I Love L.A.
LOS ANGELES – All the serious journalists parachuted into town this week to cover the 10-year anniversary of the L.A. Riots.
Anniversary stories are easy for reporters. You make the flight and hotel reservations months or even years in advance.
It's not like the anniversary will suddenly change dates.
I wasn't here in 1992. I was in Prague, working for an English-language newspaper run by Southern Californians bored of Los Angeles and bored of the lousy economy and bored of not getting hired by local papers because back then, a good reporter was lucky to make $25,000 a year.
These days, that's barely enough to get a suicide bomber to blow up some Jews!
So we sat there in Prague, in this pizza joint beneath the newsroom, watching Los Angeles burn via the CNN. People gasped. I ate pizza and smoked cigarettes. It was bad, but it wasn't unexpected.
Los Angeles was a cesspool back then. Before the riots, people were already fleeing town — whites, blacks, everybody — to Seattle and Portland and other allegedly pristine locales. It was a grim place to live, back then. Brown skies. Rotten cops. Broken streets. Nothing worked. Fun to visit, etc.
Around 1997, a bunch of my friends returned to Los Angeles. Cheap, beautiful apartments and houses. Delicious food — from Korean to Russian, Thai to Mexican. With a new generation of air-friendly cars, the skies went from brown to blue. The gang-banger streets became boulevards of beautiful girls walking handsome dogs.
Convinced by my smart friends, I came back to town in 1999 after frequent visits to Santa Monica and Los Feliz. I discovered a place with many fine walking neighborhoods and many writers and artists. I've yet to meet anyone with breast implants. In a sprawling town famous for lacking a center, the new L.A. revealed universal love for the Lakers, the thriving downtown and new city institutions like talk-show weirdo Phil Hendrie.
What I found was the greatest city on Earth.
A decade ago, the average L.A. bookstore had a small table of travel guides devoted to the city. Today, those same shops have scores of new Los Angeles books covering everything from architecture to the renaissance of the L.A. River.
Today when you drive across town, you don't think about Riots. You think about the quickest way to get from East Hollywood to the ocean without the freeways. Here, we call them "surface streets." Those surface streets — Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard, Pico, Western, Vermont — were burning a decade ago. Today, they're just big wide streets lined with businesses.
When I leave my house in Los Feliz, I drive through Little Armenia and Thai Town and Pico/Union and West Hollywood and Tiny Rugulia. I don't see burned-out stores. I see gorgeous car washes and Korean double-double mini-malls and taco huts and newsstands and Rite-Aid drug stores and supermarkets.
It's all just swell. Sure, there are neighborhoods needing a bank or a Starbucks (calling Magic Johnson!), but overall I see a pretty, palm-lined city full of people who want to make it better. A city full of people who know it's already better.
The Los Angeles Times released a new survey yesterday. Despite the paper's gloomy article, their poll found that 69 percent say Angelenos are getting along better; 78 percent say L.A. has recovered "emotionally" from the Riots; 58 percent say the Riots were unjustified; and 81 percent say they've got a favorable impression of the scandal-plagued police department.
More important than some silly newspaper poll is the fact that more than a hundred nationalities live here today. People move here because it's a dynamic city full of libraries, jobs, music, delicious food, wide beaches, opportunity, a dozen great colleges, tech and aerospace industries, art, global film production, music recording studios, and better sushi than Japan.
I live here because the world offers no finer place to live. It has the smartest, hardest-working people and a way for all of us to raise a family in a decent house. Coyotes and hawks are always nearby, along with the Iranian television shows and Spanish-language pop stations.
Los Angeles is the Rome of the 21st Century. And it's up to me and my friends to make sure Rome doesn't burn again.
Ken Layne types from a shack behind his Los Angeles home. The author of trashy thrillers such as Dot.Con and the upcoming Space Critters, he has written and edited for a variety of news outfits including Information Week, the Sydney Daily Telegraph, UPI and Mother Jones. Since the Enron-like collapse of his Web paper, Tabloid.net, in 1999, he has been posting commentary to KenLayne.com.