To Live and (More Likely) Die in L.A.

OK, granted: I’m not in the best shape of my life. 2010 has not been one of supreme physicality for yours truly. Between my knee surgery late last winter and then my Alaska sojourn wherein I spent my time working on my trashed-by-tenants house in Anchorage — lame excuses, all — I’ve really let myself go this year.

So going for a run this morning here in the wilds of the City of Angels presented me with a unique opportunity to die by natural causes. Namely: a heart attack induced by strenuous activity by one not capable of such stress. But what was surprising was that I didn’t die. And while I huffed and I puffed as I struggled up the Santa Monica Mountains or Hollywood Hills or whatever-the-hell-you-call-’em near my sister’s home, I made it and never once thought I was in any danger.

Until I got to the top.

And there, laid out in all its grandeur, was…a dense pall of smog. At which point, the thought very clearly screams in your head: what the hell is that crap doing to my cardiovascular system?!

It’s a shame because I’ve done this particular route before in the morning after an evening rain, when the air was wondrously clear and one could see the ocean with Catalina Island floating offshore, down south to the hills of Idyllwild and Orange County, east toward the peaks of the San Gabriel Mountains and the high desert beyond, and it’s at times like those where you think, “You know, L.A. isn’t so bad.” The trail is pleasant, the people are lovely and the views are magnificent. It’s at times like those where I reiterate my assertion that Southern California prior to World War II had to be nothing short of Eden: the best climate in the world, snow-covered peaks, citrus groves, salmon in the streams, tons of fish offshore, the ability to grow ANYTHING.

And now? Well, something short of those times. Granted, it’s vastly improved over when I was here in 1987, when the Hollywood Hills were invisible most of the time and you could forget about ever seeing the San Gabriels. But a far cry from the old days, I’m sure.

And then, of course, there’s the constant drone of police helicopters overhead — tons of ’em, 24 hours a day, seven days a week — reminding you of how tenuous it is here in this blessed urban paradise, regardless of which side of the law you’re on.

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