West to East

I am leaving Southern California to return to Vermont. I'm not staying in SoCal because I really don't care for it.

I met a third-generation Angelina who told me the first step in getting to know and like Los Angeles is to stop hating it. I didn't get that far. I never knew when I entered the city. It's a sprawling, amorphous calcification. Tales of lifelong Angelinos who have never seen the Pacific Ocean are perhaps apocryphal, but not surprising. Angelinos identify themselves by their local hamlet, rather than the city as a whole; they are from Compton or Culver City or Torrance, but not Los Angeles. It's like Italy in the Middle Ages with cars.

Southern California is a car culture. L.A. once possessed the most efficient and sophisticated electrified public transit system in the world. The auto-oil-rubber industrial complex scuttled that; there's no way to live in the city without a car, and there are more cars than people (in Vermont, there are said to be more cows than people). And we know from your car just who you think are, or who you want to be.

It is impossible to tell when the sun rises or what time of day it is. By 5 a.m. the roads are jammed with cars but no cars are moving. The roads are pretty much like this anywhere any time of day. The vast extent of this soulless nullity is scarcely imaginable. Most every road is 12 lanes across. Where are all these people going? Why would they live this way? At least no one pushes to get ahead; folks must realize that ahead isn't much different, and could be worse.

In Vermont, people fit within the land, enjoying or enduring the seasons, settling within its gentle and always visible topography, and knowing where their food comes from. In SoCal the land is buried, displaced or invisible. New England's topography was shaped by glacial retreat, then by moving water. A bulldozer, asphalt and concrete shaped SoCal. The only way you know you've reached a river in SoCal is a sign right before it; don't expect any water. In Vermont, nature is always around you, sometimes breathlessly beautiful, sometimes massively inconvenient, but there. In SoCal, nature has been almost completely exiled. In the few spots where there is no asphalt or concrete, bizarre plants emerge in diverse profusion and triumphant display. They don't get much notice.

New Englanders are rightly known for their repression and diffidence; Californians for sunny dispositions and openness. There's much truth to this; but I discovered that Californian openness doesn't mean folks will tell you how they feel about you; but it does mean they'll tell someone else. New Englanders are skeptical, Californians credulous. The truth in New England is hard-won; it is proven. In California, truth is whatever you happen to feel.

California regulates everything. Today I drove past a bridge with a sign stating clearly "No Jumping," State Ordinance #... The bridge was at least 100 feet high and there was, of course, no water in the river below. Vermont doesn't worry about sensible people jumping off bridges onto rocks and created legislation to provide universal health care for its children instead.

In the East, art is Art and Art is not entertainment. In the West the words "art" and "entertainment" are interchangeable. California art fetishes the surface; its art is profoundly superficial, as Andy Warhol would have it. Back East, Art implies depths we look for and may never see (and let's face it, they may not be there); in SoCal, don't even bother to look.

I just got back to New England. I'm not big on the hardship of winter, and I know it's coming, but with global warming, New England will soon be perfect.