Hollywood. Beverly Hills. Bel Air. Santa Monica. These place names are so familiar to me that it seems impossible I’ve never been to any of them before.
Arriving into LA, I was greeted by sunshine, warmth and loud Californians. Before I’d got my bearings outside the terminal building, I’d been overwhelmed by friendliness, then asked for a donation to charity and fended off an attempt to convert me to the path of Christ. After ten hours beside a ‘Messenger of Christ’ between Fiji and LA, and I wondered if the big guy was trying to tell me something.
That evening I headed over to West Hollywood for a Fiji reunion. Incredibly, four of us from Taveuni were in LA at the same time and we had a ‘Long Time No See’ Fiji reunion, which was just as much fun as all our Fiji evenings had been. Alia and Tuukka had work the next morning, but that didn’t stop them staying out ‘til 2am.
I quickly came to realise that LA is beyond massive. People had been telling me this, but having spent time in some really large cities, I put this advice in the same category as when a Singaporean tells me the weather’s cold.
In a dark room, sometime in the early 20th century, motor industry magnates and US government leaders agreed to invest in highways not railways. The system of highways is exceptional, roads are wide and long and it’s fairly easy to navigate once you get the hang of the main artery roads.
LA has developed the way it has because of the car. I was surprised at how low-rise it is. I was expecting a sea of skyscrapers, but everything is flat, which means it extends very, very far. There’s no city centre as such, just a series of neighbourhoods that are actually more like cities unto themselves, their edges fraying into one another.
As I faced a choice of walking for hours and getting not very far or open-wallet surgery in the back of a cab, I cursed that bunch of men in suits 100 years ago.
There is a complete dearth of public transport. There’s no centre, so no logical place to be the hub of a transport wheel. This makes planning public transport harder, and it’s less likely that routes will be helpful to people. So they’re not profitable. So they don’t run many buses, which makes the buses that do run inconvenient because you need to wait too long. So people take the car. It’s a vicious circle.
With ever-increasing prices for oil, I reckon LA is facing a transport crisis. The average number of cars per family is 3, and unless billions are invested in a mass rapid transit system that gets people where they need to go, the city is going to grind to a halt at some point in future.
It’s like London, stretched out over even more space, without the underground and with hardly any buses. I couldn’t conceive that there would ever be a city that size with no public transport to speak of. So now I will listen more closely when a Singaporean tells me the weather’s cold…
With a grimace, I opened my wallet and faced the inevitable exorbitant fare, taking a long run through Hollywood, Bel Air and the Hollywood Hills to the famous Hollywood sign, passing the enormous, extravagant homes of the stars. I then pounded the pavements from Hollywood to Beverly Hills, stopping for tours of the Kodak and Chinese theatres, following the path of the Academy Award hopefuls, looping around the famous Hollywood Bl, Sunset Bl and Santa Monica Bl, wandering round the shops and finding wonderful food and great service in delightful restaurants.
I enjoyed my brief time in LA. People surprised me with their friendliness – I’ve become used to a level of unfriendliness in large cities, but in LA people will interact with you and are interested in talking to you. I’m glad LA exists because it’s obsession with the silver screen has produced some of my favourite movies. It’s an interesting place, with a high-level excitable energy that I could taste and touch during my whole time there, like the energy of an aspiring actor waiting impatiently for their lucky break. The energy there runs to a different beat from me – I don’t think I could live in LA. But the city is built on chasing dreams, on working hard to make them come true.
As someone who’s a big fan of chasing dreams, how could I not identify with that?