When asked where I am from, I find myself stuck between identifying a general region versus my hometown. Whereas saying I am an inhabitant of the Los Angeles County usually draws “ahhs” of appreciation, when I say I am from Walnut, people look on with confusion. My summer internship in downtown LA has convinced me that the city-while overshadowed by its east coast siblings in terms of size, sophistication and pomp- has a cultural vitality that more than compensates for its shortcomings.
During lunch breaks at work, I roam inside a two mile radius of my workplace, the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building. Exploring downtown LA is like opening a gift during a white elephant party; the nice and the ugly are wrapped in the same package. The boulevards and parks crisscrossing Los Angeles, gives the city a laid back vibe that Chicago lacks. The white collar workforce of the city is interspersed with scenes from a Wild Wild West flick. Police cars park bumper to bumper and tramps wander aimlessly along sidewalks.
Chicago makes up for its lack of land with its architecture. Whereas finding my way back to my work station is no problem in LA, I get lost within seconds in downtown Chicago. Chicago is a maze of glass windows and steel frames. In a video art class at Northwestern, one classmate borrowed the term “Midget City” to describe Chicago’s inhabitants.
About a mile away in LA’s fashion district is a cluster of aloof skyscrapers. They look out of place in the backdrop of mom and pop stores that cater tourists and natives alike. Nearby Little Tokyo, a Japanese town district known for its Ramen restaurants, hundreds of homeless camp out on sidewalks.
Downtown Chicago represents the white collar workforce and all its preoccupation with orderliness and habitualness. To borrow the hip hop term, Los Angeles is “trill” (true and real), in that it prides itself on its disorganization and eclectic tastes.
I live in a pastoral neighborhood interlaced with miles of horse trails. My high school’s mascot is the Mustang and my middle school’s is the “Challenger”, a knight riding on horseback. Going to Northwestern University nearby Chicago gave me a taste of big city life, but I knew little about the sprawling metropolis about 30 miles away from my hometown.
While I was searching for an internship this summer, I felt drawn to working in LA, a recognized city outside of LA that I had little knowledge of. Ultimately, I am biased in my appreciation of LA. Even on the fringes of LA, the downtown area manages to extend its tentacles and grasp young people like me with its associations of dreams and city life.
Edward Cox is a sophomore at Northwestern University in the Medill School of Journalism and a weekly contributor to our Local Voices section.
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