No Holds Barred: Location, Migration, and Mitigation

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Frances Flora Bond Palmer, James Merritt Ives, Currier and Ives, Across the Continent: "Westward the Course of Empire Takes its Way", 1868. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon.

It used to be “location, location, location” but now it’s “migration, migration, migration.”  A lot of people I know want to get out of cities and everyone seems to be on the move.  Even suburbs feel too crowded. 

The high-end escapees have already left New York City for the Hamptons (that was early March).  Now even the Hamptons has become too populated and the local hospital is not the best.  In fact, one Hamptonite told me that “Most people rely on their concierge doctors in Manhattan.  Our local animal hospital is better than our regular hospital.”  Same problem with high-end getaways like Sun Valley and Aspen.  The remoteness is wonderful but the medical is doubtful.

Part of my morning ritual check list.

Now the rest of us are wondering, what to do, where to go?

You can run but you can’t hide!!

All I know is I used to check out the daily weather and local temperatures and now I am only checking on the rising Covid caseloads and hospitals — and the now looting locals.

Cities are taking the biggest hits as the Harris Poll just reported that nearly 1/3 of Americans are considering a move to less densely populated areas in the wake of the pandemic. Obviously real estate is in for a major shake-up.  Summer rentals are now going year-round and for twice the amount.  People are leaving the city to stay with relatives and friends in suburban safer situations.  No more elevators, garages, lobbies or common laundry rooms.

People want “Land, lotsa land under starry skies above.”  Working from home and home schooling has changed the living landscape.  They want outside spaces, their own pools and Jacuzzis — no more sharing.  No one seems to care about living within walking distance of theaters and restaurants or galleries and museums.  People have learned to do without living in cultural diversion centers.

Priorities are changing.  They want to be able to have a backyard with their own outdoor eating, at-home entertainment centers, and rooms for home office space, virtual business meetings and classes.  “Staying in” is the new “going out.” We are an at-home centric society now.

The basement of this house in Potomac, MD — designed to look like a fake town — has been burning up social media lately.

As one real estate agent admits: “But remember, every time someone has bet against NYC it has bounced back, whether it was 9/11, the financial crisis, Hurricane Sandy or the blackout.  Will some people leave?  Probably in the short term, but for the vast majority, that won’t be the case over the long term.”  Time will tell.

After all, Millennials were responsible for the NYC boom post-2008 as well as the recent rise of people moving into Buffalo, Cleveland, and Charlotte.  But will Generation Z be the ones to re-invent NYC or even resurrect the failing malls?  It will all change; there will still be restaurants and bars, but the malls will be gone.  There will be less clothing retail (that will remain online) and rather than gyms (that will be at home as well) there will be health outlets like urgent care, holistic/health, and chiropractic care every block or two.  And of course, smaller more controlled hair and nail salons.

So far, the “new” cities have been Austin, Nashville and of course, any town in South Florida and a few in Nevada.  Space over density.  I’ve already heard that Northern New Jersey and all of Connecticut are all sold out of houses and rentals.  Imagine!  Connecticut was empty in February and had bargain basement pricing.

Trajan’s Market in Rome, thought to be the world’s oldest shopping mall.

Ironically, I have two friends who fled New York 9 weeks ago — one to family in Connecticut and it has been a wonderful “come to Jesus” moment for all of them.  They never had time before to even know each other.  Now they have nothing but time. BUT boundaries had to be drawn up early on.  After all, this isn’t a brief vacay visit.  It is a living experience and “togetherness” can be challenging.  So she is now looking forward to coming home to her NYC apartment and her own small space and her end-of-June doctor’s appointments.  As great as family togetherness is, we all need “a room of our own.” She misses the NYC energy — masked and limited though it is.  She is ready for “the big shift.”

My other friend is on the move in the West — base camping in LA and then off to pals in Santa Barbara (another sold out community) and is now looking at a gated community in Palm Springs.  It’s a delicate balance.  Seeking refuge is now a full-time job … for everybody.

Which brings me to “Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time,” a two-part 3 ½ hour documentary limited series that premiers this month on Epix. It is a “must-see” simply because it is about one of the “most sacred musical places,” “a Shangri-La of talent” — “a bubble of creativity, sex, music, friendship, sunshine and drugs” in the Los Angeles ramshackle hills of Laurel Canyon from 1965 – 1975.

The movie covers the scene of wooden cabins and bungalows, amongst bougainvillea’s and pines. There were the homes of the Byrd’s, Frank Zappa, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Brown, Crosby Stills and Nash, the Doors, the Mamas and the Papas, the Eagles, the Monkees (yes, even the Monkees). There’s been a lot of movies about the Motown Sound, the Philly Beat, the San Francisco Acid Rock, Seattle Grunge, but this is a different specific location, time and talent which was extraordinary. Joni Mitchell wrote her song “Both Sides Now” which could still be our anthem of today’s world.  The Laurel Canyon life was not just “groovy classic rock,” it was the heart and soul of a musical revolution. We will never see the likes of it again.

Alison Ellwood directed the extensive 2013 documentary “The History of the Eagles.” She has done the same deep dive excavation with Laurel Canyon, with never before seen interviews and photos where everyone looks so young, innocent and motivated. This particular music location has been compared to Paris in the 1920s with Gertrude Stein, Picasso and Ernest Hemmingway.  Percolating a modern movement in the arts.

Of course, the “Canyon Queens” were Mama Cass (great coverage on her), Michelle Philips (a true beauty), and Linda Ronstadt (miraculous voice). You talk about the original “Boho Chic”? Check out Ronstadt’s earrings and embroidered blouses which was all her own wardrobe tastes. No stylists!!

Ronstadt in ‘Laurel Canyon.’ © Provided by Rolling Stone

And don’t forget the political background they were all creating in, race riots, moon landing, Watergate, impeachment, Woodstock, and the beginning of the Hippie wave with all the Vietnam protests.  Sound familiar?  These artists were THE soundtrack to our nation’s upheaval with songs like “California Dreamin” and “Young Gals are Coming to the Canyon.”

They had material to work with and they all lived together in an isolated neighborhood which was serene and above the smog line and it allowed them to “cross pollinate” and thrive all together in a changing world. They could also perform it all nightly at the Troubadour club.

With photographer Henry Diltz strategically narrating most of it, you hear from all the musicians (who are alive) as voiceovers but you never see what they look like today. Good move! The movie captures them all looking so glowing, handsome, and nubile with their own crooked teeth and lots of long hair. What I have seen of these people today, it is clear that rock and roll is a hard business to age in if you survive it at all. This film is a reminder of their visuals and their talent at its peak.

In many ways, it is a better movie than Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” because it is about real people — including Charles Manson and his Spahn Ranch girls which was the beginning of Laurel Canyon’s dark side. It also shows you the genesis of the entire rock and roll music business with managers and agents like a young David Geffen and Elliot Roberts. They came from New York to Laurel Canyon to initiate the recording careers of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and the start of infamous Asylum records. Once the music business exploded, the feeling was gone.

It is a gorgeous important retrospective from folk to rock to blues to protest and on to gentle rock.  It makes me think how in challenging times there are always amazing artists and musicians who can unite us up and out of the chaos and into a new world. They can provide a sense of psychological refuge. Will that happen today? Who knows! Different time.

“Laurel Canyon: A Place in Time” is the perfect movie to look at NOW. It is more than an LSD trip down memory lane or even a sense of history — it somehow gives us a map of hope!

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