Saturday, July 24, 2010

California Thoughts

I'm sitting in a hotel room somewhere in Fullerton, California. The evening breeze is blowing in the sounds of young kids playing at the pool, and the distant hum of a generator coming across the street from the Cal State campus. Tomorrow will mark the end of the second week that I've been in California, and my last day here.

Somebody back home asked me what I thought of Cali. At first I thought I was too harsh, but I decided to really look into it. I figure my opinion is biased, but so is every opinion in some way. I'm biased because I'm on business, which is a double-bladed sword. I have no needs or wants at the present, because the ludicrous nature of a business trip means I don't have to worry about anything. Somebody does, but not me. Instead I have to worry about my business, which I do, constantly.

The other edge of that sword is that I spend nearly every waking moment working. I have logged 70+ hours the past two weeks. But on my day off, I went to LA, to get a feel for Southern California.

What I saw was a portion of this country to wrapped up in itself, too detached from the normality of the rest of the world. Or maybe that's my East Coast coming out.

For one thing, it is totally normal to sit in traffic for hours at a time. Traffic delays of two hours are common. Four hours happens probably once or twice a month. And this is an accepted cost of living here.

The living conditions here can be deplorable. Los Angeles has a high number of homeless people, but makes no effort to hide them by setting up shelters or keeping them in the barrios. Unlike New York, where the homeless are shuffled away from the more ascendant classes, everyone mingles together. So on a train coming back from Hollywood, you'll have a homeless guy, a crippled woman wrapped in a blanket on a crappy power scooter, a marketing copy writer (me) some construction guys, a lawyer, and a Hollywood executive. It's a decent cross section of society, all together, all heading the same way but going in completely different directions.

No one gave a shit. That homeless guy could have been a veteran, a firefighter. The crippled woman was somebody's daughter, maybe at one point somebody's mother. But who knows, because no one stopped to give a shit. Including myself. In LA, we are all too absorbed in the minuscule bullshit that makes up our daily life to care about anything or anyone that is beyond our immediate scope.

And that's why I'm bumming on LA. I'm not some detached moron who doesn't realize that scenes like this play themselves out in every corner of the world every day. And I'm not too impractical to realize that there wasn't much anyone on that train could do. Yeah, we could have pitched in and given that guy a meal and a shower, maybe really pitched in and gotten him a home and a job. But what about all the other homeless people in LA? California? The world?

This isn't a rant against homelessness in America. Nor is it a bash against the entire West Coast, as my love for Oregon, Washington, and B.C. is still very strong. This is more a picture. This is my attempt to render a scene of life in LA, and then try to determine why it bothers me. At the end of the day, this is simply a protest against the way we live our lives. We punch in, we punch out, but we are too wrapped up in the trivial distractions to focus on making the most of the very little time we have. The only difference is, in LA, they don't even try to hide it.

And one other thing. I said everyone on that train was going to the same place, but I didn't just mean Union Station. As human beings, we are guaranteed one thing. We are not guaranteed love, or kindness, or happiness, or warmth, or clarity. We are only guaranteed death. From the moment we are born, we are never younger, and death is never further away then it is at this instance in time. We might live 100 years. Or 100 days. So, my question for you is, with this one guarantee, this one certainty, what are you going to do?

Me? I'm going to canoe.

"Life's journey is not to arrive at the grave safely in a well preserved body, but rather to slide in sideways, totally worn out, shouting, 'Holy shit, what a ride!' " Nolan Whitesell

1 comment:

Matt said...

I think that maybe it's a good thing that LA doesn't hide it's more unattractive features. It lets people know that there is a problem that needs addressing unlike in NYC where ignorance is bliss.

In that sense LA you could at least say that LA is honest.

One other thing that I've noticed in NYC, however, is that more often than not you see people committing acts of good faith. On the subways I've seen nearly half the entire car donate to homeless beggars who could be missing limbs, are blind, or just had an unfortunate string of bad luck. So even though NYC might try to hide it's problems, the people still recognize that others need help, and people acting as good samaritans is not an uncommon sight.

I for one plan to donate to these people once I'm in a comfortable position - it's unfortunate that as a college student I need to be as frugal as I am