LOS ANGELES—Over the weekend, The New York Times published an amusing article about New Yorkers discovering Los Angeles anew. It seems that for a long time they harbored a lot of facile prejudices about us but have lately realized that L.A. is delightful. For some, this apparently began while they were looking at Instagram. "Last fall," the article begins, "Christina Turner, a fashion stylist in Brooklyn, was dreading another New York winter in her cramped, lightless Greenpoint, Brooklyn, apartment while gazing longingly at the succulent gardens and festive backyard dinner parties posted on social media by her friends in Los Angeles."
So she moved here. I only wish that I could've gotten word to her sooner. I've always known that New Yorkers are inwardly focused. When there's a municipal election there they don't even realize we're not all picking a mayor of America together. But I would've sworn that everyone already knew about our good weather.
Instagram isn't the only thing that has changed how New Yorkers see us. The article's author, Alex Williams, whose Twitter handle is @AlexWilliamsNYC, writes:
In an era when it has become fashionable for New Yorkers to grumble that their own city is becoming a sterile playland for the global-money set (Dubai with blizzards, basically), Los Angeles is enjoying a renaissance with a burgeoning art, fashion and food scene that has become irresistible to the culturally attuned. As a result, the old New York-Los Angeles rivalry is changing, at least on the East Coast side of the equation.
For Angelenos confused by that passage, it's useful to know that both New York City and San Francisco imagine that they're engaged in rivalries with Los Angeles, whereas an Angeleno asked about either city is most likely to say, "Nice place, I love to visit!" Says Josh Barro, a New Yorker of whom I've always been fond, "Angelenos talk about how they don't spend time comparing L.A. to New York in that tone people use to declare they're totally over their exes." And this just confirms how little New Yorkers understand us. If any city is totally over their exes it's L.A. This is the town that shaped Elizabeth Taylor and invented Divorce Court.
This is a place where people get nostalgic visiting Tomorrowland.
As the article unfurls it hints at such a Style-section theory of why New Yorkers are moving here: not because Los Angeles is a singular city with distinct attributes that many millions of people have preferred for decades, but because lately we've gotten more like New York while remaining warm: "Bearded young New Yorkers can snap up brioche tarts at Proof Bakery in Atwater Village, visit gallery shows at Shepard Fairey’s Subliminal Projects in Echo Park, or settle in over barrel-aged rye cocktails at Bar Stella in Silver Lake, and scarcely realize they are more than a stroll away from McCarren Park, except for the 70-degree sunshine tickling their cheeks in February."
Passages that begin to suggest more substantial differences can't quite flesh them out:
In some quarters, the scorn that New Yorkers once piled on Los Angeles is now sounding like envy. Indeed, Los Angeles has seemingly become the flight fantasy of choice for the likes of Ms. Turner, who insists that anything good she was giving up in overpriced, overstressed Brooklyn is already in place on the booming east side of Los Angeles: the in-season Zambian coffee outposts, the galleries, the vintage clothing boutiques.
With that area’s scruffy bohemian spirit and laid-back mood, she thinks she had found the best of her New York life without the migraines. “It’s like grown-up version of Williamsburg,” Ms. Turner said, “without the gray cloud.”
Like a grown-up version of Williamsburg!
As regular New York Times readers know, the comparison to Brooklyn is code for "I don't understand my subject well enough to describe it with precision yet." As if to further tickle my media-junkie's sense of humor, the article then marshals the next most absurdly overused New York Times trope, the gratuitous invocation of Lena Dunham:
Lena Dunham once told Vogue that she could spend only two weeks in Los Angeles before starting “to get a very sad feeling,” but recently paid a reported $2.7 million for George Peppard’s former Hollywood home.
I don't begrudge Alex Williams this perfect Style-section article. If Narcissus had me on his payroll writing trend pieces and suddenly asked why people were crossing the river to hang out with another dude to whom he'd always felt superior, I'd reassure him, "Don't worry, that guy probably just started looking more like you." Says the article, "Los Angeles is widely acknowledged to have become strikingly more cosmopolitan in recent years." Perhaps. But I can't help but thinking that New Yorkers seeking cosmopolitanism, art galleries, and boutiques are better off staying put. New York City is a world-class metropolis that is the best at only somewhat fewer things than its residents imagine. I enjoyed my two years in Park Slope immensely. It was like spending 24 months in Brooklyn.
For millions, New York is undeniably the best city.
And L.A. is the best city for millions, too. I'll happily share some of the comparative advantages that it offers for the sake of the would-be transplants who value such things. We've already remarked upon weather, though winters without frozen water falling from the sky by the metric ton are just the beginning. In L.A., no one yearns for a place "to summer," a subject that seems near and dear to the perennially-aspirational Style section set, because soaking humidity doesn't pervade the city in June, July, and August. Rich and poor happily "summer" at their regular house or apartment (though come autumn, transplants miss watching the leaves die).
And it isn't just the weather that's better here. So is the light. Long after Lawrence Weschler had moved to New York he found himself entranced by a shot of his former city on TV. "That's the light I keep telling you girls about!" he exclaimed to his wife and daughter. "That light: the late-afternoon light of Los Angeles–golden pink off the bay through the smog and onto the palm fronds. A light I've found myself pining for every day of the nearly two decades since I left Southern California."
Then there's what locals here call "the beach," stretching miles and miles down the western edge of our city. If you're the sort that best comprehends Los Angeles through questionable analogies to New York City you might think of this gorgeous seascape as a bigger, partly aquatic High Line. Of course, not everyone likes to surf or scuba dive or kayak or standup paddle or lounge on sand reading US Weekly. But we've also got mountains, canyons, and deserts. Hiking in nature here is more convenient by about the same factor as traveling by subway is less convenient.
Angelenos care very little where you went to college and not at all where you went to prep school. In fact, if an East Coaster tries to name-drop a prep school Angelenos will assume that they're talking about an obscure college; the notion of anyone name-dropping a high school is beyond our Southern California comprehension.
Octogenarian movie stars are our idea of "old money."
As for the food, if your favorite standby is pizza, Puerto Rican, or Italian, stay put. But if you cook at home, or salivate over Mexican, Thai, Korean, sushi, ramen, burgers, or anything that's better with avocado, come hither. You'll eat better than in NYC for far less.
For the flip-flop wearer, Los Angeles is a city where practically no restaurant or bar will turn you away, an approach that strikes most of us as a feature.
Then there's our perspective on the good life.
"When I describe my West Coast existence (sunshine! avocados! etc.) to some New Yorkers," Ann Friedman once wrote in New York, "they acknowledge that they really like California, too, but could never move there because they’d get too 'soft.' At first this confused me, but after hearing it a few times, I’ve come to believe that a lot of people equate comfort with complacency, calmness with laziness. If you’re happy, you’re not working hard enough. You’ve stopped striving."
Los Angeles is a place where one can strive while happy. One doesn't trade away ambition so much as a unit or two of invigoration: On that metric, the pace isn't frenetic enough to match New York; much seems less urgent in L.A., for better and worse. In Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees, a biography of the artist Robert Irwin, the subject's youth in World War II-era Los Angeles is covered. One passage captures a particular relationship that many in this city have to events outside it. Irwin is showing his interviewer spots where he cruised around L.A. as a teen:
"That parking lot is where me and my buddies used to siphon gas out of unsuspecting vehicles," he said. "We'd take out the garbage and shift the hoses and canisters. They were of course rationing in those days." This was the first time that the war had impinged on Bob's recollections. I wondered whether it had had any more significance for him then. "Oh, no," Bob responded immediately. "We were just oblivious. We conducted ourselves like war wasn't on in any way. Not having gas and all that was simply a challenge. I didn't have any older brothers, and come to think of it, none of my friends in that group did either. Maybe that was part of it. But basically we didn't pay any attention."
I asked him if the obliviousness of the local youth had bothered older members of the community, whether he and his friends were criticized as irresponsible. "I don't know. I mean, if I was oblivious to the war, I was certainly oblivious to any criticism!"
Irwin was thirteen at the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, just graduating from high school as the war ended. I asked him where he had been on December 7, 1941. "I don't know," he replied. I asked him about the day the war ended. "Haven't the slightest idea." Hiroshima?
"Nope. Hiroshima Mon Amour was the story of a fairy tale."
I wondered if part of the reason he and his friends were having such a fiercely good time was because they all realized they were presently going to be shuttled off to the war.
"Oh no," Bob dismissed the notion with a sweep of his hand. "Look. Look at it here. Look at how it is: calm, sunny, the palm trees. What is there to get all fucking upset about?" He laughed. "This is reality. In other words, the war was not reality. The war wasn't here. The war was someplace else. So any ideas you had about the war were all things you manufactured in your head from newspapers and that. To me, this was reality; this was my reality right here."
In my experience there are two kinds of people who thrive in Los Angeles. The first tend to have the same disposition as did Bob Irwin: "Look. Look at it here. Look at how it is: calm, sunny, the palm trees. What is there to get all fucking upset about?" Then there are the people (as likely to be New Yorkers as anyone) who aren't themselves chill in that way but are happiest in proximity to people who are. If you're neither type Los Angeles isn't for you. If you come anyway, please bring bagels.
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