Sideshow by the seashore, LA style

Trip Start Aug 04, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , California
Thursday, September 4, 2008

I'm talking about Venice Beach.  Think Coney Island with palm trees.  It's pretty seedy, though part of it consists of megabucks modern townhouses on the beach.  There is a great bookstore there called small World Books - one of those shops where it seems as though someone put together a thoughtful collection.  A whole Bukowski section, which makes perfect sense.  And in front of it is the Sidewalk Cafe with lots of outdoor seating to watch the passing skateboarders, electric-wheelchaired homeless people, sidewalk painters, fortune-tellers and bums, European tourists and toned joggers from next-door Santa Monica.  Honestly, I think that makes it sound a little nicer than it actually was.  The hostel was a pit, the carpeting was grimy and the clientele leaned toward euro-trash and lost souls (though a decent mix of cool traveling kids).

On Day 2 I rode around west LA to try to get a feel for the city - Santa Monica, Malibu, Beverly Hills, Hollywood.  Did I like it?  Couldn't tell you.  Somehow it was impervious to scrutiny.  It's not a tourist-friendly town.  You have to get into the buildings and meet the people I think to understand it, which I wasn't able to do.  But the wild assortment of residential architecture tells you as much as anything.  LA can't be described in terms of style or appearance, only in terms of underlying assumptions.  It occurred to me that this might be a place where people come to create their own worlds, and those worlds can look pretty different, and may not be connected to each other or anyone or anything else, except in this: everybody else is doing the same.  But actually LA does have a style.  You know it.  How things look is very important. 

Then I saw this guy on the sidewalk in Beverly Hills.  Moussed-up spiky hair carefully arranged, shades, goatee and 2 day beard, bluetooth headset in place, designer shirt untucked from designer jeans, pacing up and down the sidewalk next to his blacked-out Range Rover. He was working that headset, chatting up one person after the next.  Total LA style in action.  This is who people were striving to be, I think,  I get it!  But who was he striving to be?  He had the animation of Tom Cruise, and the scruffiness of Kevin Costner (though not as endearing).  They say that you need to know who your are and who you want to be.  But I think this guy was suffering from multi-celebrity aspirational syndrome.  He can't decide who he wants to be, Tom or Kevin, and it's driving him to pace, rant, and make confused wardrobe choices.  There's a lesson here:  Be true to your aspirational celebrity self, for than as the night follows the day, you'll look great and be at peace.
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