FILMMAKER Woody Allen famously dissed Los Angeles in one of his films by saying the only cultural advantage of living in LA (vs. New York City) is that you can make a right turn on a red light.
Harsh. But having lived in both places, I can say theres some truth to his crack.
But that same kind of NY-CA snobbery I may be guilty of can be applied to LA Countys westside vs. eastside rivalry. Westsiders say theyve got a cultural advantage over us here on the eastside. Theyve got Santa Monica, Third Street, The Getty, UCLA, the LA County Museum of Art and if you throw in downtown, Dodger Stadium and MOCA. My colleague Larry Wilson, editor of the Star-News, would argue the Pasadena area (part of the eastside) is no slouch when it comes to culture. It has the Norton Simon, Old Pasadena, the Huntington Library and the Rose Bowl. He would have a point.
But for arguments sake, Ill give the cultural IQ to the westside. Plus, theyve got the beach. But us on the eastside of the basin have a geographic advantage. We are centrally located. You can live in the San Gabriel Valley (or the Whittier area) and be almost equidistant to any of LAs or Orange Countys cultural institutions, stadiums, venues and destinations.
From my house in Temple City, which is centrally located within the San Gabriel Valley, I am 34 miles from UCLA and 37 miles from Cal State Fullerton. Amazing. It is just a few more miles to Santa Monica Pier and again, just a few more miles south to Anaheim/Angel Stadium/Disneyland.
San Fernando Valley? Very close by, just a hop skip and jump to Universal Studios, City Walk or Hollywoods sights. When my East Coast friends come out to visit and stay with me, it is geographically convenient to take them to all these LA and OC landmarks. They are equally as close. My guests are closer to everything than if they had stayed on the westside or in Orange County.
What small businesses like to say is the most important thing to success, the San Gabriel Valley has in droves: location, location, location.
But that geographic advantage is slipping away nearly erased due to traffic. It is the freeway gridlock not just during commute hours but more often on Saturdays and Sundays that is taking away one of the San Gabriel Valleys most precious advantages over the westside.
SGVers have let traffic affect their choices in entertainment, in careers, in friends, even in baseball clubs. Traffic is killing our geographic advantage. Like the frog in the lukewarm water, our best location advantage is slowly dying only we dont know it. And with it, some of our identity dies too.
I told a friend from SoCal (now living in Northern California) I enjoy going to restaurants in downtown LA.You go to dinner in downtown LA? Where? he said in disbelief. Its less than 10 miles away! Yet because of traffic weve stopped going there.
I had the day off and took my son, Matt, 17, to visit and tour UCLA. I reached Kerckhoff Halls parking structure after only 34 miles. With morning traffic it took us 1 hour 15 minutes.
My wife and I hitched our bikes onto her car and drove to Santa Monica Sunday morning in less than 45 minutes. With very little traffic the distance to the westside grows short. Its the traffic that colors our perception of distance. Its the traffic that caused us to measure car trips in hours, not miles. Were one of the few people groups to do that.
My friend Rich in Irvine loves the LA Dodgers because he grew up in LA and his father was a Dodger fan. But recently, the bottlenecks and heavy traffic he encountered along the drive up Interstate 5 to Dodger Stadium (not far in distance) caused him to attend an Angels game with me in Anaheim. He even bought an Angel cap! Can traffic change our loyalties to a sports team, some of the most ingrained social programing in the human psyche? The answer is yes.
One last example. My nephews wife is a graphic artist working at a company in Orange County near where they live. She doesnt like the job but wont consider the possibilities of working at an LA firm because she fears spending hours each day sitting in traffic.
Isnt that what Orange County (or the SGV) was built as: a bedroom community for companies in LA? Now, even that suburban model is breaking down.
Traffic is not just spending more time in a car and less time at home. It is a cancer that is slowly limiting careers, changing lifestyles and stealing our advantages things that once made us as a Valley attractive.