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February 24, 2004

  • Supermarket of the Apocalypse
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    It’s the first palm tree that you see when stepping outside LAX. Have you ever seen a palm tree in Los Angeles? They’re dirty, and vaguely burnt-looking. Perhaps that’s because all palm trees look like that, but you suspect it’s because, like you, they’re transplanted from somewhere else. They’ve been brought here to add to the illusion that this place is warmer than it is.

    It’s the mornings in Brentwood, an upmarket section of L.A. that seems like Forest Hill in Toronto, only it seems like it’s the size of Scarborough. It’s beautiful, sun-kissed, tranquil, and soothing to the tourist, until you realize that the only visible minorities you’ve seen are the people that served you at the bagel place or the panhandler whom you honestly thought was just sitting outside the grocery store with a cup of coffee.

    It’s being in a cab slowly crawling along the 405 Interstate, listening to the driver talk about the benefits of visiting Venice Beach—which seem to solely consist of opportunities to see women in G-strings. Once he’s found out you’re Canadian, you have this exchange:
    “So do all Canadians hate Bush?”
    “Pretty much.”
    “That’s okay then.” And every other sentence becomes a scathing rhetoric against George Bush alternating with further rhapsodies on the G-stringed beauties of Venice Beach. It’s probably the most entertaining cab ride you’ve ever had.

    It’s driving through the wide city streets and passing a 76 gas station and thinking, “My God, this looks like stock footage from Adam-12 or Emergency!

    It’s waiting for a restaurant to open for breakfast/lunch, and counting the people who are already there carrying screenplays. And then finding that occasionally the all-too-attentive wait staff go and sit down with these people, and you wish that you could hear the conversations between would-be actors and would-be producers.

    It’s the architecture of the urban sprawl—a bizarre melange of 1950s archways and boxy buildings, with squat, functional and slightly decorative edifices from the 1980s. You feel as though you’ve entered some place where time has stopped working and is pooling itself before your very eyes. You expect dinosaurs next, and are therefore not disappointed when you see smoke plumes and fireworks coming from a volcano in the Universal Studios theme park that’s visible from Ventura Boulevard.

    It’s that moment as you walk up the hiking trails at Will Rogers Memorial State Park, look in front of you, and realize you’re staring at the mountains from the opening of M*A*S*H. And you find yourself humming the theme song in spite of yourself.

    It’s entering through an American Beauty-like community on the way to the beach with homes with nicely manicured front yards, all adorned with signs for a security company that advertise “ARMED RESPONSE”.

    It’s being in a supermarket with hideous fluorescent lighting that makes it seem almost apocalyptic, looking at the huge aisleway of alcoholic beverages, none of them legally required to display the percentage of alcoholic content.

    It’s the spectacle of Venice Beach, a causeway filled with hundreds of people, all of them more buff than you’ll ever be—and not a G-string in sight—flanked by more T-shirt shops, head shops and stands offering henna tattoos than you’ve ever seen in your life.

    It’s that awkward period when you recognize a woman who walks past you, but you can’t say to the people you’re with that you’re sure you’ve just walked past a Victoria’s Secret model.

    It’s the urban graffiti artist who has added the word “Bush” at the bottom of Stop signs throughout Santa Monica.

    It’s passing through Laurel Canyon at night and feeling like you’ve entered a place of great evil.

    It’s seeing a billboard for Oprah that gets updated every day with new show information.

    It’s the odd sense that, in spite of the strangeness of the place, in spite of the weird fantasy disconnect with your sense of authenticity, you actually could get used to living here. And that’s what scares you about L.A. That’s what really scares you.

    Posted by graeme | (0) Comments | Permalink

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