Like Bob Dylan, I pity the poor emigrant. Especially when the poor emigrant is me – although poor is not the precise word. Poor conjures up the guy who struggles up from the hold, where half of his fellow travelers have died of the potato famine, who is thrown by some savage matelot into the line to be processed by a customs official on Ellis Island, a creep with leering eyes who changes his name and gives him an official paper proclaiming him eligible for exploitation by his Darwinian betters and has him and his four cardboard suitcases kicked out into the street, where he picks himself up and finds a job as a stringman in a windowshade factory for ten cents an hour, 26 hours a day. As we know, in just one hundred twenty years, such is the miracle of America, his great great grandchildren have risen to have degrees, hundreds of thousands of dollars in student debt, and great jobs as salesmen at designer pillow boutiques, or slinging escargot, for hedgefund geniuses, 26 hours a day, in some of our finest restaurants, and using their disposable income to gentrify selected streets in Astoria.
Such is not my plight, however. Emigrating to Los Angeles has its own meatgrinder aspect. One of them is the omnipresence of cars. I was prepared, or so I thought, for this. My life has not be a car-crossed one – the last time I owned a vehicle, an unfortunate AMC matador that bit me in the ass and died of a broken block, was more than twenty years ago. And before my tragic tete a tete with the Matador, I sufficed largely by driving borrowed vehicles, when I had to, and using my legs (walking, biking) to crawl across my environs at all other times. It worked! It even worked in Paris, where there is certainly a crazy car culture but where things tend to cuddle together, houses, apartments, stores, theaters and cafes, so that you can pretty much get to them in five minutes at a leisurely gait.
We have put all our money down on a place in Santa Monica, and are now planning our next big play: a car. So far, Hertz, an awful rental company, has been providing us our car, something called a Senta. I’ve read that the new generation, the generation that is so happily serving our financial elite in its off hours, has grown disaffected with the car. I of course am older than the ancient mariner, so I remember when the names of different kinds of cars were known to my schoolmates, and could even be recognized at a distance. This is something I have never been good at. What others see as, for instance, an Acura or a Golf or some similarly ridiculous monikor, will appear to me as the small gray car or the larger blue car or whatever color the car happens to be. I only remember the car type I bought back in the day because it was such a pain in the ass. This Senta is a pain in the ass, too – this is one of the literal problems of driving aimlessly all over Los Angeles in search of the basics. This is what emigrants do – we search for the basics. Grocery stores, mattress stores, baby furniture shops, coffee places with wifi, etc. etc. The emigrant spends his first weeks not, as he imagined, lolling in the sun on the beach, but in a prolonged state of sticker shock among the big ticket items that are supposed to form the context of his domestic world.