Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Weekend in LA

My wife and I spent last weekend down in LA. Before we sold our house in Redwood City, we briefly considered moving to the LA area because of the large job market, the relatively inexpensive real estate, the huge Thai and other Asian communities, the wide variety of education opportunities and entertainment options, the moderate weather, and the fact that my friend of 35 years lives there. We even looked at houses there in late 2003 and liked some of the ones we saw. But the traffic was terrible, the air was dirty, there was the ever-present danger of a massive earthquake, there was too much gang violence and other crime, and it was too far away from family and other friends. We decided that Sacramento was a better choice in that it offered many of the benefits of LA with fewer of the liabilities. We’re delighted that we made the choice we did.

But it’s still fun to go to LA from time to time, and it takes only about five to six hours of driving to get there. When I was younger, I thought I despised LA. After all, I grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, and we looked down on “La-La land” as a place of stifling traffic and smog and of the superficially rich and phony. But it was easy for me to buy into these stereotypes because I hadn’t actually been there since I was a kid. Once I started going there fairly regularly a few years ago, I discovered that I liked the area more than I expected and that it wasn’t really so different from my beloved Bay Area.

We drove down there this time with my wife’s aunt and uncle. My wife’s uncle works for the Hyatt Regency Hotel and can get free accommodations for family and friends anywhere. We stayed one night in the Hyatt Regency on Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood. It was disappointingly ordinary. Our room was scarcely indistinguishable from that of a Motel 8 at what would have been more than three times the price if we had paid for it. But we spent the next night in the Hyatt Park Regency near Beverly Hills, and that was an entirely different and far more luxurious place. I didn’t know it at the time, but that hotel overlooks the 20th Century Fox studios, and I might have even been able to watch them shooting a movie had I ventured over to the hotel sundeck and garden and looked out.

When we weren’t eating and shopping in Hollywood’s “Thai Town” (the largest Thai community outside Thailand, from what I understand), we spent a fair amount of time driving around Beverly Hills looking at the fancy houses and cars. I wish we’d had a map of celebrity houses at the time. I admit that I’m still a kid at heart who still gets something of a thrill out of being close to the stars. I also found myself daydreaming of what it would be like to live in one of those gorgeous, tree-shaded houses and drive a fancy Mercedes, BMW, or new and sporty Bentley like the one I saw on Santa Monica Blvd. I can understand the intoxicating allure of these things, even though I’d like to think that even if I could afford them (which, of course, I’ll never be able to), I would eschew them for more modest trappings of the “good life” that I think I pretty much have already. No, even if I had Bill Gates’ money, I wouldn’t live in Beverly Hills. But I might drive a new BMW 330i.

I used to think it was flat-out immoral to live in anything better than a modest house, drive a modest car, eat in modest restaurants, stay in modest motels, or even hire someone else to mow your lawn or clean your house. But now I’m more inclined to believe that there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with nice houses, cars, restaurants, hotels, and services if one can readily afford them and doesn’t become so jaded and spoiled by them that one looks down on and can’t enjoy anything less and feels superior to those who can’t afford anything better. After all, there’s something to be said for paying good money to people who build quality products and provide quality services in a world filled with mediocrity and just plain junk.

I know that it’s largely academic for someone like me to contemplate these matters, unless I win the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes that I dutifully enter upon every opportunity. But as long as I don’t lose sight of my highest priorities, I don’t think it hurts to daydream a little and to enjoy if not admire a little glitz, glamour, and luxury. And my reading of Ken Wilber has helped to show me that spirituality and materialism aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. Indeed, Spirit can be seen as giving rise to and encompassing all of Reality such that a fuller embrace of the material world can constitute a fuller embrace of Spirit. I think it largely boils down to the attitude with which one embraces the material world.

I could say a lot more, but, as usual here of late, I feel inclined to say less for the time being.

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