The LosAngelization of Berkeley

I keep having the same, strange conversation with random people out here. It’s about Los Angeles.

It starts with my complaining about the egregious traffic, overcrowding, and soul-crushing road rage in the Bay Area. Then the other person will say in a hushed tone, “It’s getting like Los Angeles.”

I usually reply, “It already has!” (since LA has a reputation for terrible traffic.) To which the other person will say, ominously, “Oh, no, it hasn’t.”

Then me: “But how much worse can it get?” Then he or she will reply cryptically, “Ooh. . you’ll see,” and then bids a hasty retreat.

I’ve had way too many of these conversations to believe that the other person is exaggerating. In fact, I just had one today.

We went back and forth in the usual manner, about how crazy crowded it is around here and how it takes forever to get from point A to point B.

This other woman said, in that same, odd way, “It’s getting like Los Angeles.”

To which I answered, “It already has.” She then responded in the usual creepy way, “Oh, no, not yet.”

This time I tried something different. I added, “It’s getting like Manhattan.” The lady said quietly, as though what she was about to say was too horrible to utter loudly, “Oh, no. Like Los Angeles,” as though that were a much worse fate.

Now, I haven’t spent that much time in LA. But I did live for a few years in Manhattan. The gridlock, urban stress, and overcrowding were something for the record books. So how in the world could Los Angeles be even worse?

I have no idea, because no one will actually tell me. It’s like some ghastly secret that no one can say out loud. I did try to pin down one former Los Angelean.

When she parroted the usual, “It’s getting like Los Angeles here,” I swooped in for some serious cross-examination. I demanded, “But how could gridlock be any worse in Los Angeles?” She replied, “It’s nothing like Los Angeles.”

I persisted, “How could road rage be any worse in Los Angeles?” She said, “Oh, it’s much worse in Los Angeles.” Like everyone else, she changed the subject, as though she had already said too much.

Now I am no expert on Los Angeles. I visited there for several weeks when I first moved to California, decades ago. Truth be told, I loved it there.

LA was the real California — the one out of the movies and songs by the Beach Boys. There were exotic birds and tropical flowers. The weather was a gorgeous, blue-sky day the entire three weeks that I was there.

And then the beaches: white sand sparkling from the all-day sun; seagulls singing and playing; and warm ocean water. The suburbs were lovely; the shops were beckoning. It was a palm-tree resplendent paradise.

When I traveled up the coast and finally made it to Berkeley, I thought, “What??” I mean, I felt totally ripped off. I thought that I had moved to California. What I found was an ordinary-looking, rundown city, sans any palm trees, aside from the ones artificially planted around shopping malls.

There were no exotic birds: just the usual robins or crows. The weather was overcast and foggy almost every day of my first July living there. And the beaches?? Dirty, windy, with freezing cold water that only the bravest (or craziest) could possibly swim in.

Over the years, I have visited LA a few times, although I haven’t been there for many years. When I traveled there, I always loved it, and enjoyed the various sights and sounds. Venice Beach was delightful to walk around; I savored going to the Santa Monica Boardwalk.

When I went to So Cal (as we call Southern California), I felt that I was actually, finally, in California! And, frankly, I’d usually kick myself for relocating north rather than south.

So I am not sure why Los Angeles is now a code word for something very horrible and dark. . .and why people are hinting at a worsening hell on earth for us up north if we become more like it.

In the meantime, I am seeing a whole lot of cars around here from LA — as well as NY and NJ, other places without the best reputations for civility and peace. And I — like a lot of people here — live in fear of the bottom to drop out, for this area to become even worse — to become (gasp) like Los Angeles.

I have no idea what that exactly means. But things are changing here at breakneck speed: with massive numbers of new immigrants, and high-rises dotting every square foot of the region, and cars choking the freeways.

So I suppose I will — ready or not — find out what it means to become Los Angeles very very soon.

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