This is what I expected to see in Los Angeles--a fantasy-filled corner brimming with props for rent or for sale. But except for that, the huge CBS complex, and morning preparations for a red-carpet gala evening, the movie business wasn't a keynote of my five days in the city. Instead what I saw was a city that has never heard of assimilation--at least not yet.
I live in a city that's a collection of small towns. Los Angeles is a collection of small cities, each one its own separate entity, independent of its neighboring counterparts. And best of all, each with its own food, which is served to people who want the real thing.
Even in the downtown area, which is being revitalized by turning warehouses into living-lofts and condominiums, the revamped Grand Central Market proved it wasn't just another trendy place to graze. I was dubious when I walked in and was greeted with Egg Slut, but just a few feet away I stopped dead in my tracks. There, behind a cluttered counter, was a plate of crisp and golden khanom krok, the bite-sized coconut-milk-filled pancake that is limp and flabby in this country, assuming that it can be found at all.
The ones at Sticky Rice looked a lot like this: (credit to ch3rri-blossoms.blogspot.com/)
and when I bought a little box of them, the woman who sold them to me told me to be careful because they were still hot. They were perfect, and although I walked the length of the market as I ate them, I knew where I was going to have my lunch.
I had no intention of eating Thai food in Los Angeles--my goals were Mexican and Korean places on this trip. But only a fool would pass up a place that could make khanom krok that was as good (or even better) than what I've enjoyed in Bangkok. Besides, I'd been slapped with a horrendous cold and it was screaming for Thai chile peppers. I ordered the Chiang Mai signature dish of khao soi, sat at the lunch counter, and let the lime and chile go to work on my sinuses while I watched flames shoot up from an open grill. Next time I'm in town, I'm getting the grilled pork neck.
Downtown L.A. is a mixture of nascent gentrification and urban life in the rough. There are at least two separate communities on the streets and they don't seem to mingle much. People who clearly have nothing live their lives on the pavement without panhandling those who clearly have much more,
It's an area that is on the cusp--Skid Row meets Starbucks. At this point it's still affordable to people with fixed incomes--one loft conversion had studios for under $800, utilities included and no pet fee. Yes, I was tempted. Only a block away was The Last Bookstore, an old bank building that is now a mixture of new and used books and very quirky art.
If I lived in one of those studios, one of my neighbors would be the Bradbury Building of BladeRunner fame and across the street from that is this:
There are newsstands
and street murals.
It's a place with pedestrians and parks and a supermarket. It's also, according to a downtown free newspaper, "where some people are quite happy. Others are quite hungry." The Last Bookstore directs its customers to Starbucks when they need a restroom and Starbucks is feeling a bit strained as a result. Famous for their clean toilets, their Spring Street outlet pushes that envelope just a trifle--bring your own toilet paper.
The disparities of this part of the city would become jagged to me if I lived in this neighborhood--and yet there are others...