Whipping Boy No More


[A recent 74 & Sunny for Esquire. Check it out at Esquire and give it a like if you’re feeling likey…]

I know it’s February, but I’m still blown away by that polar vortex thing.

I don’t mean the way it froze waterfalls mid-flow or sealed whole cities under ice. I’m talking about how it persuaded snooty New Yorkers to admit, after a lifetime of disdain, that actually, they’ve got a bit of a boner for LA. A grudging boner perhaps – a yes-but-our-pizza’s-better boner – but still, a bonafide bone, one that’s only now starting to poke out into the open.

For some reason American GQ is at the center of all this, freezing its well groomed nuts off, within a shout of Times Square. Last month, it declared downtown LA to be “the new cool capital of America”. And a couple of months prior, it threw a party to celebrate Abbott Kinney in Venice, which it had dubbed “the coolest block in America”.

I’m not going to quibble over the small print – though they were right about downtown and wrong about Venice (the action in LA is east not west).

What’s important is that LA is getting some East Coast love for once. Because that never happens. New Yorkers learn to loathe LA at the teat, much like San Franciscans.  (Is that what they’re called? They sound like monks.) It’s the snobbery of the “proper city” versus the upstart, the old guard versus the arriviste.

And it turned LA into the whipping boy of American cities, shoved over in the corner, the new kid with the hot girlfriend that everyone else mocks as vapid, soulless, shallow, craven, fluffy, desperate, empty and trivial.

So why the change of heart?

My money’s on the vortex. Once your balls shrink to marbles, it’s natural to long for the sunshine. But the cold may be just the icing, as it were, because there’s a broader trend to all this. Lots of New Yorkers have been heading west of late, and daring to mention how it’s not really that shallow here after all (except in the shallow end of the pool that you might even be able to afford). Recently we’ve had Moby rhapsodizing about how “byzantine” and “baffling” LA is. And Werner Herzog, of course loves it here – he described LA as the city with the “most cultural substance”, which for a New Yorker has got to hurt.

Screenshot from Curbed - GQ says LA Rocks

This much we know – LA’s fundamentals are strong, as a business analyst might say. The hills, canyons, beach and desert, not to mention Kendrick Lamar’s “women, weed and weather”. John Fante had it right: “you pretty town!

Admittedly, there may be truth to that “bad weather, good people” thing, and its inverse too. Besides the stunning women, no one’s about to sell LA on its people, who can be, in all honesty, a tad peculiar. But are they so bad you’d sooner step out of a rabbit hutch in Manhattan every morning, slip on the black ice and go clattering into a hillock of garbage on your doorstep? Or – looked at the other way – are New Yorkers really all that?

I’m being facetious. I love New York, everyone does. It’s just that it might have peaked already. The vortex comes as Manhattan devolves ever further into a Douchebag Disneyland, rotten with bankers. Brooklyn is becoming a pastiche of itself, swallowed up by its own irony. Even Spike Lee’s going off New York. And look at the news lately about New York’s other famous son, the director of Manhattan. Wherever you stand on Woody Allen, the scandal tarnishes the city, just a little.

Meanwhile, LA just improves by the day.  The brunt of jokes for years, it’s still just waking up to its own potential. The Koreans are about to build the biggest ever skyscraper on an active fault line – that’s optimism for you.

So good job GQ. This sudden East Coast vogue for all things LA is no bad thing. It’s time to let the sunshine in and melt some of that ice. Because out here in the solar vortex, we never really understood where all that vitriol came from in the first place.

We just sit out on our sundecks, kale smoothie in one hand, prescription doobie in the other and wonder why it is that everyone hates us.

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