All fine and good -- if McNamara wrote true. My story is the opposite of McNamara's. I grew up in Los Angeles (LA), three miles from the Pacific, and now I live in Manhattan, two blocks from the Atlantic. While there is no argument that December winds, howling through building canyons of Madison Avenue, stab a chill through your back, strolling barefoot along the Pacific shore in December would bite your exposed feet in exactly the same way. The water is freezing, and unless you decided to wet your shoes and socks to hold off frostbite at Venice Beach perhaps you'd need a hallucinogen drug to enjoy the LA experience McNamara describes. At least residents of Manhattan know how to dress for winter, without shooting up.
It was common, observing as a boy in Southern California, for New Yorkers to move out West in the 1970s. My high school classmates, comprised of half Angelenos and half East Coast natives, never cared about the weather on either coast. The childrens' parents told stories, reflecting McNamara's claims of 9 month long winters, of shoveling out from under daily snow squalls. Only the children -- my peers at the time -- did not agree. They resented their parents uprooting them from the East and moving close to Disneyland. A 50-foot snowdrift? Never in Manhattan. Some winters barely see a snowflake.
McNamara writes the LA Centric column for the Los Angeles Times, but she neglects to expose the real centric Southern California. I would describe McNamara as a "typical" transplant trying to convince herself that moving to LA was a good idea. And staying there means you can enjoy the beach anytime of the year, if you bring a gun for protection. While LA has its fair share of sunshine, the beaches have a different climate. Venice Beach may not see sunshine from April until July due to daily fog. A six-week span of time from August into September is the only time of year where the air temperature does not force you to wear a sweater, and when the water temperature might reach 70 degrees. The remaining months require a wet suit to swim, and good body insulation to fight off a cold westerly breeze. Beaches around New York City however, warm up in June and stay warm through September, and swimming in our 80 degree water requires only two good arms and legs.
As a writer, I make a special effort to use crowded subways in Manhattan. This is easy on the 6 line, but my reasons are not for a fetish or because I enjoy standing chest to chest with a dozen people. The subway is an excellent way to observe people: To watch their movements, to exchange eye contact, to read over someone's shoulder for free, to see what people are wearing. From these observations, it is fun to imagine what these people (I'm likely to never know) think, play for a living, experience for fun, or to imagine how their apartment is decorated. I've picked out the murderers, wife beaters, actors (wannabe), students, thinkers, and occasionally the writers who are doing exactly as I -- as we wink to one another and continue our observations.
Observing people in LA with any great detail is impossible. Sure, you can try to park yourself at a restaurant, but everyone wears sunglasses to disguise their identities. It took me two hours to notice I was sitting next to my mother. Angelenos live (and stay indoors or) in their automobiles. They live for their jobs. Few earn the salary of syndicated columnist McNamara, and thus cannot afford the leisure time to stroll on the beach. But to describe those famous beach crowds would actually make you, the reader, think I'm a bigot. (This is often the case when I describe the population of LA to my friends in Manhattan -- New Yorkers do not "get it.") With the exception of a handful of private beaches to the North in Malibu, or to the South in southern Orange County; Caucasians and blacks would think they've stumbled onto a beach in Acapulco by visiting Venice, Newport or Long Beach. Not only due to nationality, but to language spoken. That is an observation.
No, McNamara missed the good side of LA; in the 1950s (so I hear) but mostly what I observed while growing up -- in the 1960s and 1970s. Those were the days that traffic moved on LA freeways, and there were fewer freeways too; back in those days young couples could buy a two-bedroom home for less than $1,000,000 ( 97 percent less in fact); back in those days -- yes -- forgetting to lock your front door didn't result in your family being murdered overnight. We knew our neighbors. They were the family's best friends; we traveled together, spent Saturday nights grilling food in the backyard. We held summer picnics on the beach, which at that time was alive with tidepools. And she missed the time in LA when we did observe.
Describing California beaches in, say, in 1975 would be akin to describing Long Island beaches today in 2004. The Atlantic Ocean is clean. We don't view sunsets through ocean oil derricks. Tar does not grab to your skin after a swim. Bottles, tampons, diapers aren't floating up to our shoreline disguised as jelly fish. As McNamara writes, "Barefoot, with any luck, in shirt sleeves, laughing aloud in the middle of winter," she loves living in LA. I wonder where she actually lives. This is not the description of LA today, but of the life she left behind for transplants like me to enjoy -- on the East Coast.