My partner in all things TMN, Rosecrans Baldwin, just published a new nonfiction book on Tuesday. I've been hearing some of the stories from him for several years, stories he's been discovering around Southern California and scribbling down in his notebook, and it's thrilling to see how he wove them all together.
Everything Now: Lessons From the City-State of Los Angeles is several books at once—an ambitious work of narrative nonfiction; a book about a city that's actually a page-turner about people; a beach read, a gripping experiment in psychogeography, and also the kind of book you'll love if you love LA (I think you'll also love it if you hate LA). The New York Times just gave it a rave review—the Times is not exactly known for getting Los Angeles "right," but this time they nailed it—and I'm proud to say I completely agree.
Which brings us to skateboards! Skateboarding got its start in California, and Rosecrans's publisher, MCD Books, an imprint at Farrar, Straus and Giroux, is running a sweepstakes to give away a limited-edition Everything Now-themed skateboard deck—a beautiful thing to hang on the wall for people who don't skate, and a functional piece of equipment for those who do.
So, buy the book, enter the contest (before 11:59 p.m. ET on 6/29/2021), then come back for the brief interview below, wherein I quiz Rosecrans about burgers and other things.
Andrew Womack: First of all, do you still skate? I don't think I knew this about you.
Rosecrans Baldwin: Occasionally! I skated as a kid, picked it up again in college, and now I keep a board in the trunk of the car for random moments when there's an empty parking lot nearby. I'm terrible, though. Really bad.
Andrew: So, are you an Angeleno now? And is that a mantle someone can give themselves, or is it earned after some specific point?
Rosecrans: I don't think so, and I definitely wouldn't call myself one, at least not yet. My impression is that an "Angeleno" is generally saved for people born here. I mean, I think you can be a "New Yorker" pretty easily, if you successfully manage to rent an apartment somewhere in the five boroughs (granted: that is not an easy thing to do at all), but the bar here is a little higher.
Andrew: I'm going to say the same thing applies to the term "Texan." It's a loaded (possibly literally) term. I moved to Houston before I was two, grew up there, went to college in Austin, moved away, and now live here again. But I'm reluctant to say I'm a "Texan," because I wasn't born here. Maybe that's dumb on my part, but the local pride is so strong, I'm willing to respect it. Do you think there's a similar vibe in LA?
Rosecrans: For sure. However, you're such a Texan! Texans move back to Texas—that is the definition of a Texan, as far as I'm concerned. Also, Andrew, you have introduced me to more breakfast tacos than is physically conceivable, and I think that's proof enough.
Andrew: Do you recall the moment you fell in love with the city?
Rosecrans: Sure. It happened early, it was bewildering. A week or two after we moved to Los Angeles, I was in my car, in traffic on the 101, window down, and all I could smell was flowers. Now, this is not a typical experience on the freeway, but it happened, and it felt remarkable. LA is a gritty place, lacking coziness, but it's a wild place too, full of strange nature. According to researchers at UCLA, Los Angeles County is home to more than 4,000 species of animals and plants, including several dozen endangered species. Which is more than any county outside of Hawaii.
Andrew: Which must help with the June Gloom! How are you dealing with it this year?
Rosecrans: Pretty well! The longer before summer arrives, and the ensuing fire season and the fire nightmares, the better. But we're in a heat wave this week, like the rest of the western states, so I'm pretty sure the gloom is gone and summer has arrived.
Andrew: There was a controversial headline a couple weeks ago about the loquats of Los Angeles, which spawned a good deal of discussion on Twitter about people moving to LA and bringing their assumptions about the area along with them. What do you think are the most common misconceptions about LA?
Rosecrans: Well, that article had two main problems: suggesting that loquats are tasty (they're awful), and that Silver Lake, the Williamsburg of Los Angeles, is in Eastern Los Angeles, which it isn't, or even East LA, which is its own community.
For misconceptions, I think a common one is there are only a dozen Angeleno experiences, rather than 20 million. Or, frankly, that the ones expressed in English—versus Spanish, versus Korean, and so on—are the most experienced ones, which doesn't make any sense.
Andrew: Obviously LA has a rich food culture and history, but my top two LA foods whenever I visit are tacos and hamburgers, so I want to know: Best taco? Most essential taco? Best burger? Most essential burger?
Rosecrans: There is a pretty wonderful tradition around LA, where you'll see restaurant after restaurant advertising "tacos / burgers / pastrami," or some variation. As for best or more essential, for me it really changes every time I try something new. Right now my favorite restaurant taco (versus truck taco) is the chivichanga at Sonoratown. Which is odd because I'm more of a corn tortilla than flour tortilla guy, but their flour tortillas are amazing. Most essential taco? I'd say any good or great taco that you eat right after buying it from a truck or roadside setup, and you make a mess of your shirt, and it's delicious.
Best burger at the moment (which I have to say is a little weird, as I am swerving increasingly vegetarian or vegan), I need to be loyal to my lockdown local, For The Win, a "smash burger" place. Most essential? I like the chili cheeseburger at The Original Tommy's.
Andrew: Let's talk about the skateboard! I have some ideas, but I'd rather ask: Why a skateboard?
Rosecrans: Skateboarding is rooted in Southern California. It's a beautiful, stupid, quite democratic sport, and one that's way more Californian than surfing, in my opinion. Skating and skateboard culture are deep loves of mine, and my publisher is a dream, and so, when we were kicking around contest ideas for the book release, I suggested an Everything Now-themed skateboard deck, and they didn't blink. Also, the deck features pictures from acclaimed photographer Mike Slack, the same guy whose photos appear on the cover.
Andrew: What movie gets LA the most right? What about the most wrong?
Rosecrans: I think the best answer to both questions is the documentary Los Angeles Plays Itself, an incredible classic on all the ways that LA is depicted, both right and wrong, in film and advertising and television. I've seen it on video a couple times over the years, but I saw it for the first time on the big screen, just prior to lockdown, at the Egyptian Theater, one of Los Angeles's old movie palaces, and it was revelatory once again.
Andrew: Back when you lived in New York City, you walked the length of Manhattan and wrote about it here. It took you about six hours. Will you do the same in LA?
Rosecrans: I just did! Kinda. There's a new hiking trail called the Backbone Trail that offers a 67-mile thru hike experience across the Santa Monica Mountains. I did it for an article that's forthcoming in Travel + Leisure Magazine. It took me four days.
Andrew: I'm coming to LA.
Rosecrans: Nice! When?
Andrew: I'm not, but let's say I was.
Andrew: Barring a 67-mile hike, where are we going?
Rosecrans: Depends. LA can be a wonderful place to live, but a terrible place to visit. What are you looking for? Give me three things.
Andrew: I want to go to the beach, I want to see some art, and I want to drink some beer.
Rosecrans: See, this is why we're friends—this sounds like a perfect day. OK. Let's go to Venice, absorb the scene, watch the surfers at Breakwater. Then we'll drive to Downtown, slip into The Broad for a moment and look at the Mark Bradfords. Then we're doing a brewery tour within (relative) walking distance: Angel City, Boomtown, and Mumford, maybe Modern Times if we still have our wits about us. How does that sound?
Andrew: I love LA.
Rosecrans: Me too.