From LA with Love... to The New York Times

Taj Bates


Sigh.

It's another year and The New York Times has published yet another snob piece on Los Angeles.

It happens at least once a year. Never pre-empted, mind you. It's like the NYT is a bitter ex who spends way more time thinking about you than you do him.

It's so comical and annual that Curbed LA came up with this bingo game a few years back.

 

 

Here's how these snob pieces usually come to fruition:

The NYT commissions a true blue New Yorker to jet to LA for a day or so, to write his or her take on the City of Angels. In most cases, these writers do zero substantive research on their chosen destination. And, ultimately, end up wallowing in clichés about LA being a vapid, green juice and traffic-laden sprawl of palm trees and failed actors.


Related: 5 Things You Should Know Before You Visit Los Angeles


Stereotype and cliché are the lowest form of writing and should be non grata to The Gray Lady.

But, alas.

On July 23, The Lady hit publish on this essay penned by Brooklyn novelist, Reif Larsen.

The first graph?

"It was 3:30 p.m. I was already running half an hour late. This was because I am not from Los Angeles and I had grossly underestimated the time it would take to get from Santa Monica to West Adams on Interstate 10. . . ."

Bingo! And we're off to the cliché races about traffic in LA, as if driving in and out of Manhattan during early rush hour is peachy keen. (Not to mention that he could have taken the metro rail from Santa Monica to West Adams, which is adjacent to the University of Southern California.)

The essay got global attention, as NYT travel essays do. But not the attention they were expecting.

In fact, parts of the piece were so lazy and culturally insensitive that the NYT had to issue a public apology 24 hours later.

What's quite disappointing about the essay is, it reads like it wasn't fact checked at all. Such is the peril of nixing your entire copy edit department the year before.

And we're talking about easy things to research and fact check. Like the fact that LA does indeed have an underground subway system. Or that Union Station's architecture is a blend of Art Deco and Spanish Colonial Revival, the latter of which originated in California.

 

Inside Union Station, the last great rail station built during America's railroad heyday

 

Esteemed restaurant critics like former NYT columnist, Ruth Reichl, and dearly departed Los Angeles Times columnist, Jonathan Gold, would visit a restaurant multiple times and savor a variety of dishes before they penned a review.

Perhaps the same standard should be given to travel essays as well—at least ones about LA, as published in The New York Times.

As an Angeleno and author of the travel guide, The YOLO Guide to Los Angeles & Southern California, I didn't take offense to Larsen's essay. I just shook my head, chuckled and sighed. It's a shame he didn't get to see the true beauty of LA. Something he could've done with a bit of research, open-mindedness and engagement with locals he didn't know, on topics not related to traffic.


Related: Anthony Bourdain, An Inspiration


Supposedly, he was hoping to discover where Angelenos go for sanctuary and solitude. Yet he ventured nowhere near the beaches, mountain hikes or outdoor food, movie and music fests where most of us go for respite and rejuvenation. Instead, he went to random spiritual gardens most locals have never heard of.

 

Walking, biking, surfing or chillaxing by the sea is a popular form of zen in LA  |  Troy Williams

 

Here's the deal. . . LA does indeed have juice cleanses, some flaky people and evil traffic galore. In fact, traffic is so pervasive here that dating someone who lives 45 miles (72.4 km) away in Orange County (Disneyland country) is legitimately considered a long-distance relationship!

But, if you take the time to look beneath the surface—as travel writers should be tasked to do—you will discover that LA is as diverse as it is vast; comprised of dozens of neighborhoods, each with their own je ne sais quoi.

There are neighborhoods here that are as quaint and idyllic as Mayberry. Others with jaw-dropping mountain vistas. Others teeming with artists, creativity and the world's wealthiest art museum. Others with some of the smartest space pioneers on the planet.

 


Related: Discover Los Angeles, the Creative Capital of the World (Q&A with Rick Steves)


The next time the NYT commissions a travel essay on LA—and believe you me, there will be a next time—I invite them to reach out to me first. I'd be more than happy to show their writer some of the different facets and wings of the City of Angels.

Perhaps, then, we can put this annual cycle of snob pieces and lazy travel journalism to bed. And, instead, celebrate all that make New York and LA—two of the world's greatest and most influential cities—so unique. Each in their own delightful way.