (Superman or Batman, Green Lantern or Wonder Woman) will be on hand, along with some new members selected for the Crisis at hand. Pretty cool, huh? The guest stars run the gamut from fan favorite to really obscure. Green Arrow, a womanizing leftist radical super hero who shoots arrows, will be in a few. So will the Atom, the shrinking guy. But there will also be appearances by some you’ve probably never heard of. I’m talking characters like:

And there’s more. Now, normally, if you told me there was a cartoon on television featuring Vibe, a Puerto Rican gangsta turned hero with the power to make stuff vibrate (down, girls!), I wouldn’t plan on watching. But the guys behind this show have earned my attention. Nobody else has done such a great take on the really classic DC heroes. They might as well take a shot with the B and C list characters.

Oh, and in one episode, there’s a musical number featuring Batman.

Next report: Marvel’s The Avengers are on their way out.

Movie Note

Saw Collateral last week here. Downtown LA is as much a star of this one as Cruise or Foxx. It was good stuff. I’m a big Michael Mann fan, and this is one of his better flicks. Maybe not as good as The Insider, but it’s good cops and robbers action.

One of the joys of seeing a movie out here is that there are so many rock star cool movie theaters. I saw Collateral at the Arclight, which is a big white dome on Sunset Boulevard. It looks like that spherical building you see on the ads for Epcot Center in Florida. The place is huge. The screen’s not IMAX, but it’s close. And there’s assigned seating, so if you come late, you’re not screwed into sitting in the front row next to the teenager crunching popcorn with his mouth open.


So anyway, that’s about all of it – my first couple of weeks in LA. I don’t have a tan yet (though I’ve gotten some sun), and on a clear day, I can see the ocean from my office window.

It ain’t so bad. Don’t be afraid. There might be something to this manifest destiny stuff.

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