Since running my first Los Angeles Marathon in 2005, it has become a custom to read as much of the coverage about it in the days leading up to and after it. In fact I approach it with the same vigor as I do my fascination with the Academy Awards. I don't expect to see my name in print. My enthusiasm stems from the "I was there too" urge, to read something that validated the incredible experience I just had. Most of the coverage is predictable, mostly positive, focusing on the sense of community runners and spectators share at least for that day. But amidst all the feel-good stories there usually are some shards of negativity.
Typical of these negative reactions are the letters to the editor that show up every year complaining about the disruption and traffic congestion brought on by the marathon. I've only seen one this year but it is representative of its kind. This letter appeared on Tuesday's Times:
Sunday, I witnessed one of the worst debacles perpetrated by the city of L.A.: the horrendous mess of traffic created by the marathon. Why does the city foul up the streets, affecting the majority of the people, to hold an event that should be placed away from the city, where it would not create such a major disruption?
Where does Debord suggest the marathon be held that would be less disruptive? Death Valley? Joshua Tree National Park? Silly man. I'm sure Debord is just venting. For a few years I lived inside the marathon course meaning that on Marathon Sunday I was trapped for most of the day inside Koreatown. Rather than get pissed like Debord I just simply walked out of my apartment and cheered on the runners as they passed. It was while watching these runners that I was inspired to some day run a marathon. Now having run three L.A. Marathons and having lived in L.A. most of my life, I can say confidently that the marathon is one of the few events that brings out the best in this city. For a day, at least, people from different backgrounds offer help and support to one another. I suggest to Debord that next year he should move himself outside the city on Marathon Sunday. It is called the L.A. Marathon and it will take place inside its city limits.
The other item I saw was Michael Newman's piece in the L.A. Times. It wasn't so much a negative article but simply insensitive and arrogant, clearly written by someone who isn't from Los Angeles and probably does not appreciate the city. Newman ran on Sunday and wrote this:
So I think I speak with some authority, if not much originality, when I say that much of Los Angeles isn't very pretty. There's only one way this race can be saved: Like a visiting relative from Wisconsin, it must be sent to the beach.
Yes, there would be logistical challenges, and some neighborhoods may object to losing their place along the beaten path. Far more likely, however, is that places would complain about being included. But the ocean, with its cool breezes, is pretty much the best thing this city has going for it.
While I don't disagree that running to Boyle Heights provided some unattractive scenery, I appreciated the fact that it represented the diverse communities that make up Los Angeles. Rather than sugarcoat the truth about Los Angeles, the course showed Los Angeles in all its glory. I would hate for the organizers to follow Newman's advice or else the race would be abandoning some of the most supportive spectators. South Central and Boyle Heights may not be beautiful neighborhoods, but they definitely came out to cheer on Sunday. As Newman pointed out, if the race were to go through the Westside, all the runners would be hearing as they run by would be loud choruses of whining. And if traffic was bad on Sunday, imagine what it would be like on a Westside course.
I resent Newman's assertion that the ocean is "pretty much the best thing this city has going for it." He needs to get to know this city. Clearly he doesn't think much of L.A. and the fact that he is an editor at the Times dismays me.
So, yes, Los Angeles has an ugly side, but just like you do an ugly child, you bite your tongue and love it nonetheless.