Page last updated at 08:16 GMT, Friday, 17 June 2011 09:16 UK

Spoilt by California's beauty and convenience

By Rajesh Mirchandani
BBC News, Los Angeles


California may have more songs written about it than anywhere else in the world, but despite the beaches and the fun, our former US west coast correspondent has some harsh words for the Golden State and its largest city, Los Angeles.

After three and a bit years, I have come to see LA as a bit like the Galapagos Islands. Bear with me!

Granted this is the second largest conurbation in America, but it really is far away from everything else, those big urban centres on the east coast, three time zones ahead of us.

We are not talking giant tortoises here, but remoteness. This has ensured the city has evolved in a strange and unique way.

Traffic in Los Angeles
LA's obsession with car ownership embodies its 'me-first' spirit

I first noticed it three years ago on my inaugural LA New Year's Eve.

As I was getting ready to drive the five miles (8km) to a party, I watched the east coast celebrations on TV to get in the mood - Times Square and the big shiny ball and the huge crowd.

Three hours later in the nation's second city, we turned on the TV to join in LA's countdown and saw - a repeat of New York's New Year. Recorded, rewound and replayed.

My theory is that LA does not host its own event because this is a city that does not do crowds.

Angelenos prefer the cocooned safety of their cars to communing with others.

They do not like to share physical space with another human being.

In the shadow of sky-scraping towers lies the most sickening poverty of Skid Row - children among the fastest growing groups of the desperate

Their subservience to the car means they have evolved valet parking at the bank.

As I said, it is strange and unique. And it does not exactly instil a feeling of community or civic pride.

In that sense I have found it a very selfish place.

A lot of the people you meet are less interested in you, than what you can do for them.

Maybe Hollywood is to blame.

But the auto companies that bought up all the land decades ago and prevented a light rail system from spreading must, I feel, share the blame for LA's me-first attitude.

You see it in the predatory driving.

Every day when I signal my intention to change lanes, my neighbour speeds up to deny me access.

The city of Angels should have as its motto - "Get them before they get you".

It does not fit with the laid-back, hippy surf-dude image California became famous for.

But the longer I live here, the more I wonder if that California even exists any more.

Fall from grace

This was known as a land of plenty - now it is a landscape of foreclosure and unemployment.

In the shadow of sky-scraping towers lies the most sickening poverty of skid row - children among the fastest growing groups of the desperate.

A young boy enjoys a lunch at the Los Angeles Mission and Anne Douglas Center's Thanksgiving meal for the homeless
Many families, including children, were left homeless by the economic crash

In San Diego there is even a school for homeless kids - it is running out of space.

Californians used to enjoy subsidised education in the best-equipped, most beautiful university campuses in the world - now tuition fees are going up while courses are being slashed and a degree will set you back $150,000 (£90,000).

Back in the '30s dustbowl refugees flocked to the Golden State to pick fruit from its lush orchards.

Now migrants from Latin America toil in 100C weather for a few dollars a day - yet in my local supermarket the fruit comes from other countries. It is under-ripe and over-priced.

I am told Californian fruit fetches a higher price at export.

You can buy locally grown produce - and in fact the hip new food trend here is to be a locavore - stocking your table from producers nearby - it is ironic that anti-globalisation has found a foothold in a state with the strongest worldwide brand.

In fact, when I speak to people in the UK, you can hear the dreaminess in their voices - "Wow, you live in California" - they make it sound like paradise.

Paradise lost to my eyes.

Energising spirit

So, now that my time as the west coast correspondent is up, and clearly, from what you have heard, I can not wait to get out of here. What am I going to do?

Vineyards, California
California's famous vineyards and fruit crops paint a beautiful landscape away from the city

Well, I am staying.

That is the problem you see.

It gets into your blood.

I am sitting on my terrace, in bright evening sunshine, looking at the palm trees and the desert plants - there is a humming bird flitting from flower to flower - and turtle doves nest nearby.

We have even christened our local squirrel - we call him Pauly.

Later I might go to Little Tokyo for sushi, or Thai Town or Koreatown, Fillipinotown or Little Armenia - or if I can brave the rush hour freeway - over to the Westside for the best Iranian food.

Maybe I will head to the beach to watch the sun go down with a glass of Californian pinot noir.

At the weekend I can drive an hour to the mountains, or to the desert or to the coast.

I can walk out of my door and practice my Spanish or I can supersize my meal and add fries and a giant soda for an extra dollar.

I have become spoilt by California's diversity, its beauty and convenience.

And energised by its can-do spirit.

I am staying and I am hoping to go back to college and do some volunteer work - that Pacific Ocean coastline has made my own horizons feel broader.

I complain about it because it is home.

It is still the place people dream of visiting. I could not leave if I wanted to.

How to listen to From Our Own Correspondent

BBC Radio 4:
A 30-minute programme on Saturdays, 1130.
Second 30-minute programme on Thursdays, 1100 (some weeks only).
Listen online or Download the podcast

BBC World Service:
Hear daily 10-minute editions Monday to Friday, repeated through the day, also available to listen online.

Read more or explore the archive at the programme website .

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