Just Above Sunset
August 22, 2004 - Is it the San Andreas' fault?
By Bob Patterson
The War Between the State: Northern California vs. Southern California compiled and edited by Jon Winokur ($16.95 Sasquatch Books)
This book offers many, many quotes, both pro and con, regarding the question of which is a better city - Los Angeles or San Francisco. A special chapter offers the tie breaker possibilities offered when New York City is considered as an alternate choice for either or both the California locations.
Reading this book was a total pleasure because the parts about San Francisco took me back to 1968-70 and that in itself was refreshing.
It seemed that this book might produce a conflicted reaction because I thought the nostalgia factor for San Francisco would balance the choice. Living in Los Angeles for over 30 years, indicates a certain preference for the final decision.
The “which one is better” conflict can be refined down to this: San Francisco is small and beautiful. Los Angeles is large, sprawling, and a cultural smorgasbord that doesn’t easily compare to any other location known to this writer.
New York City residents think they are, to use WABC’s announcer Harry Harrison’s trademark phrase “the greatest city in the world,” especially if you like cold winters, and this book gets a chapter that addresses the concerns of the interlopers from that East Coast metropolis.
Most of the book concerns itself with the local rivalry between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The good points for both ring true and the digs for each have a trace element of truth that must be admitted, but after reading the book, this reviewer will award the first place medal to Los Angeles. Back in the Sixties, parking in San Francisco was a nightmare. Visiting in the Seventies it had advanced to the rank of “impossible.” Now, it must be an impossible nightmare raised to the third power.
If this book were to be epitomized by only one of the quotes I would select this one by Berton Averre on page 93: “One of the San Francisco papers sponsored a ‘Why I hate Los Angeles In A Thousand Words Or Less’ contest. The winner, letting success go to his head, moved down to West Hollywood, where he’s been pitching screenplays ever since.”
The book contains a wide assortment of literary luminaries who usually get one example of their brilliant insight to advance a particular viewpoint. The superb humorist and columnist Herb Caen is quoted 10 different times.
Several Los Angeles Times columnists are quoted, but this book does not include any aphorisms from the author of their Only in Los Angeles feature, Steve Harvey. That might make it a tad difficult to get any publicity from him for The War Between the State.
If any criticism of this book can be made it is just that the exact source for the quotes are not included.
On the subject of the San Fernando Valley, Winokur quotes Kevin Roderick, proprietor of LA Observed, the web site for Los Angeles oriented journalism “shop talk.” His contribution is found on page 35. Since Roderick is the author of The San Fernando Valley: America’s Suburb ($24.95 Los Angeles Times Books), future scholars might have an easy time tracking down the exact location, where the particular quote that Winokur used, originally appeared.
One of the first things a new resident in San Francisco will hear is the Mark Twain quip: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” I have quoted it numerous times in writings and conversations without ever knowing the exact source for this famous saying. Winokur leaves the scholarly detective work up to any and all future researchers because he does not specifically cite the details where he found the various insights, one-liners, and/or cheap shots. Then again, if anyone is going to use material included in Winokur’s book they will either have to cite The War Between The State or duplicate the research. Knowing just how lazy some journalists can be (moi?) that’s a clever way to get more future publicity.
Besides the intrinsic enjoyment of reading the book (this review was due), there is the subsidiary enjoyment of anticipation of my next phone conversation with a former Los Angeles neighbor who works in New York City and is a very proud citizen (and Yankee fan) so that I can read her a few examples such as the Judith Lewis quote on page 119: “People who say they hate New York City generally avoid New York City, but people who say they hate Los Angeles take up defiant residence in its hardest neighborhoods to chronicle their resistance to its empty and awful culture, and sometimes, for their pains, find themselves honored with grant money.”
This book will get a place of honor (amongst the other Jon Winokur books) on my “quick access” bookshelf near the computer, but, for a short time, it may have to be kept right next to my phone, just in case anyone from Concordia Kansas calls to extol the extent of their civic pride.
Reviewing this book brings to mind the quote (on page 43) of Christopher Isherwood about living in Southern California. “It’s no good explaining to people why one lives in Hollywood. They either understand or they don’t.” Folks who love living in Los Angeles, San Francisco, or New York will probably want to have this book just for the fun of it. The folks who live in (for instance) Toowoomba Queensland Australia may not deem the expenditure of funds as worth the reward.
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