Westward, Ho: Is All Of New York Moving To California?

SplitSider.com recently posted a round-table discussion about the “comedy exodus” in New York City. It seems many top comedians have reached a consensus: when it comes to being creative and finding work, Los Angeles is better than New York. And they’ve headed west because of it. (You can read that roundtable discussion here.)

Remember the last time this happened? It was the Gold Rush, only now there is no pesky Oregon Trail on which you can contract scarlet fever and die before you ever get to La La Land. It’s just a hop, skip, and a Virgin America jet ride away.

The reason this interests me, of course, is because of my own epic journey there and back again.

And all the shit I got because of it.

I ventured from LA to New York in October 2009, right in the midst of a recession, and while this isn’t really the time or place to discuss the finer details of all that (because I’m saying it isn’t), I will say that the title of this blog is a direct result of that move. It is HARD IN THE CITY.

All cities — but especially New York.Now don’t get me wrong. I love New York City. I had a great time there, and I’ve never for a moment been sorry I went. (Well, maybe for a moment, but give me a break here.) And I met some truly excellent people in my travels.

But one thing I hated about New York was how many people there loathe LA. I defended my former home countless times; often, to people who had never even been there. “Everyone’s so superficial out there!” they’d cry. “The people are so fake! You have to drive!” To this I’d counter: I’ve met just as many shallow, self-absorbed assholes in New York as I’ve met in LA, or perhaps even more; and, do you really want to argue transportation woes with the fuckin’ MTA in such a sorry shambles as it is?

(And no, they usually didn’t.)

There are a number of very bad and very good things you can say about both cities, and which one is better for you depends on a number of factors, like: Do you know how to drive? Are you a good driver? Do you enjoy crowds? Do you hate movies and the people who make them? Are you rich? Are you an alcoholic? How willing are you to freeze to death?Neither is perfect. Not even close. But Los Angelinos are generally open-minded about New York. They tend to love it, even if they wouldn’t want to live there. Then again, they could be lying; it is very unfashionable to hate New York. (Is this just a post-9/11 thing, or was it always this way? I know the T-shirts pre-date 2001 by quite a margin.)

On the flip side, it is actually quite trendy to hate LA, which I guess is why so many New Yorkers feel comfortable doing so, vehemently, any chance they get. Los Angeles is just about the only place you can be from where, upon hearing this, someone will spit: “Oh my God, I hate that place!” How fucking rude, right? Substitute anywhere else — let’s say, Butte, Montana.

Person A: “Hi, nice to meet you.”

Person B: “Oh, the pleasure is all mine. Where are you from?”

Person A: “Oh, I’m from Butte.”

Person B: “Butte! Did you say Butte? Oh my God. Fucking Butte! That shithole? I’ve never been, but it’s vile. It’s absolutely deplorable. How did you not kill yourself? People drive cars there! How fucking revolting, right? Christ! I wish that whole seething cesspool would fall into a pit of lava and everyone who lives there would be burnt to crispy cinders in the most painful and horrifying way imaginable.”

See, that just doesn’t happen with Butte. Or anywhere else.

No place but LA.That reaction caused me to instantly dislike a number of people I’d just met, and usually I’d stop talking to them immediately. I might throw in a couple of mild defenses, but really, I was just done. Never mind that LA, even moreso than New York, in my estimation, is teeming with creative and ambitious people. For as “shallow” and “superficial” as so many New Yorkers proclaimed everyone in LA to be, there are few things more shallow or superficial than judging an entire city’s worth of people you’ve never met.

Other times, I’d speak to someone who’d visited LA for about a week; many of whom said they hadn’t had a car to get around, and were mainly judging the entire city based on staying in a Holiday Inn near the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. To this, I’d reply that that was like visiting New York and never leaving Times Square, and then complaining about how awful a place it is. Because if you base it on Times Square alone, New York is pretty awful.On the other hand, any time I’d meet someone who was from and/or really liked California, they became my best friend instantly and for life. We were few and far between, we brave champions of Los Angeles.

Or, at least, we were. But then something strange happened.

About the same time I decided to leave New York, others did, too. Many of us were headed for California. There’s nothing incredibly strange about this; people move back and forth between these cities all the time. If you have many friends in one, you’re soon bound to have friends in both of them. That’s just how it works. But as I was leaving, I talked to several others who professed a desire to leave, too; to “try out the west coast for awhile.” These people began to surmise: maybe it’s not so bad to drive and be warm and watch movies. Was the bias weakening?Here’s what I think: the entire country was hit hard by the economic downturn. California was basically in ruins when I left. But it’s always been hard to make it in New York City, and in the wake of the financial collapse, it’s especially hard to bounce back there. That is, let me remind you, where Occupy Wall Street was born. And it’s no secret that Manhattan is a pricey town; Los Angeles isn’t exactly, say, Butte, but you will get more bang for your buck. In the concrete jungle, you must fend for yourself; people are less willing to help you get a leg up there. LA is a collaborative city because the film industry is collaborative by nature, by necessity. And in LA, it’s all about the industry.

New Yorkers have a lot of pride. You sort of have to. You go through a lot, living there; you need to believe that it’s worth it. And for many, it is. But why hate on LA? Does that not seem defensive? It’s possible that many New Yorkers see Los Angeles as a threat. They don’t want to believe that there’s an alternative; a place that might offer just as many opportunities, but without the brutal weather. Or is this the turning point?Is there a shift happening? Is New York finally willing to admit that things in LA might be, for now, a little better? (Or at least equally good?) Have people finally had it with Manhattan and all the hardships that come with it? Have they been chased out at last by the high prices, hurricanes, muggings, snow storms, heat waves, rats, roaches, unemployment, earthquakes, garbage, tourists, and, worst of all, the MTA? Are easterners heading west again in high hopes of prosperity? Many comedians seem to think so, at least.

Here are a few choice quotes to chew on:

Anthony King: “In the last 10 years, the whole city in New York feels like it’s about money and it cuts off so many avenues of strangeness. New York has become such a Wall Street town. There’s not that much else. LA is more varied: Beverly Hills, Malibu, hipsters and mall people, Venice Beach and surfers.”

Eliza Skinner: “I wanted to move to LA for a long time. When I left, I was going through Facebook to invite people to a goodbye party and it was just all, oh, he’s already gone, she’s already gone, he’s there, he’s there, he’s there. They were all there already.”

Streeter Seidell: “New York doesn’t have anything that LA doesn’t provide. But, certainly in the jobs sense and the production sense, there are things in LA that New York doesn’t have.”

Anthony King: “You can do whatever you want in either place. In New York, that’s because nobody pays attention to you. In LA, it’s because people are only paying attention to themselves. Everyone I talk to here, really, the dream is to live in both. Because there’s nothing better than spring and fall in New York, and there’s nothing worse than summer and winter there.”

Eliza Skinner: “Anytime anyone in New York gets a gig, it’s like, ‘HOW DID YOU GET THAT? WHAT DID YOU DO? HOW DO I DO WHAT YOU DID TO GET WHAT YOU GOT?’ You lose sight of thinking, y’know, that’s not right for me. Out here, it’s like ‘You got it? Great! OK, I’m going to go do my thing now, too!’”

Jason Mantzoukas: “LA is checkers, one move at a time, one spot at a time, incremental. New York is chess, sitting in the same spot just waiting to make one big move, seven squares at once.”

Granted, this discussion is specific to comedians and comedy writers, which I am not. But I think there’s something universal about it, too, in that most of what was said applies to a greater whole.

Are things in LA really better? Not really. Not necessarily. It’s just a different place, with a different vibe and different opportunities. I could write forever on the LA vs. NYC debate and still never resolve it. But I’ve always enjoyed rooting for the underdog, and clearly, poor, picked-on Los Angeles is the “little engine that could” here — because New York is such a big meanie bully!

It’s still a taboo topic. For whatever reason, you’re supposed to love New York more than you love LA.

But do you? Do you really?

Just think about it. I won’t make you tell me.

4 thoughts on “Westward, Ho: Is All Of New York Moving To California?

  1. “That reaction caused me to instantly dislike a number of people I’d just met, and usually I’d stop talking to them immediately.” Love it and totally side with you! I also love Jason’s quote, ““LA is checkers, one move at a time, one spot at a time, incremental. New York is chess, sitting in the same spot just waiting to make one big move, seven squares at once.” Majorly brill.


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