L.A. Confidential | News | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

L.A. Confidential 

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I made a quick trip to Los Angeles last weekend. Out on Saturday, back on Monday. I missed Salt Lake City’s Pride weekend. Sad. Worse than that, while standing in the Southwest Airlines line for seating, I had to overhear the 30-something guy four inches in front of me on the phone with his wife. He was lecturing her on how to pick out a new clothes dryer. That topic exhausted, he immediately drifted into advising her to dump her current gynecologist and on how to choose a new one. That part'handy tips from a man on what a woman should look for in an ob/gyn'I don’t need to share with you.


Not to go all Emily Post on you here, but I’m not kidding. Aren’t there some conversations we might save for the privacy of our own little car on the ride home from the airport?


It’s just a quibble, really. The thrust of this column is a love letter to L.A. I’ve never lived there, but with friends and three generations of relatives clustered within a 50-mile radius of that great teeming metropolis, I figure I’ve spent a reasonable chunk of my life there.


This hardly qualifies me as an expert on the place or the Angelenos who inhabit it. But each time I go there, I come back to Salt Lake City with a finer appreciation of certain aspects of SoCal life. It isn’t that I want to turn this place into L.A.'hardly. But they do a few things exceedingly well there. Is it possible we could learn something from them?


For starters:


• Clean air. Well, go figure. During last winter’s dark days of inversion thick enough to cut with scissors, Salt Lake consistently beat out Los Angeles in statistics for miserable air quality. That is some dubious honor, especially for those of us who grew up smirking at L.A. weather reports and Johnny Carson jokes about Burbank smog. The city still worships the automobile, but a massive transit system as well as a growing network of bike lanes is making for cleaner air than I ever recall in my regular visits over 40-plus years. I saw the Hollywood Hills every day. I could make out trails on the Griffith Park slopes. That’s more than I can say for having to squint through burning eyes to identify our own Oquirrh Mountains.


• Immigration/assimilation. Yes, Los Angeles does its share of grumbling about illegal immigration. “Pro/con” stories proliferate in every news outlet. The L.A. police force is under intense criticism for charges that officers seriously roughed up protesters during a series of immigration reform rallies earlier this year. And yet … something about overall cultural assimilation works brilliantly in Los Angeles. During my last few trips there, I’ve tried to figure out why.


It isn’t exactly nuclear science. Just look around. With the longest and richest history of Mexican immigration in the nation, California'and by extension, L.A.'has forged a fascinating symbiotic relationship with their neighbors from the south. Present in every recent immigration discussion is always the question of how the U.S. economy would implode without cheap labor from Mexico. In Utah that’s cause for pause. In California, there’s not even a doubt. Without Latino workers behind McDonald’s and Starbucks counters, sanitizing toilets at the Econo Lodges and toting leaf blowers from Beverly Hills to Glendale, would there even be a California?


That’s a rhetorical question with an obvious answer. After spending time in various gentrifying neighborhoods butting up against downtown Los Angeles'Echo Park, Los Feliz, Silver Lake among them'I had to ask myself: Does anyone with pale skin even know how to operate a lawn mower anymore?


But then it’s tough to go too ballistic on immigration when your own governor made his way over from Austria. The mayor of Los Angeles is Antonio Villaraigosa. The big difference between Salt Lake and L.A. is the latter’s highly visible Latino middle class, which cannot be ignored or easily maligned. Cops, secretaries, schoolteachers, bank managers, they’re all there, contributing.


In Zion, we’re downright self-righteous about our bigotry'regularly bitching and moaning about the cost of educating immigrant children in a historically vanilla school system. There, a culturally rich school system is a given. Is it expensive to educate immigrants? You bet, and the Angelenos know it. Is it worthwhile? Absolutely, and they know that, too. How else, but with a huge working class striving to succeed, do the wheels of commerce keep moving?


• Finally, walkable cities. Pedestrians in L.A. crosswalks not only have the right of way, but they even get respect. And why? From the time a kid first gets behind the wheel of a car she knows penalties are enforced for barreling through an occupied crosswalk. I saw a cop in the Eagle Rock neighborhood giving tickets for this very infraction.


No one needs to wave an orange flag. Step into a crosswalk and traffic stops. Unless, of course, a driver is yakking on a cell phone and fails to notice. Some things are just like home.


More Mullen: Mullentown.com

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