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A few notes from LA-LA land - Clay Wilson

From the window of the jetliner, the land looked like an electric garden.

As far as the eye could see, except for one dark patch that may have been an encroachment of the Pacific Ocean, lay a patchwork of lights.

They were mostly the hazy pink ones that line interstates and other major roadways. Here and there shone the fluorescent aura of parking lot lights, and the sea of neutral colors was interrupted periodically by the gaudy glare of colored neon.

From the sky, the land of the San Fernando Valley surrounding Los Angeles appears to have been totally conquered by human development.

On the ground, the outcome of the battle seems less certain.

In the Hollywood Hills, the roads are so narrow and tortuous that one can imagine the builders wrestling the mountains for every foot of pavement. For their part, the mountains apparently were determined that if a road were to be forced out of them, it wasn't going to be a straight one.

The houses, too, have gotten into the fight. Perched atop any available ridge, they struggle to hold on, seemingly teetering on the brink of the almost-sheer hillsides. Where the ridges aren't wide enough, stilts support the remainder of the structures in defiance of gravity, engineering logic and, some might say, common sense.

In an area prone to ground shifts and full-fledged earthquakes, it's almost hard to see ingenuity rather than arrogance. It's as if the houses' owners are tempting fate, just daring nature to try and shake off its human-built burden.

If there are models for subduing the earth to humanity's will, L.A. is surely one of them.

In case anyone hasn't figured it out, I returned to Los Angeles last weekend. A college friend was getting married and I wanted to celebrate the occasion.

The facts that the wedding was in L.A., and that I have a cousin there with whom I could stay, presented an offer I couldn't refuse. Though I had never thought of L.A. as a place I particularly wanted to go, when I visited in November on a "Jeopardy"-taping trip, I knew I had to go back.

As I did in November, I had a great time in this "City of Angels." But more than I did last time, on this trip I noticed an air of unreality pervading the town.

Maybe that's only to be expected in a city that lured the motion-picture industry back in the 1920s with the promise of milk-and-honey real estate. Hollywood has become, of course, the illusion capital of the world, where even the human body is ground ripe for artificial enhancement.

But even in Hollywood, reality lurks in the background.

"Should the elevator doors fail to open do not become alarmed," read the placard in the elevator at my cousin's apartment complex. "There is little danger of running out of air or of this elevator dropping mechanically."

I don't think I've ever seen a sign like that in Georgia. Perhaps here, where our entire futures don't hang on our silicone implants or our sprayed-on tans, we don't have to be reminded to simply press the "ALARM" button if the elevator stops.

Maybe we're a little more accustomed to living with reality on a daily basis.

Don't get me wrong, I like L.A. I'd love to go back there and spend a week or two, instead of just a few days.

But I don't know if I could live there. I like for all four corners of my dwelling to be planted on solid ground.

Clay Wilson is the education reporter for the Daily Herald. His column appears on Wednesdays. He can be reached at (770) 957-9161 or by e-mail at cwilson@henryherald.com.