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Books on Cities: Jason Horton, Abandoned and Historic Los Angeles (2020)

When you hear something described as “only in L.A.,” rest assured of its being neither unique to nor representative of Los Angeles. Take, mundane though it may be, the definite article preceding freeway numbers — “the 10,” “the 5,” “the 405” — a linguistic tic mythologized, by a kind of soft cultural conspiracy, as unheard outside Southern California’s metropolis, or at least outside Southern California. True, Los Angeles doesn’t look, feel, or seem to work quite like any other city. Both its avowed lovers and haters agree on that, but what exactly sets it apart, and how, remains a matter of active inquiry. Or it would be if more of us actively inquired into it, rather than gesturing toward settled trivialities: frequent driving on the aforementioned freeways, encounters with flamboyant quasi-celebrities, streets lined with palm trees, buildings not shaped like normal buildings.

In recent decades, those avowed lovers of Los Angeles have started to outnumber the haters, or at any rate to speak over them. I don’t consider this an unmixed good, though I think I can claim a greater enthusiasm for the place than most. The enjoyment of Los Angeles holds a contrarian appeal, not just for me but others more firmly rooted there as well. When documentarian Doug Pray said to me that “Los Angeles can be so hated that I actually enjoy it,” I understood at once what he meant, cool though that hatred had even then. I was interviewing him for Notebook on Cities and Culture, the podcast I launched shortly after first moving to Los Angeles myself about a decade ago — a time, I like to think, when moving to Los Angeles and launching a podcast was less of a cliché than it is today.

At least I wasn’t doing a comedy podcast, a genre that even then seemed to emanate an unlistenably huge amount of content from Los Angeles alone. Though I might interview the occasional comedian — an appealing breed of guest, due not least to their habits of observation and perpetual willingness to talk — my primary goal was to get not laughs but a variety of perspectives on Los Angeles in order to better understand the city. Though I’d already hosted radio interviews for years, I thus found my instinct for identifying articulate interlocutors more rigorously tested. Few of the negative preconceptions about Los Angeles were borne out by my daily experience, but those about a certain class of Angeleno speech have, I admit, something to them. Beginning with “so,” sentences stagger through a series of “like”s and “you know”s before eventually finding their unstructured way to a concluding “awesome.”

Read the whole thing at Substack.