Sunday, September 20, 2009

L.A. Idiosyncrasies

As most people know, I have spent the past six or so months living in Los Angeles. And I've noticed several characteristics that make Angelenos unique among Americans, or at least among American cityfolk. They are surprising...

a) Strangers often get into involved conversations in regular settings, like waiting for the bus or renting a movie. The theory on this is that people spend so much time in their cars that they are glad for a little company. Here is a reenactment of a conversation I had at the Jolibee drive-thru, a local fast food joint with burgers and Filipino food.

"Hi, welcome to Jolibee."

"Hi, I'll have the hamburger meal."

"Do you want that with fries or rice?"

"I don't know--I've never been here before, what's better?"

"Oh, well then you should try our chicken! It's our specialty!"

After I agreed to the chicken meal, I drove up to the window to meet the girl and we talked about what parts of the neighborhood we lived in, and for how long we had lived there. Have you ever had a conversation with a drive-thru attendant before? I haven't.

b) Angelenos don't have normal internal thermostats. When I first moved here in February, it was pretty warm compared to Colorado. On one of the first spring days we had, I wore shorts to work, because it was comfortable. "Are you crazy?" said one of my coworkers. "It's freezing outside!" It was indeed cloudy outside, but it was also probably 70 degrees. It's kind of cute, the people who have lived here awhile think that grey weather means cold, I think the clouds play tricks on them. On cloudy days you will often see people wearing fleeces and Uggs, even though it's in the 60s or higher.

c) Finally, and most amazingly, Angelenos don't honk. When you're driving, an Angeleno will honk only if you're about to hit them, and if they honk in any other situation, "then they're probably not from here," says my friend Nadine, a Beverly Hills native. I expected traffic to be horrible and vicious when I got here, but it exists as sort of a beautiful symbiotic colony of microorganisms. There are situations everyday where drivers do stupid things, like suddenly swerve into the lane you're in with no turn signal, but people let it pass because they know the next day, they will be that driver. People almost always let you into the lane you need to get into.

The most incredible story I have of the traffic involves a three-way intersection--three streets intersecting in a star pattern. I still haven't quite figured out how these work. One day, I was sitting at one such intersection, in the right lane at a red light. Not quite realizing the logic, I decided to turn right, because that's what you can normally do in the right lane with a red. As soon as I turned right, I realized I was crossing in front of a two-or three lane street that had a green, and there was traffic rushing toward me at a dangerous speed. I panicked and made sort of a stop-start driving pattern across the street. Incredibly, the cars all slowed down to a stop to let me pass, and nobody honked. Have you ever seen such accomodation?

All the more reason to move to L.A.--the people, the weather, and the people.