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East Side, West Side : The Tug of War Between L.A.'s Rival Realities Is Polarizing the City. But Some Angelenos Are Breaking Down the Barriers.

January 23, 1994|JILL STEWART | Contributing editor Jill Stewart's last piece for this magazine was on the Los Angeles mayor's race

The ocean air cools the packed bodies at Santa Monica's Electronic Cafe as a bash for the elite of the information highway picks up steam. Crisp computer types and mellow virtual realists exchange techno-greetings: "Hi. Military simulations?" "Of course, SAG." The cafe, a high-tech playground jammed with interactive-media equipment that can link up with Europe or South America, has drawn a highly educated, mostly white crowd this night. Lofty issues float off lips. The mood is bold. The talk is of changing the very nature of business, of crossing social barriers via computers, of making big bucks. The night is very Westside.

At that hour, across town in East Los Angeles, a football game winds down, the eternal grudge match between Roosevelt and Garfield high schools. Husbands who graduated Garfield sit on opposite bleachers from wives who graduated Roosevelt, and nobody finds that funny. The mood is proud. The stadium, crammed with 22,000 Latinos, hardly any blacks or whites, is a roaring sea. Two girls climb a railing, giggling when school police scold them. There is a palpable sense of community, of old rivals gruffly acknowledging the existence of the other. When the game ends, 90 young men shake hands and strut off the field. The scene is very Eastside.

Most Angelenos don't know about the big game, especially Westsiders. When someone at the cafe says she's leaving to catch the final quarter, having heard about the game on TV, people stare as if she's just announced she's off to Beirut. Then \o7 it\f7 happens. The Westside vs. Eastside thing. A man speaks up: "Are you sure that's safe to do? Isn't it awfully late?" One guest manages a concerned chin up! expression. "Be careful!" It's not late on the Westside, of course. But isn't it deeply, darkly late in East L.A?

It is a critical measure of Los Angeles' dual reality that Santa Monica and East Los Angeles are four seconds apart by modem and only minutes by car, yet they are often separated by a psychological span of light years. Los Angeles is divided in a host of ways--by race, income, attitude. And one of those fundamental splits is geographical. L.A. is in many ways two different cities, the Westside and everything else: that vague inland reality that has no handy nickname, beginning where the Westside trails off and stretching to the slopes of the San Gabriels. Though Angelenos can't seem to agree just where the border between West and East lies in a city changing as rapidly as ours, there is still a sense, deeply embedded in our psychology, that there is another side of town whose freeway exits we do not know and whose lifestyles we do not share. Exploring this idea in barrooms and boardrooms across the city, one hears a cacophony of voices--some amusing, some passionate, many revelatory.

The east and west often hold each other in contempt, with Eastsiders dumping on the "white bread" Westside, and Westsiders clucking that the rest of the town has gone to hell. And everybody gets into the act, from powerbrokers to housekeepers. Influential market researcher and Westsider Richard Maullin insists there "is no East-West to Los Angeles," but when asked why Eastsiders blubber on so about the Westside, retorts, "It's self-hatred. They are saying, 'I would like to be like people on the Westside and because I know that I am not, I hate you.' " Silver Lake resident Mike Roos, president of the education reform group LEARN and a man who usually acts as an unofficial ambassador for the two sides of town, likens Westsiders to a bunch of sheep who in the 1980s "bought piece-of-s- - - little boxes for $600,000. They could have had palaces in Burbank, but they want to receive and express the acknowledgment: I live on the Westside."

Each side relishes its myths about the other. Eastsiders love to howl that Westsiders are a bunch of phonies. Malcolm Boyd, the prolific author, Episcopal priest and Silver Lake resident, recalls his favorite Westside moment: "I was at--Mortons?--and I heard someone at another table say, 'Steven Spielberg is reading my script today by the pool.' And of course it was total bulls- - -! The point is, the gods and goddesses are said to be closer to the earth on the Westside, but they're not."

Earthy Eastside gays, like Boyd, live in the bohemian pockets east of Vermont and call the glitzy Westside gays, who live in upscale West Hollywood, "WE-HOs," with the emphasis on "HO." County Supervisor Gloria Molina, according to one longtime fund raiser, balks at attending meetings in Hancock Park because it's just "too far West." And despite Pasadena's location beyond the historic Eastside, some Pasadenans see themselves as arbiters of a new Eastside consciousness, directly competing with the Westside. Pasadena Mayor Rick Cole brags that Pasadena yuppies spend their money on "more meaningful things" than Brentwood yuppies.

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