An Open Letter to the City of Los Angeles at Christmas

You’re especially beautiful when it’s just us

Dear Los Angeles,


It’s our special time of year. For a brief glorious spell, all of the transplants head home, and the riches head to Napa, or Aspen, or blast off with Richard Branson to outer space or wherever. Those who stay experience the best Los Angeles, which is the Los Angeles with all of the cool stuff but without the masses. For a few precious hours parking at Whole Foods is plentiful. It’s a Christmas miracle.

How do I put this in a way that won’t hurt your feelings? Driving on your streets during normal times is a soul-sucking burden, a heartbreaking separation of working people from their families, every moment of which brings us millions of dull moments closer to death, of which the sole beneficiary of this accumulated suffering is Big Podcast. Until the holidays. Then you’re the greatest city to drive on earth. Pure joy. Your roads are seductive. The urban-to-natural views. The wide boulevards. Palm trees. The sense of possibility. How quickly can I get to the ocean right now? Can I set a record for going downtown? Where the does Sepulveda even end? Long Beach? San Diego? The smoldering depths of hell? I don’t know. I want to know.

Your businesses beckon. They say, come on in, friend. It will just be us. What do you need? The customer service personnel will be glad to see me, because they are starved for human contact and have not talked to another person in days. Living in a deserted Los Angeles lets those of us who remain play a fun game. It’s a game called, “When the Plague Hits, Is This What the World Will Look Like?” Anyone who hasn’t had this thought while driving through an empty Los Angeles is not welcome in the Fairfax Safe-Zone.

This is all addition through subtraction. You add much as well. You are beautiful this time of year. It’s impossible not to love the lights decorating the houses, especially in the Valley, where there is a certain pride in it, and on the blocks that are known for their holiday spirit, like St. Albans in South Pasadena. New York has Rockefeller, and we have The Grove, and its magnificent tree, and its snow. The Santa Monica ice rink. Rodeo Drive all lit up. The Venice sign. I can go on. Oh, look, a link…

For a certain adventurous type—the type who buys an SUV and uses it for more than Costco runs—you are the greatest place on earth to celebrate Christmas Day. Surf in the morning. Ride the Santa Monica Bike Path in the sun. Ski at night. Spend a day at Disneyland. Or drive out to Las Vegas. In so many parts of the country the holidays are a tradition to slip under, like a blanket—warm, familiar, inviting and hey, look, dog hair from the old dog. Miss you, pal. Yet there’s something life-affirming in spending Christmas morning paddling out into the ocean. Or even just walking the beach, in shorts. On the one hand, you miss your friends back in Hog’s Breath, Nebraska, but on the other hand, you posted a pic of your shorts on Instagram with the caption “Shorts!” on Christmas morning, and it got 200 heart thingies, mostly from your friends in Hog’s Breath.

The holidays with you mean sun. Here’s what’s happening elsewhere: people are dressing in as many layers of clothing as there are layers of Jell-O in the local dessert salads, and they are driving through weather that does not permit one to see out of one’s vehicle, which tends to be problematic for the operation of a two-ton death machine. Meanwhile, cut to L.A.: We’re eating dinner al fresco next to a fruiting lemon tree drinking that good Sonoma red.

Those of us from elsewhere eschew LAX. We choose to spend the holiday with a spouse or with friends. Seeing each other socially over the holidays heightens our friendships—we are with family we have chosen. While everyone is reliving old times, we’re making something new. We’ll always have this day. The one where we watched Oscar screeners together and decided that the impossibly marvelous Mad Max: Fury Road would henceforth be a Christmas movie for all parties present.

Why do we love you so much during the holidays? It’s more than the empty spaces. Many of us come from empty places. If it was solely about escaping people, we know where to do that. It’s about what remains—all of the trappings of a thriving city, what we have made of this stretch of paradise between the mountain and the sea, the knowledge that millions desire to occupy this place. For a moment, it feels like the whole of the city belongs to us. Which it does.