What I Learned on Summer Vacation

Hosted by

This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

Observing Los Angeles every day leaves me a little jaded. If I don't get away every so often, I lose all perspective on what's great about this place. And what's not so great.

So here's what I learned on my summer vacation, which was less of a vacation than it was a couple of weeks of recalibrating my view of L.A.

First, during a few days stopover in the United Kingdom, I was hit with a glaring reminder of how callous we've all become about violent street crime.

That week, an 11-year old boy walking home from soccer practice in Liverpool was killed in a drive-by shooting. The driver's vehicle was a bike. The shooter, another kid.

The murder of Rhys Jones sparked a national discussion across England that was fascinating to observe. And instructive.

It was just the EIGHTH gun-related homicide of a juvenile in the entire country this year. Many British cops don't even carry guns.

But people were outraged. It seemed to an outsider as if the crime stunned the whole country. More than angry, they were saddened to the core.

News programs stayed with the story for days. They began asking how many youth gangs were active in the U.K. Hundreds, as it turned out.

Newspapers declared the murder a pivotal moment in Britain's attitude about street violence. The Prime Minister and other politicians spoke about the terrible scourge.

But it was the society's unabashed show of emotion that struck me.

Thousands of mourners paid their respects at the funeral for a boy they never knew.

On the first day of school, his classmates on the playground saluted Rhys with an unofficial minute of applause. Later, a stadium filled with thirty three thousand football fans clapped for Rhys.

A few days shy of the boy's 12th birthday, a police officer speaking for the family nearly broke down in tears as he asked for witnesses to come forward.

Imagine how it all would have played here. The killing of an 11-year old MIGHT have made the late news. I can see a small headline in the Times, an entry on the paper's homicide blog. The Daily News may have run with it, IF it happened in the Valley.

Too soon, it would be forgotten. There are too many murders, of children by children. That's just the sad truth.

My travels this summer also took me to the Basque country of France and Spain. There I was reminded that the mystique of California still works.

Basques, of course, have been coming to California for two centuries. They don't herd sheep across the San Fernando Valley any more, but they're still prominent around Bakersfield and in the Bay Area.

Everyone we met seemed to have a cousin here. Or hoped to come study here. Or wanted to chat a little about the magical place where movies come from. And surfers.

The Cote Basque is the home of European surfing. Outside a psychedelic restaurant where we ate in a beachfront village, there's even a plaque in honor of Miki Dora, the Malibu surfing legend known as "Da Cat."

Hanging around the Basque villages, and strolling in San Sebastian and Paris, also refreshed my pleasure at great walking cities. No argument here, there's no better way to enjoy urban life than on foot.

But it also reinforced that Los Angeles can never be a great walking city. The romantic innocents who think so should just get over it.

I loved visiting a café, two bakeries, a wine store, a chocolate shop and another café on one street.

But in the same distance here, I'd barely get across the intersection of Sherman Way and Sepulveda. Or Wilshire and Santa Monica. And there's nothing as interesting at either corner.

It's nice to be home -- L.A. is a great city. But its charms are unique to Los Angeles. Paris, or New York, we'll never be.

For KCRW, I'm Kevin Roderick and this has been LA Observed.