THE BLOG
03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Los Angyork City

Here is a recent question from my advice column that addressed a little LA-ness...

Ape,
I was wakened this morning by a cell phone Skype message from my Pilates instructor. It read: “wakey, wakey sleeping princess bunny” and invited me to go to a new coffee haunt in New York with him. It’s a place called Kaffee, and is directly across the street from a brand new Whole Foods in Tribeca (New York) that has put some of the old-time local grocers out of business. It has a nice Ann Arbor generic vibe, as if Zingerman’s hadn’t yet conquered the world with a mail order catalog, or the Gap hadn’t sold its seven billionth t-shirt. I got there first, before my instructor, and I ordered a cappuccino. When I looked into the cup, I recognized the hand of an artist had drawn a leaf on top of my drink. As I pondered my coffee, feeling that it was too pretty to drink, a chill went down my spine and I wondered: is New York getting too LA? Has the world lost all its grit? Is there any place where one can escape the dreary sameness of it all? And I thought: Ape will know. Ape will have some insight. I haven’t been so perplexed in a long time … And isn’t that too, totally an LA thing?? Thanks for your insight. I think I remember you know your coffee …

Coffee art would get a serious nope, but then I look at those YouTube videos of cute Asian girls drawing teddy bears into foam and I just can’t help but to appreciate it a little bit. Maybe it’s the special tool, or the way they brace their hand with the other, or just the Bob Ross-ness of it all.. dabbling the foam mysteriously until an image comes through. I guess if that’s your thing, then do it, to it. But it’s a little weirder when you’re just ordering a cup to wake you up and there is that dumb leaf starting you in the face. As a former food service industry type, I’m guessing they don’t do it to make you happy or because they have to. It reeks of “this job is so boring that I need anything to make it more interesting”. The same reason you learn to spin pizzas in a pizza place. Don’t let anyone tell you I told you, but you dont have to spin a pizza. You can just roll them out, and stretch the rest as it hangs off your hands. The spin is the latte flower on top, just because if you don’t find something to spice up the day you’ll want to shoot yerself in the face. In this case, ironically, the latte art is someone’s attempt to break the dreary sameness of the day while at the same time making it yours. (One person’s cheery differentness is another’s dreary sameness?)

As for New York becoming LA, or LA becoming Berlin or Berlin becoming Dubai ... the truth is it’s all becoming the same. I once read a book about Buffalo roaming the plains of America. As incredible as herds that took days to pass seem, that wasn’t the most amazing part to me. More amazing was the idea that they would skin the Buffalo and wagon train the pelts to New York to sell. The idea of exotic wares must have been so exciting to people, straight from the untamed plains of wild America and shot by the finest superstar hunters to ever walk the earth! Where are our exotic wares? They barely exist anymore. the Gap in LA is the Gap in New York which is the Gap in Dubai. Sameness is our present and more-of-the-sameness is our future. It is a sad truth. To quote myself, “the future is here, we’re just used to it…”. The worst part is that we are watching it unfold right before our very own eyes. Chelsea Whole Foods pushing out the little guy where you can get an egg sandwich and a coffee with “we are happy to serve you” on the cup for under four bucks. Cheaper than that artistic latte you’re sipping. That’s our life as it unfolds.

So do you jump in full force with a 100% corporate-Starbuckian diet or go eco-terrorist on the joint? Or ... do you do what us smart apes always do and combine the two. A little touch of gray area. Looking forward with a memory of what has passed. When it comes to the cities, don’t let their capitalistic vision cloud yours. Cities aren’t about stores, shopping malls and Starbucks. They are about rivers and oceans, people and history and parks and museums. So as much as the commerce gets gutted towards the corporate-utopia that is our future, there will always be elements that make places special, and the harder they are to find the more special they will become. If you’re getting lost in the LA-ness of New York, you’re just getting lost in the wrong part of New York. (You owe me a Venti half-calf for that one.)