62. Song of the tumbleweed

When I was a kid, although I was surrounded by square miles of tract houses, tumbleweeds would appear on my street. In the fall, with a late Santa Ana wind, blown from the DWP right-of-way in Bellflower or from a decrepit feed lot in Dairy Valley (soon to be renamed Cerritos).

The West as a cliché rolled in, fetched up against a chainlink front yard fence, skittered across the parkway strip along South Street, and moved on.

You expected to hear the Sons of the Pioneers singing, in mournful three-part harmony, of being lonely but free, drifting along with the tumbling tumbleweeds.

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Among the clichés clinging to Los Angeles is the city's supposed transience. Its landscapes, its architecture, its people as ephemeral, insubstantial, knocked together and easily knocked down. An IKEA sort of place. A place with a tumbleweed for a heart.

Some Census numbers tell a different story. More than 50% of all Los Angeles households have occupied their current home since 1990 according to Census estimates; about a fifth of all households have lived in the same house for more than 25 years. By comparison, about 40% Chicagoans have lived in the same house since 1990 (and they've lived there longer than 25 years at about the same percentage as Angeleños).

Still, every cliché of Los Angeles holds a truth. A large percentage of Angeleños would set themselves adrift today, if they had the opportunity. According to a poll conducted for the Los Angeles Times in June, about 40% of registered voters have "seriously thought about moving out of Los Angeles" in the past two years.

Concealed in that percentage is the even greater discontent of voters 18-39 who are significantly more likely to want to leave than older voters. Interestingly, younger Latino voters are less likely to want to leave than young African American or white voters. Young black voters are the most ready to leave.

Will they follow the song of the tumbleweed, the song that brought their parents or grandparents here?

It may be that Los Angeles is poised to get older faster, as well as less racially diverse and less hip and creative in the future. Or it might only mean that the poll faithfully tracked youthful boredom with the ordinary, even in extraordinary Los Angeles.

The image on this page was taken by Flickr user jhenryrose. It was used under a Creative Commons license.

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