Wow, it was August, 2009, when I launched this project.
The original name of this blog was “Phoenixism” and it underwent several name changes since. My very first post, “Perish the noble pursuit,” featured a photograph I had taken of downtown Los Angeles during the previous Winter.
Today, I spied a photo that reminded me of my own.
This photo appears in a Los Angeles Magazine piece entitled Leaving Los Angeles, a bittersweet swan song to the City of the Angels by Scott Timberg, a Connecticut transplant who basked in the wonders of Los Angeles when times were still good, when this city had a wider range of promise for all. In this city’s own charming way, it has pushed out many who sought, and clung, to the Dream; the city has ejected many people like bothersome splinter reminders of a time when Los Angeles humored fantasy and self-invention. Timberg’s essay is a farewell to this city. He rejoices fondly in the memories when the gigantic nature of the city’s over-the-top offerings were more forgiving, while simultaneously bemoaning the ludicrous out-sized nature of its elusive charms that are no longer within reach of many.
Timberg recounts his prolonged semi-banishment from this city in the wake of the 2008 financial meltdown, and that of many people he knows, including many who have already made The Move. That year’s events sent a shiver of turmoil through this town that has altered all industry and way of life as we know it. In Los Angeles, class divisions experienced a tectonic shift and social differentiation has become painfully more pronounced.
And Los Angeles is becoming the land that forgot us.
The sliver of humanity that can now “make it here” has narrowed into the faintest hairline demographic of rarefied fortune. Everyone else who chooses to remain has traded the Angeleno dreams of yore for the unspectacular, festering realities of paying too much to live in such a large, miserable septic tank of humanity.
The brave and realistic leave while the rest of us stay and try to maintain the desperate dream while being battered by the utilitarian consumerist, status-whoring ruthlessness of this town.
Timberg writes of the dashed dreams belonging to those who would lead a “normal” life here but instead find themselves sorting through the ashen remains of what’s left once the tyrannical financial demands of the city wreak havoc on your pride:
As prosaic AS it sounds, all this sunlit glory was accessible because of middle-class jobs and an economy that had made the city and state the envy of the world. The tens of thousands of careers that the aerospace industry provided in the postwar years helped make today’s L.A. possible. There’s been wealth here since the late 1800s, when industrial barons bought summer homes in the area. But the region offered room for millions of others to thrive on the money they made at jobs that didn’t require a professional degree or investor funding. Firemen could afford to live in L.A. instead of 30 miles away from the city they were protecting.
Much of the manufacturing base was already gone by the time I met my wife. L.A. was pricey but not insanely so. She worked as a freelance writer and later as a teacher and school librarian while I labored as a scribe. We split $1,200 for our place near Fairfax, and although it took a lot of searching to find an affordable house, we made it happen. At a certain point, without quite sensing the change, I assumed we’d die here someday.
After my job went, my house, my credit, and any hope of eventual retirement followed. On groggy, unshaven mornings, as I run up narrow streets with my son to make the elementary school bell, the sun shining on the Griffith Park hills, I still feel like I could stay in the city forever. But even when things were going well, we gradually realized that to be middle class in 21st-century L.A. puts you on the sidelines. Now with my wife (despite two master’s degrees) half a step from a layoff of her own, we know we’ll always be downwardly mobile. Certainly we aren’t homeless or poor, the way hundreds of thousands of Angelenos are. We can struggle to remain sideways. But as much as I like Los Angeles—which has been “home” longer than my Maryland hometown was—I’m no longer willing to be a third-class citizen here.