Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Commentary: Thoughts of Southern California

LOS ANGELES - As the first turbulent decade of the new century draws to a close next year in 2010 a question for us at home remains, what is Southern California and where is it going?

Depends who you ask.

Some geography fiends consider Southern California to be from Santa Barbara to the Mexican border in San Diego, and everything in between Santa Monica and Blythe.

Depending where you are at in Southern California that could be debatable.

Us in the Los Angeles Basin (or is it Greater L.A.?) view Southern California as the entire city of L.A., the South Bay and Long Beach, San Gabriel Valley, Inland Empire and north Orange County, with maybe parts of the Santa Clarita and Antelope Valleys.

This past decade south Orange County has been viewed by the world through the bad interpretation of drama by horribly stereotypical rich kids, in a place otherwise know by its unofficial United Nations designate, “The O.C.”

Often considered to be the jewel of Southern California, within the past ten years Santa Barbara has broken away and allied itself with the majestic Central Coast.

Agriculturally rich Ventura County seems to find itself torn between wanting to be apart of the peacefully elegant Central Coast and chaotic Southern California.

Meanwhile San Diegans long declared “America’s Finest City” to be located "south of Southern California."

What about lonely Imperial County? Tucked away in the southwest pocket of the Golden State its small farming towns give it a feeling of being somewhere in the mid-west where maybe the excitement for a warm summer Saturday night is going down by the stinkiest river in America, The New River, which flows out of Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico into the Salton Sea, and wondering how many beers and dares does it take to jump into the river.

Maybe it is numbers that define Southern California.

There are many who ardently claim they are from 90210, and several who will adamantly deny residing in the 909, and others who bare it all for the harsh truth of the camera lens and moan, “I don’t date, 818!”

Does that make the Southland just one big vapid wasteland?

Maybe, but in the past decade something different has been occurring. Instead of long-winded complaining about nothing perspicaciously about how life here should be, such complaints are finally turning into genuine action promising to change and reshape Southern California in next decade. Residents tired of seeing their piece of Southern California ripped apart and replaced with heartless stone and steel have taken political action in preserving their old neighborhoods, which has brought neighbors and government officials together to fight the homogenization of big-box stores and symmetrical track-houses, save the few remaining orange groves and improve public transit.

After all have you seen the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s transit projects for the next decade? By the end of the next decade Southern California should finally have the beginning of a comprehensive public transit system.

Amazingly in the past decade (destructive fires aside) Southern California has not experienced an ”smog alert.” As younger children prepare for their first day of school parents tell of their school days in the 70s and 80s with stories of how some days we were forced to stayed inside the classroom during recess, because the air was so bad, and people had to be hospitalized.

Maybe us Southern Californians could be defined as a cyclical people. Decades ago we fled our urban cores, shredded our Pacific Electric and Los Angeles Railway lines and split neighborhoods apart building freeways (or as long time locals around the Santa Monica Freeway refer to it, the Berlin Wall) to the suburbs as we willingly sit in traffic for an hour driving back to the urban core working in the office and back another hour on the freeway home. The suburbs have been growing like an urban fungus in all directions clearing out citrus groves and farmland. Now with a new generation being fed up wasting life sitting on a freeway, urban cores have come back to life while many conversations ask why in the hell did we demolish the best transit system in the country.

Ironically attributing to the renewed preservation of Southern California has been one of our biggest economic forces, “Hollywood,” which has not so subtly been leaking out of the state and into new entertainment industry hubs around the world. The idea of “Hollywood” has brought many former high school drama club president hopefuls on a Greyhound Bus to Cahuenga Boulevard hoping to land the Emmy winning role and be bestowed with wealth and power, while living in an isolated gated community north of Sunset Boulevard.

The closest to such wealth and power is often found becoming the shift manager at some restaurant in Los Feliz as the idea of Hollywood has proven dreams have a knack of just not coming true, resulting in Southern California becoming a transitory place for broken hopefuls, who bring with them no respect or civic pride for the city they call home, for this month.

The next decade shows as the romance and fantasy of Hollywood leaves Southern California to whatever unfortunate place has the honor of being the new “Hollywood,” the empty vacuum will be filled with residents, many born here and others welcomed here from around the world, who see us as more than an dream breaking town, but a place and people ultimately searching, rediscovering and preserving its rich cultural past, or at least creating an idea of past that exists in our own fantasyland, all while cultivating an new image.

Sure, Santa Ana Winds will not blow all our vapid identity out to the Pacific, as human nature desires to create and serve such people, but a renewed hopeful Southern California is on the horizon for the new decade.

Just what the end result will be, along with the happiness and tragedy of the new decade, remains to be seen.

One thing is certain, as the years go on one person has transcended the decades uniting Southern Californians, Cal Worthington still encouraging us to come on down to Long Beach accompanied by one of the most hilarious unintentional misinterpreted catchy commercial jingles.

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