It’s an East Coast/West Coast battle, er, conversation


A man is dwarfed walking past the iconic Hollywood sign in Los Angeles in October 2012. Readers shared their opinions on the similarities and differences between D.C. and Los Angeles. (FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
John Kelly
Columnist February 25, 2013

Honestly, I wasn’t trying to pit Washington against Los Angeles. I don’t think one is better than the other. I just think they’re different. And Viva lez differences, as John Travolta might say.

I simply wanted to explore those differences in my column last week. My invitation to ponder what each city could learn from the other prompted dozens of readers to share their opinions.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

Carol Urban said both areas have much in common. Carol’s a Southern California native who has lived in Northern Virginia for 25 years. “The interest in wanting everyone to know your name, the striving for power in any form, the need to look years younger than you actually are — both women and men — applies to both this area and SoCal,” she wrote. “Hollywood is so very much like Congress . . . with the same strivings, the same need-to-be-known and needed.”

But there are differences. Native Californian Karen Cogswell finds the obsession in the District with where people went to college distasteful — and counterproductive. In California, she said, people are more concerned with what you’ve done.

Karen wrote that it’s notable that Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both dropped out of college but went on to found hugely influential and profitable companies. “Their lack of a degree didn’t hold them back at all in that culture.”

And it really is a question of culture, isn’t it?

Vienna’s Roger Cohen said that while there will never be a city better than his home town of Cleveland, he did enjoy the decade he spent living in L.A. As an avid tennis player, he could always find a game: before work, at lunch, after work — all he had to do was call one of his buddies. Similarly, guys were always at his tennis club, free to play.

Roger said that in the more than 20 years he’s belonged to a tennis club in McLean, he has never found anyone just hanging out looking to play. Games are scheduled well in advance.

Does that mean Californians are relaxed to the point of catatonia?

No, wrote Bill Adler, who is in the District for a one-year fellowship program but is looking forward to returning to the San Francisco Bay area. “When you live on the East Coast, you don’t realize how much great weather affects people’s mood,” he wrote. “Californians can be outdoors all year round. This makes us cheerful, not ‘laid back.’ ”

But there are different mind-sets.

Fourth-generation Californian Kit Hope, now living in Silver Spring, said Washington is the place to be if you follow the news. “I make a crack about Eric Cantor and people know who I’m talking about,” she wrote. That isn’t the case in SoCal.

David Dearden thinks people are friendlier in California. He and his wife moved to Chevy Chase five years ago from the San Francisco Bay Area. “We found people more reserved here and soon learned to not engage strangers in elevators or shopping lines,” he wrote. “Even ‘good mornings’ yield a suspicious glance. And the strivers, that’s the biggest difference for us. Everyone is so keen to get ahead.”

Fairfax’s Robert Scottsdale has lived plenty of places, including Long Beach, Calif., northern Idaho, South Carolina and Hawaii. In his opinion, the District can learn from all of them.

“God forbid that the rest of the country becomes more like D.C.,” he wrote. “The folks who live here should slow down.”

D.C. people, Robert said, “rush about like you are always late for something. Life is short and there are already enough emergencies and stressors without manufacturing more of them for yourself to face for no good reason but just to feel your life is full and important.”

And yet I have a feeling a lot of us like our stressors.

A reader who signed herself as “Tan and Proud” said her friends thought she was crazy when she traded San Diego for Washington.

“I love it in D.C.,” she wrote. “The pace, the people, the culture, men in suits and the smell of power. . . . I wouldn’t trade any of it.”

She misses her family — and all that fresh citrus — but gets something here she can’t get there.

“That is what makes this country so great,” she wrote. “A naive little girl from SoCal can follow her dream and one day find herself in the hustle and bustle of the political capital of the world — meeting presidents, attending state functions and making decisions that will affect generations to come!”

Wednesday: More differences.

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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