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From Chitown to My Town

While Los Angeles was busy comparing itself to New York, Chicago slipped in under the radar and infiltrated our city, bringing us everything from porterhouse steaks to 'Being John Malkovich.'

March 20, 2000|MARY McNAMARA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

And all this time we've been worried about the wrong city.

All this time, we've worried about how L.A.'s politics, style, attitude, influence stack up against New York's. All of which is meaningless now, since clearly, the city we should have been focusing on, the city to which we should have been sending our spies and our caustic columnists, is Chicago.

Chicago, the city of Big Shoulders, the Windy City, Second City, Chitown. Coming soon to an L.A. historical landmark near you.

In the neonatal months of the new millennium, with the aid of fate and the FTC, downtown L.A.'s two remaining Fortune 500 companies have been consumed by companies based in Chicago. For those of you who haven't heard, Tribune Co. has announced plans to buy this very newspaper, and BP Amoco, the British firm whose American operations are based in Chicago, is on the verge of completing its purchase of Arco.

Coincidence? We think not.

Oh, we should have seen the signs: The recent unseasonable chill in the air. The return of the porterhouse steak to the menus of so many local eateries. The sudden renaissance of fur. The inexplicable popularity of the film "Being John Malkovich." John Malkovich . . . who did much of his early acting at the Steppenwolf Theatre.

Which is in . . . Chicago.

Certainly the two cities have some historical and cultural similarities: They have a lot of Catholics, we have a lot of Catholics. They had the Chicago fire, we have the annual Malibu fire. They have a Miracle Mile, we have a Miracle Mile. They have the Loop, we have the Red Line. They have North Avenue Beach, we have Venice Beach. They have a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings, we have a lot of Frank Lloyd Wright buildings. They have the Chicago River, which they dye green every St. Patrick's Day, we have the Los Angeles River, which is green almost every day.

They have Oak Park, we have the Valley. They had the 1968 Democratic convention, we had the 1992 civil unrest. They have the wind off Lake Michigan, we have the Santa Anas. They have that winter, we've got those earthquakes.

It may be too early to talk long-term conspiracy. (What really did happen to those Oscar statuettes that disappeared en route from . . . you guessed it, Chicago?) But the Chicago influence is not a new phenomenon. Careful analysis will show that this takeover was a long time coming.

Consider the combined impact of David Mamet and John Belushi alone, and doesn't it seem that every comedic actor worth his or her salt did some time in Second City?

Newcomers to the San Marino area are often heard exclaiming, "Why it looks just like Winnetka!" And for years, Catalina Island was little more than a Wrigley family playground.

Blame it on Route 66, blame it on hostilities born when Los Angeles became the second-largest U.S. city and Chicago was relegated to mere fly-over status, blame it on the weather. So what happens when the giddy upspeak of the L.A. Basin (Hi? My name is Mary?) collides with the flat-line vowels of Lake Michigan? For one thing, Angelenos are going to have to learn that it's Chi-caaah-go, not Chi-ca-go, that the mayoral term-of-office approximates that of Supreme Court justice, that having a football team is a good and important thing, and that a dish consisting of marshmallows, mandarin orange slices and sour cream is, technically, a salad.

And Chicagoans are going to have to accept a few things as well: that punctuality is a sign of status inferiority, that the letter J is often silent, that 60 degrees is indeed very chilly, and that pizza with Thai noodles on top is still pizza.

But these are all details we can work through. And we will. For we must. Change is coming. Change is here.

And lest we forget, the name of the temporarily monikered Los Angeles County Performing Arts Center is also up for grabs--the Marshall Fields Center for the Performing Arts has a nice ring to it, don't you think?

Mary McNamara can be reached at mary.mcnamara@latimes.com.

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