A Father and Son Search for a 'Sense of Place' in Fractured L.A.

Steve Soboroff and his son Jacob chatted for publication the other day, and the results are in the CityThink blog at Los Angeles magazine.

The father's life is woven into the recent history of Los Angeles -- from Playa Vista to the Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University to the Dodgers (briefly) to the Weingart Foundation. He's been a candidate for mayor. He's also a collector of typewriters once owned by notable authors.

The son is a host at HuffPost Live, the streaming network of The Huffington Post. He's also a filmmaker and journalist. Back in Los Angeles, he's been reweaving himself into the fabric of the city. (He worked on a video series with KCET, too).

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Like a lot of us, Steve and Jacob wonder how to become Angeleño ... how to become more indigenous to this fractured place. Jacob sees promise in storytelling, particularly in stories that connect the particulars of Los Angeles to the nation generally. Steve thought that events like the Space Shuttle Endeavour flyover and crawl through the city's streets brought Angeleños out of themselves and into a common place.

And because both Steve and Jacob are civic men, they expect a sense of the place to come from political men (and it's mostly men) whose vision might inspire something like loyalty to Los Angeles. Steve believes that there's not enough political talk in Los Angeles. He's right.

I believe in stories more than in political men. I believe in the encounters from which our stories of ourselves might arise. Jacob links those encounters with his childhood in Los Angeles, trailing after his father:

I think my siblings and I love L.A. so much because as we were growing up, you were working in city government and we had the privilege of being able to leave our home on the Westside and go down to Watts and hang out at [community organizer] Sweet Alice Harris' house or to see where you grew up in Woodland Hills, or go down to San Pedro or Boyle Heights. Too many people don't see the city in its entirety, and that's why so many people judge it so wrong.

It's impossible to see Los Angeles in its entirety, but that still should be our goal. This city of golden dreams suffers from a too narrow imagination, hemmed in by geography, class, and the gaps between our tribes.

In the Soboroffs' imagining of Los Angeles, they see a city that could earn its residents' pride. There's a problem with the idea of being proud of Los Angeles, which seems naïve to me. But I'm in sympathy with any effort that deepens and widens our moral imagination to take in more of the city as it is and as we would wish it to be.

Today, mythic Los Angeles -- so forgetful and distracted -- is slowly being refigured by interpreters whose stories contain more about us and what we yearn for. Those stories don't describe a perfect place or a paradise. The best of them resist the subordination of the everyday to the schemes of power and authority.

The "hunger of memory" is acute here, but in satisfying it we can reclaim our shared past with its achievements and its flaws. By extending our imaginations across the whole, sacred, human, and humanizing body of Los Angeles, we can begin to answer an essential question, "How do we make a home here for all of us?"

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles," among other books about the social history of Southern California. He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times ...
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