In The Shape Of A …


NOTE — If you want to play along with this blog, it’s fun to pull up Google Maps (or some lesser app) to see what the heck Mitch is talking about … otherwise just assume all these words and numbers are places.

Time to face facts … There is no good way to describe where I live in relation to anything any non-Angelino can understand.  For serious, I’ve tried, and it’s really hard to simplify.  For most people from here, they talk about place names … Crescenta Valley, Van Nuys, Downtown, Riverside, Orange County, etc.

You see, back in my Alaskan days, it was easier … I would start with saying Anchorage was in that pit on the map that looks like a big inlet, aptly named Cook Inlet … Then I can say Anchorage is a big triangle with mountains on one leg to the east, and water on the other two legs.  Then I just said I lived on the south side about a third of the way up from the Southeast tip of that triangle … easy as the cheese.

Boston was easy too, because most people didn’t care.  That conversation went:
“I live in Boston”
To which they accepted it at face value or respond with “I live(d) in Boston” to which I responded, “Okay, I actually live in Dorchester (actually pronounced DAH-chesta)”
If need be, I would describe Boston as a ball in a cup, with the ball being Downtown, and the open mouth pointing out into the Atlantic … and I lived on the lower rim of the cup … kinda.

So then I get to LA.

Back in the day, I used to say LA was a big Rectangle.  But guess what, it isn’t.  I mean, back then I spent much of my time south of Downtown LA or in Orange County, and to be fair, that is a big rectangle, kinda.  The coast that runs along Santa Monica, LAX and Manhattan Beach is basically a north-south line.  The western boarder of that rectangle is basically the Chino Hills and Saddleback mountains running from Irvine through Corona up to Ontario, and the east west lines are the San Gabriel mountains to the north & Long Beach to the south.  But the rest of LA county including the San Fernando Valley and Riverside County’s Inland Empire become the mapping equivalent of a fun house mirror.

Now, if you have a map open, you can do a search for La Crescenta … and that will show you where I live.  You can kind of see that it is on the North side, but not really north anything, and south of much much less.  But it’s also east of a lot, but you wouldn’t say it’s on the east side of anything either.  Regardless, there is nothing rectangular about where it’s at.

What makes everything so wonky is that you have coastlines and mountains that just don’t know how to read a map.  The coast you can’t blame that much, because it has beaches and they are kinda awesome.  The LA metro area basically has a coast that runs at a 45 degree angle from the Northwest to the Southeast – except for a weird nipple shape around Torrance.  It’s the San Gabriel Mountains that do much of the land bullying.  It dominates the landscape running east-west along the North.  These things are so big, they only allow three escape routes — through Ventura county towards Oxnard, up the 5 to Santa Clarita, or way over in Riverside up over the 15 towards Barstow.  So if I was going to go off of those shapes, its like a triangle … kinda.

But the problems really begin when you have to get people from outside the area to realize that LA is not just one flat surface – it is cut up by hills, mountains, and valleys.  They aren’t massive like in Pittsburgh or looming like Seattle … they just get in the way.  If you are looking at a map of LA, you can partially tell this by the … well, okay, you can tell by the green spots that mean hills or mountains … but I want you to look at the interstates.  Los Angeles and Orange county was planned – meaning as the city grew, they knew what they were doing.  As a result, they tried to keep the roads, especially the freeways, straight.  So if you see a freeway that isn’t exactly east-west or north-south; or is going it’s own special brand of direction in general, it is likely taking the easiest route through a hill or valley.

Take a look at the 210 — also known as the Foothill Freeway — that runs for the most part at the northern edge of the LA area.  Starting as a state highway over in San Bernardino, it runs pretty straight until it has to dodge some legs of the San Gabriels around San Dimas and the start of the 57.  It then has to trickle north to try to hug the foothills and dodge some of the reservoirs.  At Pasadena, this go weird.  Sure, you can follow the 135 straight west, but what the map doesn’t show you is that road has to do about 1000 feet of elevations up and down.  Instead, the 210 does a ninety degree turn, head sup the Arroyo Seco Canyon past the Rose Bowl and JPL, and then heads up along the Cresenta Valley where my home is at in a Northwesterly direction. Beyond that valley, it crests the Verdugos on it’s own 1000 foot elevation change, then drops down into “The Valley” before ending at the 5.

Crossing those hills makes things even weirder.  If it weren’t for all the hills, I could sit on my front porch and look directly at the airport LAX.  For me to drive there, I have to head east, then south, then zig-zag southwest, southeast, then southwest again; then park for an hour downtown LA for traffic, then head a ways south until I head due west and then a little north.  Directions on the map look like a backwards fishhook that had been bitten on too many times.

It could all sound confusing, but one thing about all that madness and break-up is that LA for the most part, is less of a single city and more of a bunch of small communities.  Most big cities are, but it’s one thing like Boston where DAHchesta and Southie was only really separated by the F-ing TAHget that always runs out a that stuff that I like.  What separates Downtown LA and Van Nuys is the Hollywood Hills.  What separates Orange County and Riverside are the Chinos.  What separates Crescenta Valley from the rest of the city is the Verdugos.  When you have that degree of separation – you create a community onto yourself that is almost as if it is a small town onto itself.

It probably for that reason people here describe where they are from by those town names … because those places mean more than a location, they mean where they are from.

For the rest of y’all … maybe it’s a recliner with its leg out but tipped on its front?  I don’t know, just look at the map.


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