ANNE TAYLOR FLEMING: "Does Anybody Still Love LA?" The lead asked. It was one of those newspaper pieces I normally skip right over, but this one I clipped and threw in my files.
These pieces appear with great regularity, trumpeting the findings of some new survey. But I just dismiss them as the whining of disaffected locals who want to move to Oregon or Arizona or some other newer perceived paradise. But this time, I stopped because this time, I am one of the disaffected. My city is breaking my heart. I never thought I'd say that.
I have spent a lifetime defending Los Angeles against the smirks and slurs of people from everywhere else: The self-celebrative New Yorkers crowing about their culture, their multiethnic beat, their moxie; the Bostonians with their assured sense of history, famous universities and time-honored chowder; and the San Franciscans, proud of their small jewel by the bay and contemptuous of the brassy, uncouth sprawl of their Southern California rival.
Los Angeles was, I admit, never the easiest city to love. It was too spread out, too full of unhinged longings brought by all who came here seeking new lives, fame and fortune. It was too dependent on the automobile, which fouled the air and occasioned the building of miles and miles of freeways.
It was silly from time to time, an easy-to-parody place of hot dog stands and needy starlets -- a city of too much money in some places and too little in others; a city with too few cops and a number of bad ones; a city with an ongoing racial unease exacerbated by those cops.
I got that. I knew in my marrow the deficits of the city I called home, and yet I knew equally well the upside: The fierce natural beauty of the mountains; the wide sandy beaches; the freedom of growing up in a place without old world expectations; the nighttime thrill of speeding along those once near-empty freeways, top down, radio blasting, everything feeling open and possible.
Now, there is no such thing as a near-empty freeway anytime. We are nigh unto gridlock here many hours of many days. Traffic is the number-one complaint of the people in this new survey, one-third of whom say they no longer love L.A. and hope to be gone within five years, a huge jump from 2003 when only 17 percent were actively looking to move.
Throw in a surge in housing prices -- even middle class couples can no longer afford to buy a starter home -- a broken public school system, racial tension on the rise in the suburbs, a return of smog, a city with a mayor's race that few seem to care about because they figure nobody can fix anything now, and an intransigent crime problem, including a rash of new burglaries in the richer west side enclaves, and you have a city that feels to many on the tipping point-- a city with no way back.
For the very first time in my life, it occurs to me that I might not grow old, older, in my city; that I might move up the coast to a quieter, less clogged place for the last innings -- for a bone deep native, a sobering and saddening thought. I'm Anne Taylor Fleming.