New Angeles

New Angeles

Words: Adam Johnston
Photos: Bill White & David Mitchell

A dollar, pulled out of a white sock and unrolled. A slice, thrown on a pair of overlapping paper plates, the tip of the triangle lounging over the side. Some parmesan, some garlic powder, a few pepper flakes, a fold. A Coke, another slice, an Italian ice, back to Shinobi or Street Fighter or Skate or Die.

An escalator, zigzagging up and away into the nosebleeds. A concrete tunnel and the light at the end of it, a field of the greenest green ever seen, the charming pixels of the jumbotron, a happy organ and shouting vendor. A few dollars, a few mustard packs, metal tongs and a steaming dog, cradled in a bun and passed down the aisle. A souvenir cup, a felt pennant, a foam finger, a homemade sign. Loyalty for life.

A delicatessen, checkered linoleum floors, a tall glass counter, take-a-number. A glistening slice curling over itself, proffered for the wait. A quick sharpening of knives, the clean carve, the soaked through cutting board. Two slices of rye, toothpicks with tinsel, a pickle. A few more dollars, the hunt for a table, the squirt of mustard, maybe a photograph of smiling faces.

Food follows the cadence of ritual, and that is why it is both sacred and coveted. The sounds and smells of childhood, the longings for home, the patterns of family and familiarity and sweet soft systems; these are the sensations we use to measure everything else. We often define the worth of things with the vocabulary of scarcity: limited edition, luxury, exclusive, rare. Yet it is the everyday things and their excesses – glossed over, not counted, left behind – that reveal what we consume, what we value, what we are. The endless repetition of grocery store shelves and strip mall restaurants; the longing for repetition, for routines, for purity, for the past. A slice, a dog, a pastrami on rye. I love New York.

Food follows the cadence of ritual... these are the sensations we use to measure everything else.

Los Angeles: cue a Joan Didion line, a Randy Newman lyric, a clique of clichés like a dogeared deck of cards. Car cultures and tent cities, highways as rivers and rivers as concrete. Vacant lots go prehistoric, invasive plants fight for air rights, coyotes feed on cats and chihuahuas. Industry flakes and the scales of a snake, the cult of kale and different ways to say diet. Foraging and farmers markets, mindfulness and meditation, sadistic yogis and the cleansing doctrines of masochists. Cold pressed salvation in a bottle: alkalizer, hydrator, energizer, immortalizer.

Like religion, the haze of nostalgia purifies, then demands continued purity. There’s no pizza like New York’s, no bagels, no pretzels. No authenticity, no community, no history, no New York Times. In Los Angeles, Korean tacos and Kanye and Kim, forbidding deserts and forgiving seas and forever palm trees. Bean sprout toppings, pico de gallo dogs, avocado on rye, whatever the fuck you want to do. The sun dissolves into the sea and the blue sky turns orange, then red, then pink, then violet, then black, until it stretches out into the next day. New York distills; Los Angeles absorbs. I love LA more.