A few weeks ago Stewart and I were in Santa Monica, meeting a longtime friend of mine who had traveled out from Illinois to see the spectacle that is Los Angeles. Having lived in SoCal for nearly 25 years I have become inured to both the grandeur and the oddness that greets those who visit from the midwest and south, but at the same time I never fail to be disappointed at our State's conservancy of what we have. An otherwise potentially beautiful beach, in typical American style it is strewn with all manner of trash, as are the highways leading into and around the town. Visitors to the Santa Monica Pier are relentlessly accosted by the homeless and near-homeless who aggressively panhandle for money. The tourist attractions, even given that they are designed to lure the unsuspecting or the unaware into buying something, are chintzy and poorly maintained.
On top of that my friend got the pleasure of experiencing SoCal traffic, which has become a standing icon of our State's failure to create an infrastructure that somewhat approximates the number of citizens that will invariably interact with and use it. Stewart and I ourselves fell into the trap as we headed home later that evening, when Caltrans decided to shut the entire freeway down for maintenance.
Sydney and Melbourne Australia have millions of residents similar to a Santa Monica or a San Diego, and their public parks are impeccable. No trash, no homeless, the flora and fauna maintained to what seems to be an impossible standard given the volume of people who frequent them. Even their grass is somehow maintained such that it doesn't look like a stampede of buffalo ran circles over it all day, as opposed to how Balboa Park in San Diego typically looks.
It probably doesn't help that California is in a severe drought, but that's hardly a surprising turn of events for LA and San Diego. Yet we haven't transitioned to plants that actually are sustainable in drought conditions, unlike say Palm Springs, so we're left with stressed, terminally ill landscapes that make much of our public spaces, especially those surrounding our highways, look like the lawn of a foreclosed home. On the plus side, I suppose, if it weren't for the occasional gang of prisoners marched around on the shoulders of the 5, 8, and 15 picking up trash, you'd likely never see most of the vegetation at all.
So there's the silver lining, California's nearly unlimited supply of prison labor. And the fact that the Santa Monica Pier is the terminus of Route 66: