Guy Adams: Not so grim up north in San Francisco

LA Notebook
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The Independent Online

California doesn't have a Watford Gap, but its north-south divide is as striking as the UK's. Up north, welcomes are friendlier, life is slower, and people seem more left wing. Down south, they work harder, smoke less pot, and enjoy a touch of extra sunshine.

The contrast is greatest in cities. I just visited San Francisco, and was shocked by the convivial atmosphere. It was built that way: with pavements people actually walk on, and trams and streetcars that are breeding grounds for social interaction.

In LA, by comparison, geography forces you to get from A to B in air-conditioned solitude. People drive on angry freeways (all pedestrians are presumed homeless) and communicate via car horns. The very lifeblood of the city seems hostile.

Transport isn't the only arena where San Francisco has LA licked. Another is sport. On Sunday, the city gathered around televisions to watch two local NFL teams, the Raiders and the 49ers. In LA, they've not had a professional football side for years.

Then there's politics. The San Francisco Chronicle is breathlessly following the race to succeed Arnold Schwarzenegger as California's Governor. Both leading Republicans, Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner hail from San Francisco. The most fancied Democrat, Gavin Newsom, is the city's mayor.

In cultural terms, things are equally fluid. The entertainment industry that built LA now has an aura of vulnerability. Vast TV networks, music labels and Hollywood studios are at odds with a fragmenting market. San Francisco, by comparison, boasts forward-thinking consumer darlings like Apple, Facebook, Google, Twitter and Pixar.

Historically, civic bragging rights have oscillated between California's biggest cities. The 19th century saw San Francisco grow rich on the 1849 gold rush. But the 20th was all LA, turning it from economic irrelevance into a sprawling metropolis. Now, to the consternation of southerners like me, tectonic plates seem to be shifting all over again.

Mixed blessings

Michael Jackson's former chum Rabbi Shmuley Boteach last week published a revelatory book of interviews with the late star. Fans may think him vulgar to cash in. After all, Boteach recently wrote a self-help book called The Blessing of Enough: Rejecting Material Greed, Embracing Spiritual Hunger.

Time to forgive and forget?

Mel Gibson would like us to forget his famous anti-Semitic tirade at the LA cop who pulled him over for drink driving in 2006. His lawyer has applied for it to be expunged from records, on the grounds that he's completed three years of probation. Splendidly, the request was filed during a yearly event that brings large portions of LA's legal system to a grinding halt: Yom Kippur.