Photo courtesy of Tony Wong
Photo courtesy of Flora Tsai on flickr.com/creativecommons
Photo courtesy of Fido on flickr.com/creativecommons
Photo courtesy of Gergey Sus on flickr.com/creativecommons
San Gabriel is the girl you grew up with, eating french fries and drinking boba milk tea every day afterschool together until you decided you wanted a grander setting and adventures. You took her for granted at first, finding her too small-town mundane and decided to chase after more exciting girls in the area. It’s not until you leave for a long time and return home, exhausted, that you realize how beautiful, pristine, and headstrong she really is. She’s the one who has it all together, but doesn’t need to flaunt it off. You realize that you have to appreciate that she was the one who stayed by your side all those years — window-shopping down Mission because you were too broke to drive and guffawing as you run away from the angry grandma screaming in Chinese because you stole oranges from her tree. San Gabriel has no desperate hopes in seeing you stay, but you know that you’ll always come back and visit. And when you do, her kindness always provides a warm place to stay, nice scenery, and a nice meal while you two catch up over a bowl of noodles and tiramisu and reminisce on all the good times you had together.
Pasadena is the aloof businesswoman that caught your eye as you were standing in line at Intelligentsia. The younger, but more popular and prolific sister of San Gabriel, it’s soon clear why some that stay with San Gabriel will never cross paths with her. She’s fussy, high-maintenance, oftentimes confusing, and puts you through a lot of hell. Sometimes her clash of consumerist aloof liberalism and snooty yuppie conservatism gets on your edge and you massage your head because she’s too naive to ever realize it. She rakes up tickets parking on Colorado and shrugs for you to get over them. Despite that, Pasadena is easy to get used to, but never boring. You watch movies with her at Academy Cinema and hang out at the Rialto. Other times, you’re sitting in her posh apartment while she peels bean sprouts and rambles on about local politics or where to head on the gold line. Before you know it, you’re immersed in her world even if it’s like constantly breathing in a sharp musk coated over those old childhood days. After it’s been awhile, she teases you that eventually you’ll come and settle down with her. You shudder and schedule some dates with some other girls, but most days, it doesn’t sound like too bad of an idea.
Santa Monica is the one you met in college and drained your pockets and energy when she took your hand and led you everywhere. The more exciting and fast-paced sister of her other beach-slicking sisters, she’s gorgeous, more popular than what’s good for her, and perpetually unfazed in her search for hedonistic pleasures. While those late Friday nights holding her hand at the clubs, jogging by the pier late at night, and eating at $$$ yelp-rated restaurants by Third Street became the golden part of the scrapbook of your twenties, you eventually got burned out, amazed by how she had the energy for you and everyone else. You had to accept eventually that you couldn’t keep up with her bottomless spending habits and whimsical enthusiasm and decided to watch her from afar as she continues to live the life others wish they had the social capacity and means to have. She doesn’t slow down for anybody and instead pedals onto the merry beat of her free spirit, along with whoever can keep up with her. As time passes on, you eventually grow too old for her and move on to calmer places. You see pieces of her everywhere, but you don’t mind, and visit her every now and then when your Saturdays are too boring.
Downtown LA is the one you heard about your entire life, close but far enough to be sheltered from her presence. The one whose personality and history carried a stigma and an enigma, but you had to see it for herself. She has problems beyond what she or anyone else can handle — and to truly love her you need to understand how she became that way and take her as she is. Ruggedly handsome, the smirk on her lips and raise of her drawn-in brows causes some people to change sidewalks and others to fall in love at first sight. She is the one whose diverse and startling persona continues to captivate you, taking you all around the city to discover her interests and wondering what doesn’t she offer to the world–and why more people don’t accept it. Tap into her and she’ll unleash a mountain of thoughts, passions, and stories — history, closed rail lines, fashion, commerce, knowledge of Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese, art, poverty, and racism. You could talk to her every day for three hours, and in a month, still find something new about her that’ll take you off guard. She’s strange, sometimes explosive and vitriolic, but at the same time, tolerant, understanding, and open. After awhile, you stop noticing the grime under her nails and instead love the way her broken fingers grip against yours. You can’t stay with her for long but you can never leave her either, no matter how ragged she looks at times, and how intimidating she might seen. And when you see her changing through the years, part of you wishes she’ll get better and the other part wishes that she’ll always stay the same.
You’re surprised of the different opinions people have of them, those that love San Gabriel and hate Pasadena. Those that hang out with Santa Monica every weekend but write Downtown LA off as dirty and vindictive. More surprisingly, you realize that they are everywhere. In every region, every state, and every country, you’ll see their shadows and catch glimpses of their smiles. You’ll fall in love again and again. And though you’ll never forget where you originally came from, you’re amazed by all the different and beautiful colors that make up the world that you inhabit. But you can’t have them all, and you can’t keep them to yourself. Their presence is meant to be loved, and understood, and shared in an experience that unites thousands to millions of people together. They walk in solidarity, but hold hands while changing together.