This town is our town
This town is so glamorous
Bet you’d live here if you could
And be one of us.
—The Go-Go’s, “This Town”
Last December, I went back to my birthplace, Boston, to do two and a half weeks
of AM drive on the big talk station, WRKO-AM 680. Ostensibly, it was fill-in
work for vacationing hosts at Christmas/New Year’s, but the understanding was
that it was actually a final audition for a full-time job as morning talk host.
It would be a lucrative gig that paid considerably more than I’ve ever made.
But in talk radio, especially in the larger markets (Boston is No. 9 or 10),
the morning host is live and local — which for me would mean relocation.
A few days before I left, the Hollywood Presbyterian Children’s Center, my son’s
preschool, had its annual Christmas pageant, and Mrs. Angel and I were front
and center, proud parents doting upon their little genius’ amazing performance.
Afterward, in the church’s parking lot, I took the little one up in my arms
and pointed him at the downtown skyline. As he was aloft, I told him, “This
is our city, where you were born. We’re Angelenos, no matter where we end up
— never forget that.”
I was probably talking to myself more than my boy. I now have spent more of
my adult life in California than the Northeast and 13-plus years of it here
in L.A. And having lived all over the East and West coasts, I can say that there
is no place greater than this one in America. Chuck Berry said, “Anything you
want, we got right here in the USA.” Well, you can boil that down to our tiny
Southwest corner of map and ignore the rest — everything is here.
You’d never know this if you’ve never been here, judging from the rafts of verbal
shit flung at us. “No seasons,” “phony people,” “no character,” “traffic,” “no
identity,” “too materialistic” — these and every other pennyweight epithet are
heaved out from the Kern County line to the Canadian border and the Atlantic
Ocean. This, even though the exorbitant cost of living belies such nonsense
— if it sucks so much here, why is there more demand for housing and land than
Frankly, they can attempt the anatomically impossible en masse. Anyone who’s
been here more than two years recognizes the seasonal changes: the June gloominess,
the bare trees of January, the brutal heat of October. Traffic is a nightmare
everywhere in a nation whose infrastructure was designed and built for
100 million fewer people. Conspicuous consumption may be more overt here, but
is materialism any more prevalent here than Cleveland? Then there’s my very
favorite accusation: Angelenos are shallow because they place so much emphasis
on appearance. But, given that one’s appearance is what one sells in the entertainment/media
capital, what else would you expect? Would you really prefer a city filled with
unattractive faces and bodies? Uh-fucking-huh.
Me, I love to turn this ridiculousness right on its pointy little head, having
observed that L.A. is the most brutally honest place in America. If you can’t
cut it in your field here, out you go. If you beat 100 other people for a role
in a commercial, or two dozen for a film part, you earned it! Where I come from,
your family, your daddy’s job and your mama’s pedigree got you into Harvard
and into the financial sector. With a few exceptions, L.A. is Meritocracy Central
— even the Tori Spellings of our town still have to show up and succeed, or
out they go.
On the surface, L.A. lacks the cow-path dynamic of the old Eastern cities and
looks like an urban planner’s nightmare (or nocturnal emission), underscored
by endless corner malls and freeways interlacing what appear to be interchangeable
communities. But to anyone who actually stays put for more than a few weeks,
it’s obvious that the Valley and Silver Lake could be on different planets.
Or that East Los and Venice ain’t just 15 miles apart geographically, and that
even next-door neighbors like Topanga and Chatsworth are as disparate as New
York’s Harlem and Upper West Side, or Boston’s South End and Roxbury. L.A.’s
bad rap comes in part from being that place one sees on telly — the smoggy skies
and the endless rows of palms and fake tits are easy to lampoon as one-dimensional.
Given current trends in film and TV, however, maybe Americans will be badmouthing
Vancouver and Toronto as “fake” and “sterile” soon, too.
I didn’t get the radio job in Boston, and I breathe a sigh of relief on a minute-by-minute
basis every time I think of it. (One of the reasons management cited for not
hiring me was, “He didn’t seem like he’d be happy outside of L.A. and would
run back at the first job offer.”) Because outside the confines of job and paycheck,
I wouldn’t have fuck-all to be happy about. No Zankou Chicken, no Tropical Café,
no auditions for commercials anymore with other exiles and émigré nutcases,
no Gold’s in Hollywood, no KTLK or Indie 103.1, no Malibu sunsets or Christmases
on Angeles Crest in the snow, 30 minutes from the semi-Saharan conditions of
El Eco Parque. No six different jobs for six different days (the only way for
a grown man with terminal ADHD to avoid going berserk), no endless stimulation
from the idea that each day is an adventure, not a sentence. Screw people who
put us down, they’re just a little terrified of the maelstrom — which means
great: more good stuff for those of us who can’t really be happy elsewhere.
I been, I done.