First Person / L.A. culture shock

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In 1983 and 1984 my family and I lived in England and our neighbors there asked us if we had encountered culture shock when we moved there. No, not really. Going from mountainous, green, temperate Pennsylvania to an England of rolling hills and cloudy days was a walk in the park.

But a move to California? Now that's a culture shock to a Pittsburgher! Two weeks in Los Angeles makes a great vacation, but Pittsburgh will always be home.

For starters, L.A. has a desert climate, which means we woke up chilly, went to bed with blankets and pretty much roasted for the rest of the day. We felt ready to pay for a cloud by the end of the first relentlessly sunny week.

In Pittsburgh, we have real weather -- hot, cold, clouds, sun, blue, gray, misty, rainy and humdingers of thunderstorms -- all of it. None of the pattering of teeny raindrops that disappear before you can even turn on your windshield wipers. L.A. has blue blue skies and wimpy little rain showers.

In L.A. the big streets go on for miles, and they're all famous. I doubt anyone outside of Pittsburgh has heard of McKnight Road or Liberty Avenue, but ask anyone with a TV or an iPod if he has ever heard of Ventura Boulevard, Mulholland, Wilshire, Hollywood and Vine, or Rodeo Drive, and he is sure to say yes.

Begin driving on one of these famous roads and you will notice an interesting phenomenon. You may begin in a commercial area, drive through a very upscale residential area and end up on a shady-looking block without ever touching a turn signal. It seems like every street encompasses many worlds.

Your cabbie will happily describe everything for you. He'll also tell you about his screenplay or podcast and demand that you take out your smart phone and look them up immediately.

Billboards in Pittsburgh are likely to tout the virtues of local car dealerships, pizzerias or politicians, but in Los Angeles look up and you'll see ads for movies and upcoming TV shows. You never forget that Hollywood is all about entertainment, which may be one of the last "made in America" industries left. Everyone in Los Angeles seems to want to be part of it. Actors, writers, directors, stylists, designers and comedians keep the city running with their bread-and-butter day jobs while waiting for their big breaks.

Speaking of bread and butter, Los Angeles is a foodie's paradise. You won't find a good pierogi, but there is a pupuseria on every other corner. Food trucks carrying everything from tacos to gourmet French fare can be found the length and breath of L.A. streets.

If a foodie also happens to be a vegetarian, then L.A. is the place to be. One highlight of our vacation was a visit to the Gratitude Cafe in Venice. Not only did I have the best eggplant sandwich of my life, but when I ordered it, I got to say "I Am Awesome" to the waiter. That's what my menu selection was called. My husband had the "I Am Funny," while my son chowed down on "I Am Spiritual."

The food was fabulous. The wait staff usually has a question of the day for patrons, but we were there during an especially loud and busy time so no one inquired about our outstanding characteristics or biggest regrets. Pity.

Gratitude Cafe reminded me of an old joke about how many Los Angelinos it takes to change a light bulb. The answer is four, one to change it and three to share the experience! Gratitude Cafe is that kind of place.

I am grateful to live in Pittsburgh, but every trip reminds me that there are both things we could do better and things we do better than anyone else.

We could, for example, put more of an effort into "greening" our environment. Many L. A. restaurants are much more attentive to recycling than ours. Bins are carefully marked for paper, aluminum, glass and composting. One coffee shop kept a tidy bin of coffee grounds near the door for patrons to take for their gardens. Rebuilding the soil is key to any green effort.

On the other hand, the homeless of Los Angeles are everywhere and it is hard to identify the efforts to help them. Their ranks don't seem to be limited to men like Pittsburgh's visible homeless. We saw women with all their belongings on corners everywhere, inside supermarkets, even on the streets of lovely neighborhoods. In Pittsburgh, shelters and missions provide food and other services. I suppose L.A. has them, too, but they could use some more.

Los Angeles is a city of parks, and they hum with activity hours after Pittsburgh parks empty out. Because of the body-conscious culture and year-round great weather in L.A., people play tennis, hike, jog and exercise their dogs while many Pittsburghers warm their recliners in front of "Wheel of Fortune."

Still, I am glad to be a Pittsburgher even though we could learn a few things from Los Angelinos. But ask me again in January.


Rosemary McLaughlin, a freelance writer, taught for 35 years in the Pittsburgh Public Schools and Mt. Lebanon High School (


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