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Summer Postcards 2014

Harvard Test Drives L.A.

By Julia F.P. Ostmann

LOS ANGELES—It seems like all of Harvard is in L.A. this summer.

Okay, okay, I exaggerate, but judging by my Facebook news feed, a small army of primarily rising seniors have deserted the traditional internship base camps of New York and the Bay Area for a summer of flip-flop weather and boozy beach days.

Make that a summer of bumper-to-bumper traffic, haphazard urban sprawl, and smog. As a Southern California native—like Disneyland, I hail from L.A.’s trashier little sister Orange County—I have never quite understood the appeal of Los Angeles as tourist destination.

Sure, I love the museums, gardens, farmers’ markets, and beaches that form the happy landmarks of my childhood. But those places don’t differ wildly from similar attractions in other summer coastal cities. What, then, can you do that’s really L.A., besides selfie with star-shaped paving stones, stand in line for hours at overpriced theme parks, stalk celebrities a la “The Bling Ring,” and get yourself into a nice little rush-hour jam on the 101?

The other night, I posed the question of what makes L.A. singular to two Harvard friends from Seattle and Boston while we were all pretending to be Angelinos at an open-air restaurant overlooking the Sunset Strip, sipping craft beer and snacking on quinoa and herbed fries.

“The food,” one said. “I am so sick of the food. Nobody eats here. Kale is great, but kale is not a meal!”

“And it sucks being here without a car,” said the other. “I’ve never been more alone in my life.”

“Plus everybody loudly points out my so-called Boston accent whenever I say ‘wicked,’” the first chipped in. “It’s annoying. I mean, does California even have an accent?”

(Like, we so totally do.)

“I am so ready to go home,” they both concurred.

Los Angeles, babe, you’re not looking so hot, despite the fact everyone in that restaurant seemed to be wearing exposed lacy black bras.

Strangely, listening to the criticism, I found myself feeling rather defensive for someone who has been a kind of lifelong tourist of Los Angeles, picking and choosing my interactions and afterwards bolting (well, more like slowly crawling) down the 405 all the way home to the suburban bubble. And yet, after months away, the first time I saw L.A.’s crooked housing tracts and soaring freeway overpasses, it felt like home.

But anything beats Disneyland.

Julia F. P. Ostmann ’15, a Crimson FM editor, is a history and science concentrator living in Quincy House.

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Summer Postcards 2014