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CALIFORNIA | Steve Lopez / POINTS WEST

Win Some, Lose Some and Ignore the Rest

September 10, 2004|Steve Lopez

I don't know if anyone out there has noticed, but things are not going well lately in paradise.

In the last week alone, Southern California has topped the rankings again for worst traffic in the United States, we're king of the hill in adult illiteracy, and we've learned that dirty air has stunted the development of our children's lungs.

I haven't even mentioned the wretched heat wave or the plague of West Nile virus. It's possible that thousands of Los Angeles County residents have been affected, according to one health official. And the blood supply could become contaminated, as well.

That's a lot of bad news for one week, and it must be God's way of getting even with us for all the sin and debauchery around here. But let's not blame everything on Catholic Church officials.

Besides, there's plenty of good news to talk about.

Just let me think for a minute.

A seismologist predicted an earthquake that never happened.

The Dodgers and Angels could end up in the World Series.

L.A. Mayor "Slim" Jim Hahn could get thrown out of office.

I haven't been told to go back to Mexico in at least a week.

The end of the assault weapons ban will give us a leg up in the war on West Nile mosquitoes.

Lifted by all this good news, I ventured into the metropolis for more signs of health and happiness. Downtown Fullerton was alive with activity, lots of people out and about. I would have stayed longer except that traffic was a nightmare and children were choking on the exhaust.

Heading north, I stopped in to see an old pal in La Habra. Lee Quarnstrom, a former news hack, introduced me to his Welsh corgi pup, Emma.

He said she keeps finding dead birds in the backyard.

"I wonder if it's West Nile," Quarnstrom said.

While driving away, I made the mistake of turning on the radio and got filled in on our championship rate of illiteracy. A majority (53%) of L.A. County's working-age people, it seems, are reading and writing at roughly a second-grade level.

The great tragedy, of course, is that these people are condemned to careers in the entertainment industry.

There's trouble in paradise, all right. But under a steady barrage of lung disease, killer mosquitoes, illiteracy and traffic madness, Southern California's strength shone through as the week wore on.

In most communities, any one of these problems would be enough to set off waves of panic and demands for immediate remedies. Here in the land where catastrophe and contentedness have always cohabitated, the sun was high in the sky, the masses went about their normal business of driving without paying attention, and a Wal-Mart Supercenter got into Rosemead.

Win some, lose some.

"You don't go around thinking about it," said Brentwood psychologist Janice Roosevelt Gerard, 69, a Los Angeles native. "Southern California has a very special culture of isolation, and for whatever reason, perhaps climate, it's very hard for people to connect with other people unless they've been here from birth.

"Look at the war in Iraq. People don't actually get the horror of what's happening. There's a distance from negativity."

Blissful, isn't it?

Yeah, we've got problems, but it could be worse.

We could be living in Florida.

Steve Lopez writes Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Reach him at steve.lopez@ latimes.com and read previous columns at www.latimes.com/ lopez.

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