Callers Think They Have L.A.’s Number, But It’s Not All 90210


The phone rang a few weeks back during that endless holiday avalanche of college football bowl games as my brother and I were ensconced on the couch with woozy, beer-blearied stares.

He answered it.

“Yeah,” he said sleepily, his eyes still glued to the television screen. “I live in California.”

Sighing in mock disgust, he then handed me the receiver--as if it were my job to handle every phone kook and pesty peddler.


And what a pair of operators these two callers turned out to be.

A couple of bored young women from back East, they had picked up the phone on a snowy windblown night in Lancaster, Pa., trying to make vicarious contact with the outside world, desperate to talk to anyone, but especially some real West Coast celebrities.

They had dialed our number at random, giggling nervously like we were a couple of dark-tanned, diamond-ringed Deal Makers just because we had a bona fide Los Angeles area code.

“So, what’s it really like to live in L.A.?” the more talkative one asked. “It must be real exciting, better than boring ole Lancaster.”

Chimed the other: “Is this Hollywood? What time is it there? Did you go to the beach today?”

I didn’t have the heart to tell them this wasn’t any 90210 address. No Melrose Place. No Baywatch. None of the super-glossy images of Our Favorite City that the entertainment capital of the world beams over the boob tube.

This was the ‘burbs.

The girls--one said she was 20; the other had just turned 18--said they had watched the Rose Parade on TV just the day before and had marveled over the gently swaying palm trees and shirtless blond boys having so much fun on a day that, for them, was smack dab in the deadest dark of winter.


After all, back in Lancaster the temperature didn’t climb past 20 degrees that whole day. The ground was covered with snow and there was nothing to do. And they wondered why they weren’t out here in Los Angeles.

“My Mom never lets me do anything,” the talkative one said.

Well, they’d had the last laugh, she said. They had a telephone credit card in her mother’s name and had been trying to reach a real live Southern Californian.

I laughed.

The thought of these two miscreants took me back to the days my friend Wayne Scrippa and I used to order pizzas over the phone for my neighbors, how we called directory assistance in Atlanta just to hear a real southern drawl.


Growing up in Syracuse, N.Y., I, too, watched the Rose Bowl and its glamorous parade on television. At 10 years old I, too, lay on the floor, looking slack-jawed at kids without shirts having the time of their lives while snowdrifts besieged our home.

Frustrated, I turned around to complain to my Dad.

“How come we don’t live out there?” I asked.

“Cuz we don’t,” he said.

In our house, that meant case closed.

More than a generation later, however, the image of those good old days might just be on its way back to Southern California.

Just ask Jack Kyser. He’s chief economist for the economic development corporation of Los Angeles County. He is also a third-generation Angeleno who lives in Glendale, not far from that Pasadena parade route that each year inspires so many curious callers to ask the question “So, what would life be like in Los Angeles?”


Once again, Kyser says, L.A. is hot.

After a steady rise in outward migration (Los Angeles County lost 20,163 residents in 1991, a figure that rose to 83,561 in 1994), Kyser is seeing a turnaround.

Although migration figures for 1995 have not been tabulated, Kyser predicts they will show that more people are moving back to Los Angeles.

“On the freeways you see more out-of-state license plates--a lot more than even six months ago,” he said. “That’s a sure sign.”

Concern over riots, fires, earthquakes and stunning jury verdicts in high-profile murder cases is becoming a thing of the past, he maintains.

“Every area has its drawbacks,” Kyser said. “Miami has its hurricanes. New York its harsh winters. Well, we don’t have snow or ice or volcanic eruptions or tornadoes. Weather-wise and overall, L.A.’s image is on the rebound.”


Recent statistics show that the city’s per capita crime rate ranks 31st among major metropolitan areas--less than Miami, New York, Atlanta or even Kansas City--despite the fact that metropolitan L.A.’s population is greater than the states of Colorado or Arkansas.


“The smart money recognizes there’s a recovery going on here,” Kyser said. “Federated Department Stores gobbled up the old Broadways in a New York minute. Sears is moving here with a vengeance. Home Depot is making a major investment in the area. So is Wal-Mart.”

The result, he says, is that working-class Easterners will soon begin to view Los Angeles once again as a city of opportunity. And there’s no event more likely to set them packing than that sun-dappled Rose Parade.


Which is why I was jolted from my football-watching stupor by the girls from Pennsylvania.

Comeback or no comeback, after 10 years in Southern California, I decided to set the record straight for these girls about life in L.A. Take the bloom off the Rose Bowl, so to speak.

And sure, L.A. has great weather in January, when the rest of the country is freezing cold, but in August, the San Fernando Valley sun will strike you dead in the street, the beaches are foggy a lot, and celebrity sightings are as rare as avocado trees in Lancaster.

So, yeah, for a while life would be great living on the beach at Malibu. But why move way out here? Couldn’t they take a drive to the nearby Susquehanna River to do some summertime cruising for cute guys?


And while Lancaster, Pa., isn’t the West Coast, I was sure it had things going for it. For one, their families live there. And their friends. I bet people actually take the time to get to know one another. Not like fast-paced, love-ya-baby-please-don’t-call-again L.A.


When it comes right down to it, life in Los Angeles is just like any other city: You get a job. You go to work every day. Sure the sun mostly shines here. But I’ve spent too many holidays alone under sunny skies while my family gathered back on the East Coast.

You know, there’s really no place like home, I told them.

But they’d find out soon enough.

They’d be grounded for sure once Mom got the bill for this telephone call.