Doc Russell asks, “So here’s my question for this week — tell us something about the feeling of where you live. Something appropriate to the nascent spring would be great, but not required. Tell us something subtle about where you live that you have to live there to notice. So here’s my question for this week — tell us something about the feeling of where you live. Something appropriate to the nascent spring would be great, but not required. Tell us something subtle about where you live that you have to live there to notice.”

Gentlefolks, I’m gonna tell you some stuff of the Southland, or what we here in California refer to as “the Southland”… and that ain’t stuff below the Mason-Dixon line nor does it include that damn yuppie-hippie town down by the border.

Los Angeles. But not just the “City of Los Angeles”, ’cause that ain’t nowhere near enough of all of this place to call it “this place”. Los Angeles begins where Highways 5, 210, and 405 meet in the north, where 10 and 60 meet in the east, where 215 and 15 meet in the southeast, and where 215 and 15 meet in the northeast. Oh, yes, and just south of Dana Point. San Clemente is “San Diego light”.  The exit route to San Diego is the only way outta this burg that isn’t where two or more freeways meet.

I came down to this bit of humanized terraformed desert in 1989, for college out near LAX. I’ve lived there, in the City of Orange, in West Covina, in Glendale, in Pasadena, in Azusa, in Hollywood. I’ve spent plenty of time in Burbank and Riverside and San Bernardino and Mira (butt) Loma. I never actually left my wallet in El Segundo, but I’ve left sunglasses there at at the time the glasses were worth more than the wallet.

This place isn’t like any other place. Los Angeles basin’s closest analog is probably New York, but unlike New York, the enclaves of immigrants weren’t enclosed in a couple of blocks. When groups of immigrants moved to Los Angeles it wasn’t a matter of rejiggering the neighborhoods like a social scientists game of real-world Jenga. There’s room here, room to sprawl out. Koreatown and Chinatown are close to downtown, but when Armenians began to come here they settled down mostly in Glendale and Pasadena. Alhambra’s restaurant selection has more signs out in Cantonese than English. If you want to find an authentic Malay restaurant, you can find one. You might have to drive 60 miles to get there, but this is Los Angeles.

Driving is The Way.

Pasadena is most remarkable in January. The running joke is that every year, the new members of the City Council are the ones that have to run the ritual to offer something to The Dark One for the Days of Sunshine for the Rose Parade. It’s often 75 degrees and sunny the week of the parade even when it rains the week before and after, and everyone everywhere else in the U.S. that likes to watch parades hunkers down in their “it’s cold and snowy” place and look at the screen with people cavorting in shorts and tank tops on floats and they wonder if the weather is like that here all the time. No, it isn’t, but it’s close enough. Pasadena is crammed up against the foothills, squeezing Altadena up into areas where occasionally wildfires get close enough to burn properties.  If you go down into Eaton Canyon in the spring you can catch tadpoles and see kids on horses and the waterfall is running and you wonder how you can be here when you’re 15 miles from downtown Los Angeles.  If you hike up into the foothills you can see JPL and the buildings of downtown L.A. and fireworks above Dodger Stadium on the fourth of July and if the weather’s clear you can see Catalina and the rest of the Channel Islands and you can watch the planes come in from the East on approach to LAX and then you can bump into a bobcat or see a red tailed hawk cruising the thermals and remember that newspapers story about the black bear cub in somebody’s back yard in Altadena and then you *really* wonder about the edges of urbanity.

Playa Del Rey has morning mist and dew from the ocean. Venice and El Segundo and Long Beach are like that, too… nowhere near as misty or foggy as Monterey or San Francisco, but enough days of morning moisture that your car gets rusty if you live there for five years. It’s full of college students and people who work for aerospace corporations and some people who love L.A. but like it 12 degrees cooler than anywhere else in the basin, or people who love to surf but can’t afford Manhattan Beach or Malibu. It’s never remarkable. It rains about four weeks a year, there, but otherwise between 11:00am and 5:00pm Playa is the place they’re cracking jokes about in L.A. Story when they do the weatherman reporting, “Sunny. 72.” in a deadpan voice.  I stood on the bluff at LMU on an unusually clear night in spring of ’92 and you could see most of the basin spread out with fires all over the place.  It was surreal.

West Covina is one step above the Inland Empire. It’s cheap to live there and you’re commuting at least an hour to get anywhere with white collar employment and it’s too hot in the summer and it doesn’t have the old growth neighborhoods like Pasadena or Orange or Claremont. About the only thing you have going for you is that it’s closer to Vegas than anywhere else that isn’t the Inland Empire. There isn’t really much difference between Azusa and West Covina except Azusa used to have one of the last functional drive-ins in Southern California and there are more college kids in Azusa because of APU and it’s north of the 210 freeway, which is some indicator of something important to some people.

“Downtown” Orange is where you would shoot a film that required a 1950s malt shop and a bunch of kids who drove hot rods and slicked their hair back and rolled cigarette packs up in the sleeve of their white t-shirts but were all good kids really and save the town when The Blob shows up. The street fair is in late August and the weather in Orange in late August is 5 degrees cooler than downtown LA and fifteen degrees cooler than Pasadena and you can walk around all day and into the night in a t-shirt and shorts. You can hear the Disneyland fireworks show in the evening in Orange. There aren’t many Orange trees left, but the town doesn’t smell urban the way Hollywood does.

Hollywood is a strange place to be. I lived there for a year, bookended by my two life periods of unemployment, which definitely colored my experience there. You pay too much money to live in a too-small apartment or one in an old brick-and-mortar building that probably won’t survive the next earthquake but has a old-timey fire escape and wrought iron and a central courtyard that doesn’t have an ugly fountain in it. There are lots of other people between the age of 20 and 35 who go to Loyola Law School or work at Universal Studios (the theme park, not the studio) in some performance capacity or work concessions at the Hollywood Bowl while they run to screen tests every chance they can. You will see smokin’ hot young women who want to be the next Thing but they’re more likely to wind up working on the other side of the hill in the Valley where they make all the porn that isn’t made in Japan. People get dressed and put on makeup to go to the grocery store. You will also see The Dude, if you hang around for a while.

Mira Loma smells like cow droppings and once you get off the freeway and drive around on the surface streets you’ll wonder how this place exists 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Houses are on big lots with 8′ chainlink fences and there are horse properties and chicken coops that haven’t been made in the last five years when it was sexy to do so… and dawgs. I never lived there but I’ve spent a couple of years there on a weekend or three.


Patrick is a mid-40 year old geek with an undergraduate degree in mathematics and a master's degree in Information Systems. Nothing he says here has anything to do with the official position of his employer or any other institution.


  1. This is great Pat. All of SoCal is so infused in our pop culture for the last few decades its all sort of familiar in a fun house mirror sort of way. I’ve been down there 3 or 4 times ( the Wife went to Redlands as an undergrad so we visited there). There are really nice places all around. We i stayed in Hollywood for work i really liked going up into the Hollywood Hills and the mountains near there. Beautiful places. But the traffic….OMG OMG. A lot of the fun of going to your area is matching up reality with all the references from movies and tv.

    • Almost every movie that has a scene set anywhere in Los Angeles, I can peg it.

      Roughly half of the time, it borks. People are supposed to be driving into LA from San Francisco… and they show them driving on the southbound 110 freeway from Pasadena. Now, I suppose you can go from the grapevine to the 210 and go the LONG way ’round rather than just sticking on the 5, but who would do that?

      The traffic round here is really bad. I’ve had just about every commute in SoCal and they’re all pretty bad. Glendale to downtown is okay, but every other one that involves a freeway is… well, if you don’t like morning talk radio you’ll freak out.

      I like my current commute. 2.5 miles. Had this for almost 10 years now and I still count it high on the list of “reasons never to change jobs or move unless I do both simultaneously”

  2. The City Hall in Pasadena is a really cool place.
    I used to go up to the tower there and play my guitar.
    Ovation Custom Balladeer 12-string.
    I like that City Hall. Best one I’ve ever seen.

    • It is a damn pretty building, you bet.

      There’s always one weekend or two a year when the snow hits the San Gabriel mountains down to 3500 feet and if you find the right spot you can see the dome with snowcapped peaks in the background and you think just for one second you might be somewhere in the Old Country.

  3. In 1990, I *ALMOST* moved to California from New York.

    I moved to Colorado instead.

    I’ve always wondered about that…

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