Mind Over Miller: Bright lights, big cities

Mind Over Miller: Bright lights, big cities

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Jul 01, 2012


Robert M. Miller
I define a big city as one with a population of more than one million people. I have, I think, now visited every American city of that size or larger. Although I would not want to live in a big city, they are fun to visit, and if you attend enough veterinary conventions, you can, eventually, see all the big cities.

The kind of cities I enjoy are those that are walking cities—in other words, the heart of the city, besides being attractive and interesting, is concentrated in an area small enough to explore on foot.

San Francisco is such a city, as are New Orleans, Boston, and San Antonio. Those are my favorite convention cities. San Diego is another good one, although it's a little more spread out.

I don't like Los Angeles. It's too big, and although it has everything in culture and recreation that a big city can offer, it's all so spread out, and there isn't a decent transit system. These used to be a transit system. When I visited L.A. for the first time in 1947, the street car line went everywhere. Sadly, that rail system was removed a few years later.

Los Angeles is so huge that to live, as I do, within 100 miles of it means that one must share in its traffic and other problems. I never liked driving into its suburbs to make large-animal calls. Too big. Too spread out. Too discombobulated. Too frenetic, strident, harried.

Yet, oddly, if I were ordered to live in one county in the United States and never allowed to leave, which do you think I'd choose? Los Angeles County! Why? Because in that county I could enjoy all of the activities that I like the most.

I could have a ski cabin up in the evergreen forests that overlook the city. I could visit the desert since Los Angeles County also includes great areas of lonely desert land. The city itself offers an endless variety of sporting events, entertainment, and special attractions. I could be a member of the Southern California Veterinary Medical Association, the world's largest local association and one of the very best. Los Angeles, of course, is also famous for its many beaches and its marinas. I could escape the city in a boat.

These thoughts occurred to me as I visited Catalina Island to attend a veterinary meeting several years ago. It was my first visit to that beautiful island as a tourist. Avalon harbor, dotted with watercraft of all kinds, sparkled in the sunlight. The serenity and splendor of the scene overwhelmed me. From the mountains overlooking the harbor, on our way to see the bison and other wildlife in the interior, I looked back on the harbor. It could have been a place in the South Pacific or the Mediterranean, but it wasn't. It was in Los Angeles—sprawling, bustling, but so very varied Los Angeles.

No mention of American cities is complete without New York City. Yes, Manhattan is a walking city, but only for serious walkers.

In 1986, I visited Manhattan to do radio and TV talk shows as the author of my book Most of My Patients Are Animals. I walked to all of my appointments. Over a four-day period, I zigzagged all over Manhattan from Central Park South to the Battery, at the tip of the island. That's the way to see the city! The kaleidoscope of ethnic and industrial neighborhoods is fascinating. I walked through plush residential areas, the entertainment district, and financial and publishing centers. I stood looking, for a long time, at the horse-drawn cabs lined up near Central Park, wondering who did the shoeing and who provided the veterinary services to the many draft horses, saddle horses, and police horses in this densely populated city.

A few days later, I was back home driving along the crest of the coastal mountains, making my rounds. The Pacific Ocean stretched to the horizon below me, bright blue under a December sun. The peaks of Catalina Island peeked over the horizon, 30 or 40 miles away, clearly visible in the clear winter air.

"I must go there sometime," I mused (this was two years before my visit).

Far down the coast, a brown stain marked the atmosphere over Santa Monica and Los Angeles.

"I love to visit big cities," I thought. I took a big breath of the air, scented with chaparral and the new winter grass, and drove off.

The views expressed in "Mind Over Miller" do not necessarily reflect those of the editorial and practitioner advisory boards or the editorial staff.

Robert M. Miller, DVM, is an author and a cartoonist, speaker, and Veterinary Medicine Practitioner Advisory Board member from Thousand Oaks, Calif. His thoughts in "Mind Over Miller" are drawn from 32 years as a mixed-animal practitioner. Visit his website at http://robertmmiller.com/.