Coastal Commuter

In two places at once

Michael Snyder mixes and matches his lives in San Francisco and Los Angeles to make one satisfying, connected life. Photo: Michael Gaida

The Firesign Theater was a very funny and appropriately trippy comedy troupe that sprang into existence on the radio in mid-1960s Los Angeles, right as the drug-fueled psychedelic revolution in music was developing on the West Coast. They were like a goofy yet savvy fun-house mirror reflection of their rock and roll brethren, and recorded about two dozen memorably surreal albums from the late ’60s onward. Recently, I came upon a copy of their acclaimed and highly influential 1969 LP, How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere at All, and its droll title inspired me to reflect on my nomadic lifestyle.

Sometimes the only thing that reminds me that I live in and between two cities separated by roughly 382 miles is the amount of gasoline I purchase over the course of the year. The commute from my digs in San Francisco to my Los Angeles living quarters is followed by mile upon mile of daily treks on the L.A. freeway system. That’s a lot of petrol for a guy who theoretically supports alternative energy. (When am I gonna see a reasonably priced sun-powered sedan anyway?) The gas-station receipts and two sets of utility bills don’t lie. I’m a traveling man. Meanwhile, it often feels like I’m truly in both places at once, as opposed to what the Firesign Theater suggested — not anywhere at all.


Despite clear and present differences between my northern and southern homes that are regularly discussed in this forum, I get the increasing and mildly pleasurable sense that I have San Francisco along with me when I’m in Los Angeles and L.A. in my system when I’m back at the S.F. crib. And I’d like to put aside my alarm at the appalling homeless situation, the ridiculously stratospheric rental costs, and the store, restaurant, bar, and club closures and/or evictions bedeviling both cities. In the interest of positivity, I shall also refrain from expressing my disdain for the Dodgers, Lakers, Rams, and the other vile L.A. sports franchises, and I will not talk up the virtues and glory of the Giants, Warriors, and Niners. As I’ve said before, I pretty much dig everything about L.A. — the people, the art and music scene, the architecture, the history, the weather, etc. — except those aforementioned teams.

This is more about how one might blend the more positive aspects of towns long considered rivals. I revel at the sight of the jacaranda trees in bloom while driving down Fairfax (a purple reign, as the late Prince Rogers Nelson might have said), but I do so while listening to Mark Thompson, my colleague and fellow part-time Angeleno, on KGO or to the sports-talkers on KNBR — getting my Bay Area radio fix in L.A. thanks to the wonders of what we used to quaintly label “modern science” and now just refer to as tech. And while at my Russian Hill flat, I use online streaming to enjoy KCSN and KCRW — two L.A.-area FM stations that I count as the best in the country at providing the most tasteful, astute, and challenging mix of contemporary and vintage rock, folk, soul, pop, and EDM. I converse with my S.F. writing partner on Skype while at the Solar de Cahuenga, my go-to L.A. café/office; and I do the same with my L.A. writing partner when I’m nursing an espresso in the corner of the Royal Ground on Polk. The work gets done; the conversations stimulate and invigorate; the friendships are nurtured.


Those 21st century advances in media and communications have changed and, in some cases, played havoc with our lives. Still, for all the major and subtle ways the computer, the smart phone, and digital broadcasting isolate us, they also bring us together in a more palatable equivalent to some banal, wannabe heart-tugger of an ad for a friends-and family mobile plan. The relatively inexpensive cost of cellular access, particularly when it comes to what used to be pricey calls out of one’s area code, has probably done more to strengthen and solidify bonds with absent friends old and new, not to mention mollify geographically challenged relations with one’s relatives, than the countless reunions and holiday dinners that used to be our infrequent chances to reconnect and catch up with loved ones. So I regularly call or Skype my S.F. crew when I’m in L.A. to get the skinny on what’s doing in their lives, and I stay linked by phone to the L.A. gang when I’m by the Bay.

Perhaps it’s my way of making certain that I don’t long too much for what I’m missing in one when I’m in the other. I do compare and then pass judgment on burritos and Thai restaurants from one city versus the other, and do take pains to see favorite S.F. bands when they come to L.A. and those from the L.A. scene when they’re up north — as long as I happen to be in the right place at the right time. Then I brag about it on Instagram to any and all who might follow me. I guess it’s like they say: You can take the boy out of San Francisco and Los Angeles, but you can’t take digital devices out of his hands. Or maybe my life is just a mash-up of Randy Newman singing “I Love L.A.” and Jeanette MacDonald’s version of “San Francisco (Open Your Golden Gate).” One thing is for sure: When I’m in either of these two renowned destinations, I’m somewhere special.

Michael Snyder is a print and broadcast journalist who covers pop culture on “Michael Snyder’s Culture Blast,” via, Roku, Spotify, and YouTube. You can follow Michael on Twitter: @cultureblaster

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