Thursday, October 25, 2012

Regional Exceptionalism

I'd think a majority of people like their hometowns.  I grew up in a suburban town about 18 miles southeast of Los Angeles proper, a city called Lakewood.  There's absolutely nothing remarkable about Lakewood, it was a blue-collar bedroom community for neighboring Long Beach's McDonnell-Douglas aircraft manufacturing plant and the rest of Southern California's aerospace industry.  Not quite the image most people have of Los Angeles suburbia; we weren't living next door to the Bradys, there were more Reagan democrats than hippies, and there were a lot more pick-up trucks than convertibles, but it was unmistakably Greater Los Angeles.

I like Lakewood.  I hated it as a moody teenager.  But it's freeway-convenient, there's a mall, natch (though there's a better one in nearby Cerritos), an abundance of parking, huge parks, tons of trees, and all the chain restaurants one's clogged arteries could ever desire.  Unlike newer cities in Southern California, there are no housing associations and though the houses are all tract homes, they've been modified throughout the last 50 years.  So, although they still look similar, Lakewood has a bit more character than towns further to the south and east.  And while I have no desire to live there now, I can't help but feel more than a little nostalgic any time I drive it's tree-lined streets on my way to my Mom's house.  These days I have a much greater appreciation and fondness for the people I grew up with and the place that shaped me.

All that said, it's not the greatest fucking thing since sliced bread.  If you didn't grow up there why would you give a shit about Lakewood?  If you told me you drove through it and thought, "Meh", I wouldn't give a rat's ass.  So why do so many people get so uppity about their hometown?  I can understand a bit of pride in where you come from, but people take it to ridiculous extremes.  Especially here in Los Angeles.  I don't mean people from Los Angeles, I mean the transplants.  You run into this all the time on dating websites.

Like any of the bigger cities, L.A. has a shit-load of transplants.  People come from all of the country and the world to work or go to school here, and some of them bring a gigantic chip on their shoulder based exclusively on where it is they grew up.  Part of it is that Los Angeles seems to be the most hated city in America.  Why, I don't know, I guess because people imagine it being overrun with Hollywood douchebag types, but I'm sure people in New York and other cities deal with the same thing.  People from the Midwest really feel they're nicer and more humble than everybody else.  I might believe it if they weren't constantly telling me how much nicer and more humble they are than everyone else.  People from the Northwest seem to think the same thing.  People from Northern California seem think they're smarter than they are.  Or, at least smarter than Southern Californians.  As do people from the northeast.  Well, thanks to Orange County and the Inland Empre that might actually be true.  People from the Northeast also seem to pride themselves on being "straight-shooters".  East Coast types loooove to say, "I tell it like it is.  I call 'em like I see 'em.  I'mma straight-shooter".  Blah blah blah.  People from the South seem to think they're nicer and better than everyone else, just 'cause.  Having been to the South I can say that southern hospitality is a real thing, so long as  you're white and in no way deviate from the heterosexual, Christian norm.

I've been to all of these places.  I haven't been through the northeast a great deal, not like I have the other regions, but I've gotten more than a taste.  I've enjoyed my time in most parts of the country.  Who doesn't love New York, Chicago, Portland, Austin, Seattle, New Orleans, Minneapolis, etc.?  I've met awesome people just about everywhere I've been (except Arizona...fuck Arizona).  I've run into my share of assholes.  My old job was unique in that I was sort of like a fly on the wall in office and retail locations throughout the country.  I just sort of melted into the background, so most people felt free to speak candidly despite my presence.  Very candidly.  It was awesome.  I got to hear the gory details about anything and everything in people's daily lives: their problems, their relationships, drug habits, sex lives, etc.

What I learned is that there are definitely some subtle differences between regions, but get right down to it and you find that Americans are pretty much all the same.  So, why then do people think their hometown's shit doesn't stink?  One Midwesterner wrote on her profile that, "People were so much less racist where she was from."  I've been to her hometown, there weren't any people of color there for racial tension to occur!  Look, not to make Los Angeles out to be the be-all end-all, it's not, but 4 million fucking people live within the city, 9.9 million within the county and about 18 million in the greater metropolitan area.  Most of them aren't white.  They come from all over the fucking world, they speak different languages, they have different customs, eat different foods and tend to gravitate towards people of similar ethnicity and background.  Any time you throw in that many different kinds of people into one area, make a lot of them poor, add shitty traffic and you have the perfect recipe for a bit of racial strife.  So fuck you, lily white woman from flyover country, but I saw and experienced racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny everywhere I went.  Everywhere.

My biggest complaint about the Midwest is that if they spent half as much time actually being nice and self-deprecating (how someone can actually be self-deprecating while telling you how self-deprecating they are, Midwest!?), rather than telling me how nice and self-deprecating they were, my time there would have been even more enjoyable.  Apparently, "nice" actually means passive-aggressive in the Midwest.

Now this "tell it like it is" business from East Coasters...well, this one's a bit trickier.  I believe that the people you grow up with (family, friends, acquaintances, etc.) are naturally going to be the ones you most likely rely on to shoot straight with you.  So when you move and people are nice to your faces, well, they're not being fake, they're just not being assholes.  They don't know you that well, and don't want to speak out of turn.  At the same time, people in most East Coast cities aren't as rude as typically portrayed.  Or, in some cases, as rude/tough as they like to portray themselves.  Some love to perpetuate this mythos that they'll spit in your face if you pass them on the street, but if you're hurt they'll carry you on their backs.  Well, yeah, it's bullshit.  Well, except maybe the Philly/Jersey area...and it's only the spit in your face part that's true.  I would say Boston, too, but I think I'm just biased because I hate that goddamn accent.  But Christ do they whine a lot, and it's just made that much worse by the world's most grating accent.  Bostonians would complain about getting a blow job.  "It's too fackin' WET!"  I dunno, maybe they're nicer in the summer or spring.

Bottom line, I've been told off nearly as much on the West Coast as in the East, and I think the difference could could be as simple as the shit weather they have to put up with in the East.  Yeah, you can try that "Oh I just love the seasons" bullshit, but I'm not buying it.  The weather sucks 80 percent of the year on the East Coast.

I'll stop here, 'cause I'm tired and this is getting too long...but I can't be the only one who feels this way about this subject, can I?