Quick! Pick an image you think best portrays "Southern California." We're looking for a single shot that says it all.
You might have chosen the Hollywood sign. Or maybe an inviting, curvaceous, nearly-nude young woman sitting on a pristine sandy beach while hunky guys surf near their Woody, which is parked in the distance. Or a self-involved conspicuously aging big shot lawyer (or businessman or actor) with Donald Trump colored hair obliviously driving an expensive car, ignoring stop lights and pedestrians, and talking on a cell phone.
If you're a Republican (yes, we still have a few of those in California) maybe you think a picture of Ronald Reagan orating in front of the Stars and Stripes still says everything which needs to be said, all in a single picture.
Okay, not many Republicans read Mixed Meters, so that last one was a just a joke. And the other images are only imaginary; they don't really exist except in the movies. And movies, I'm sad to report, are not even close to being real. Even Ronald Reagan knew that.
I've known for many years exactly which image I would pick to epitomize life in SoCal. Just recently I had my first chance to actually take a decent photo of the object in question. The locale was a new light-rail station in Azusa.
While I admit that this object may not be unique to this area, it reeks of cheap theme parks or cheesy B-movie special effects. Both of those say 'Southern California' quite well.
This thing imitates nature. It does that very badly. It might be better to say that it defies nature. It employs all the architectural panache of a sleazy strip mall, another Southern Cal speciality.
Its purpose is to whitewash essential infrastructure, hiding it from our consciousness behind a facade which is always in plain sight.
We find this thing acceptable, I guess, because it facilitates our modern lifestyle. It's high-tech. It brings people together. It gives a strong signal to all the idiots with bad hair color who text while driving.
Have you guessed it yet?
Yes, it's a cell phone tower disguised as a palm tree. Welcome to the silly side of SoCal.
I wonder what, exactly, they were thinking in Azusa when they approved this. Maybe: "We need to put up a tall cell tower so people can Instagram and Twitter. Let's disguise it to look like a cheap plastic palm tree and, after a while, maybe no one will notice that's it's not real."
Cell phone towers apparently go hand in hand with palm trees around here. I've found two cell phone tower and palm tree combos close to my home in Pasadena, about 20 miles from Azusa.
The first shows a cell phone tower disguised as a . . . cell phone tower. It's not really a disguise but it is ugly. It's near a palm. It's also right behind a super sleazy strip mall.
In the second one the horribly thick flag pole is the cell tower. It's nestled amid palms in front of a church. The little hut in the foreground holds electronic equipment. I guess Ronald Reagan was giving a speech elsewhere when I snapped that picture.
Personally, I think neither of these offer that much improvement over the fake palm tree. Looking at these things is the aesthetic price we all pay to keep your smart phone connected anyplace you go.
Just imagine what beautiful or curious or bizarre sculptures which could be built to beautify cell phone towers. Modern sculpture might be too controversial. How about a giraffe? Maybe a 50-foot tyrannosaurus rex? (Note the proximity of palm trees.)
We could make our cell phone towers into huge sculptures of our famous citizens and civic leaders. Such huge human forms have a tradition already. They're called Muffler Men. Cities could honor their leading citizens by turning them into cell phone towers.
Maybe a sculpture of Will Rogers holding a lariat looking back at us while we text? Gracie Allen? Tom Bradley? Cezar Chavez? Sally Ride came from Southern California. Dr. Dre? Cal Worthington?
And, in reality, all of them would be hiding cell phone antennae for our personal convenience.
God forbid, Ronald Reagan could become a huge plastic immovable object, gracing our skyline somewhere, his guts filled with electronics, spewing an endless stream of tweets and Facebook posts, saying things that others people wrote but doing it with great feeling and empathy. Republicans could make pilgrimages.
Now, that is a single picture which would speak volumes about Southern California.
Maybe it would even be too much information.
They have cell phone towers disguised as palm trees in other states too, apparently. Here's 25 pictures of cell phone towers disguised as all sorts of things.
Most palm trees are not native to California. Neither are most of the people. Here's a California palm history. (palmistry?)