“Los Angeles” as an entity is a bit of a conundrum, partially because it’s so unclear just what makes up the “City of Los Angeles” – and don’t even get me started on “Los Angeles County.” (Don’t get me started because I’m gonna start myself.) We could sit here all night trying to untangle the Gordian Knot that is this land mass in southern California. There are so many sub-cities and neighborhoods and mini-communities and unofficial municipalities both within and just outside the city that it’s nigh-impossible to keep them all straight. Did you know that L.A. County is larger than the combined areas of Rhode Island and Delaware? That’s crazy! (And definitely something that I knew before “researching” this review.) One little slice of that territorial pie is the city of Alhambra, located just north-east of Los Angeles proper. Don’t let the idyllic picture above fool you, though – Alhambra is a terror.
A bit before my parents slipped away into the night, I offered to grace them with my presence and sit next to them at a screening of The Revenant. They had been backpacking around L.A. and were staying in Arcadia at the time, so Alhambra seemed like a fine enough middle ground with a theater that wasn’t too expensive, the Edwards Alhambra Renaissance Stadium 14 & IMAX. That right there should have been my first clue that something was off; that theater name is way too long. A two-word tag is ideal, and there certainly shouldn’t be a freaking ampersand hanging around. But obviously I wasn’t thinking clearly.
After taking the 10 farther than anyone should, I got off in Alhambra. Driving to the theater I was struck by how much this little town reminded me of West Street in Annapolis, where I grew up. And not the good part of West Street that leads to the picturesque, nostalgia-embracing vistas of Downtown. I’m talking about the other end of West Street, the half that the city doesn’t care much about. The half that sports a liquor store on every block. The half that you can’t find any pictures of when you Google Image search “west street annapolis.”
Goodness I sound so haughty in that last paragraph, don’t I? I certainly have fond memories of Annapolis, but driving back and forth down West Street (as I so often did, whether it was to go to the mall or the comic shop or the Double T Diner) isn’t one of them. It’s a dusty beacon of a town where there wasn’t much for me. A place that epitomized the local government’s apathy toward portions of the city they can’t monetize and put on a t-shirt, and it’s not even the most overlooked part of Annapolis. It’s one of the reasons I left, though I have of course learned that every city has such ignored spots. Alhambra, for instance, which is almost exactly the same, save for more local businesses run by Chinese-Americans. Well that’s something, at least.
But I eventually find myself at the Edwards Alhambra Renaissance Stadium 14 & IMAX (definitely too many words), hoping to shake my prejudices formed by unkind and unfair memories. Until I get to the parking garage. I’ve been in this parking garage before. Not this parking garage, of course, but ones just like it. Tiny affairs wherein you can barely maneuver and getting in and out of a spot becomes an adventure, packed to the gills with every car in the city because the local theater is the only action in town. It’s here where I realize the problem with Alhambra isn’t just the visual echoes it evokes in my mind, but the people as well. Because every single person I get stuck behind in this garage is the worst kind of person: someone who backs into a parking spot.
Now again I suppose I run the risk of sound arrogant, and also like a hypocrite because I back into my parking spot every morning at work. But I also arrive at the Unnamed High School in South Central at 7 am, often one of the first ten cars to pull in. There’s no one around, and there’s certainly not a long line of cars behind me waiting to find a space of their own. How oblivious and self-absorbed can these people be? I liked The Revenant well enough, and I wouldn’t downplay the intense struggle of Leonardo DiCaprio’s Hugh Glass in the film, but I honestly envied him as I attempted to navigate this hellish structure of metal and concrete. I’ll take a bear any day of the week over egotistical fools!
Perhaps it is irresponsible of me to judge an entire city and the people who live in it based on one experience that amounted to less than four hours of my life (though that’s kind of the whole conceit of this blog). I was even going to let it all go – let bygones be bygones. I would return to Hollywood – my more civilized part of the county – get some Chick-Fil-A and spend the rest of the evening watching martial arts movies. So I’m in line at the drive-through, waiting. And waiting. And waiting. The people in the car in front of me, a white Honda Passport, can’t seem to make up their minds. Through the window I can see every seat is filled, and everyone (besides the driver, I hope) has a beer in their hand. Of course. There are idiots everywhere, even in a magical place like Hollywood. Eventually they figure out what they want, only for their literally antiquated vehicle to break down at the window. Again, I sigh. But at least it puts the rest of my day into perspective. Half of the cargo hop out to push the car out of the way, and as I retrieve my food and start to drive off I finally understand, because the license plate frame proudly declares the source of this ponderous posse: Alhambra, California. The Gateway to the San Gabriel Valley. Of course. Did they follow me from the Edwards Alhambra Renaissance Stadium 14 & IMAX? Like zombies attracted to the smell of fresh meat? Who knows. But as I drove away, looking at their confused, drunk faces in the rearview mirror, I thought “Never again. Never. Again.”
Alhambra – the armpit of California – earns one out of five accidents waiting to happen: