THE METROPOLITAN DIVIDE : In Los Angeles, the Grass Is Never Greener on the Other Side of Town
I certainly hope that I am never murdered--if only because the poverty of my lifestyle would be so sadly exposed in court:
Nobody lives in my guest house. I don’t have a guest house. But every third night or so, somebody parks a Toyota truck with a camper shell on my street and sleeps there.
No maitre d’ at the restaurants I frequent would send someone to return my eyeglasses. Before I knew I had left them behind, someone waiting for the Grand Slam breakfast would have tried them on and tucked them in a pocket, along with a few packets of Sweet’n Low.
And there are so many poor stray dogs in my neighborhood that no one would notice my dogs if they walked through radioactive Day-Glo paint, much less my blood.
Lawyers would summon into court all those servitors who made my life run so seamlessly. But they would not be chauffeurs. They would be the man who watches from the glass booth, sometimes hollering advice as I grapple with the boa constrictor of a gas-pump hose, and the supermarket checker who always remembers that I like paper instead of plastic.
The O.J. Simpson case has laid bare the rift again: Eastside and Westside, two different places, separate and unequal and not all that unhappy with the arrangement. We Eastsiders wouldn’t be caught dead on the Westside, and Westsiders are convinced they’d wind up dead if they ever came to the Eastside.
The Westside has moguls and madams and money, fitness-club memberships that cost more than Eastside rents and buffed waiters who smirk derisively when you ask about dessert. It is, says a colleague, “smart, complex, mean,” with more jerks per square mile than anywhere else in town, except he didn’t say jerks.
And Eastsiders are supposed to drive an hour to worship at that altar? When we’ve got grand old houses, Grand Central Market, the Bradbury Building and waitresses named Beatriz who call you “hon” and think you should order dessert?
Where is this Imaginot Line? Eastside purists put it at Western Avenue. Westside paranoiacs put it at the San Diego Freeway. Heidi--you remember Heidi; she was the big story before O.J., and she never goes east of the Monkey Bar except to come to court--Heidi and I draw it somewhere between La Brea and La Cienega.
(Yet even I could not credit the canard that a few of those generous Westside volunteers who helped clean up after the riots cautiously left their fine autos at home and drove rental cars.)
But I do know that Westsiders with meetings Downtown sometimes have to ask how to get here, and hint about getting together over lunch instead of dinner (meaning, isn’t it safer during the day?) Is this why KABC-TV, located this side of Western Avenue, masquerades behind a 310 area code in the White Pages?
House-hunting on the Westside, says my friend Betsy, is like house-hunting in Oz or Disneyland or Levittown with palm trees. People spend hundreds of thousands for a Westside crackerbox and worry about their kids flirting with gangs, when they could move east and still worry about their kids flirting with gangs--but in twice as much house, on twice as much land, with money left for a moat full of piranhas if they really feel that unsafe.
Some Westsiders seem sure that the atmosphere of Eagle Rock is as inhospitable as Pluto’s. When my friends Stephanie and Mark opened a restaurant in Los Feliz, Westside acquaintances were as horrified as they were geographically ignorant. “But we’ve never been to East L.A.!” they wailed.
My friend Sue calls Westsiders sissies. After a study asserted that kung pao chicken has as much fat as four Quarter Pounders, kung pao orders at a Beverly Hills takeout shop plummeted. Similar recent warnings about chiles rellenos have not deterred Eastsiders from eating heroic food at places like El Tepeyac. Besides, as my friend Paul, who moved east from Santa Monica, says: “There’s less chance at the end of Yom Kippur that I have to fight the line at a Chinese restaurant.”
If the Eastside was good enough for Henry Huntington, it’s good enough for me. If the Westside is good enough for Heidi, she can have it. After all, our side has the subway, and it’s the cleanest place in town.