Crosstown Traffic: Angelenos as a Cultural Microcosm of 21st Century America

Crosstown Traffic: Angelenos as a Cultural Microcosm of 21st Century America

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Way back in early 1990, I was at the Forum in Inglewood for a Kings hockey game. The Kings were hosting the Chicago Blackhawks, and by the second period the game was effectively over. The Kings were in the process of turning in yet another lackluster performance en route to a 7-4 defeat, which was the style at the time.

As the Zamboni began to resurface the ice before the third period, thousands of fans streamed out of the building.

“Look at these people,” I said to my friend Thomas, disgusted, “they’re like fucking Dodger fans! The game’s not over!”

He pointed to the scoreboard. “Yes, it is,” he said.

“There’s a whole period left, man! They could come back!”

“You really believe that?”

I didn’t, but I was committed to my righteous indignation. Somehow, I’d managed to summon more passion about the game than the players. “Never forget,” I intoned as solemnly as I could, “the Miracle on Manchester.” (For those of you who are too young to remember, the Miracle on Manchester happened in a 1982 playoff game with our hated rivals the Edmonton Oilers, who were a much better team. Trailing 5-0 in the second period of a must-win game, the Kings mounted a comeback so unlikely and so impressive, we’re still talking about it 26 years later. I know, I know, but it makes the 7-8-2 record a little more bearable.)

I refused to leave on principle, but I could understand why so many of my fellow fans did. People come late and leave Dodger Stadium early to avoid the traffic (gosh, wouldn’t something like, oh, I don’t know . . . Metro service to the Ravine help with that?) and they had similar reasons to leave The Forum: it isn’t in a particularly centralized location, it was a weeknight, and the game was only worth watching if you were a serious Chicago fan, enjoying the rout.

This is probably why, as the teams took the ice for the third period, I noticed that the few thousand people who were still in the building were cheering – very loudly – for the Blackhawks. Though severely outnumbered, we Kings fans tried to counter them, but our enthusiasm in the stands mirrored the effort our team gave us on the ice, and our hearts weren’t really in it. The Kings went on to lose, badly, and the Blackhawks skated around the ice in victory, in front of a building filled with their adoring fans.

Here’s the thing, though. These weren’t guys who flew in from Chicago to watch the game. These were people who lived and worked in Los Angeles with the rest of us. Most of the time, they were probably happy to cheer on the Kings as they faced the Jets, the hated Oilers, certainly the Red Wings, or even the North Stars. But when the Blackhawks came to town, they remembered their childhoods, college, or even first marriages in the Windy City, and any loyalty to their adopted hometown was forgotten. But only briefly.

I’m an Angeleno by birth, rather than by choice (a bit of a rarity, it seems). I grew up in the Valley, I worked in Hollywood (in both the geographical and mythical sense) for most of my life, and I’ve driven at least ten miles on our freeways for every resident in the county, most of them sitting in traffic on the 10 during rush hour.

Two things are certain when you live in Los Angeles: you’re going to deal with people who can’t drive in the rain, and you will meet people who have come here from all over the country. Some of them are chasing a dream, some of them are running away from a nightmare. Some are here to get discovered, some are here to disappear. And, sooner or later, all of them are going to be between me and where I want to go. When I’m late. On a Friday. Sitting on the 10 during rush hour. Well, at least if it’s raining they’ll know how to drive.

Speaking as a third-generation Angeleno, I’m glad they’re here, because I think we’d live in a pretty boring city otherwise. See, over my three and a half decades in L.A., I’ve come to see us as sort of a cultural microcosm of 21st century America, one of those tabula rasa destinations that is eagerly sought out by those who aren’t already here, and they all bring something wonderful with them: Midwestern expatriates bring us comedy from Chicago, New England refugees bring us drama from Broadway, and those who flee the humid oppression of the South bring us the blues and cooking that I can’t stand but that seems to be very popular with my fellow natives. Add that to the incredibly rich and wonderful Mexican and Asian culture that was here before any of us, and I can see why people would stick around, even after they realize that everyone here doesn’t actually get to fuck a supermodel, and the weather isn’t always 70 degrees and sunny.

My friend Andrew lives in Texas, where he claims they have a saying: “There are two types of Texans: the ones who were born here and the ones who got here as quick as they could.” From what I’ve seen, Texas (and many other places) welcomes the kinds of people who are willing to adapt themselves to their surroundings. L.A. attracts people who expect their surroundings to adapt to them, even if only to a small degree. It’s why I’ve lived here almost my whole life, and why I couldn’t imagine wanting to live anywhere else.

… well, except when I’m stuck on the 10 during rush hour. I’m not made of stone.

Wil Wheaton is the author of Just A Geek and The Happiest Days of Our Lives. He lives in Pasadena with his wife and stepson.


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