Monday, August 11, 2008

Cali, Cars, Consumerism

I’ve been back in Los Angeles for just over two weeks, and it’s starting to come back to me—the washed out flatness of the sky and the gritty square pastel buildings with garish signage. How even though the colors feel de-saturated, the light feels glaring as you drive—and how it feels like you are always driving, or planning to drive, or planning to avoid driving.

This week I am driving in style. The guy the rental company hired to change the oil on the economy car I had reserved never showed up, so they upgraded me to a Ford Fusion with leather seats and V6 engine. It rides quiet and smooth and the sound system is good. For four days I left the radio station on their choice—"Power 106, where hip-hop lives". I haven’t listened to hip-hop for awhile, so for that long their play list was novel—I even appreciated its repetitiveness. I can now recognize the hookiest songs--"Hypnotized" by Gemini, "Dangerous" by Kardinal Offishal, and "American Boy" by Estelle. Today, out of curiosity I finally succumbed to the ubiquitous billboards exhorting me to check out what Hannah, Miley and the Cheetah Girls are up to on Radio Disney (1110 AM). It’s an interesting mix of songs that sound vaguely familiar—perhaps like Avril Lavigne, Michelle Branch and some rap artists I can’t identify—singing kind of vague PG-rated lyrics interspersed with commercials for back to school supplies and Disney videos. The DJs interview women who say “awesome” a lot…like if a caller asks “What’s it like to work with Joe Jonas?”
The reply is, “Just awesome. He’s awesome—a great guy. We had an awesome time.”

I’m also remembering what it is to drive suffused with a kind of pervasive anxiety—it has something to do with watching people and places through the glass. Those who look spiffy in their Audi’s and BMW’s, and those who look hot and ragged waiting at the bus-stops, walking along the ugly sidewalks that are more driveway than walkway. It is only natural to wonder “Which are we destined to be?” Realizing that most of the people here have aspirations to be one, but end up the other.

What is the best antidote to money worries? Strangely enough—buying something. Today I bought shoes to replace the raggedy sandals I’ve been wearing. I definitely felt a little rush of pleasure, I could feel my anxiety subside. I think I read something about that having something to do with endorphins. Or maybe it's just comforting to find something I wanted and be able to afford it—unlike housing. I think that must be the motivation for a lot of things people buy at various economic levels. “I can’t afford a house, but I can get this flash car.” “I can’t afford a flash car, but I can get this i-Phone.” “I can’t swing an i-Phone, but I can have this camera, or these cute shoes, or this fancy cup of tea.”

My new shoes are are cute. And comfortable. I’d post a picture, but the low-priced digital camera I ordered on Amazon hasn’t arrived yet. In the meantime, I think I'll get another chai green tea latte.


  1. Power 106!

    That station has been around since I was in middle school!!

  2. Anonymous8:40 PM

    I listen to Power 106, and yes, the play list is unabashedly repetitive. It didn't bother me at all when I worked in Burbank because it almost guaranteed I'd hear "Dangerous" and "American Boy" in the 15 minute ride home. It's not as novel when you're driving home from Santa Monica...for an hour! Three times in one hour is a bit OTT thank you!

    P.S. I love this post!