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msilverstar

DRAFT slasher's guide to LA

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Feb. 25th, 2004 | 11:20 pm
music: Grateful Dead

I grew up in LA, so I cringe when I see stories that just don't get it right.

Things like snow, high humidity, no air-conditioning, selling one's car, cold-water walkup apartment blocks, and walking down to the corner store -- wrong wrong wrong for LA. So with help from oulangi, I'm working on some guidance. You should also read her Slasher's Guide to LA Clubs.

I know I'm forgetting a lot, so Angelenos should correct me and people from exotic other places should ask questions. BTW, "Angeleno" is the name for an inhabitant of LA, and is pronounced "Aan-ge-lee-no" (starts with a nice flat American "A").

Geography and Cities

LA is a coastal desert, surrounded by mountains. If you count the whole sprawl, it's over 34000 square miles / 88,000 square km, 20 million people. That's why everyone drives all the time! There's no real downtown, there are nodes and districts and most people spend their time in just a few of them.

Downtown - oldest area, some office buildings, many of the museums and theaters, University of Southern California (private university, expensive, big film program)

Hollywood - very touristy, not a place the locals spend time in, but now getting renovated. Northwest of center.

WeHo (West Hollywood) - very very gay, also has high-profile trendy restaurants and clubs (see club guide). Between Hollywood and BH towards the coast.

BH (Beverly Hills) - northwest of center, towards the coast: expensive stores, large older houses (some from the 1920s!), lots of landscaping and tall fences. It's at the foothills of the Santa Monica mountains.

Westwood - between BH and Santa Monica on the coast. It's mainly occupied by UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles), a very large and prestigious state university. Sean Astin went to UCLA.

Santa Monica - funky beach town, has a very nice but crowded beach, a traditional pier, and promenade, complete with palm trees. The city itself is very liberal, (think Berkeley and Cambridge, Mass), traditionally full of artists and poets -- like Viggo.

Malibu - strip of town along a great surfing beach and the Pacific Coast Highway, north of Santa Monica about 20 or 30 miles. The view is incredible, the weather is much better than other places, so most of the houses are very expensive. Celebrities like Barbra Streisand live there.

Topanga Canyon / Laurel Canyon - in the Santa Monica mountains between Malibu and the Valley (see below). Steep ravines, usually dry except during rains, great views, nice wild feeling. Both have a mix of funky old houses and fancy new ones. Lots of rich people with eclectic tastes live there, including many actors.

The Valley (San Fernando Valley) - miles and miles suburbs filled with single-family houses built in the 50s and 60s: they have lawns and pools in the backyards. 30 miles (50 km) north of center. Very hot and terrible traffic jams.

San Gabriel Valley - about 30 miles (50 km) north east of center, mostly suburbs and industrial area. Some nice older areas such as Pasadena and the college town of Claremont.

The San Gabriel Mountains (mainly National Forest) are are dry at the base, snowy higher up in the winter. They're spectacular. The Angeles Crest Highway goes through these mountains, cresting 7,900 feet, while some of the peaks are 9,000 feet (2,700 m) high (taller than all the Appalachian mountains, and Ben Nevis, the tallest peak in Britain, which is is 4,406 feet (1,344 m)).

Disneyland - amusement park 26 miles (42 km) from downtown, by freeway, in Anaheim. Surrounded by strip malls and suburbs.

Orange County - next county south of LA, traditionally very very conservative, but becoming more diverse as immigrants move in.

Weather

LA *does* have seasons, they're just less obvious than more northerly places.  And the weather varies a lot depending on the location.  Near the coast, it's temperate, but get inland to the San Fernando Valley or Pasadena, it's very very hot in the summer.  The San Fernando Valley is usually about 10 degrees hotter (that's Fahrenheit ) than Hollywood, WeHo & BH.

November through mid March is winter.  LA gets an average of 15 inches of rain per year and no snow.  The rain is cool, like spring rains in other places.  Some days are warm and beautiful, in the 70sF (24-26 C).  Evenings are jacket or sweater cool, but furs are only worn for display -- it's never cold enough to need them. It rarely freezes, and when it does, people freak out and try to protect their tropical plants.  The grass on the hills gets green. 
 
People who like snow drive to the mountains like Arrowhead or Big Bear to go skiing, or fly to Tahoe in Northern California or resorts in Utah or Colorado.

March and April are are nice. Temperate-climate plants do the spring thing and there's still green grass on the hills.  Strong winds can stir up all the allergens and make LA pretty miserable, and then for a few days its actually clear enough to see the mountains that surround the basin. The closer to the coast, the more frequently the spring days have clouds in the morning which burn off by afternoon, other days are quite warm.  The occasional rain is cool and refreshing.

May through July are significantly hotter, 70s at the coast, 90s inland, and the grass on the hills dries and turns brown (like Southern Italy, parts of Spain, Israel, etc.).  It's dry heat, which means that shade really helps, and bodies aren't sticky when they're outside, but it can be like an oven in the inland areas. You really notice the smog, though some of the brown sky is caused by fog. Towards the coast, the 'June Gloom' marine layer sometimes extends all the way to downtown. Grey, dismal, yuck. But cooler at least -- the inland areas stay hot and smoggy, with no relief.

During all this time, the dry air tends to cool off in the evening, it's not sticky-warm at night.

August through October is Summer and Fire Season, often hot (up to the 100s F inland) and cracklingly dry. When the wind doesn't blow, the smog gets pretty thick, especially in some areas near the base of the mountains.  Remember, practically no summer rains, everything gets dusty. Then when it does rain, the dust makes the roads so slippery that people have fender benders.

When the inland wind called the "Santa Ana" blows, it's even worse, people get cranky and fires burn out of control (like the Sirroco and Hamsine of the Mediterranean).  It stays hot in the evening. This can happen as late as the end of October (as in 2003).
 
Almost *everyone* has air conditioning in their houses, cars and offices. The exceptions are poor people, who can't afford the state's increasing electricity costs; some people living right on the beach, and a few of the the older homes built in the 20's and 30's in the Hollywood Hills. These buildings, stately decaying monuments to Rudolf Valentino and Gloria Swansen were designed to allow air to flow. But mostly, people just turn on the air conditioner and set it to 68 F, which is way too cold.


BTW, those suburban sitcoms you see on TV? That's pretty much what LA life looks like. And would sound like if everyone had scriptwriters.

Remember, I want corrections and questions!

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Comments {25}

It's all socks and cats

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from: andraste_oz
date: Feb. 26th, 2004 12:24 am (UTC)
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This is brilliant (especially the stuff about how the air feels, etc). I was thinking of doing something similar for New Zealand, because I read a lot of fics that get NZ wrong too.

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Sheela na Gig

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from: childeproof
date: Feb. 26th, 2004 04:23 am (UTC)
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Oh, please do! I know I get things wrong all the time in my stuff, and, while I'm usually fairly attentive to setting in my non-slash writing, I tend to say virtually nothing about NZ because I haven't the slightest idea what it's like. I set my most recent fic - narrated from Dom's POV - early on in the hobbits' time in NZ, and wanted Dom to still be noticing the foreignness of his surroundings, but couldn't do it. I also have an idea for a Dom-and-Billy fic involving Daylight Saving Time, but realised I didn't know whether NZ did this.

If you do a NZ Guide, are you likely to post it somewhere other than your own LJ? I don't think we've met, by the way, but I've read and hugely enjoyed your Hobbit fics, particularly the gorgeous, leisurely Embers (most erotic hobbit-crying scenes) and 'Played Out'.
*tries not to sound too eager for NZ guide*

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Lotripper

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from: msilverstar
date: Feb. 26th, 2004 11:04 am (UTC)
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Please please do! I'm fascinated by the southern hemisphere seasonality and the distance from everywhere else and the sheep and the european/maori interactions and everything.

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collie.

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from: collie
date: Feb. 26th, 2004 01:49 am (UTC)
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Evil, evil parking! Everyone double parks! Lots of one way streets! Evil!

Pshaw. Nothing compares to downtown Pasadena. *haaaates*

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Lotripper

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from: msilverstar
date: Feb. 26th, 2004 11:07 am (UTC)
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Pasadena. I've been there, even fairly recently, for a (get this) Internet Librarian convention. So I guess the museum and the gardens might draw someone like Sean Bean. Any other interesting local color?

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collie.

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from: collie
date: Feb. 26th, 2004 12:46 pm (UTC)
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We must all hit up FIDM for the Oscar Costume display! :)

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Lotripper

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from: msilverstar
date: Feb. 26th, 2004 11:05 am (UTC)
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Fabulous, thank you so much!

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Lotripper

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from: msilverstar
date: Feb. 26th, 2004 11:09 am (UTC)
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Lovely lovely comments, thank you again. Where and what is Raging Waters? Seems like a place Hobbits would like. I suppose I should do something on Disneyland, maybe the jaundiced view thereof.

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whitewizzy

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from: whitewizzy
date: Feb. 26th, 2004 01:34 am (UTC)
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Thanks!
I`ve never been to LA, so this may be useful..

Love your icon! :o)

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Lotripper

(no subject)

from: msilverstar
date: Feb. 26th, 2004 11:10 am (UTC)
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I'm glad you like it! (I love this one too)

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from: skyeathena
date: Feb. 26th, 2004 01:50 am (UTC)
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THIS is one of the reasons why you're so wonderful! :D Instead of bashing people for getting LA wrong (never been, but I can tell when someone also hasn't) you're helping all of us out. Thanks, I'm going to have to add this to my memories...

For my own reference.... the considered ghettos of LA: compton, watts, etc (feel free to give me more examples) are they strictly impoverished, or are there nicer areas that may be sectioned off? Also, are there yuppies buying homes and buildings in those areas and renovating?

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Lotripper

(no subject)

from: msilverstar
date: Feb. 26th, 2004 11:15 am (UTC)
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Thanks, love, I try.

I don't know much about the ghettos / poor areas --some are getting gentrified like Echo Park, others continue to sink. It's hard to renovate in places with tatty two story apartments mixed with tiny houses on tiny lots, not many street trees or nice yards, broken-down cars, groups of kids on the street who may or may not be druggies / homies... There are always enclaves, places where people bought ages ago and took care of their houses. Does that answer?

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What? Who?

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from: oulangi
date: Feb. 27th, 2004 01:15 am (UTC)
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There are actually nice, safe family areas in both Compton and Watts. Safe strrets with yards and kids riding bikes. Very suburban looking

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Sheela na Gig

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from: childeproof
date: Feb. 26th, 2004 04:00 am (UTC)
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Well done you! This is excellent. Exactly what was needed, and the right kind of detail. I may actually begin to be able to set things in LA without making Angelenos weep with laughter about air-conditioning issues....

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Lotripper

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from: msilverstar
date: Feb. 26th, 2004 11:15 am (UTC)
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More to come! It's just not London, yanno?

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Lotripper

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from: msilverstar
date: Feb. 26th, 2004 11:18 am (UTC)
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I'm so glad! I'll post a final version on my web site too.

Chino is way far east, in Riverside County, basically in the desert.

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Anonymity as a Refuge

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from: mirabile_dictu
date: Feb. 26th, 2004 10:48 am (UTC)
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Thank you -- what a treat to discover this! I just got back from LA (conference at the airport) and spent many happy hours in Santa Monica, wandering along 2nd and 3rd streets (the Promenade is like an open air mall: very corporate-generic although pretty. Like a set for a TV show). Visited Midnight Special Bookstore, which rocked. Nearly fifty years ago, I learned to swim at the Santa Monica pier; sixty years ago, my parents danced at the clubs on the pier, which were mostly gay (they had the best bands). Mother has vivid memories of sharing the ladies room with gorgeous transvestites who dressed better than she did.

Then we spent a day in Long Beach, visiting old haunts which mostly no longer exist -- it's as though they razed the city I knew 25 years ago and built a brand-new one. Only the street names were familiar, and the Belmont Shore pier. Oh, and the oil well pumps working like grasshoppers in the smoggy sun.

In short: this brought back good memories. I'm saving this, even though I was born there. I think I'll set a story in LA, hmmm.

Thank you so much!

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Lotripper

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from: msilverstar
date: Feb. 26th, 2004 11:18 am (UTC)
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I'm so glad! I need lots more local color like the Promenade being all plasticky.

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Anonymity as a Refuge

(no subject)

from: mirabile_dictu
date: Feb. 26th, 2004 07:51 pm (UTC)
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I need lots more local color like the Promenade being all plasticky.

I read this and then went swimming, only to think about it the entire time. I realized that, in my earlier comment, I was getting all reminiscent, rather than describing things usefully for your readers. So let me try again:

Third Street Promenade: a few years ago (dunno how many), Santa Monica closed off several blocks of Third Street. It's just a couple blocks from the beach, up a (pretty steep) hill. I'd heard wonderful things about it, especially about a weekly (Thursday night?) market/street fair they hold. Unfortunately, it wasn't happening while we were there, so we saw it unadorned.

The entire area is really attractive and has obviously been recently rebuilt. And Third Street was beautiful -- lots and lots of potted plants and benches and interesting sculpture. Even on an off-night during the rainy season, there were quite a few people strolling along. I imagine in the summer it would be packed.

What struck us most, as we walked the length of the Promenade, was the hideous contrast between the haves and the have-nots. Everywhere we looked there were homeless people and their shopping carts. Most weren't really panhandling; they just huddled miserably, their possessions clustered around them, while the young and wealthy navigated around them.

They also made an unhappy contrast with the shops lining Third Street. For instance, one elderly gentleman was sleeping on cardboard in front of a furniture store with the most beautiful bed on display in the window. My husband and I wondered if that's why he chose his sleeping spot: so he could imagine sleeping on that bed (which probably cost several thousand dollars).

And as I mentioned earlier, we also noticed how corporate-generic it was -- several Starbucks in the area, for example, plus all the same stores you'd find in any mall, from LA to Chicago. Very very few homegrown stores (although there was a cool internet cafe where we had dinner, an excellent veggie sandwich).

This is what I've heard about the market: lots of interesting stuff going on, like a fire-eater, and an elderly woman who sings karaoke; I think I heard it was also a mini-farmers' market; and that there were lots of stalls of people selling clothes and books and stuff. It sounded vibrant and fun.

And Midnight Special Bookstore was a totally cool place. Viggo read poetry there last year, but it's moved since then, to its new location on Second Street (in case anybody wants to write a story about him reading). I loved the store; it isn't very large, but it's absolutely crammed with books, organized very well, and the staff was knowledgeable and super friendly. Also very fun: I bought a book by Suzy Bright and they all knew who she was, knew the book, and had interesting things to say about her and it.

I hope that info will prove useful to someone writing a story set in the area. I have to admit, writing it down has given me some ideas.

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sheldrake

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from: sheldrake
date: Feb. 26th, 2004 01:00 pm (UTC)
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Oh, this is great! I'm pretty much totally clueless about LA, and this kind of thing is always really useful. I'd like to go one day, though; my aunt lives in Venice and I think my cousin has a place in Santa Monica. Anyway, yeah - very cool! *adds to memories*

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