Downtown LA is not the Ghetto

Mixed Feelings

Ill admit that most of my reasoning for liking or disliking a city tends to be directly correlated to how I feel about their basketball team. I love new York because I love the Knicks. I hate Miami because I hate the Heat. And LA, well don’t get me started on that bandwagon team.
But as seems to be the case recently, actually visiting and taking in the city in a new light tends to change my mind. So I went to LA last week for a conference at LA live. Overall, a brilliant event where I met some wonderful people. Rather than stay at the Marriott and pay $250 per night I decided to go local and rent an urban studio via Airbnb. For those that don’t know yet, Airbnb is an awesome website which allows a traveler to visit and live as the Romans do, or Angelenos in this case.

Mangos and Colleagues

The first day I arrived I had lunch with a favorite colleague from the PR industry. She introduced me to a classy lunch locale named Louie Bottega right off 7th street near where I stayed. While a little pricey I was a fan of the large servings and will likely return. As I returned from the venue to get prepared for the conference I walked through the heart of downtown which I found to be much different from what I expected.

Downtown LA is predominantly Mexican and the stores that line the streets bear a much closer resemblance to Tijuana than Manhattan. I was surprised by this, but also pleased as I really enjoy Mexican culture. For example, not far from my house I purchased a pack of fresh cut mango from a street vendor. I love mango almost as much as I hate grocery shopping, so to be able to pay $1 for the sweet fruit without having to deal with the hassles of a market was perfect.

On my journey for fresh mango…

Running with a Purpose

Downtown LA wasn’t all lollipops and rainbows I’ll admit. The second day I was there I must have made a wrong turn while jogging as I quickly found myself surrounded by dozens of hazardly people that inhabited this slightly shadier area of downtown. I assume the local homeless shelter must have kicked everyone out for the morning to accrue such a mass of thugs and vagrants in one place. I was a bit worried, but as it was 830 in the morning I didn’t think any of them were ready to kick off the day of mischief just yet. As I neared the end of the gauntlet of a block I had entered, one obese lady barked at me, “Run, Forrest run.”  I continued on, running, satisfied that the only injury sustained was to my confidence.

Not Pretty, but Real

The final day I ran a slightly further route, about a 5 miler which was to take me around MacArthur park in a loop. I had a childhood fondness of MacArthur Park ever since an episode from the early nineties show “The Fresh Prince of Bel Aire” in which Will’s aunt Vivian is furious that Carlton and Will had visited the sordid park. Will’s aunt was also my aunt in the sense that I found myself wanting to do what I was forbidden to do. As I neared the park it seemed to be a hub of activity as I could see hundreds of people within its boundaries from a half mile away.

I soon found that the park was pretty dilapidated and that most of the people were actually sleeping in the shade spots they could find. There was an endless amount of litter and one poor stumbling employee who seemed to have lost faith in her quest to maintain the cleanliness of the park.  I ran on satisfied to have quenched my 20 year curiosity.

A view of MacArthur Park

Tasty Eats in Little Tokyo

On the final day I walked to Little Tokyo. A big fan of udon noodles, I wanted to try them them here of course. There were hundreds of people who had the same idea and I knew I was in for a treat. The udon was superb, and the service was great from the small noodle house on 2nd Ave.

As I sat there slurping my noodles (an annoying habit of mine I can only truly indulge when I eat alone), I thought about how interesting a big city like LA really is, and how so many people will never know of the culture here as they immediately head to Anaheim or Orange County as soon as they disembark the plane. I feel that just because a city has homeless people or Mexican music on the street  does not mean it is unsafe, uncultured and unworthy of a visit. I did pass through Hollywood one evening while I was there but found it less entertaining and too full of tourists eagerly posing with the many superhero bums that line Hollywood Ave near Labrea.

For me, give me something real, save Disneyland and their fairy tale visit plans for some other tourist, as I take pride in living like an Angeleno, even for just a few days.

* I’ve actually lightened up on Miami after my last trip there.

Little Tokyo provided the culture and the proper udon eats I needed before leaving town