With some regularity, venerable newspaper the New York Times produces a trend piece about Los Angeles that everyone in LA laughs at. There was the infamous "East LA is all French" piece, and the one about how LA's hip new trend is called "walking." Normally, most Angelenos read and chuckle and poke holes in these stories, but this one is has proven particularly rankling. What's so special/awful about this latest piece? For one thing, it opens by introducing readers to a cast of characters culled straight out of an episode of the Saturday Night Live skit "The Californians" and then strangely blossoms into a love letter to the ridesharing app Uber, which has liberated so many unfortunate, carless, and traffic-scarred people from their domestic prisons and thrust them into a beautiful world where a "chauffeur" drives you around.
· The first in an ensemble cast of characters we are introduced to is Mr. O'Connell, a New York transplant who is, perhaps understandably, afraid to drive and does not own a car. How did he get around in New York? one might ask. Public transit perhaps? If only LA had that. Unfortunately, absolutely none exists here. Thank goodness he discovered Uber—or did Uber discover him? "I didn't know what I was going to do. And then Uber descended from the gods."
· This man now takes Uber three times a day during the week to get from West Hollywood to Hollywood, then "out for drinks after work."
· Anticipating confusion about the unusual existence of a non-car-owning human like Mr. O'Connell in Los Angeles, the author explains: "Normally, [not driving] would be a problem in one of America's most auto-centric places, where cruising along the Sunset Strip is a lifestyle and cars are not only a means of transportation but a status symbol."
· The second character readers meet is a woman who is really happy that she can finally "just, like, YOLO with Uber," and it is suggested that without being able to have pre-dinner drinks at the Ace Hotel Downtown and an evening meal at a Roy Choi restaurant in K-town in the same night, her life was not being lived to its fullest.
· When isolated, some of the observations are in step with what many people have been seeing in revitalizing areas like Downtown, or in the many other Los Angeles neighborhoods where people walk from their homes to food and nightlife spots (and markets and salons and libraries and bookstores and dog groomers). "Untethered from their vehicles, Angelenos are suddenly free to drink, party and walk places." Yes! When there are pedestrian- and bike-friendly street improvements; more centralized, very deliberate hubs of restaurants and things to do; longer Metro train service hours on the weekends; and a general change in the perceptions of walking and being a pedestrian, people get out more.
· But then it's mostly just chalked up to Uber-type services. "[R]ide-sharing services, which include Lyft, Sidecar and others, have upended the social habits of the area, and rallied its residents to be more peripatetic."
· Nowhere is the revolutionary power of Uber and ridesharing more visible than "downtown Los Angeles, which is enjoying the double whammy of a recent cultural resurgence — partly bolstered by the Ace, which opened its hotel and performance space in a historic 1920s movie palace in January — and the car services that deliver once-reluctant visitors." That's right: Downtown's renaissance was about 50 percent ridesharing's doing.
· The piece closes with a quote from a Venice artist who used to opt to stay home from parties too far away rather than drive, offering this easy-to-remember guide on how to show other people how important you are when you are ridesharing. The rideshare hierarchy goes like this: "If you're going to the airport, you use UberX, who cares. But if you have to go to a party at the Chateau [Marmont], you at least go black car. Or even a giant S.U.V. There's nothing better than getting out of a giant S.U.V. at the Chateau by yourself." Show some respect, please. If you have been strong-armed into partying at the Château, at least have the decency to arrive in a car that can accommodate eight times the actual size of your party. You're in LA, after all.
· How Uber Is Changing Night Life in Los Angeles [NYT]
· 9 Big-Deal Ways LA Is Ditching Its Reputation For Car-Centricity [Curbed LA]