NYU Diaries: Dispatch from Los Angeles

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The past week was also NYU’s spring break, and our downtown diarist found himself on a cross-country sojourn to the City of Angels. He has since returned eastward with harrowing and enlightening tales of Southern California.

Probably we should all move to California. Not for the sun or a chance in Hollywood—if we wanted clear skies and hope we wouldn’t have come to New York—but for LA’s impossible size. To the students of NYU and Columbia, this unabashedly fake paradise could offer a dose of honesty. The city is hideous, yes, and any beauty or culture it may have had in the 1950s has been eaten away by the smog and covered up by plastic surgery. But its landscape of strip malls and concrete, punctuated almost ironically by the occasional bunch of palms, is infinite in a way that Manhattan isn’t.  

It’s not so much a metropolis as a collection of medium sized cities, each washed out in its own way. Between the traffic and the town’s size it takes forever to get anywhere, but as consolation most of the places one goes are as dull as sitting in the car. Hurrying is impossible, keeping the youth of the city from pretending that racing down the steps of the subway is the same as being an embattled hustler.

The atmosphere of New York—that vaunted “energy” that is so often written about—gives ordinary young people an excuse to feel tough. At home in Nashville for break, reminiscing about Rubulad and the terrors of gentrification lets the speaker build himself into something he isn’t—something better than his home town—to feel tough even if those listening smell fraud. Living in a town that is comfortable with the banal would strip us of that privelege, forcing us to define ourselves as something beyond the city where we live. 

It’s easy to hate Los Angeles because the people here are so keen to relax. Good God, they tan! They have A/C! They wear velour! How can they stand being so content?! Recent arrivals to New York are nostalgic for the danger of the late 70s and early 90s, when life and rent were both cheap, and LA is considered the opposite of that tough-as-nails fantasy. But the problem with living in Manhattan and loathing Los Angeles from across the country is that living in LA would be ugly and withering in a way we only pretend New York to be. From the dry canals to the overblown mansions of the hills, it’s a wonderful city in which to be truly miserable. 

Anything cool in New York is quickly written off: first as tired, then as predictable, and finally a tourist trap. Los Angeles, meanwhile, is overflowing. There’s so much shit here, from ugly restaurants to half-dead bars, that some of it must be cool and much of it must be undiscovered. If you want to hate what’s around you, if you want to be left alone, there’s no better place than LA, which is as much desert as oasis. And there’s nothing over two stories, so there’s never anything towering between you and the sun.

– W.M. Akers

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  1. Dear

    W.M. Akers, it seems as though your posts have grown progressively more bitter. I want NYU. I want frivolity. I do not want something that could have been written by a Columbia student trapped in a shitty room in Wallach. Please address my concerns.

  2. I don't

    know this guy, but he's pretty spot on about LA.

  3. wow  

    the self-awareness is killing me.

    1)nyc is not the same as manhattan...yes, it's true!
    2)there are plenty of shitty places, low buildings, and inexpensive apartments in, eg, queens or the bronx.
    3)we have twice as many non-hipster, non-tourists as there are in LA.
    4)i don't see why you should seek this "raw" (non-white? poor?) aspect of the city, but your painful self-awareness and likely self-hatred (due to your privileged circumstances) suggest to me that you try to. so get on a train and move to the bronx. enjoy.

  4. Urgh.  

    I'm living in Pasadena this summer. This post confirms my fears about the area.

  5. WM Akers

    is actually a pretty solid writer. bwogists are haters. stop hating, bwogers.

  6. remind me again  

    why we care what this nyu guy thinks? bwog is outsourcing?

    • Naw  

      I don't see what's wrong with someone giving us what looks like pretty great insight on Columbia-NYU/Columbia-NYC/NYC-RestOfTheWorld relations. Shine on, WM Akers, you crazy diamond.

  7. Huh  

    LA is 5,000 little cities. Pasadena is 15 miles from the center of these little cities. How is Pasadena not LA? I'm not making a point, I'm asking about the distinction, because it's lost on me.

    • Zach

      Pasadena is part of "LA" as understood by people outside LA. But it's nicer and relatively human by comparison to the rest of the city. To me this is not saying much; I wish Southern California would give up the ghost and go subaquatic already.

  8. Someone from LA.  

    Akers did a nice job nailing it. "A city in which to be truly miserable," indeed.

  9. yuck  

    i hate LA with a passion. i also wish southern california would go subaquatic already. maybe northern california can cut off their water supply and they can all die of thirst.

  10. Obama news!

    The most Obama's every said about Columbia?

    "He stopped drinking and partying, leading what he calls "a hermetic existence" for two years. "When I look back on it, it was a pretty grim and humorless time that I went through," he recalls. "I literally went to class, came home, read books, took long walks, wrote." Politics was a passion, but he was disillusioned by radicals who claimed to have all the answers. At one point after graduation, he went "in search of some inspiration" to hear Kwame Toure (the former Stokely Carmichael) speak at Columbia."


    "Obama kept detailed journals in New York. It was good practice."

    I'm really curious as to what those journals say. I bet he bitched a lot about the Core...

  11. obama  

    He said similar things about Columbia in a past New York Times piece. He led a "monk-like existence" here.

    Oh, and I'm from LA and unabashedly love it, though I suppose the cool thing is to be snarky and blase say it sucks. Man, LA blows.

  12. Pedant  

    I'm going to join in the hating solely because of the misspelling of privilege in the post. Clearly, Akers is not yet used to admitting to his "priveleged" circumstances.

    Also, the whole argument boils down to "LA is more spread out than New York", which isn't even accurate. The post compares the entire LA metropolitan area to downtown Manhattan, a facile and meaningless exercise. If you actually look at the entire metropolitan statistical area for New York, you have a population of about 18.8 million people living in about 6,700 square miles. The LA metro area has about 12.9 million people in 4,800 square miles. Almost exactly the same density when you include the rest of New York rather than just focusing on a few blocks in Manhattan. Of course, downtown LA also has an urban feel and tall buildings, but that would mess up the neat argument, wouldn't it?

    On top of it all, I'm looking outside at gorgeous weather, with clear skies and plenty of hope, and it annoys me that people continue to act like it's cool to be unhappy in New York.

  13. what?

    So you're going to include three states as part of New York? It's not fair to compare L.A. to downtown Manhattan, but it's also not fair to say that Pike County, P.A. is part of New York City the same way that Los Angeles County and Orange County are part of L.A.

    If you look at the greater Los Angeles area, that's nearly 34,000 square miles with 17.8 million people. NY's MSA has more people in one fifth the area.

    Or, look at the city of L.A. (3.8 million in 469 square miles) vs the city of New York (8.2 million in 322 square miles). It's not just Manhattan, all five boroughs taken together are denser than L.A. Some boroughs are much denser. Brooklyn has 2.5 million people in 97 square miles. The Bronx has 1.3 mil in 57.

    New York is denser than L.A.. This is fact. It's not just "a few blocks in Manhattan." That doesn't mean Akers is right or anything.


    You faggots are from Connecticut, please stop arguing about cities that you're not from. Kthxbai!

  15. just to  

    stir the pot...

    norcal > socal.

    just sayin'

  16. cool

    Joe Jones was just being interviewed by CBS Sports during halftime of the UNC-Arkansas game.

  17. LA > NY  

    Hating LA for arbitrary reasons is just an attempt to justify the fact that people are willing to sit in tiny overpriced boxes in the freezing cold or sweltering heat year round. Don't put something down just because its cool to, you wouldn't want to be mistaken for a hipster...

  18. ...

    LA and NYC are the same damn thing. Flagrant displays of wealth, an annoying "dominant" culture and a whole lot of really interesting people hiding behind the scenes because both places are so damn big.

    If you knew anything about either city, you'd know that. Instead, you're just some annoying kid from a fly-over state flapping his self-important clap-trap as he attempts to compares two places he knows nothing about: one of which he has spent less then six months in and the other less than six days.

    ps. Yes, Virginia, LA suffers from gentrification too!

  19. consistency?  

    why isn't this post tagged "dispatches" or "spring break" like the next post? i know that this one is written by an NYU student, but i don't see why that means it shouldn't have these tags.

  20. vomit  

    wmakers is genius and writes beautifully. and bravo to him for continuing to write for a blog trafficked by ungrateful morons who are happier boning sluts and guzzling beers at the heights than reading and appreciating something engaging and interesting.

    columbia makes me sick sometimes.

  21. have half of you

    even been to la? it is massive. i have been to the outer boroughs, and i didn't need a car to get there. in la, i need a car to get to my mailbox.

    this post is pretty dead-on. and we're all grossly self-aware and self-hating. for an ivy league, that's a prerequisite.

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