Although I am only 23 I have lived in LA and Southern California since 1990 and I can tell you that the rumors are true. I think that LA is a filthy swamp and I hate living here. The pollution is very bad (not that I have other areas to compare LA to) and this is a major reason for my contempt of the city. Nobody seems to care that we have thousands of cars just sitting in traffic for hours on end polluting our air. Also, LA is a city that is spread out and if you want to get anywhere you will have to drive. This really ticks me off because I see it as a waste of time and money. Plus I now understand why so many people in LA are fat; it's because they don't have to walk anywhere, not that they would have the option of doing so even if they wanted to.
People in LA are fat? I guess there are fat people everywhere, but from what I've seen, Californians are by far thinner on average than people from the eastern states, particularly the states in the South.
ummm...yeah...100% agree with Cantillon. I'm a 5'3", 125 lb. girl and I feel fat around here a lot...and when I go back home I feel normal.
I don't like LA all that much either, but I loved it for 3 years, so I'll try not to let my longing to leave ASAP effect my answers too much
First, how bad is the pollution?
I only notice pollution when it's not there. You'll see what I mean after it rains. The next day, when the sun is out, you can see twice as far as you could the day before. Also, don't wear white in the rain...I had dirt spots all over a white shirt once. It was pretty nasty.
Second, and I'm not really sure how to phrase this in a way that isn't insulting or come off as an easterner's ignorance, but... how much does superficiality dominate? For example, how important do people in LA (and specifically at USC) find it necessary to wear brand name stuff and care about whether others do?
I'm at USC now, and I think there are two answers. First, I've found native Los Angelenos, and quite a few sorority girls and frat guys care about that sort of stuff -- brand name clothes, etc. You'll get those people everywhere, though. A lot of people like being trendy, cute, spending time on their appearance, and it is an appearance-centric culture, more than anywhere else I've been.
However, I've noticed that those people who are not native to Los Angeles (which are most of the people I'm friends with) don't really care about that sort of thing. My best friends are from NYC, Connecticut, Minnesota, Texas, and Northern California (which is a completely different animal than SoCal). So, while the Los Angeles culture is image- and body-centric, the large portion of your classmates will not be native Los Angelenos (one benefit for USC being a private school), so you won't be embarrassed because you don't have a Ralp Lauren polo shirt or whatever brand is cool now, lol.
Third, where are some good places to live in and around the city that would be doable on a student's budget (a fairly generous student's budget, but a student's budget nonetheless). how far are these places from USC?
Several of my friends who have just recently graduated live in West Hollywood. They like it out there. I don't know their rent, but it's a great location (two live off Melrose and three live off La Cienega, just south of the Sunset Strip). Distance from USC...with no traffic, 15-20 minutes. With traffic..............I have no clue. 45 minutes? Traffic stinks. I don't know what their rent is though, so I wouldn't trust me on that one. I'd just do an apartment search and mapquest the distance of the apartment building from USC.
Fourth, I understand that USC is in an urban part of LA, but what exactly does that entail?
The neighborhood gets a bad rap...a worse one than it deserves, in my opinion. North of campus, where I live, is a working class neighborhood made up of a predominantly hispanic population (and a lot of students of course). There is some occasional violence, but the worst I've ever seen is the result of a break in of a liquor store across from my building (broken glass and crime scene tape). LA is a big city, and students know about USC's reputation, so everyone keeps their guard up when walking in the neighborhood outside campus (within campus is really safe, in my opinion). USC's Department of Public Safety is a branch of the LAPD and they patrol the area outside campus constantly and will give you a ride home if you live within a one mile radius of campus and it's after Campus Cruiser (a safe ride program) isn't running (it stops at 2:45am, so hopefully you're not still in the library at that time).
South of campus is where you get into a little more trouble...if you were to live around USC (which I wouldn't recommend doing...you can get a much nicer apartment in a better neighborhood for the same price as an apartment around USC -- landlords take advantage of the fact that students who go to USC are probably pretty well off and hike up rent), live north of campus.
Basically, the motto is, don't be dumb -- don't walk alone off campus after dark, don't flash lots of money, don't bother the locals (non-students).
And any other comments on the city (or USC) that you think i might find helpful. Thanks to anyone that might help.
USC sports are so much fun -- football, basketball, baseball, track (yeah, I went to a track meet yesterday), whatever. We all have spirit oozing out our ears. The Trojan Family is real. I hate Los Angeles, but I love being a Trojan and I love my experience at USC. I wish I could move the school with me to Chicago.
One random thing I love about USC's location is that it is very close to two major freeways (the 110 and the 10). It makes it so much easier to get out of USC's neighborhood because there is NOTHING to do there unless you like frat parties (which I don't).
Hope I helped, let me know if you have any more questions.