||Views to the west, views to the east
By Garrison Frost
The South Bay of Los Angeles, on the whole, is a west-facing obsession. Give someone here room to stretch out his eyes and his gaze will inevitably reach for the blue horizon. The view is comforting and simple, even hopeful. The nature of that gaze would imply that this is the view he has dreamt of his entire life, that this view captures all of his aspirations and worth. On the rare occasion that the South Bayan turns his back to the west and takes a good look to the east, he finds the view to be far more complicated, maybe even discomforting. To the west he sees the aesthetics of nature; to the east, the aesthetics of human reality. In one direction are his dreams, in the other, himself. One is glorious. The other is a glorious mess.
Most of what we commonly use to define the South Bay lies to the west: the ocean, the beaches, the piers, even the glowing red sunsets. I would argue that our signature activities surfing, volleyball, rollerblading, swimming, skateboarding, etc. are also oriented toward the west side of the South Bay. Moreover, when we look to the west, we're just following the topography and gravity. Our rivers, stormdrains and sewers flow west, as do our streets Rosecrans Avenue, Manhattan Beach Boulevard, Artesia Boulevard or Torrance Boulevard all of which eventually slope downward to the sand. Oddly, what most of us actually are is to the east. We may go to the beach to play some of us, at least but it's to the east, away from the water, where we actually live. But there are few, if any, simple icons to represent that activity. So our postcards show the ocean, the beach, sailboats and surfboards, while our daily lives are far more complicated.
Any real estate agent will tell you that a view to the west is worth far more than one to the east. And this has spawned an entire populous conditioned to leaning off balconies and craning their necks out windows to reveal even the tiniest sliver of ocean blue. Even more, the whitewater view is considered gold. If you can see waves crashing from anywhere on your property, start adding zeroes to the end of your selling price. Meanwhile, views to the east are often described as "city lights views" or "nighttime views," because heaven knows that no one would want to look at it during the day. How uncomfortable it is to look eastward to Los Angeles Harbor or across the great basin to downtown Los Angeles and see that confused, unwashed and prosaic image of ourselves. The gasoline refineries on the eastern edge of the South Bay the same ones that keep our SUVs and convertibles running day after day are attractive at night, certainly. But really, who wants to look at them during the day?
Sure, the view to the east might be interesting to some, but it's nothing close to the emotional weight that attaches itself to those with a view to the west. All it takes is a second story addition or a new tree to send the best friends into court against one another. People who never set foot on the beach, or go swimming in the ocean, will practically kill to retain the smallest percentage of their view of the water. And this sentiment is so communally understood that these views are protected by state law and local ordinances. Views to the west are considered nothing less than natural resources; so valuable that we have a state commission that spends much of its time overseeing their protection. The views to the east are nice, of course, but one rarely hears of a friendship being broken over the loss of one, or of a development halted because it might impinge on someone's view of Torrance, Carson and beyond.
But while we obsess over our views to the west, there isn't anything that will change the fact that a beautiful view only exists from a certain vantage point. That means that while you may stand on a balcony of one of those high-priced mansions on The Strand in Manhattan Beach, and be privileged to be taking in a glorious whitewater view of the ocean, you are still of the eastern view. You are still part of that complicated mass of humanity that makes up that unattractive view to the east. You are what you don't want to look at. Don't believe me? Walk out on one of the piers or take a boat ride into the bay, and turn and look to the east. That Manhattan Beach mansion will hardly stand out from the jumble of buildings, boxes and streets on the shore. It's not all that pretty a view from out there looking back at our civilization. It's even a little scary. But it's us, it's who we are, and if there's beauty in truth, well, it's beautiful too.
(Jan. 6, 2005)
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