Finding LA: Without the Help of the New York Times

Last week, the New York Times’ Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote a piece about his struggles to find the essence of Los Angeles. The piece was widely mocked in the LA media — Klinkenborg barely even got out of his car for the story.

In today’s paper, the LA Times’ Hector Tobar tries a different tact to explain the city — talking to people.

In search of a way to get at L.A.’s true nature, I called Tomas Benitez, an art maven and writer who’s worked in L.A. theaters and galleries.

Benitez is a native Angeleno and an old soul who grew up in 1950s Boyle Heights and South L.A. among blacks, Jews and people of Mexican, Italian and Japanese ancestry. In the 1960s, he rubbed elbows outside the Whisky a Go Go with Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.

“Finding the essence of L.A. is not meant to be easy,” he told me.

Still, he said he believes he stumbled upon the secret of L.A. one evening in the 1980s, when he drove with his young daughter from the Eastside to the Pacific Ocean, almost 30 miles along old Brooklyn Avenue and Sunset Boulevard.

It was a journey that began with a greasy sandwich in the San Gabriel Valley, taking him past taco stands, transvestites, iconic nightclubs and faux Roman villas.

“On that drive, we saw the world change 10 or 15 different times,” he told me.

It seemed to me Benitez was on to something. To really know it, you have to keep traveling between our north and south, our east and west, our glitz and our grit. You have to discover new L.A.s for as long as you live here.