Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Gotham

Tomorrow it will have been a month since I first started this blog. As I was looking over some of my posts I came to the realization that although the name of this site is "A New Yorker in Hollywood" I haven't really written alot about New York City itself. As I was thinking about the differences that people always talk about when they compare New York and Los Angeles, there was one particular difference which really hit home.

On a personal level, New York is all about not being known, and LA is about becoming known.

One of the things that I love about New York City, is that I can walk out among the tall sky scrapers, sit and have lunch at a coffee shop, browse at a bookstore, and not run into a single person that I know. On the other hand, when I go out in LA I feel like I am bound to run into someone I know. I am always dreading that I will run into someone I used to work with, or an accquaintance who's name I can barely remember. Inevitably when I have these run-ins, we either pretend like we don't see each other, or we engage in incredibly awkward small talk. Tourists and residents of LA alike go out in the hopes of running into someone famous, or seeing someone fabulous. In essence they are seeking to find someone that they know as they step out from their private lives and into the public ones. I won't pretend that it can't be fun and amusing to see someone who you saw up on the big screen the night before, having eggs and coffee the next morning. But I do find that LA's culture of "a place to see and be seen" can get incredibly tiresome. New York City is not without its own "scene" and fair share of Hollywood sightings. But there is something about NYC that allows for inconspicuousness; an element that makes incognito possible.

I have friends who grew up in small towns where every time they went to a local store on Main street, everyone would know their names, and ask them how their parents were doing, etc. I can appreciate the fact that these towns had a strong sense of community and were a close knit group. But I also think that personally, I would be driven crazy by everyone knowing my business. I don't want to step out of my house to pick up some milk at the grocery store and run into all these people who know details about my personal life. I don't want the history traveling with me. I prefer to be the unknown stranger riding into town, rather than the familiar neighbor.

NYC has the tall, sweeping, at times graceful, at times harsh, lines of the indomitable sky scrapers. It has the subways, the gothic churches, the gloriously vast central park, and an infinite amount of nooks and cranies courtesy of alleyways and sub-street level brownstone entrances. I remember when I used to play manhunt on the grounds of The Cathedral St. John the Divine when I went to school there, and how it seemed like there were an unending amount of places to hide. Somehow that made me feel safe. I feel that way about NYC on the whole: you never know what little cave-like bar, or underground restauarant (underground in the literal sense) you may find.

Here in LA things seem more out in the open, more spread out. I remember the first time I drove north on La Brea from the ten, I felt so unbelievably vulnerable. Where were the tall buildings? Why was everything so squat and spread out from each other? And what the hell were a bunch of hills doing in the middle of my new city? Where could I run to for solace? Instead of subway stations on every corner, there were parking lots. But you can't hide and be anonymous in a parking lot the way you can in a subway station. In a subway station you can sit on one of those crusty wooden benches at the end of the train track, and listen to the street muscian bang away on their instrument as you observe the array of people waiting for the train to come. There's the wallstreet guy who went uptown for lunch, the mom on her way to pick up her kids from school, the guy who works for a courier service, the kids that are playing hookey, the nurse on her way to her shift. Ah Subway, thou art the great equalizer.

Let me make a clear distinction here for a second. When I use the word hide, I don't mean that I don't like to be around people. I do. In fact I wish that the streets of LA weren't so generally empty. I wish there was more foot traffic. There is something that I find exhilirating about beeing in th bustling throng of Times Square or Grand Central, as you feel all those people and lives swarm and surge all around you. You can totally blend in and just ride the tide of the crowd. I find something very poetic about a crowd of people, everyone is different yet everyone is the same. Each face is like a tile in a moving mosaic.

Most places that you go in LA, there's not usually a lot of people with you on the sidewalk. A lot of times in fact, you may be the only person on the sidewalk. This sort of thing also makes me feel vulnerable, though there are plenty of people in this town who love it, and take this opportunity to strut their stuff and make heads turn as they walk past the cars on the road. Could it be that I'm afraid of being judged? I would never presume to make a generalization as sweeping as "New Yorkers aren't judgemental, Angelenos are" because that's not true. I think it has to do more with the way that people interact. Everyone out here wants to be noticed. So when two people interact out here, its often differnt I find, then when two people interact in NYC. I'm partial to sort of interactions that I find more common in NYC. Two people from two totally different walks of life commenting on the state of common existence that affects them both. "The train is running late." "The weather is really something today isn't it?" "The cabbies are getting more and more out of control aren't they?" These are conversations with no strings attached, and no expectations. Generally speaking I find that conversations between two strangers here can skew to "Where can I send you my script?" "Let me give you one of my business cards." "Who did you say your agent was?" If you're of a certain age bracket in LA (anywhere from 18 to 60) its somewhat assumed that you are somehow connected to the entertainment industry. So where's the anonymity in that?

I want to feel the push of the crowd again. I want to feel dwarfed by the massiveness of architectural granduer. I want to walk into a diner with fifty people I don't know, and sit and think and watch. These things don't make me feel lonely and small. They remind me who I am. They make me feel at one with the world.

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