On our drive home from Southern California we stopped at one of our traditional travel oases. As little kids we would frequently visit the Andersen’s Pea Soup restaurant in Buellton on Highway 101 between LA and Santa Barbara. Needing a little nourishment today as we were rolling north on Interstate 5, we pulled off for a bowl of soup when we saw the big windmill at Santa Nella a little after noon. The Santa Nella Andersen’s was a frequent stopping spot for us when our boys were little. When you clean your bowl, you reveal the Andersen’s iconic pea-splitting mascots, Hap-pea and Pea-wee. It took me very little time to find my old friends.
We enjoyed our weekend down south, and while I thought it would be fun to think of something snarky to say about the cultural differences between Northern and Southern California, I find myself unable to come up with anything substantive. These are different cultures, to be sure, but to value one over the other is to miss what is special and unique about each.
Southern California traffic is horrible. There’s pretty bad smog. But the people down south are just as friendly as people here in Oakland. We were in San Diego last night to hear some music, and the band played a few Tower of Power songs to welcome us Oaklanders to their town. Even San Clemente (which I have a hard time separating in my mind from images of Richard Nixon) rolled out a welcome mat for us.
Much of the landscape that sprawls along the freeways of the LA basin is grotesque, but get a few blocks off those atherosclerotic arteries and you can find nice neighborhoods of modest homes and tidy yards. Our travels took us through Silverlake, Echo Park, Hancock Park, West Hollywood, and several other neighborhoods. These places seemed vibrant and healthy. There is an optimism bubbling under the surface of what we saw in LA. Sure, there were vacant storefronts and other signs of an economic slump, but there were also the happy bubbly conversations of young, enthusiastic movie star wannabes.
It’s easy to be cynical about what appears to be a shallow layer of culture in the City of Angels. But the town cannot be that easily dismissed. Sunset Boulevard, Melrose Avenue and Beverly Boulevard may not be dressed in their boom time effervescence, but the people out walking along those streets were smiling and laughing. I don’t know if optimism is the source of their resilience or if resilience breeds optimism, but the people we encountered while walking these streets down south seemed up-beat.
We’re very happy to be where we belong, living in to our cozy space near Lake Merritt. But we enjoyed our visit to the Southland, and I suspect we’ll go back again soon.