BritWeek Interview:

Patrick Cates

patrick cates.jpgBritWeek 2014 Los Angeles, a festival celebrating all things British, concludes on May 4th. In honor of the occasion, Native Intelligence has been posting interviews with British Southland residents. Our final interview is with Mr. Patrick Cates who lives in Lincoln Heights. He works at USC, where his British accent makes people think he's more intelligent than he actually is. He will never be able to muster any enthusiasm for college football.

Where are you from in England and why did you immigrate to Los Angeles?

I was born in London and lived there for 33 years before moving to Los Angeles. I had met my wife online when we both ran websites that had their 15 minutes of Boing Boing fame back in 2004. We were pals for a few years and then we eventually decided to meet. I booked a three-week vacation in LA thinking that, if things didn't work out between us, I would just go on a solo road trip. Luckily things did work out. After a lot of back-and-forth in the early part of 2007, I came out here for a 2-month trip, we got married, and I didn't go back to England (I resigned from my job via email and managed to get a good friend to pack up my apartment).

You've recently become a citizen, how do you plan to use your dual citizenship?

When you travel to any country, it's a toss-up whether the natives hate England or America more. If you have both passports in your pocket, you can brandish whichever one will induce less frowning.

What do you like about living in Los Angeles?

London is often described as a city full of villages; Los Angeles, on the other hand, feels to me like a country full of cities. It's this size and variety that means you can easily build your own modular environment that you really enjoy, and you can ignore everything that pisses you off. I'm perhaps a little perverse in that I enjoy the lonely concrete isolation of the industrial sprawl. I'd much rather spend a day wandering around under the freeway bridges of East LA and around the warehouses and disused train tracks of Vernon than sit on the beach. I live in Lincoln Heights and much of what I like about LA is nearby: the LA River, the 6th Street Bridge, Union Station, Piggyback Yard, the Alameda Corridor, the Twin Towers Correctional Facility. There isn't much that appeals to me west of Alvarado.

What part of LA makes you homesick for the UK? What do you do to cure any homesickness?

It's not so much a part of LA as a feature of LA: the weather. People migrate to California for the dry heat, but I can't stand it. Whenever it's cold and rainy in Los Angeles, I'm reminded of how I will forever be hardwired for the English climate. And then I find myself in a state of geographically displaced melancholy, yearning to be sitting in a London pub, looking out of the window at the pissing rain, and sipping a pint of cask-conditioned London Pride.

I also miss English curries whenever I have Indian food here. The Anglo-Indian concoction is a much spicier and less subtle brew than its American cousin. When I have a meek chicken vindaloo in a Los Angeles Indian restaurant, it's like watching your favourite film through frosted glass. And before I know it, I'm getting tearful over the tiniest detail of the London curry-house experience (Cobra lager, flock wallpaper, thick carpets, low lighting, giant stacks of poppadoms).

I used to think that you could cure homesickness by leaning into it with a cup of tea, a plate of fish and chips, and the Shipping Forecast. It worked up to a point. But then a fellow expat who lives in New York (Dan Fox, one of the editors of Frieze) advised me that doing the opposite is much more effective. So now I distract myself from my nostalgic pining with an insanely hoppy Californian Double IPA (Stone, preferably), a plate of habanero-laced tacos from Guisados, and the latest police pursuit on KCAL9.

So many Brits in LA make their home in Santa Monica. Is that still a popular place for the expats that you encounter? Why do you think they relocate there?

I can't stand Santa Monica and I suspect that the reason I hate it is what still draws a lot of expats to it. It's clean, well manicured, by the ocean, and has all the high-end chain stores you can think of. In this sense, it's like a dream version of a shitty provincial British town like Reading or Colchester. So people who move to Santa Monica get the comfort of what they're used to but they can wear shorts and sunglasses every day. And as is the case with expat communities of all kinds in all countries, I'm sure other Brits move to Santa Monica because they know it's where a lot of Brits already live. To me, though, one of the attractions of moving to another country is the chance to get out of that comfort zone and engage with people and cultures you know nothing about. I'd much rather sit in a low-rent Boyle Heights taco joint and have a conversation with a local about bus routes, bridges and pork seasoning, than sit in a Santa Monica gastropub and talk to an expat about Branston Pickle, Benedict Cumberbatch and the cost of transatlantic airfares.

Has your accent changed since living in Los Angeles? How? Are you teaching your accent and British isms to your tiny daughter and how?

Strangely, my accent has become more conventionally "RP" (i.e. educated Southern England) in the 7 years I've been here. When I first arrived, I had much more of a London edge to my speech. I would drop consonants and not clearly enunciate words, and this meant I would constantly get misunderstood. So I made a conscious decision to spell things out more slowly and more clearly. As a result, on the Ray Winstone to Hugh Grant accent continuum, I've moved significantly closer to the Hugh Grant end. But if you stick me in a pub with a fellow Brit and give me a few beers, I soon slip back into old habits.

Regarding my daughter, I don't make much conscious effort to imbue her with Britishness. I confess to letting her try a cup of tea, which she now loves. And I also admit to taking pleasure out of naming two of her favourite teddy bears "Blimey" and "Crikey". But most of her British pronunciation and other British-isms come from me via unconscious osmosis. As soon as she starts to realize that her school friends are much cooler and more interesting than her Dad, I'm pretty sure she'll drop all the foreign nonsense and start speaking like a full American.

What's your favorite spot(s) to relax or revive in Los Angeles?

San Pedro has it all, as far as I'm concerned. There's nothing I like doing more than waking in the early hours on a Sunday and taking a quick, traffic-free drive down the 110 for a run around the port and the marinas. It's about as soothing as industry can get. Added to which, Pedro is full of inspirational things that can revive a flagging soul: the majesty of the Vincent Thomas Bridge, the awesome scale of the container port operation, the strange foreboding of Sunken City, the numerous humbling artistic homages to working class heroes dotted throughout the town. I thought I knew Pedro pretty well. But then I was lucky enough to spend a day down there with Mike Watt, Pedro's unofficial mayor (at least in my book). He showed me so many hidden gems that I could write a book about them. One thing I will say is this: the next time I go down there, I'm buying another incredible Belly Buster sandwich at Busy Bee Market and sitting on the same deserted cliff just west of the Paseo Del Mar to watch the pelicans hovering over the ocean again. Relaxation and revival rolled into one.

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