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Stranger in a Strange L.A.

la-scapeA dark shadow surges up from the distant horizon. It smothers all in its path and mutates it into a pale miasma. I watch the smog expand from the comfort of my air-conditioned interior, convincing myself that its acrid pungency is filtered into clean breathable oxygen within my acclimatized vehicle. From my luxurious confines I see a skewed perspective of Los Angeles, California, halting and gliding by degrees through the city’s shifting membrane as I traverse the 105, Santa Monica Boulevard, and Mulholland Drive.

la-signI always encounter a destination in fragments—places are too complex for me to experience their entirety. In Los Angeles, however, I distinguish the scape not in concrete bits but as shards of discarded glass whose edges don’t match. I miss the details and nuances that breathe life into other areas. I see parts of it at lightning speed, just escaping my notice; scenes vibrate on the edges of my vision. I see other portions in total monotonous absorption, so that at the end of each day I have a confused sense of a place created out of gray corners and multicolored streaks of light.

la-dinosaurThis megalopolis invests in its future, in the possibilities of what will be. Segregated from L.A.’s noises and smells, I glimpse enthusiastic projects underway as I drive about: new roads, new stores, and new advertisements all promising a better world. They all seem to be in stasis, though, cranes holding their breaths in mid-air, orange cones guarding tomorrow’s dream, scaffolding curtaining off the prospect.

“I float past palm trees and high rises, past metal sails and Chinese theaters, a stranger in a strange land.”

I skim through the metropolis, remaining apart from it, untouched by its people, its landmarks, or its music.

I once saw a presentation on black holes in which these scientific phenomena were represented by behemoth waterfalls cascading into infinity. A nonchalant rower in a canoe paddled ever closer to the edge of the whirlpool. This is how I feel trundling into the mouth of Los Angeles. I am the rower in my cocooned boat-on-wheels advancing inexorably into the municipality’s maelstrom without entering it.

la-theaterIt is hard work getting involved with a location: rising early to get acquainted with abandoned streets, nosing into alleys time has forgotten, talking to greengrocers and old men on stoops, parading the avenues by moonlight and neon sign. In the desperate heat overtaking L.A., I feel disinclined to do the work, content to wind up and down the vast expanse of dun hills before retiring into the shelter of my beige hotel room. Much of how I experience settings involves patiently sitting at street corners, busy cafes, and public parks. Sitting inside an automobile is not the same: mutely ensconced behind tinted windows in the web of traffic or within my nondescript chamber feels alien. Looking around at the incessant amount of congestion, I wonder how many locals feel the same.

la-graumanI slump inside the car and listen to the sounds within: the white noise of the dampened engine, the smooth purring of the fans, the static of the radio. Inside my hotel the peculiar rackets continue: the whir of the air-conditioning, the soft murmur of the television, the hum of the ice machine. This orchestra of din creates a secondary barrier between the city and myself, hampers my understanding of its character, and robs me of compassion towards its comings and goings. Barring me from the chaos of the urbanity, my twin climate controlled havens do not bring me order, though they present me as a tidy package to the populace. Separated from the ongoing battle of creation and destruction, I find it impossible to immerse myself into this locale, to be transformed by Los Angeles’ moods.

Comfort is seductive and a difficult client to refuse. Sometimes ease is necessary but as it spares me hardship and pain, it also denies me the ability to create stories, stories which give meaning to my life. So, wherever I ramble I will reluctantly forfeit four wheels for two feet so that I may take part in the narrative. I will weather the intensity of summer and fury of winter rather than seek protection so that I may shape my own destiny in some small way. I will forego more conveniences for the treasured hard-fought moments in my travel life.


Los Angeles is known worldwide as the home of America’s movie making industry, but the city also contains innumerable museums, art galleries, and theaters. More writers, dancers, and musicians are employed in Los Angeles than in any other city in the United States and their masterpieces can be experienced at the Los Angeles Music Center and Gallery Row right in the heart of this dynamic metropolis.

Have you ever felt like a stranger in a new destination and never been able to get to its heart? Have you ever felt estranged from a place even though you consider it home?

18 replies »

  1. You may think you didn’t capture LA’s story, but you actually did it brilliantly. I lived there for many years. LA is completely devoid of mood. It is a two-dinemsional soundstage. This can be appealing and intriguing for a while – the search for some profound secret hidden behind the glitz. Maybe it’s there, but I sure didn’t find it. You expereinced LA as most people do – from inside a car. Insulated, isolated. Love the T-Rex photo.

    • Coming from someone who used to be an LA local that makes me feel less like I missed out on the “profound secret” hidden somewhere in the city. Thanks. The T-Rex photo captured for me how bizarre and alienated touring the city made me feel!

  2. I haven’t been to California in years, but I grew up there and boy do I still remember the smog. I can remember playing soccer in smog 3 alerts. Yuck!

  3. Well that is something very different! I went several times to L.A but never saw it this way. Thank you so much for sharing this. I’m pretty new to this community ( 2 days) and you have one of the most inspring content. Do you have any “beginner tips” for me to attract readers ?

  4. Thanks for the very interesting take on L.A. so much to see, so much to do, your article makes one want to soak up what the city offers.

  5. Wow! I have never seen anyone describe a place like this…the whole description was so unconventional. I loved it. Hope I can write like this someday!!!

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