Corky Simpson COLUMN
L.A. stands for ‘lung assault’
LOS ANGELES – The gentleman in the hooded blue coat yawned and stretched and slowly rose from the bus stop bench near Fifth and Figueroa.
Then he started howling. Like your neighbor’s dog.
Down the street half a block, two policemen taking a morning break, paid the guy no attention. Evidently it is not against the law to howl in L.A., unless you’re a dog.
Let us now praise famous cities.
Occasionally, when everything’s right and the planets are aligned just so, you can take a deep breath, inhale lungfulls of carbon monoxide and concede that L.A. is less awful than the last time you were here.
Behind every cloud you’ll find a silver airliner.
There is an indispensable gloom to Disturbia that reminds you how lucky you are to come from somewhere else.
Neil Simon wrote that there are 6 million interesting people in New York, and about 72 in Los Angeles. But Neil Simon is known to be a smart aleck and was probably thinking about the temperature.
Approximately half of the people in Tucson, though, have relatives over here, or come regularly to pay tribute at the great monument to a mouse, Disneyland. So one must temper any criticism of Los Angeles with patience, forbearance and as much ambiguity as one can muster.
First of all, it is not Louse Angeles. There are good, honest, hard-working people over here. And a whole lot of the other kind.
In 1938, for example, the actor Robert Taylor bought his girlfriend a tennis court for her birthday. You don’t see that very often.
In Beverly Hills, it is said, the locals fill their waterbeds with champagne and dump their coffee grounds in Rolex trash cans. On beaches, the tide has been known to go out and stay there, calling in sick.
But this is the home of dreams, the brass ring, the pot at the end of the rainbow. And much, much more.
Fires, floods, mudslides and earthquakes, to name a few.
And world-class graffiti, gridlock, gang shootings, night stalker murders, Santa Ana winds, coagulated freeways, Los Angeles International Airport, cults, politicians and other quacks, bus fumes and roadway snipers.
It is not filthy over here, it’s just poorly ventilated.
Peoplearealreadypackedinlikethis and the city and southern California get bigger and bigger every day.
And yet, you have to ooh and aah at the vastness and mystery of the place.
People who lived here before smog, say it was truly a paradise. It must have been – and that’s the problem – because everybody wanted to live here. Most of them do.
Let’s hope there’s a lesson here for Tucson and Phoenix. The dinosaur proved to the ages that while size may be good, too much size isn’t.
Southern California delivers an effective challenge to conventional wisdom holding that the bigger a place grows, the better it becomes. Because, for all its neatly trimmed residential shrubbery, a sad industrial pall hangs over the geography.
Every mountain valley is carpeted in concrete and stripped in malls. Every meadow holds a subdivision.
More than half a century ago, Time magazine suggested that the City of Angels was doomed. Reporting on a week’s environmental news in 1949, Time said:
“It was the most persistent smog in Los Angeles history. It shut off the sunshine, befouling the famed southern California air and stinging the eyes of outraged thousands.
“Angelenos were not only appalled but furious.
“Pasadena property owners yelled for the heads of the county board of supervisors, and demanded that smog-producing industries be shut down.
“The yellow-grey pall hung over the city for more than two weeks.”
Well, they cleaned up some things, shut down some factories and their smokestacks and extinguished some backyard trash fires.
But people kept coming and kept coming, by the millions.
The city cranked out one environmental ordinance on the stub of the last, but the flood of people continued. Each brought about 1.3 automobiles with them. They needed tune-ups. So did the cars.
Now, the whole mega-gnarly city is pretty much a lost cause. It is a colossal, grieving ugliness. America’s nosebleed section. A sorry mess hidden from a clear, blue sky.
Sadder still, Los Angeles doesn’t really know how crummy it is. The last songbird is said to have vanished in 1949, the year Time magazine discovered smog.
Remember this, Tucson and Phoenix. Mark it well.
PHOTO CAPTION: The Associated Press
It is by no means filthy over here, it’s just poorly ventilated. And overpopulated. (Photo of Los Angeles)