I'm at a party during an art show at somebody’s place in Koreatown, LA. There are painted palm leaves pinned to the wall. Blue and purple and black and shades of white. Which is the first surprise because I didn't know there could be shades of a non-colour. I said that LA is the non-capital and so Downtown LA is the non-centre.
In Europe, every city has a centre. The core, the hub where everything happens and the movement spreads out and gradually fades away into the suburbs. Cities are concentric masses of people and things going on. The closer you get to the centre, the more action you will find. LA is not like that. As a visitor, Downtown is what I perceive to the be the centre of a city that's not even a city at all. LA is too big, too wide, too different and too fluid. There are a thousand versions of LA and a thousand versions of its centre.
A Persian-American girl named Layla, she's in her 20s or 30s or 40s (difficult to tell), is talking about Downtown. What it was, what it is. What changed. She's half Persian and can speak Farsi, but she was also born and raised in LA so I guess I can call that a 'reliable source'.
Downtown LA started changing in the 20s, where entire blocks were completely turned around in a sort of frenzy to keep up with New York. At that point, they were playing catch up, so they began building skyscrapers and iconic hotels. There are several versions of Downtown, she says, but the part I’m interested in was built with police money (I think she means government). The LA Times building is big and looks majestic. This is where wordy tales of restaurants you and I are never going to go to are written. Stars are awarded. Or forks. Or points or marks or whatever it is critics use these days. Percentage, perhaps.
Breaking news and old news and reviews are written here, including cars. I hate awarding stars or giving marks but you need to use some sort of indicative measure. So let’s stick with percentage. I like that. LA is 87% amazing and the car that embodies the city more than any other, which is actually, errr...the skateboard, is 99 % cool. Not 100, you see, because the biggest drawback of skateboarding is that you’re likely to break a bone or two at some point. I do realize that skateboarding isn't for everyone so let's just move on to the people's car of LA. The Uber.
The car is both crucial and useless in LA depending on the way you look at it. As a personal means of transport, it is pointless. Redundant if we’re trying to be nice. A 4-wheeled metal box with a reciprocating engine simply isn’t necessary in a city that’s constantly contradicting itself. Let me make this clear, it’s unnecessary if you’re the driver. Mandatory if you’re a passenger.
LA is as big as a planet but good luck finding a parking space where you can actually leave your car for more than 30 minutes without spending a fortune and/or getting parking tickets and/or without it being towed away. There’s a metro system which, despite what the locals say, works a lot better than in many other cities. A bus system that works...sort of. And there’s walking. Which I understand no one does any more these days. And car sharing. And biking and ubering.
Which gives me the opportunity to talk about the other side of the same coin. The car, as a disposable means of transport, is LA’s pulsating heart. It isn’t the blood running through its veins, it’s the actual vein itself.
Why bother with ownership when you can Uber your way to the moon and back? It’s cheaper, vastly hassle-free and, if you’re lucky, you’re going to meet Marsha. She’s from New York and she’s here on holiday. Sorry, I mean vacation. We’re sharing our Uber and our driver is a star, he’s ear impaired but he also doesn’t speak, I don’t know if by choice, which means he has to make to do with the other four senses. Plus hand gesturing. I hate, hate, hate the idea of self driving cars because this idea is stupid. Plus, it already exists. It’s called Uber or Lyft or whatever.
This is the last frontier of civilization. The car is wonderful. Honestly, I love cars more than I love having shoes on my feet but even I will admit that when it comes to moving around driving your own car can be a nightmare. It’s costly, it’s boring and it’s tiring. I love driving which is why I want driving to be a choice, not an obligation.
I’m going back to LA for the Auto Show (Automobility LA) on a plane, I’m going to catch a shuttle to the metro station, a train to my house and I’ll Uber/Lyft the rest. But then I’m going to get to the show eventually. And I’m going to beg whichever carmaker I can find to lend me a press car, it was a Polaris Slingshot last year, and that, oh yes, I’m driving that. In LA, and out of it and away from it and into the desert.