I’m not New York City born and raised, though I often wish I had been, but the old Neil Diamond tune’s been bouncing around my cerebellum because in the space of three weeks this summer, I visited both New York and Los Angeles. I’ve been to NYC probably 18 times on business and pleasure, and LA five or six times, always business before this family trip.
I don’t think “rents are low” in LA anymore, and thank God for in-car GPS, but the trip was fine, though Los Angeles itself is nothing beside the enviable beach cities of Santa Barbara, Ventura and Santa Monica. Still, I greatly prefer New York, though it’s probably unfair to compare two cities with such vastly different histories, industries, growth patterns, weather, and–this is key–walkability levels. If you’re smart you walk a lot in New York, and whenever you don’t walk you take the subway. The people who come away disliking NY tend to avoid the sidewalks and the subways, spend all their time gridlocked in cabs, and miss the real nature of the city.
Because you walk so much in New York, this kind of thing happens. You take a couple of friends who haven’t been there much, and after strolling around Greenwich Village and Washington Square you decide to walk a mile or so east to McSorley’s Old Ale House, the city’s longest-continuously pouring (est. 1854) bar, which didn’t even serve women until a Supreme Court case in the 70s. On the way over to 7th Avenue you round a corner and there looms up the imposing hulk of Cooper Union, and one of the guys says, “That’s where Lincoln made the famous “House divided cannot stand” speech. It’s an awe-inspiring moment. You realize you may be standing exactly where Lincoln stood when he climbed out of his carriage that day holding the speech that made him a national candidate and set in motion so many fateful events.
In Los Angeles, by contrast (yes, yes, I know this is unfair), you stroll past Grauman’s Chinese Theater along the Walk of Fame (which, I hadn’t known, is actually 2 1/2 miles long) and while you have no intention of gazing at all 2,200-plus starry names, you see enough to discern three categories.
The first, tiny group contains those who had or have real talent, a speck of gravitas and some claim on a thinking person’s attention. I’d put Paul Newman, Tom Hanks, Robert Duvall, the Smothers Brothers and a few others in that lot.
The second group is full of those famous-for-being famous-types whose efforts usually make us think 1) I could do that (Charles Bronson, Tony Danza, James Doohan) and 2) I could do that if I was insanely gorgeous (Kim Basinger, Carroll Baker).
The third group, which inspires some pathos, is the Legion of the Obscure, the now all-but-forgotten from the hit movie Whatever Happened To Don Alvarado? Brian Aherne? Heather Angel? Mary Anderson? If there was a former starlet named Gloria Mundy, you would say sic transit, Gloria Mundy.