Are there cities that you just can’t stand? Cities that for no easily justifiable reason suck the life out of you? I remember meeting a Londoner in St. Petersburg once (and I’m not talking about either London or St. Petersburg in this regard – just relating what this man had to say) who told me he hated Los Angeles – it had no soul. Being from Los Angeles, I felt I had to explain. I said, L.A. is such a huge metropolis with so many different communities and vibes – weren’t there perhaps some areas he liked better than others? No, he replied. He hated it all and couldn’t leave fast enough.
Now, I think I know how he must have felt. I feel the same way about Pasadena (California). At different points in my life I’ve lived in that city and worked in that city and nothing good has ever come of it. (Just recently, I had a job there and breathed an actual sigh of relief when I walked out on it.) If you have never visited Pasadena, let me give you a glimpse beyond the pomp and circumstance of the Rose Parade. As you drive in you’ll notice the sky becoming gun-metal gray due to the place it occupies in the San Gabriel Valley, much like a sewage drain. In other words, it does a good job of collecting the region’s smog and keeping it trapped for most of the year. Although there is a backdrop of looming mountains, mostly they appear as a strangely spectral border threatening to seal you in (think of the TV show The Dome). As you drive through, you’ll note a general grayness to the city itself, despite the admittedly pretty Craftsman-style houses. But it’s this very quaint and old-fashioned ambiance that I find oppressive. (And, yes, I realize there are shiny new districts with top-rated restaurants and the like but these appear to me like so much finery on a decaying corpse.) And then there is the glut of century-old high-spired churches – churches competing in grayness with the sky – churches on every corner. Yes, Pasadena is an old-fashioned and downright God-fearing city. Of course, if you like this sort of thing, stop reading here. But for me, I’m already feeling panicky just giving you a glimpse. I’m thinking of the experiences now, my personal experiences that, rightly or not, are forever embedded in the landscape. The people I’ve met, the people I’ve worked for (of course, I’ve met some great people, too), these people have mainly caused grief.
In short, there just seems to be something about the city and its people that are not conducive to my good health, mental or otherwise. Though the place may be God-fearing, it does damage to whatever I take to be my soul. So, I do understand perfectly now what that Londoner was feeling in regard to Los Angeles. Some places you’re simply better off just passing through.