I was recently in Los Angeles on a brief business trip.
I didn't mind the long flight. I didn't mind avocado and sprouts with every meal. I didn't even mind the long drives on the freeways just to get from Point A to Point A(1).
What I did mind was the Neil Diamond song going through my head from the moment I arrived until the moment I left.
I'm not a big Neil Diamond fan. I know he's sold a lot of records, made some movies and entertained millions. Just not me (although truth be told, it's hard not to react in some dopey way to Sweet Caroline).
But when a song reverberates in my brain for days it's pure hell. It wasn't even the whole song either, just a few lines. Over and over again, like a tremendously awful version of Groundhog Day.
L.A.'s fine, but it ain't home -
New York's home but it ain't mine no more
They were the words. It pains me to think that my writing includes two instances of "ain't" and a double negative to boot. Too bad there's no ending preposition (my mother-in-law says that's something up with which she will not put).
What was it about Los Angeles that forced those lyrics into me? Why couldn't it have been Gladys Knight instead of Neil Diamond?
L.A. proved too much for the man,
So he's leaving the life he's come to know
He said he's going back to find
Ooh, what's left of his world,
The world he left behind
Not so long ago.
On that midnight train to Georgia,
And he's going back
To a simpler place and time.
Strong, meaningful words sung so soulfully. And those Pips. Who doesn't love those Pips? Woo Woo.
But I regress.
I do know why those words pervaded my soul. L.A. is fine, but it could never be my home. L.A.'s not New York. Never will be. Probably doesn't want to be. L.A.'s got its good features. Weather. Lots of highways. Weather.
But what it doesn't have is character. Real character. "You talkin' to me?" character. Fuggedaboudit.
New York is pastrami, pizza and bagels. L.A. is quiche (and "pizza" created by an Austrian named Puck).
New York is Broadway, De Niro and Sinatra. L.A. is TV.
New York is a crazy taxi ride. L.A. is a stretch Hummer.
L.A. has Beverly Hills, Bel Air and Santa Monica. New York has Hell's Kitchen.
L.A. has Catalina Island. New York has Coney Island.
New York has the Statue of Liberty. L.A. has a statue of George Tirebiter (true!).
L.A. has the Oscars presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. New York has Nathan's International July Fourth Hot Dog Eating Contest. OK, I'll give that one to L.A.
New York is style. L.A. is stylized.
I sat in a tony (definitely an L.A. word) al fresco wine bar where I couldn't order a glass of wine unless I also ordered food. The signs on every lamppost cautioned neer-do-wells "Skateboarding, rollerblades, bicycles and smoking prohibited." Outside, on the street, skateboarding, rollerblades, bicycles and smoking were prohibited. Try and get away with that in New York.
6am on a Saturday morning I hiked the one block from my hotel to Starbucks. People on all 4 corners waiting for the light to change so they could cross the street. Not a car in sight, I did what anyone in New York would do. I got such looks, and even a comment from someone. It ain't home.
Yes, I know. L.A. is the TV and movie capital. So all those great TV shows are taped in L.A. You know - Seinfeld, Friends, Sex and the City, Law & Order, 30 Rock, The King of Queens, Hill Street Blues, Cosby, Taxi, NYPD Blue, Will & Grace. Try and imagine any of those shows without the character of New York.
I do have friends and colleagues who live in L.A. and love L.A. Even some who once lived in New York and prefer to stay in California. It's just not for me. But at least that song's gone from my head now.