Irvine, At Last

In Travels With Myself on July 10, 2013 at 8:26 am

There may be more interstates and major highways per square mile in Los Angeles than anywhere else in the United States.  It’s actually impossible to go some places without having to get onto a stretch of highway.  Or two highways.  Or three.

But get off the highway for a distance and you will find clean, bright, beautifully landscaped cities lying practically on top of each other to make up the sprawling urban landscape of Southern California.  The streets are lined with trees, a variety of broadleaf and the ever-present palms; behind the trees, walled communities and shopping malls seem sometimes to be all one huge building, with golden beige stucco walls and red tiled roofs.  But the sameness is too earthy, too organic, to be boring; too stunning in its simple elegance to be unremarkable.  I can imagine these buildings pushing up from the ground, fully formed.

I am in Irvine tonight, which is and is not Los Angeles.  Orange, Tustin, Irvine, and all the other names that float across the map are indistinguishable from Los Angeles.  Even San Bernardino and San Diego seem feathered into the edges of Los Angeles, like brush strokes painted on the map so that the lines blur and disappear.  But Irvine is not yet the Pacific, for that I will have to go still a few miles further west, or south through the city streets to Newport Beach, or through the hills to Laguna.  On the map, it looks as if I should be able to see it, hear it, reach out and put my fingers into it; but in fact, I am not quite there yet.

I’m not really even free of the mountains.  Approaching from the Mojave Desert, I kept thinking I had crossed my last summit, made my last descent into the valley, only to see another hill rise up in front of me and the road ahead follow it up to the top.  Now, though, the hills are lined with homes, man-made outcroppings, and I watch for bicycles rather than fallen rocks.

I like this city, what I have seen of it so far.  It feels like it belongs here.  New York has always felt awkward to me.  It stands so heavily on the ground.  I lose the sense of the island underneath it. The concrete and steel and glass seem to weigh down the earth itself.  Boston, with its 17th century avenues running hither and thither, and the Government Center looming over Quincy Market, sometimes seems about to topple into the bay.  Here, everything seems to sit lightly on the surface.  It’s not true of course.  It’s just an illusion created by all the palm trees and sand-colored architecture.  The streets are six to eight lanes wide through the middle of the city, and when the traffic begins to build, the streets and highways get weighted down, cease to float.  I’ll be here for four or five days. This will bear watching, this odd juxtaposition of lightness and compression.

But for now, I feel light, too.  I have made it almost to the ocean.

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