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An Ode to LA

Updated: Apr 9, 2023

I had a Blade Runner moment this evening.

Los Angeles has been raining and raining and raining for weeks now and coincidentally I have also been working late into the evening for weeks. So as I left the office today, it was still raining. The parking lot was shiny and black. There were reflected neon lights from the gas station and strip mall next door. The bright light from the billboard above the parking lot was muted by the drizzling rain. Then all of a sudden, there was the buzz of a police helicopter and the indistinct voice from the megaphone overhead. I froze in the middle of the parking lot and looked around for Harrison Ford, the replicants hunter of that dystopian but seductive Los Angeles that does exist but shows its face only once in a very blue moon.

Every decade or two, California goes through the wet rainy weather that gives rise to the song "It never rains in Southern California, but it pours, man it pours."

Blade Runner came out the same year I arrived in Los Angeles. It was a rainy year too. I remember climbing up the hill from Ackerman Union at UCLA back to Hedrick Hall in the rain. I didn't have an umbrella, 'cause really, who packs an umbrella to go to college? I had a hooded sweatshirt and a windbreaker, the essentials of all poor college students.

The legend I heard was that Jim Morrison or Ray Manzarek of the Doors stayed at our dorm when they went to UCLA. So by the end of my freshman year, the poster of free-spirited idealist John Lennon in my dorm room was replaced by that of the brooding rebel Jim Morrison.

In the 4 decades since, I have refused to leave LA, despite all sorts of temptations. Not a scholarship to Yale, not an admission to UC San Francisco, not a great job offer from Newport Beach, not for all the complaints from my friends and family in Orange County.

LA is so vast and has so many facets that you can spend years exploring all of its nooks and crannies. At my wedding in Malibu Lake, one of the attendees stated with wonder "I've lived in Los Angeles all my life, and I've never known that this beautiful valley existed".

From the wild rock piles for climbing in the Santa Susanna mountains to the sophisticated artful displays at the Getty Center, from the bustling downtown LACMA to the snowy pass of El Tejon, from the lotus festival in Echo Park to the New Year floats of Pasadena.

The UCLA School of Medicine has connections to multiple hospitals and medical centers in Los Angeles county where students can choose to do their clinical rotations during the last two years of medical school. For example, I chose to do my Surgical rotations at UCLA Medical Center in Westwood, Medicine at Cedars Sinai in Beverly Hills, ICU at Wadsworth VA in Brentwood, Ob-Gyn at Harbor-UCLA in Torrance, Pediatrics at the now-shuttered King-Drew medical center in Watts, and Psychiatry at Olive View Medical Center in Sylmar.

We have to be careful of our choices in life because each of these choices determines what we see, do, and learn. In this case, each hospital in Los Angeles is associated with certain demographics, thus affecting the type of patients and medical issues that we see. From the stoic quiet patients at the VA hospitals to the demanding, entitled patients at Cedars Sinai, from the giant Samoan babies at the Harbor-UCLA to the undernourished immigrants at Olive-View.

I did not know at the time that the Pediatrics rotation at King-Drew would involve learning how to duck when you hear gunshots. The first time we had to go downstairs to the ER to pick up and admit a child with an unknown fever, my resident took time to explain to me, in her barely audible English with a heavy Egyptian accent, that half of our pediatric patients are teenagers who are victims of the gang warfare that was ravaging Compton and Watts in the 1980s. Although there are security guards in front of each entrance, sometimes the gangs have been known to follow their victims into the ER to finish the job. There it was, that dark underside of Los Angeles that has always been there but not known by 90% of her residents. In fact, King-Drew was known to be such a dangerous place to work that they had trouble attracting good physicians and nurses. It became known as "Killer King" hospital and was eventually closed down in 2007. The newly built Martin Luther King, Jr. hospital has a much better reputation, though, as befitting a kinder, gentler Southeast LA.

On the other end of the medical center hierarchy, UCLA Medical Center is such a tertiary center hospital that throughout my entire 12 weeks surgical rotation I did not see a single appendectomy or cholecystectomy, the bread and butter of surgery. No, I was much too busy learning the steps of liver transplant for end-stage liver failure, brain lobectomy for refractory epilepsy, and facial resections and reconstructions for head and neck cancer.

LA is usually so busy and bustling that you don't always see its other quiet, contemplative side. Some mornings you can catch Sant Monica beach almost empty and on weekends, the streets of downtown LA are free of cars, even between MOCA and the Broad museum.

This is not to mention all the bonfires on the beach, the historic mansions, the city and state park hiking trails, the temples and gardens, the ranches, Grand Central Market, Griffith Park, Universal Studio, the Hollywood Bowl, the Studios, and all the Theaters....

I fell in love with LA as a college student, attending UCLA vs USC games, and I still love LA today, attending Clipper vs Lakers games. I still love it, even if I have to spend all night last Friday pushing mud out of the courtyard when it floods, clearing the brush around the house every year during fire season, and cleaning up after an earthquake every now and then.

I and every other free spirit like Randy Newman in the classic song I Love LA and the more recent happy-go-lucky Maroon 5.

Be Happy, Everybody.

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