This is how The New York Times sees California


The New York Times loves to hate on California. It’s like the urge to do donuts while eating donuts in a rental car. Some things are hard-coded. And they’re really good at it too. NYT’s staff and stable of freelancers can pour California cliché like a mini-bar bottle of Bacardi Limon into a Tumeric smoothie made with raw honey, cayenne and trace minerals.

By Andrew Pridgen

Californians are the liberals of state pride. Someone can come in and shit all over the state of mind (not to mention the actual state) and we just seem to shrug and take it, because—you know—we’re right and we know it.

Whereas, were I to hang in New York for 72 hours and write about it not only as if I belonged…but as if everyone else living there didn’t have a fucking germ of an idea what it is they actually do besides play and hashtag, my comments section would break faster than Instagram when a Hemsworth is spotted at Starbucks.

Then I discovered the NYT’s style guide, entitled: The New York Times Manual of California Lifestyle Reporting; and that like, explains sooooooo much of this phenomenon.

Below, some highlights from the manual accompanied by recent examples from the NYT in italics:

  • All everyone does is ride bikes and go to farmers’ markets: That was the dead of winter. I won’t go on about the four farmers’ markets each week within a quick bike ride — yes, I have a bike — or how many residents rave about Berkeley Bowl (the ultimate supermarket), to which I’ve been exactly once.
  • Otherwise, food comes from trucks: Mr. Geller is a bit to food trucks as Cesar Chavez was to farm workers, though he has been criticized as being more concerned about the purveyors of bacon-topped cupcakes than about the immigrant small-business owners selling traditional tacos and pupusas.
  • Dietary trends are to be tried, denied and made fun of: Californians will follow any fad especially when it comes to putting stuff in their bodies to look/feel younger or to “cleanse.” I struggled over whether to even write this; you may hate me for having drunk the kombucha. My only defense is that it’s all true, and thankfully, people here think I’m a cranky New Yorker — you can take the boy out of New York, etc. (And by the way, I don’t drink kombucha.)
  • Enter the Manson Family: Because nothing says you too may go off the rails sooner than later if you go live near a body of water you can actually swim in: She started reading Jungand Jodorowsky, learning the tarot, buying succulents (see: Succulents) and crystals, watching documentaries about the Source and Manson families…
  • The California gays rescue all the midcentury moderns: It wasn’t the first time Damaschke and McIlwee had been seduced by a storied residence. Since 2002, they have lived in John Lautner’s Garcia House, which was a languishing midcentury masterpiece at the crest of the Hollywood Hills when they bought it from the actor-director Vincent Gallo. The Fords’ furnishings, untouched in 35 years, were also showing their age by the time the new owners came in. Strappy, sagging vinyl chairs in beige and brown circled the pool, and Mrs. Ford’s bath had a pink toilet. The kitchen, with its tile counters and orangey oak cupboards, provided a reminder that luxury is nothing if not a moving target.
  • You went out there for awhile, but now you’re ‘over it’ and need to get back to actual life (see: Till kids enter the picture and you have to choose a coast): “I really did the whole thing,” she says now, wrinkling her nose and putting on an American accent, a nasal, ditzy whine: “You know, smoothies. Pilates. The whole ‘I’m not going to deal so I’ll just be Zen’ thing.”
  • Create false sense of rivalry; include a Woody Allen reference: As a result, the old New York-Los Angeles rivalry is changing, at least on the East Coast side of the equation. No longer do in-the-know New Yorkers reflexively parrot sneers like the old Woody Allen line, that the only cultural advantage of Los Angeles is the right turn on red.
  • Be sure to share Lena Dunham’s thoughts on being Lena Dunham in California: Lena Dunham once told Vogue that she could spend only two weeks in Los Angeles before starting “to get a very sad feeling,” but recently paid a reported $2.7 million for George Peppard’s former Hollywood home.
  • Gather quotes from famous people who never lived there full-time: For generations, Los Angeles served as a punch line to any self-respecting New Yorker. “Just a big parking lot,” as John Lennon reportedly said; a “triumph of the garish,” as Paul Rudnick wrote. Andy Warhol claimed to embrace the city, but only because “everybody’s plastic.” “I love plastic,” he added.
  • Organic and casual, it’s not just for dinner: “I let design decisions happen organically and casually.”
  • Gin up fake statistics about how much cheaper it is to live in California: San Francisco is more expensive per square foot than Manhattan. Los Angeles, by virtue of its size, can be had for less. While desirable neighborhoods that will attract jaded Brooklynites (Santa Monica, Malibu, Silver Lake, Hancock Park) may offer more outdoor space, can’t be had for less: For $600 less than the $1,850 a month Ms. Turner was paying for her grim junior one-bedroom in Greenpoint, she found a charming two-bedroom 1920s bungalow in Echo Park with a gated yard, cactuses, a barbecue, a separate work studio and a garage. (Ed note: the story did not mention $1,250 is only Ms. Turner’s half the home’s rent).
  • Visit “out-of-the-way” places (ie the part of the coast that’s not Malibu or Santa Barbara). Act surprised it’s not a third-world experience: There’s doctors there who surf! They went to surfer med school and still know how to treat a common cold!! Surfer doctor also speaks English and lets you call him by his first name!!! Turns out that the Morro Bay Urgent Care facility is a great place to learn you have strep throat, especially if you’re 3. The nurse loves children, the doctor goes by John, and there’s ample room to drive your Lego truck while you wait for the results of your throat culture.
  • Write like you know a thing or two about burrito culture even though you know nothing of burrito culture: There are other West Coast details: the biodegradable corn-based utensils, the aggressive composting policy, the disarmingly nice staff. In fact, the attitude at Dos Toros may be the most Californian thing about it, that laid-back confidence. (Ed note: California Mexican joints are aggressive at using stryofoam and non-biodegradable plastic bags).
  • Showcase how your ‘city kids’ are communing with nature for the first time—ever—in California. Mention dolphins: There it was: the Piedras Blancas elephant seal rookery, playground of seals, whales, dolphins, otters and other sea creatures. This was the pièce de résistance of our trip! Nature at its finest! So, of course, Frankie wanted to stay in the car. I almost relented. Until Devin reminded me: This trip wasn’t just iPad free; it was also about making our city kids appreciate the natural world. Or at least see it.
  • Oakland and favorite Oakland residents of note get a name check (see: Mandatory “The New Brooklyn” reference): I remembered a bowl of grilled Little Gems with a kind of pea stew on top that I’d had at Camino in Oakland last year, and I called Russ Moore, the chef there, and asked how to make those.
  • Everyone in California who’s not riding a bike or going to farmers’ markets is working to build a better sexting app which is why it’s the world’s 7th-largest economy: Smart kids want to work for a sexting app because other smart kids want to work for the same sexting app. “Highly concentrated pools of top talent are one of the rarest things you can find,” Biswas told me, “and I think people are really attracted to those environments.”
  • Yoga instruction as second-act or career move: …and studying to be a yoga instructor with a grizzled, leathery old hippie named Tony.
  • Because you just visited, renaissance: Los Angeles is enjoying a renaissance with a burgeoning art, fashion and food scene that has become irresistible to the culturally attuned.
  • Succulents. Preferably juxtaposed with something from Brooklyn of the non-succulent variety: Succulents are everything to Californians and everything representing Californians. Period. They’re easy to take care of and they grow anywhere year-round but they don’t like to be taken out of California and usually die a painful, slow death because even though they don’t need much water they aren’t tough enough to thrive in a place that actually has an abundance of weather and assholes: Last fall, Christina Turner, a fashion stylist in Brooklyn, was dreading another New York winter in her cramped, lightless Greenpoint, Brooklyn, apartment while gazing longingly at the succulent gardens and festive backyard dinner parties posted on social media by her friends in Los Angeles.
  • Obligatory dash of New Age/tarot-crystals: She started doing what many lost people in Los Angeles do: She got really weird, diving deep into New Age woo-woo territory.
  • Tahini. Even though you cruised the Greek islands with your grandparents when you were 12, you just had the real tahini for the first time in California: She started making tahini from scratch.
  • Sex and the City view of California as the cultural bridge between Woody Allen and Lena Dunham: In 2000, the “Sex and the City” characters ran off to Los Angeles for a two-episode romp in the sun, but ran screaming from the vapid wasteland of bottle blondes, D-cup implants and overzealous Brazilian treatments. (“The next day four New Yorkers left L.A. a little lighter,” Carrie concluded. “Some of us had lost our hair and all of us had lost a little dignity.”
  • Coachella and/or The Drought: With California facing severe drought for the fourth year in a row, Gov. Jerry Brown this month ordered a 25 percent reduction in water use across the state. Yet that order came just as organizers of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival — one of the country’s biggest and most celebrated music events, drawing up to 100,000 fans a day over two weekends — were finishing preparations for this year’s event.
  • On the economy, quote bohemian trust funders only (Note: they may buy you dinner/drinks if they know there’s going to be a link to their personal site in the NYT): “On the east side, where we live, we know maybe four or five people who work traditional 9-to-5 office jobs, out of our entire friend circle,” said Hamish Robertson, an artist and designer who lives in Los Feliz with his wife, Andi Teran, a novelist. “And if they do have them, it hasn’t come up, because people rarely ask what you do for a living or where you went to school.”
  • Until 2010 it was just a place where Entourage was filmed and OJ drove his Bronco around: Los Angeles is widely acknowledged to have become strikingly more cosmopolitan in recent years.
  • Economy quote, non-trust-funder category: Get what you need from a careerist has-been who’s obsolete but otherwise making high six figures for hiding amongst the pile of keyboard trays inside a failing search engine: “Los Angeles was once just a city of jeans, but it is quickly becoming a high-fashion town,” said Joe Zee, the editor in chief of Yahoo Style, who now splits his time between the cities. “There was such a snobbery about L.A. with New Yorkers before, but that tide has really changed.”
  • Mandatory “The New Brooklyn” reference: Aja Brown, the mayor of Compton, Calif., who has been pitching her economically challenged south-central city as “a new Brooklyn” of late.
  • Yurts till it hurts: She even lived for a month in a yurt in Joshua Tree: “It was like waking up on Mars every morning.”
  • Secondary trust-funders-as-source: Bonus if you find a trust funder with enough to live in two of the most-expensive regions of the world…and travel between the pair like a carpetbagging transient because they’re, um, looking for a community(?)…even though actual job-slash-career is as-yet unidentifiable: Jessa Blades, a makeup artist and beauty and wellness entrepreneur from Fort Greene, Brooklyn, decided to split her time between the cities, in part because a dozen friends had already made the move in the last 18 months, “which makes it easier to find a community,” she said.
  • When kids enter the picture and you have to choose a coast—the choice is the East Coast, duh: The duo had decamped to L.A.’s Venice Beach 18 months ago, after which their daughter Ripley was born, but when Matthew found himself flying to New York every week for work, enough was enough.
  • …Or else they’ll have a double stripper name and turn out like this: For concertgoers, water seemed a minimal concern. Serena Jade, an 18-year-old from Los Angeles who was wandering with two friends under the burning late-afternoon sun, said that she had not considered the possibility that there would not be ample water at Coachella this year. The only question was “just how expensive” that water would be, she said.