Travel + Leisure magazine has again asked a critical world (via its website*) to rate US cities on dozens of dimensions of value - from the attractiveness of a city's residents to the quality of its microbreweries. Los Angeles didn't do so well.
Those who self-identified as visitors ranked Los Angeles poorly overall. Only our weather and luxe spending topped visitors' poll numbers. Apparently, Los Angeles can be a golden city for tourists, but only if they stay at a 5-star hotel and shop on Rodeo Drive during a "wild weekend" in the summer.
Those who claimed to be residents made nearly the same disparaging assessment - a reminder, perhaps, that many of us remain tourists no matter how long we've lived here.
According to the 2010 T+L magazine poll, our cultural amenities are weak (none are even in the top third). The quality of neighborhood hangouts hardly registers. Only hamburgers brighten the local food scene. Nightlife is middling at best. Visitors should expect a dirty, dangerous, and boring cityscape. You'd be a fool to stray into any part of L.A. that doesn't have valet parking or concierge service. In fact, it would be best to cut your visit short - no extended L.A. vacation is going to be romantic, relaxing, or culturally enriching.
Oh . . . and Angeleños are uniformly dull and unfriendly.
According to the annals of T+L, the city and its denizens have been all of the above for years. (An early version of the survey, posted in 2003, already had Los Angeles dead last for friendliness.)
Historically, tourist contempt for who we are begins with Richard Henry Dana (in Two Years Before the Mast). Dana, a Bostonian, informed his American readers that Angeleños in 1834 were lazy, absurdly dressed, and Mexican. He didn't remark on their friendliness.
By 1890, Angeleños in the tourist literature were characterized as sun-addled hedonists and glad-handing boosters with broad smiles. But their friendliness didn't seem to be in question, even if it was the friendliness of a sales pitch.
By 1990, reactions to us had darkened considerably. William Alexander McClung (in Landscapes of Desire: Anglo Mythologies of Los Angeles) summed up the disappointment of the city's 20th century interpreters: "(In) the received literary image . . . Los Angeles (is) a strange place, reached by a journey, enjoyed, railed against, and ultimately rejected." The rejection conforms to a tradition that condemns Los Angeles as "unreadable," but Angeleños are in there, too, as perpetrators of their own disillusionment - at the same time cynical manufacturers of snake oil and reckless buyers of it.
If that's your narrative of the city, I guess you'd be unfriendly too.
*An online survey, developed by the editors of Travel + Leisure, appeared on travelandleisure.com from July 1, 2010, to September 15, 2010.
The image on this page was adapted from a photograph taken by flickr user Scott West. It is used under a Creative Commons License.