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March 29, 2005

The Hardship Myth

Michael Schreiber writes:

I am scared of New York and Chicago. Both are next to large bodies of water and quite a bit more sophisticated than California in a number of ways; but these two pulsating bodies tower over me like Olympian Gods. The names alone sound of cosmopolitan, excitement. sex-appeal and dynamic tones. Of course, I have never lived in these two places, nor for that matter have I lived anywhere else in the country. I am a California kid, too afraid to be bordered by anything other than the blue body of water crashing within ear shot of my house.

To which I can only say "huh"? It's sad -- he's bought into the mythology of Chicago and New York too. So far as I can tell, from a fair number of visits and a large number of friends, the Chi-town/NY mystique is entirely an invention of hardship. Unable to compete with the massively enjoyable lifestyle offered by California, they've fallen back on some ephemeral claim to sophistication and worldliness (though, so far as I know, Chicago isn't very sophisticated, and nor is Brooklyn). But Manhattan, which is what everyone thinks of when they call New York to mind, could fit in LA's back pocket. We could set it between Sunset's club strip and the Hollywood Bowl, a little to the left of the Disney Center, and let it hang out there. Would anyone even notice?

Actually, people would. New York, on this beautiful Spring day, is at 50 degrees and cloudy. I believe they call that "nice", there. Chicago is at 61, my buddy Grant, who goes to U of C, is probably sporting flip-flops. Los Angeles is at 71.
And we consider that shitty weather.

So Illinois and NY can keep their worldliness, their faux-sophistication. Whatever keeps them warm at night -- they deserve it. But it breaks my heart to see full-blooded Californians buying into it. You can hear the beach, Michael -- stand proud. You can swim in it too, stand prouder. You've got two world class cities in SF and LA, and SD probably merits an honorable mention. You can read outside all year round, exult in it. And if you like New York and Chicago, have at it, they're great places. But not in any way that should make a Californian pale with envy.

March 29, 2005 in Life | Permalink

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Tracked on Mar 29, 2005 7:43:20 PM

Comments

Perhaps it's telling that New Yorkers maintain a sad, disinterested silence on this post.

Posted by: weboy | Mar 29, 2005 2:19:20 PM

Sorry, dude, but I'll take Chicago over LA any day, and twice on Sundays. We get actual seasons here, which is nice. (Though the locals are fond of observing that there are really only two seasons in Chicago: winter and construction.) We have world-class entertainment, great museums, plenty of history, and we're easy to get to--and to get around.

LA, on the other hand, is simply too f***ing big and way too f***ing crowded. My dad used to live in Yucaipa, which occasionally gets the breezes from LA, as they say, and even that was too damn crowded. I draw the line at having to spend an hour and a half in traffic to go 25 miles for a dinner reservation. Y'all have earthquakes and brush fires and mudslides to contend with; we get the occasional blizzard and the occasional tornado, and when we have an earthquake, it's hard to tell--and they don't happen more than about once a decade or so.

Posted by: Michael | Mar 29, 2005 2:20:06 PM

"...though, so far as I know, Chicago isn't very sophisticated, and nor is Brooklyn."

Regional boosterism is fine for what it's worth, but are ya kidding me? Much of America's great theater and comedy the last 30 years comes out of Chicago - SCTV, Steppenwolf - and Brooklyn can lay claim to nearly as many of New York's great novelists/playwrites as can Manhattan.

LA and San Diego are fine places to visit, by my marks (lifelong Washingtonian, m'self), but "sophisticated" ain't the word I'd use to describe them, either. Great weather, shitty traffic, and definitely NOT the same vitality of New Yawk or Chi-town - just, no.

Lastly, think about this - what better way could there be to see a ballgame than at forever-70-degree Dodger Stadium, and they can't even sell out playoff games!

Posted by: jkd | Mar 29, 2005 2:22:12 PM

I fear NY, too. But mostly because I don't want to be stabbed. No thank you. (By contrast, I've been 5 years in the LA area, and haven't been stabbed, though I initially feared I would be.)

Posted by: TJ | Mar 29, 2005 2:24:54 PM

I don't mean sophisticated in theater and art, but in dress and...I don't know...feel.

Posted by: Ezra | Mar 29, 2005 2:29:31 PM

A beautiful spring day in NY is 72 and Sunny, and folks are all in Central Park playing softball and having picnics.

That said, I don't like any big city and in particular Los Angelos with its smog and traffic. Give me Portsmouth, ME or Madison, WI any day.

Posted by: Poppy McCool | Mar 29, 2005 2:38:08 PM

I grew up in Cali, lived in Boston, NY, and Chicago, and am now a resident of San Francisco. You can keep your East Coast and Midwest, keep your summer humidity and flies, keep your March dreariness and sludge and try to dress it up with Prada bags, black-rimmed glasses and $200 haircuts that try to make it seem like you got it done for free.

I love San Francisco. Not so much LA (NorCal born and bred--it's genetic). We've got every bit as much culture as NY, more than Chicago, a music scene that dusts anywhere else in the country, and the hills of Marin ten minutes away.

I don't fear those two cities. No reason to. Why would you fear what you can pity?

Posted by: Dan | Mar 29, 2005 2:38:16 PM

In the theme of boosting their own hometown, I must say that the "massively enjoyable lifestyle" you enjoy is rather limited. You can't witness the sound of falling snow. You can't see the branches become coated with ice and glitter in the sun. You can't play on muddy dirt roads, spinning your wheels and skidding around the next turn. You can't get away from everyone else and bask in the massive expanse of a forest or mountain peak's view.

The residents of LA wouldn't know a nice 71 degree day if it bit them in the ass. The Vermonter, the Adirondacker, the Manhattanite, Chi-townian (?), all would know what a joyous day at sunny 71 degree day is, and would take advantage of it. To Californians, it's just another day. We northerners appriciate the small slices of sunshine that are delivered to us.

Posted by: verplanck colvin | Mar 29, 2005 2:46:06 PM

the previous post must be qualified that my first reading of the post was comparing the north to LA, not Cali as a whole. My bad.

Posted by: verplanck colvin | Mar 29, 2005 2:48:21 PM

Chicago, unsophisticated? Bullshit; it's just not pretentious about it. I've lived in both, and culture - Hi & Lo - is more egalitarian in Chicago than it is in Los Angeles. So is local politics. Everyone in Chicago knows who their alderman is, and I know you can't say the same about City Council members in LA.
I saw (at UofC) LA natives try to get their bearings, overcome their fears, and it was a struggle - they were off the island. They just weren't used to having to deal with the diversity (and divisions) that both define Chicago and make it a dynamic whole. I love LA (I was born, if not raised, there), but it's a very pick-and-choose sort of place - a real cafeteria city. For emigrés there, finding the right stuff to put on your tray is the challenge.

Posted by: grishaxxx | Mar 29, 2005 2:50:15 PM

San Francisco is a great tourist destination but it is simply not in the same class as New York. I've lived in both places long enough to know.

Yes, it's pretty in SSF and the weather is nicer. But compared to NYC it has a lot less theater, music, art, fine dining (especioally places that stay open late) and overall energy. The weather doesn't make up for that yawning gap.

Posted by: fiat lux | Mar 29, 2005 3:09:08 PM

Sorry, fiat, I ain't gonna bite. Food in NYC = uniformly overpriced, and mostly overrated. I'll give you the pizza and the bagels, and I'll keep our burritos and Chinese. All of the fusion cuisine, organic ingredients, and freshness focus that you see in NYC? It started here.

High culture--um, the SF Symphony is better, the SF ballet is the best in the country, perhaps tops in the world. I'll give NYC the museums and we'll call it a quality tie, with NYC having an edge with the sheer quantity.

Music--we blow New York away. NYC's music scene is the epitome of hipster pretentious garbage, SF has more shows per capita in whatever style you want, for less money, less pretension, and less attitude. You've got CMJ, we'll do Noisepop and leave ya in the dust.

Enough boosterism--I like New York, just think that people in NYC tend to have the "everywhere else totally sucks" attitude worse than anywhere else in the country.

Posted by: Dan | Mar 29, 2005 3:30:29 PM

As a native Californian who has lived in LA & SF most of my life (and now reside in the paradise known as the Central Coast), I find this whole post offensive. There is a difference between the East & West coast (and Chicago), and each have their own plusses and minuses, and it all comes down personal taste. Remember that song a few years ago that said "Live in New York, but move before you get too hard, Live in Northern California, but move before you get too soft"??? I think that sums it up nicely. LA??? Although born and raised there, you could drop a nuclear bomb on the place and the world would be a better place. If ever there was a sign of the danger of urban sprawl, LA would be the poster child.

Posted by: Mike | Mar 29, 2005 3:49:39 PM

One fact remains dispositive: there isn't a single real mountain east of the Front Range. That in itself means the whole eastern half of the Lower 48 is pretty much useless.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Mar 29, 2005 3:56:33 PM

Oh come on. I grew up in Chicago, later lived in LA for 6 years, and now live in central Texas. The "mythology" of Chicago and New York that you refer to is very real. They are unique cities in this country, and very enjoyable place to live and to visit. 15 years away from Chicago has only made me appreciate it more. A couple all-too-brief visit to New York have converted me from an instinctive NY-hater, to a NY-lover. California is unique and a great place to live and visit as well, in its very different ways, but that is no reason to disparage NY and Chicago.

To boost California, you shouldn't need to appeal to the dreary, monotonous, smoggy weather of LA. That is conceding the superiority of Chicago and New York, which I am sure you did not mean to do. Furthermore, the 71 degree March day you refer to as "shitty" is the best weather LA has to offer (at least in my six years of experience living there). From May to October, it will be 100 and the air will be unbreathable.

Posted by: P.M.Bryant | Mar 29, 2005 4:01:19 PM

I love San Francisco. Not so much LA (NorCal born and bred--it's genetic). We've got every bit as much culture as NY, more than Chicago, a music scene that dusts anywhere else in the country, and the hills of Marin ten minutes away.

Amen to most of that. I'm not sure we really compete with NY in terms of cultural resources (but hey, I don't care), but in every other way there's no contest. The hills of Marin (and the Peninsula and the East Bay, and the Sierra just 4 hours away) make a pretty compelling case in themselves. I live in SF (more precisely, in the Richmond--to us, the East Bay starts at Masonic and the South Bay starts at Lincoln) and can barely imagine living anywhere else.

Enough boosterism--I like New York, just think that people in NYC tend to have the "everywhere else totally sucks" attitude worse than anywhere else in the country.

One criticism I will make of San Francisco: it has more than its share of New Yorkers with really shitty attitudes about where they are now.

Posted by: Tom Hilton | Mar 29, 2005 4:05:19 PM

FYI --- Dodger stadium most certainly sells out playoff games.

Posted by: digby | Mar 29, 2005 4:31:07 PM

I guess it's really true that there is a divide of "The Eastcoasters" and "The Westcoasters". I'm of the East. And NYC is the epicenter. For me it's the only city in the US where I would live. I can't imagine living on the West coast because a car is a necessity, not in NY. Every single friend who has moved to the West coast in the last 20 years has moved back to NYC. Sure, it's crazy expensive, but it's so vibrant and empowering. You can walk around the Village or Upper West Side and pop in to a bar or a theatre and meet a whole new group of people. I think you'd get arrested if you walked around LA. Anyway, I think that when talking about sophistication in a city, everything needs to be on the table. As far as American cities go, there is no more sophisticated than NY.
Full disclosure, I no longer live in NY, I live in Paris. And it's the city in America that everyone wants to see. Personally I think it's really the most sophisticated in the world.

Posted by: Todd | Mar 29, 2005 4:32:21 PM

I guess it's really true that there is a divide of "The Eastcoasters" and "The Westcoasters". I'm of the East. And NYC is the epicenter. For me it's the only city in the US where I would live. I can't imagine living on the West coast because a car is a necessity, not in NY. Every single friend who has moved to the West coast in the last 20 years has moved back to NYC. Sure, it's crazy expensive, but it's so vibrant and empowering. You can walk around the Village or Upper West Side and pop in to a bar or a theatre and meet a whole new group of people. I think you'd get arrested if you walked around LA. Anyway, I think that when talking about sophistication in a city, everything needs to be on the table. As far as American cities go, there is no more sophisticated than NY.
Full disclosure, I no longer live in NY, I live in Paris. And it's the city in America that everyone wants to see. Personally I think it's really the most sophisticated in the world.

Posted by: Todd | Mar 29, 2005 4:33:22 PM

I guess it's really true that there is a divide of "The Eastcoasters" and "The Westcoasters". I'm of the East. And NYC is the epicenter. For me it's the only city in the US where I would live. I can't imagine living on the West coast because a car is a necessity, not in NY. Every single friend who has moved to the West coast in the last 20 years has moved back to NYC. Sure, it's crazy expensive, but it's so vibrant and empowering. You can walk around the Village or Upper West Side and pop in to a bar or a theatre and meet a whole new group of people. I think you'd get arrested if you walked around LA. Anyway, I think that when talking about sophistication in a city, everything needs to be on the table. As far as American cities go, there is no more sophisticated than NY.
Full disclosure, I no longer live in NY, I live in Paris. And it's the city in America that everyone wants to see. Personally I think it's really the most sophisticated in the world.

Posted by: Todd | Mar 29, 2005 4:34:13 PM

Fun thread...just wanted to add a few things. I live quite happily in San Francisco without a car, as do most of my friends.

The biggest negative to Chicago is that you can't leave. Getting out of Chicago is almost as bad as getting out of LA, and when you're out, you're in eastern Illinois, southern Wisconsin, or northern Indiana. In LA, at least you have the mountains and the sea.

"More sophisticated" entirely depends on how you view sophistication. If it's the works of man that impress you, have fun in NYC or Chicago. If you groove on nature at all, you've really got no business in either place. San Francisco is as culturally vibrant as either city, with the added bonus of being able to get away from the grit and hike in the redwoods in thirty minutes.

Posted by: Dan | Mar 29, 2005 4:48:17 PM

Walking in LA - you might not get arrested, but you can get pretty lonely. I was lucky to move directly to Venice (Beach) from Chicago, and you can do pretty much everything there on foot, or on a bike. For the carless (and yeah, I know it's a bit insane to live without one in LA), it's also a nexus of bus lines that access ecerything between LAX and the Sta. Monica mts., as well as the entire Wilshire Corridor. Not so bad, considering.
On the other hand, the director Peter Sellars said that you don't know who lives in LA if you DON'T ride the bus. I not only think he's right, I saw him do it - cell and laptop in tow, of course.

Posted by: grishaxxx | Mar 29, 2005 4:49:26 PM

Well, San Diego sucks ass and I think everyone should leave it RIGHT NOW. (Sneaking out to enjoy the 70+ degree sunshiny gorgeous day....)

Posted by: donna | Mar 29, 2005 4:57:35 PM

As a Chicagoan, I'd say Chicago is vastly superior to L.A. just for the simple fact that not only does Chicago possess what everybody else has already stated (brains, culture, etc.) but I'd want a Chicagoan over a Southern Californian to have my back in any dark alley anyday...yes, seriously. Chicago, as a whole, is superb breed of people that possess both the white halo of intellect and the nitty-gritty blue-collar blackbone. Maybe Boston and New York can compete with that, but L.A....HA, not a chance.

Posted by: SteveC | Mar 29, 2005 5:19:11 PM

Dan's post reminds me of when I DID leave Chicago - first time I'd driven beyond O'Hare, I think *ever*.... It gets bucolic, and fast.
For all the bi-coastal posts here, however, I think it's important to remember that the Midwest is not just fly-over country. The Great Lakes and the Mississippi River corridor constitute abundant Blue on the Red/Blue map. It's not a monoculture between the East/Weast coasts (and they tend to forget that...heh).
To risk a culinary metaphor, Chicago is like a weel-made ratatouille - each ingredient prepared separately, then combined, resulting in more than the sum of its parts. There's something about the simultaneous leveling and integrity of that process (without looking outward to Europe or the Pacific Rim), that makes Chicago - to me - the most American of our big cities.

Posted by: grishaxxx | Mar 29, 2005 5:40:18 PM

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