How to Be From Somewhere
Only one of the two small elevators at the Ace Hotel in downtown L.A. works, but the young person with floral forearm tattoos working the front desk assures me that everything’s fine. The Ace (calling itself “ADTLA”) is designed to communicate a casual, rock vibe — autographed electric guitars for sale glow in a case behind the front desk, the back wall holds shelves of vinyl albums and turntables from multiple eras, and the usual hotel room stationery is a slight stack of music staff paper, presumably for personal “notes.” (Get it?) The whole place leans back in its chair and says, “Hey, don’t worry about it. Relax, man. It’s cool.”
An out-of-order sign finally appears in front of the broken elevator the next day and remains for the rest of my stay. We guests from all over accumulate in the checkered-tile lobby, working out amongst ourselves how to divvy up the trips in a way that balances light-pandemic safety and something like speed.
The nonchalance about the broken elevator squares with my overall L.A. experience. As my son M, a new Southern California resident and lover of NYC, puts it, people in L.A. have just accepted that the general moving around from place to place is fundamentally broken and nothing can be done about it. Traffic in L.A. is correctly notorious, continuously snarled, interminable, resistant to reason. Going any distance at all takes at least 40 minutes, likely longer if you travel between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. or 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. And nearly every part of the city is unwalkable or underserved by public transportation, leaving you crawling along sealed in a car, anxious about crossing another four sclerotic lanes in time to make the correct freeway exit. Even with a steering wheel in my hands, I always feel passive, removed from the neighborhoods and lives I pass through and by. I might as well be watching a movie of glitz giving way to homeless encampments under overpasses clogged with people resigned to slowly being on their way to somewhere else.
For all the legitimate criticism of its traffic, moving around New York means being in New York. We almost never drive in NYC because we almost never need to, but driving through Manhattan puts you on the defensive, reminding you that pedestrians rule…