Letter from California

An archive of the weekly "Letter from Calfornia", written by Jim McCarthy.

Tuesday, January 06, 2004

Letter from California-December 30, 2003

Sometimes around the New Year, I get envious of people in places like New York, where these tremendous gatherings suddenly seem to develop out of nowhere. Back east, it seems that every medium-sized city has some gathering place where the throng gathers to watch the giant crystal ball drop or the giant crystal panda climb down the vine or the giant crystal Baby New Year replace the wizened, hunched-over Old Year.

Los Angeles, you see, really doesn’t have any such place. On New Year’s Eve, there’s no place to party much bigger than a bar or restaurant, and if you’re looking for a confetti-strewn blowout, you’re probably going to have to settle for New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Dick Clark. How could this be? After all, as the home of the entertainment business, L.A. certainly has its share of partygoers and party givers. Somehow, though, we can’t manage to get more than a few hundred of them in any one place, and I have a few theories about why.

It already feels like the New Year at 9:00 PM. We know it, you know it. The New Year comes to America when it comes to the East Coast. I have friends who celebrate the East Coast New Year and then go to sleep. Of course, it’s only 9 in the evening here when that happens, and it gets difficult to get people excited about keeping the party going for a long time after that. What’s worse is that at 12 o’clock here, they don’t even make a pretense of showing a live countdown. They just replay the Times Square countdown timed to midnight Pacific Time. Imagine our excitement.

We’re getting up early to see the Rose Parade. Bright and early, the Rose Parade here in Pasadena kicks off and about a half a million people line up along a five-mile stretch of Colorado Boulevard to watch the floats. Yes, in a way, this is LA’s version of the major New Year’s blowout, but the hundreds of thousands here are spread out over a long distance and can’t see more than the few people sleeping on the sidewalk on either side of them. Since every inch of street-front sidewalk is like gold to get the best views of the parade, nobody dares to move far enough for their treasured spot to party.

No one knows where downtown is. As a rule, most people look for tall buildings and assume that somewhere in that general area is where the people are. We do have a fair number of skyscrapers and they are in a part of town called “Downtown,” but what’s strange is that almost nothing happens there. During the business day, it’s bustling. People pour in for work, making it possible for all kinds of restaurants and other service industries to thrive, but when the whistle sounds at 5 or 6 o’clock, it’s spooky how quiet it gets. A few years back, I was working on a project with some partners whose office was in one of those skyscrapers, and we worked right through quitting time and on to dinnertime. We still needed to get a little more done, so we decided to go get something to eat. I left the building in search of some Chinese take-out and walked several city blocks without seeing another person. Weird.

It’s tough to park a half million cars in one place. LA is famous for its cars and the unfortunate fact that it’s the kind of big city that you really need a car to get around. Sure, public transportation is available in theory, but after taking the 26 Bus to the Gold line to the Red Line to the 350 Bus to the Rickshaw to the Covered Wagon, it would take almost as long to get to the airport as it would to get to the East Coast. So unlike New York, where the millions take the train in from the ‘burbs to Times Square, or like, say, Columbia, South Carolina where you’d have plenty of places to park the many who came, most Angelenos first question is often, “Where will I park?” If it’s too much hassle, forget it.

Celebratory gunfire. For some reason, there are people here who think the perfect way to mark a festive occasion is with several rounds from a pistol fired into the air. Right around midnight on New Years, if you listen quietly, you can usually hear a few of these crackling in the distance. Hopefully, they’re in the distance. The problem with those party bullets, of course, is that they come down. Not great for a big crowd scene.

So there you have my theories. You can mix and match your favorites. On Wednesday night, I’ll be somewhere with a few friends, quietly sipping a drink, watching the party in Times Square. Twice.


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