One of the strangest juxtapositions of new development and old crap can be seen in the San Fernando Valley east of Lankershim on Burbank.
A new six-story Holiday Inn Express is going up on the south side of Burbank Blvd. within view of the “arts district” yet firmly within the auto zone of muffler, tire, transmission, oil change, lawnmower and auto sales dealers.
Imagine you are a naïve guest, perhaps from Iowa, who is coming to Los Angeles for the first time and you see this modernistic, multi-colored Mondrianlike building on Trip Advisor. You might be excused for believing that you had lucked into a real fine deal, a lovely, clean hotel with good rates right in the heart of North Hollywood.
Upon checking in, you drive up Lankershim, past Sunrise Ford with its bright red painted “Diesel Truck Repair Center”.
You go up to your room and look out and see V.A.S Auto Repair and John’s Lawn Mower with its garages full of grease monkeys changing oil, servicing radiators, and loading up pick up trucks with power equipment and lawn mowers.
If you are getting hungry, after walking through all the paint and gasoline fumes, and breathing in the smell of diesel, you can pick up something to drink at N. Hollywood Liquor where they accept EBT and can also cash your check for a fee.
For a stroll you might stop by for a bite to eat at Tacos Manzano where Taco’s Tuesday is only $1. Or go directly next door to the Smoke Shop or Harry’s Auto Repair where the smog experts work behind cinderblock murals of Marlboro cigarettes and hookah. Pick up some pot at any of the medicinal pharmacies along the way. Marijuana is to modern Los Angeles what rice is to China.
If you don’t want burritos on the cheap you can have a more expensive burrito at Los Burritos or go across the street and get an American style burrito burger at Denny’s. If you crave nightlife you can go to El Zorro nightclub right next door to the Quick Lane Tire and Auto Center.
In another 50 years, a new generation of vaca negras will waddle past here, orange drinks in hand, and wonder if that bad old motel with prostitutes and vagrants will ever be torn down.
The publicly financed METRO has found a new way to earn some cash.
They are renting out about one-third of the Orange Line Busway parking lot to Keyes, Keyes, Keyes, Keyes in Van Nuys.
The lot, at Erwin near Sepulveda, was built, in the LA way, for bus riders to park their cars while they ride their bus and bike.
Someone very wise and very powerful at METRO must have concluded that most bus riders don’t own automobiles. So why not earn some bucks renting an enormous expanse of asphalt, planted with many hundreds of trees that lies fallow and unused?
The lovely neighborhood which abuts this lot to the north has been justifiably paranoid about proposed development plans which have included hundreds of town homes, office buildings, and potential additional retail stores. Hemmed in by the 405 Freeway, nightly helicopters, noxious fumes, prostitutes, trash, illegals and pimps on Sepulveda; oil storage tanks, psychics and speeding psychotics, the homeowners in these rose-covered cottages can do little about their immediate environment but rent out their properties to movie companies.
Perhaps a very large car park, rented out on public land to private industry, is a good thing. Nobody makes noise. Parked cars are silent and quite neighborly.
So for now the publicly paid for land is being used in that most characteristically Angeleno way, as a home for cars.
They show a family or friends (Dufay?) on what seems to be a Sunday type of outing, in the mid 1930s, up to Griffith Observatory, which had opened on May 14, 1935.
In the midst of the Great Depression, or perhaps because of it, people took care to dress up in dignity and elegance.
Fast-food wrappers and soda containers litter the parking lot of the LA Fitness on Sepulveda in Van Nuys.
For at least five months, discarded lumber, illegally dumped, has lain scattered. Members on their way to step class or leaving the gym scarf down burgers, fries and dump their refuse right on the pavement.
The culture of Van Nuys.
(Photo has nothing to do with following story)
It was a great year, at times, with a cool job and fascinating travel.
And then it was a petty, insignificant, entrapping year, a time where I was caught up in a web of misunderstandings and explosive incidents adding up to nothing. The fiery meltdowns of adolescence reappeared again, in middle age.
Longtime friendships imploded and vanished, precipitated by unpredictable events that were so small, so preposterous, so unimportant that I hesitate to even write of them.
And last week, in the post-vacation entropy of Van Nuys, I experienced more of the crazy relationship weather of Los Angeles: unreturned phone calls and emails from a “best friend”; an angry employer who told me to “man up” because his equipment failed for the umpteenth time; an art show invitation that came and went after my questions about hanging photos on walls or placing on tables infuriated the temperamental producer; a renter hiding a large five gallon jug of urine in his closet.
All of these got me angry, upset, mad and eventually laughing, moments of human comedy that were stupid, accidental and stunningly unimportant.
What I had in real life was echoed in Facebook. The local neighborhood page was full of posts about stolen Halloween decorations, loud leaf blowers, the crew of Workaholics taking over the street, an uncut limb from a tree crushing a vinyl fence, someone’s lost iphone.
We go crazy sometimes from too much that matters too little. That’s the way I felt for much of the time since I came back from the trip of a lifetime.
Part of the blessing or curse of travel is coming home to the place you call home; and experiencing it as a foreign country, a strange locale with odd people, bizarre customs and illogical folkways.
I was out of Los Angeles for not a very long time, only 3 1/2 weeks, but it was long enough and far enough and deep enough (in Malaysia, Thailand and Tokyo) to come back here and rediscover the old glaring sunshine, the friendly yet surface friendships, the lost, pretty, young faces, the mediocre food and wide monotonous streets I left behind only on September 19th.
Small interactions, which one might never encounter in Japan, for example, came at me in abrupt banality on my first few days back.
At Chevron, on Burbank and Kester, I was filling up my car when a strange man yelled at me, “Hey, how much you pay per month for your car?” It was none of his business. But it would have been more un-American of me to tell him that. Instead, being friendly, I told him the truth, even though it felt intrusive.
At Starbucks, on Riverside near Pass Avenue, I was writing alone on my laptop. A woman next to me leaned over and asked, “What are you writing?” It was my private creation, my personal space, yet she felt open and relaxed enough to ask me. What if I had been writing a letter of resignation at my law firm? What if I had been creating a mean email to my ex-lover? What if I wanted to be left alone?
At Santa Anita Park, leaving the racetrack last Saturday, I took out my camera and captured the sunlight on the buildings. Crowds were also exiting, including one woman who asked me, out of the blue, “Why are you taking a picture of that building?”
All these small incidents are either invigoratingly wondrous to those who admire the openness of Americans, or perhaps, to non-American sensibilities, they reek of rudeness, an inability to respect the private information and work of others.
Yet, I am through and through an American, exposed in my life through my writings, my photography and my online presence. I’ve gone up to strangers and handed them my business card. I’ve talked and asked and intruded upon friends, families, enemies and strangers.
At coffee today, I met my friend, writer Yassir, who told me about a man he met at Whole Foods who knew the head of a large publishing company and offered to send Yassir’s work over to his well-placed associate. Yassir also spoke of meetings, connections, people in high places, people with money, people in Beverly Hills, Century City and Bel Air who were handling big projects, some projects worth half a billion. And I again was thrust, conversationally, into that world of this city, a place of half-baked people and half-realized ideas, people who have big dreams and big talk, and sometimes convince and sell others on some spectacular imaginary creations. Instant friendships and instant dreams, formed in the checkout line at Whole Foods.
Why, even in unemployment, do we keep believing and buying into the mythology of this city? What do we finally become, after our youth and good looks have dried up, in the year round sunshine, after we pass the point of un-employability, when we finally know that we cannot make a living at the juice bar, behind the counter, in the retail store, driving to the audition, pitching at meetings, texting to a stranger online, what do we do when all the doors are slammed shut and we find intolerable even one more day in the dismally happy city of Los Angeles?