Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Last week, I visited home for the first time since moving out East. This trip was unique, because whenever I usually “go home”, it is at the end of a trip, and I am usually ready to be back. However, after 3 months in Washington, along with the fact I was returning to Washington, and not Los Angeles, I saw home through a decidedly different lens. Having grown accustomed to life in Washington, or, as a friend calls it, the “bougie Yankee buffer zone,” I went out of my way to see, eat, or experience things or places that do not exist, or do not exist in sufficient qualities, in Washington. Typically, this tends to include cheap, hole-in-the-wall restaurants (namely Mexican and Thai cuisines), beautiful natural topography, and engaging, generally attractive-looking modern architecture. And, of course, my friends.
What struck me most was the glaring differences between the two cities. The big one is just how much of the city is wasted on anonymous strip malls, gas stations, and forgettable one-story buildings. It pretty much goes without being said that wide swaths of the city are unwalkable, or are difficult to traverse, be it via foot, bike, bus, or even car. And while Washington is indeed a great deal smaller – coming in at 44sq miles, compared to Los Angeles’ 470 – a city shouldn’t be unwalkable based on size alone. The traffic was also a major nuisance. Having easy access to a subway station means I rarely deal with, or even see, the chaotic traffic that often clogs surface streets. Instead, I have been exposed to a whole new world of delays: track maintenance-related repairs, station closures, and escalators not working, etc.
Though at this point in time, it is likely that Los Angeles has a clear Hispanic (largely Mexican) majority, the city, as a whole, feels more diverse and multicultural than any other city, save for NYC. It is as simple as seeing Hispanics and Asian - groups that largely don’t exist in DC. Just looking at my inner friend circle, I have friends from and descended from a number of countries, and it is entirely common and random (meaning, I do not seek out friends based on ethnic or national origin). For being the nation’s capital, DC is still very much a black and white town (89%, as per the 2010 Census), with a few Ethiopians and Salvadorians thrown in for good measure. The city’s multiculturalism has its benefits, particularly in the food realm: from my experiences, the abundance of cheap, ethnic food is unrivaled. No other city comes close.
On this trip in particular, I visited quite a few places: Las Morelianas (DTLA), Prael Thai (EHO), Scoops (EHO), Huaraches Aztecas (Highland Park), CoffeeBar (DTLA), Garage Pizza (DTLA), and Sanamluang (EHO). I have always appreciated the décor of LA’s coffee shops. Nobody does coffee shop interior design like LA. Continuing that, I also visited the stunning, new Artisan House restaurant, a new Californian (heh) bistro/deli/restaurant in Downtown’s Pacific Electric Lofts. The reclaimed, rustic-themed interior is quite enviable, and is completely worth checking out.
Aside from the traffic, the only thing about home that seemed “weird,” was the weather. Coming from chilly, 40F/4C Washington weather, for it to be 85F/29C at the end of November was, quite frankly, bizarre. Landing at LAX on Thanksgiving morning, the first thing I had to do was remove my jacket and scarf. Still, though, as native Angelino, I always appreciate the liberal, laid back, anything goes attitude and mentality that is so pervasive in LA. By contrast, Washingtonians obsess over careers and reputations, cementing initial impressions with questions like “What school did you go to?”, “What is your [federal] level?”, and, of course, “Who do you work for?” The fact that 1 in 12 of all Washingtonians is a lawyer contributes to the bland, corporate feeling pervasive in much of Washington.