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The strange existence of the La Brea Tar Pits, Los Angeles, California


The existence of the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles has always puzzled me. And no, I don't mean the existence of Ice Age animals who lived there (they lived all over the world then), or the existence of pool of black gooey tar. I'm puzzled as to why such a large area in such a crowded city has been preserved.

I recently listened to Adam Corolla's comical take on the La Brea Tar Pits. And not only is it brilliantly funny, it really makes sense. He wonders why a city would bother to preserve a big open area of grass, mud, and tar. And yes, if you've never been there, that's really all the La Brea Tar Pits is. Sure, there's a little museum, and there are fiberglass statues of Ice Age animals, but the place is really just about tar pits. Yes, pits of tar. That black, gooey stuff that sticks to your feet after you've been on the beach in Southern California. Adam mentions that, and it's true. I always had to scrape tar off of my feet when I came home from from the beach in Santa Barbara. It stained the carpets of my car. It's black, sticky, and messy. And it smells bad.

I've been to the La Brea Tar Pits more times than I can count, and I'm always up for another visit. But I've always considered myself kinda weird. I like open places like that. I like to imagine another time - in this instance, about 10,000 years ago. I go to historic buildings, I visit arboretums.

What Adam suggests is something that I've always wondered about. Why isn't there the type of museum that most people like there? Why just an empty area with pools of tar all over the place? Why not a museum of baseball stuff, or football? Even though that stuff doesn't interest me, I know that it's what most people just absolutely love. And when Adam suggests paving it all over, well, he's absolutely right - because that's exactly what the city of Los Angeles did. Pretty much the whole area of Southern California was just as nasty and unpleasant as the La Brea Tar Pits before it was cleaned up. There was tar, and mud, and ooze, and mosquitos, and lots of reasons why people wouldn't want to ever live there. And it was all cleaned up through some of the most gigantic engineering projects in a modern city. And they did such a perfect job that most people wouldn't guess in a million years that areas like La Brea (which is Spanish for "the tar") and La Cienega (which is just a nice way of saying "the swamp") were pretty unpleasant areas for people until they were drained off and cleaned up. What's the Spanish word for "mosquitos"? Malaria?

But somehow, and for whatever reason, this place of expensive real estate has remained pretty much as it's been since the end of the Ice Age. The tar, the swamp. And I like going to places like that. Apparently other people do, too. If you go there, look out for the tar, the mud, and probably mosquitos, too.


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