L.A. vs. NYC, Part I: Prepare to Not Die


Before I came to L.A. all sorts of people—friends, acquaintances, bail bondsmen—told me that there was no way I could go to L.A. and not drive. Well, I’m not going to learn to drive, I said repeatedly. You have to, they said. No, I said.

It turns out that, just a little over a week in, L.A. is turning out to be one of the best walking cities I’ve been to. Most of it is laid out on a grid, good for the directionally challenged like me. The majority of crosswalks have countdown clocks. There are few pedestrians, which means few aggressive New York–style people elbowing you. And the cars are not actively trying to kill you. In fact, they seem to be actively trying to not kill you. I have not gotten used to this yet. Every time I see a car about to turn toward me, I stop. But they always stop and wave me across.

I can’t begin to explain how strange this is. In New York, I live between Delancey and Houston, two of the most dangerous streets in Manhattan (Delancey and Essex, three blocks from me, has been called one of the deadliest intersections in the city). You can’t cross Delancey in the time the countdown clock gives you unless you jog. The intersection at Houston and Suffolk has a traffic light, but coming as it does just after a light at a bigger intersection a block down, many drivers don’t realize it’s there or choose to ignore it and  run right through it. The best way to cross this particular intersection is sideways and waving madly. And then there are the taxi drivers, born maniacs who studiously apply the rules of the road. Of Egypt. My friend and I once nearly got run over at the intersection of Houston and Bleecker; the taxi driver was leaning halfway out his window for reasons unknown. I’m talking from the waist up, he was outside the cab. My friend swore that he was dead. Dead or alive, he kept right on going.

Taxi drivers here drive like normal people. There is an app called Taxi Magic that allows you to, yes, magically summon a taxi driver. They appear within about three minutes; it’s like having a chauffeur. The app is available in many markets, but not in New York City. (It has something to do with an NYC regulation preventing cabs from being dispatched; they can only be hailed. Which is pretty dumb.)

Add to that the buses somehow adhere to a schedule and arrive just about at the time Google Maps says they will; some bus stops even have electronic arrival boards. What is this, Japan? There’s a bus around the corner from my apartment that goes directly to Santa Monica Beach in 45 minutes. (Though I learned the hard way that Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade is tourist central. No, I don’t want to talk to you about my hair/the whales! Ack, Times Square flashback!)

So far the only disadvantage I’ve found to L.A. is that waiting for the bus in 70-degree heat with no shade to be found anywhere can be a bit unpleasant. Fortunately, I’ve never had to wait more than 10 minutes for a bus. And yes, there are the perverts following you down the street making unwelcome comments, but New York City certainly has its share of perverts. The downside is here there aren’t enough other pedestrians to draw the attention of the pervert away from you.

And finally, people (the non-perverts) say good morning here. You’ll be walking down the street and someone will just say good morning to you, as if you were in some charming rural town. It’s shocking I tell you.

People say hello to you when you walk into a store. They’re happy and friendly. They don’t spit on you or kick you in the shins.

L.A. is so weird.

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6 responses to “L.A. vs. NYC, Part I: Prepare to Not Die

  1. astounding. dc is like nyc in that pedestrians, bicyclists, stroller-riders, etc. daring to sully the street with their audacity are like a moving targets for which you get bonus points if you hit or even graze them. i’ll admit that even in cali as as back-seat passenger, i was pressing on my imaginary gas pedal after the ped crossed the street but had not made it all the way across yet but the driver just calmly waited until the ped was completely safe and sound on the sidewalk before easing down the road.

  2. also, hey, wow, looks like two of the deadliest intersections in dc are five seconds away (18th and columbia) or five minutes away (14th and U – you know, where i come to pick you up from the u street metro).

    http://www.lewisandtompkins.com/library/dc-pedestrian-bicycle-accident-attorneys-serving-dc-md-va.cfm

  3. you should start spitting and kicking people in the shins. bring a little new york to LA!

  4. I’m reading farther back to figure out what you’re doing in LA, but I’m first forwarding this to Peter, who hates LA because of the car thing. But, actually, I think he hates CA because of the saying-hello thing also. But I really think that’s most of the rest of the world, so it’s a lost cause.

  5. Zora, pretty much everyone I know hates LA so it’s funny that I, the most inclined to hate of all, kind of love it. I’ll email you re what I’m doing here…

  6. I love LA and love that you are having a good experience there! Weird stuff may happen but that’s not bad. Also, remember what I said about the sun? Yeah. It’s hot. And always shining. You need a parasol!

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