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Saturday, May 13, 2006

Any time of year, you can find it here

So there I was spending a week cruising around southern California giving speeches to extremely well heeled professional groups. We're talking serious dough, people, and I was making some suggestions to them about how to keep Uncle Sam away from it. I was on a half-day panel with four speakers, and we did "the show" four times -- San Diego, Newport Beach, Westwood, and Pasadena. In between, we ate fine food, drank good wine, stayed in excellent hotels, and were chauffeured around in high-class vehicles, including one stretch limo ride where we cracked open the bourbon decanter and the gigantic shrimp cocktails. Amazing thing, money.

I hadn't spent time in L.A. in more than a decade. Thirty years ago, I spent my first summer there and fell in love with the place. As big and as fast and as hard and as dirty as America's second city is, I still feel welcome and at home there. Beneath all its limitations there is still something highly attractive -- a sense that you can have something almost as smart and spectacular as New York, but with much better weather and a far more carefree attitude. You just have to be careful where you go, and learn how to survive all the time you spend on the freeways.

And they're not all free any more in Southern Cal. At one point -- I think it was in Orange County -- our driver stopped and paid a toll.

I got to spend a little time reflecting on who I had been in my two ancient summers in the City on Angels, and how much has changed since then. When you're in your 20s, all the institutions that you get close to seem eternal -- they've always been there and they always will be. And the keepers of the keys, the people who show you around, seem like they'll last as long as the buildings. Well, all the buildings from the '70s are still there, along with a bunch of new ones that they've thrown up since, but times change, and the vast majority of the occupants are very different. Nothing's forever except what's inside you and what you share with other people.

L.A.'s changed in 30 years, and not for the better, but of course that's true all up and down the West Coast. I still rate Portland as a better place for me, but it was a close call when I made the choice back then, and the margin of preference isn't that much greater now. You make tradeoffs.

By the last day of speeches -- the toughest day, because we had two sessions scheduled -- we were all a bit punchy. But when the lights came up on the stage, we all snapped to and did the gigs as strong as ever. At our last event, on a spectacularly sunny afternoon at an impossibly beautiful hotel, I was two steps from the podium when I realized I had left my notes in the place where we had spoken that morning. We had been on a tight schedule against downtown traffic (which goes all day and night down there), and in my haste to pack up and dash into the Lexus, I had left the crucial notepad on the dais.

I had been feeling a bit weary over a quickie lunch, but you talk about your shot of adrenaline when I realized I would have to wing it. My colleagues helped me out by shuffling our order and buying me some time to go hide in the hotel business center and reconstruct the notes from memory. It wasn't hard, since this was the fourth time I was giving the talk in three days. The shakeup actually did my performance some good, and it was a nice story to tell the audience. People want to be in the room with you, in the present, and it always helps to establish a connection with them on that level. Probably the best audience I ever had was one I addressed years ago in a dirty t-shirt after Delta Airlines lost my luggage.

Anyway, we had been treated like stars, and for a moment I fantasized that my co-speakers and I were the Beatles. Whisked away from show to show, watching each other in action, seeing how each performance and each audience are at least a little bit different from the last. There are the jokes that you tell the audience, and then there are the private jokes among the group that are on the audience. Fortunately, I had great hosts and great mates on our mini-tour. The George and Ringo figures of the group were obvious, but I couldn't figure out whether I was John or Paul. I'd prefer John, but as the colleague whom I tagged as Ringo put it, "At least I'm still alive."

Comments (21)

some days i ache for L.A. I just kick myself for ever leaving and swearing i'd never go back. I kept my word.

I suppose living in places like Coos Bay and Klamath Falls will do that. But Portland holds no appeal for me.

Glad you enjoyed your trip.

Rollin' down the Imperial Highway
With three tax experts at my side
Santa Ana wind blowin' hot from the north
And we was born to ride

1975...livin' at the beach in Long Beach...
I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Sunshine... every day!
Long live "sex and drugs and rock n' roll".

I lived in Venice in the late 70s just before it became another Yuppieville. Had a two-bedroom bungalow five blocks from the beach for $400 a month. Now that same place is probably close to $2000 a month.

But L.A. is at least in one way better than it was 30 years ago. The air is cleaner, thanks to California's strict environmental and emissions standards.

And I'll also take today's Portland over the city of 30 years ago. Three decades ago, Portland was just starting to emerge from being a pretty sleepy, boring town with a decaying downtown and typical suburban sprawl. It was almost entirely white and there was a great deal of racism towards African-Americans, particularly on the police force. And it was almost totally in the hands of fossilized big business interests, as represented by Frank Ivancie (who would make Ginny Burdick look charismatic).

We now have far more racial and ethnic diversity (which translates into better restaurants and culture). We have more transportation options.
And regardless of what you think of Portland's city commissioners, they are not all in the same pocket of the PBA.

a decaying downtown and typical suburban sprawl. It was almost entirely white and there was a great deal of racism towards African-Americans, particularly on the police force. And it was almost totally in the hands of fossilized big business interests, as represented by Frank Ivancie

Not to get too off-topic here, but what's changed other than Frank Ivancie?

I loved LA when Mrs. Wino and I were DINKs--the restaurants, the culture (yes, there's culture), the beaches, the weather, and the Mexican food (not necessarily from restaurants).

Now we're SI3Ks (Sithkies?). Portland wins by a long shot. I can't imagine a better place to raise the little winos.

Of course, if you're riding in limos - the traffic is much more bearable. And not even "traffic" in the bumper-to-bumper sense -- I mean the way that Angelenos are perfectly happy driving 40 minutes to do something mundane.

In LA, it's perfectly acceptable to meet a friend for a drink 40 minutes from home, then drive 40 minutes (separately) to a restaurant for dinner, then drive 40 minutes (again, separately) to a club, and then drive another 40 minutes (yup) to get dessert somewhere, and then 40 minutes home.

In LA, it's perfectly acceptable to spend 3+ hours driving around (alone) during a long evening on the town with friends.


It would take tons of money to do L.A. right, particularly with children. But had I stayed, I believe that would not have been an issue.

My definitive L.A. moment - other than the time I went through after midnight during the hitchhiking years - was the awards banquet I attended. I had met all these movie stars during dinner but that was over and everyone was heading out to the valet parking nightmare in front. Who should come into view but Robert Shapiro of O.J.s Dream Team. I said hello and we shook hands. Outside in the weirdly comfortable night air, it all merged together. L.A. is palm trees and movie stars, but it's also slashed bodies in pools of blood. And that freeway chase in the white Ford Bronco? That was the ultimate L.A. moment.

Anti LA snobbery in Portland is sometimes fun to watch: once, years back, I was driving around downtown PDX with Randy Newman's song blaring out the rolled down windows. People sneered at me; one guy flipped me off. Then another approached at a crosswalk asked to shake my hand.

I like the line from the female lead in LA Story about how she started out seeing LA as an intellectual desert, but came to see it as a desert that people turned into their dreams.

L.A. is palm trees and movie stars, but it's also slashed bodies in pools of blood.

"Forget it, Jake; it's Chinatown."

Chinatown, the story of Wlliam Mullholland and water in LA, reminds me of the story of Neil Golschmidt and transit in Portland. Interesting how the LA times editorial crowd was in his corner and it took years for journalists to acknowledge the crooked aspects of it all.

Mr Chisholm - I have a couple of friends who live in Newport Beach and work out of their homes, believe me, I'd swap if I could get the wife to go along with it.

Mr Bog - I was sorely tempted five years ago to move to San Diego. Any comparisons to LA?

Despite three trips there in the last eight months or so, I don't have a feel for San Diego. Which makes me think I'd be better off in L.A., which I instantly liked.

"which I instantly liked"?
Jack, come back to us. I can't picture you sitting at the Staples Center cheering for Kobe. By the way, the Lakers have also tainted the song "I Love LA" for me. So what is the ultimate tune about Los Angeles? The Doors have to be in contention with "LA Woman"..."Well, I just got into town about an hour ago. Took a look around see, which way the wind blows." They even dubbed the place "City of Night" - so much for all those sunny days. But I think the best song about LA is "Under the Bridge" by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Of course, it's about a death from an overdose but we aren't talking about Mayberry here, are we?

"Sometimes I feel
Like I don't have a partner
Sometimes I feel
Like my only friend
Is the city I live in
The city of angels
Lonely as I am
Together we cry"

I could never root for the Lakers now. But I might have, had I stayed where I landed down there in the '70s. The firms that I worked for showed you a real good time back in those days.

Why live in LA when you have so much to slam here in Portland, Jack?

The trolls up here are so much more friendly.

Speaking as a guy who telecommutes to LA every day, I have to say, LA has made some big improvements. The ingress/egress factor of LAX and 405 is way better than it was 10-20 years ago. I-105 is complete (seems like it was under construction for 20 years, but I guess it was), the "Jewelery District" (aka "old theater district") downtown is safe to walk again, at least by day, if not by night. You can actually see the city by mass transit, too. A shuttle will take you from Burbank airport or LAX to downtown LA, Hollywood, Universal, Burbank... If that's not enough, you can still surf without a wetsuit down there. I enjoy my monthly visits immensely.

"A nice place to visit, but don't plan to stay."

next time you are down there, and you have some time, have someone take you out to the Palos Verdes area. It's a lot more built up than it was when i was a kid, and we roamed the fields and canyons unimpeded, but still beautiful, with beautiful houses, a gorgeous coastline, and even little cafes tucked in here and there along the main roads.

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