California love

by Alexandra Piotrowski

When Reply asked our readers to tell us why their cities suck, contributor Allie Piotrowski turned the idea on it’s head, explaining her love affair with Long Beach and why it inspires real people and culture to flourish.

Why does my city suck? I’m no stranger to staging complaints about anything and everything, give me an inanimate object and a few seconds pause and my subconscious will find something innately unpleasant to complain about. But figuring out what sucks about my city of Long Beach, California? Silence. Birds chirping happily in the silent absence of my characteristic bellyaching. After a few minutes of scratching my head, all I could come up with was that some of the city’s intersections have an absence of left turn signal lights… and even that was a stretch.

Photo courtesy of Bradley JohnsonLong Beach (or the LBC as it has been immortalized by Snoop Dog and Sublime songs) has some impressive statistics. It’s the Golden State’s sixth largest city with a population just shy of half a million bodies. It’s the second largest city in the greater Los Angeles area. Its been known as the “International City” since a USA Today report in 2000 found it to be the most ethnically diverse metropolis in America. Its popularity can be attributed to it’s choice location; hugging the Pacific coast, nestled between Los Angeles and Orange County. All of these statistics are impressive, yes, but they cannot describe my wild and unfaltering love of my hometown as much as a single word can; unpretentious. None of this city’s virtues are exclusive to making it a perfect borough, after all, Los Angeles has a large, diverse population, Orange County is in a picture perfect location, and yet, both of these areas have a significantly different vibe. It’s not a question of attributes, it’s a question of soul.

As much as I adore California and it’s golden tinged sunsets, Hollywoodland history and perpetual good weather, I can admit, shamefully, that California culture has devolved in recent decades. I turn a deep shade of red whenever I hear Lauren Conrad talking about, shopping on Melrose before heading to the nightclub du jour. It seems like artifice and pompousness rule the California countryside, and small suburban neighborhoods are replaced with cloned McMansions and mini mall plazas all featuring identical Target Greatlands, Starbucks and Cheesecake Factories. If this sounds like the beginning of a rant, that’s because it is. A long practiced one, memorized and recited often as a result of common suburban discontent. (See? I mentioned I was able to talk an ear off, complaining of any which and everything.)

Photo courtesy of Bradley Johnson

The “soul” of Long Beach that I’m referencing has as much to do with what the city isn’t as it does with what the city is. It isn’t a cultural maze like LA is. While LB’s size does create different neighborhoods, some of which are less scenic than others, it is not variegated to the point that Los Angeles is, where five minutes and ten  miles can mean the difference between shopping in downtown and being carjacked in East LA. Long Beach also isn’t as groomed, sculpted and manipulated as Orange County cities, most of which were designed by city planners with the primary object being exclusivity at the cost of creativity. And while Long Beach belongs to a more humble zip code than high-class LA neighborhoods and the generally overpriced OC, the attainability (read, lower cost of living) of this town inspires real people and culture to flourish.

Photo courtesy of Bradley JohnsonLife feels a bit simpler in this town, less run ragged by consumer culture. There are more mom and pop run cafes than IHOPs here, and they don’t pollute your morning coffee with $4 foams and syrups. The local museums have “Free Fridays” to encourage patronage, which compliments the monthly Artwalk held by the East Village Gallery District. If you want a taste of the greater world, Long Beach Harbor is home to the anchored Art Deco era cruiser, the Queen Mary, now known for it’s cabaret shows, photo exhibits and tattoo conventions. You can take a walk on the Greenbelt, a publically owned slice of natural land where the Pacific Electric Red Car Line used to run, or take a ride on the bike path on the bluffs overlooking the beach. Relax at the end of the night, grab a drink at a local dive bar, where the waitresses pour the drinks stiffly but charge lightly. Go home to one of several distinctly quirky neighborhoods, where LBC citizens pride themselves as much on their homes uniqueness as they do on their history. Wake up the following morning to the sounds of squawking feral parrots, (For some reason, LB has an unprecedented population of wild parrots that rule the city’s trees, unusual, but pleasantly so.) and repeat.

Long Beach is not the only city in the United States that doesn’t suck, so my love note to it may be personal and overly detailed, but this overzealousness can be attributed to the precious rarity of living contently. In a world where everything can stand to be improved and not much measures up to sky high expectation, my city is one thing about day to day existence that makes me smile. It’s pretty great here, even considering the aforementioned shortage of left turn signal lights. — JK

Images courtesy of Bradley Johnson. Check out Bradley’s Flickr page for more.

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  1. Love this piece! Describes my visits to LBC so characteristically! LBC is the home to my absolute favorite cafe (Library Cafe) for the very reasons Allie has mentioned above!

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