They were two men in neckties, enraged and ready to attack as they emerged from their cars on the crowded bridge over the 405 at Burbank. Punching, shouting, tackling, they were justifiably angry over something that happened on the freeway. Someone captured the incident on their phone. And soon it was launched into cyber space.
They were two cars going over Beverly Glen two Sundays ago. One was a man coming from Century City. He had just enjoyed a leisurely walk around the mall and was driving back to Van Nuys. As he drove across the mountain pass, a woman driver came up behind him, her car inches from his. When he accelerated, she did too. When he slowed down, she showed him her middle finger. She smiled maliciously and taunted him, pleasuring herself by daring him.
He is a famous comedian, enormously talented and enormously sized. He lives in Studio City and flew into a rage when he was cut out from a parking space. He got out of his car and smashed the windows of the other car. And later on was arrested, thrown into jail, posted bail and was released.
The incidents described here are the better ones from the world of road rage since they did not end in murder. But those that do are also evidence of the crazed deformity of life lived in cars, the mad rhythm of moving along slow, crowded, packed streets to get somewhere we sometimes do not want to go to: work, school, home.
Los Angeles is ugliest and most violent on the road. Whatever romantic attachment to the car that once existed here, expressed in the fast poetic prose of Joan Didion or Bret Easton Ellis, is gone.
Two nights ago, on Highland in Hancock Park, a speeding car driven by journalist Michael Hastings hit a tree and burst into flames, its driver killed and neighbors awakened by the impact of death. Alcohol, drugs, suicide? The cause has not been determined.
Gary Grossman, a former TV producer employer of mine, (“America’s Funniest Home Videos”) lives nearby, walked into the aftermath of orange flames and burning flesh in the night, and gleefully spoke on camera, describing it as “like a movie” and “I couldn’t have written it better”.
Our city and Mr. Grossman’s, where violent death fuels the imagination, awakens ideas for stories that might turn into good TV or film.
Our imagination is more important than our reality. The city can go to hell as long as we are entertained.
The great website Pacific Electric Railway Historical Society has added some historic Los Angeles streetcar photos to its eminent collection courtesy of Robert Chamberlin Photo and Richard Wilkens Collection.
ABOVE: Their latest comes from Los Angeles Transit Lines no. 452 on the N Line service.
BELOW: Los Angeles Transit Lines no. 485 is captured on B Line service in this neighborhood location. It’s November of 1948.
Good citizen Maria Scherzer sent me an agenda document from the much respected Van Nuys Neighborhood Council whose work is so fundamental in making Van Nuys a great place to live. (See photo above)
I hadn’t thought much of the VNNC lately…except when I walked down Van Nuys Boulevard last week past homeless men, garbage piles next to the Marvin Braude Center, and finally stopped at the shuttered doors of the closed down Post Office. I wondered how a post office next to government offices, the police, library and in the center of the so-called business district goes dark, but I guess that is Van Nuys, 2013.
So let’s see (some of ) what’s on the agenda for the Wednesday June 12th meeting of the VNNC:
1. Comedy Show Presentation
2. Procedure to elect an Honorary Mayor of Van Nuys: Robert Redford, Tom Selleck, Sally Field, Paula Abdul or the “Lollipop Guild Actor from the Wizard of Oz”. The last named contender would have to be a minimum of 73 years of age, if he were only one year old when the 1939 Wizard of Oz was made.
3. Vote for removal of Katrina White from VNNC Board (that Cat is sure hated).
4. Sister City Proposal to link Van Nuys with Abuja, Nigeria or Van Nuys, Indiana.
Drive by shootings, a business district that is full of pawn shops and trash, vast treeless and unrented sections of commercial streets (Victory, Vanowen), crime, littered and neglected slum malls, abandoned houses , neglected properties, and falling down apartments. Those are the priorities and the problems of our district.
Abuja, Nigeria looks to be a vibrant, modern city, much more advanced than, say, Van Nuys, CA.
But let’s get back to the Munchkins.
The VNNC is spending its time electing a Munchkin for honorary mayor….
Think about that.
After our monthly American event of mass shooting by semi-automatic weapon, the “our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families” will roll out along with the blood, death, dismemberment and tweats.
Speculating on the motives of the killer is also a favorite sport.
The latest one, in Santa Monica, was purported to come from “a bitter divorce”. Which follows that life circumstances might conspire to produce evil.
Looking around, at family and friends, neighbors and people I know, anyone, anywhere could become the next serial killer.
Snippets and surface bios of people I hardly know:
• He lived with his mother, a gravely ill woman, and he had no job, smoked pot all day, and was rarely seen.
• He had an explosive temper, was unmarried at age 38, his backyard was full of dog shit, and he spoke out against corrupt cops.
• She was morbidly obese. Her husband had a bad temper and once ran out on her and didn’t call for three days.
• They were two lesbians living on the edge of poverty. She posted angry screeds online, railing against litter, crime and community indifference.
• He was 53-year-old and earned a living posing nude, but had once been a handsome young actor.
• There were people coming and going onto their property, which was littered with debris, and shopping carts.
• A 44-year-old man, he never spoke of any job he had, was secretive about his profession, and spent his days hiking and biking around the San Fernando Valley.
• He bragged about his guns and frequently lashed out against crime and prostitution in Van Nuys.
Every life, under a microscope, is weird.
Passing through Sunset, near Crescent Heights, early in the evening, I abandoned the idea of crawling over Laurel Canyon to get back into the Valley.
Instead, I stopped and parked, a block east, and walked with Nikon up into the dark, winding, empty lush streets, meandering and mesmerizing roads, where historic houses hide people and lives behind storybook cottages, thatched roofs, and ornate doors.
This city is full of pain and struggle and disappointment.
But as long as the eyes can see, the legs can walk, the lungs can breathe, the scented and bewitching segments of Los Angeles are placed within reach; silent and mordant, mysterious and seductive, within grasp for gapers and wanderers, dreamers and photographers.
Close to the sidewalk, shaded under trees, an odd duck is on the market.
At 15016 Kittridge, a property for sale by owner, a mansard shingled roof hangs across the front of the house, a remodeling relic dating back to the late 1960s and early 70s. The 1,395 s.f. house was built in 1951 and has 3 beds and 2.5 baths.
Architectural theatricality, common in West Hollywood, is rarer in Van Nuys.
Today, around 12:30 PM, a car caught fire while parked in the Salvation Army lot at 6300 Sepulveda Blvd. in Van Nuys.
I was driving past it on my way to Costco.
I stopped, parked and recorded these photos and video of the event which was quickly extinguished by the LAFD.
Today in Burbank.
Near the corner of Magnolia and N. California St.
West of the 405, on Victory and on Vanowen, the vast spaces of Van Nuys open up to parks, golf courses, airport runways, and planes taking off and coming down. The skies are bigger, the vistas wider, the winds windier. And the potential for escape and discovery beckons on foot or bike.
Once this area was the domain of the Joe Jue Clan, a Chinese-American family whose large asparagus farm, near Vanowen and White Oak, flourished from the 1920s-50s. Surrounded by tennis courts, the old family barn still stands.
Driving east near Woodley last week, I passed 15931 Vanowen, three mid-century semi-detached houses with horizontally paned windows. Lined up like planes in a hangar, the sharp, upward, angled pitched roofs pointed, like arrows, towards nearby Van Nuys Airport.
Curious, I returned last night, near dusk, with Andreas Samson, and explored the teeming urban apartments and semi-rural side streets along Vanowen, Gloria and Gaviota. And we stopped to investigate 15931. (built 1947)
Van Nuys, or Lake Balboa, as this area prefers to call itself, is deceptive. Along the main streets, the apartments are packed, full of working Latino families, the backbone of California. Last night we bumped into an old friend from the gym, a Guatemalan guy on Gaviota who owns a restaurant on Sepulveda and was returning home, in his pickup, exhausted.
Along the side streets, an old world still co-exists with the newer slum dwellers. There are large, deep, expansive properties, many planted with citrus trees, up and behind fences and gates, behind iron. Armenians, Latinos, and Asians bought up these fortified compounds, built up houses and rental units, or let the dry grasses and dirt take over.
Contrasts are everywhere: the picturesque Spanish casa from the 1920s next to the peeling frame shack, the lushly watered front yard of native flowers and the concrete paved SUV car lot. Guns and roses, skateboarders and speeding cars, a man hitting golf balls on his front lawn.
On Kittridge at Gloria, ferocious pit bulls kept by a friendly, toothless woman behind a broken-down dirt yard sit next to an Armenian owned limousine company, a home business behind lion bedecked gates and stucco pediment and columns.
Rich or poor, native-born or naturalized, the predominant domestic style is violence deterrence. Gates, alarms, barking dogs, steel, concrete, cinderblock, “no trespassing” signs. Each property, born sweet, evolves, like an enlisted soldier, into battle-hardened, tactical, offensive, lethal toughness.
At 6652 Gaviota, one unfortified mirage appeared: a sweet, middle-aged woman on her front lawn in a house-dress, watering a large tree with a garden hose.
We stopped to talk to her, startled by her openness and friendliness, her casual banter (“I was born and raised around here. I have been renting this particular house for 32 years”), intrigued by her whole retro setting and persona: white frame house with porch, tree swing, steel awning windows and asphalt driveway, and her manner of attire, mid-century Kansas farm wife. An American flag on a pole stood off in the distance, a skinny rail of a young man came down the driveway to fetch mail from the mailbox.
We took some photos of her, and continued our walk, ending up, as all walks in Van Nuys must, in the presence of the Holy Trinity: La Iglesia, La Lavanderia, and El Licor. (Allan’s Liquors).
The Wild Bunch Blog has some interesting photos (supplied courtesy of Richard McCloskey) of the cars, guys and girls who cruised along Van Nuys Boulevard some 41 summers ago.
These young people and their gas guzzling muscle cars were enjoying their last summer of cheaper oil.
In 1973, after the Arab-Israeli War, OPEC got together and helped create the first “Energy Crisis”… and a gallon of gas went from 33 cents a gallon to as high as 60 cents.
1972 was also the summer of “American Graffiti”, a film which nostalgically looked back 10 years earlier to 1962, a time of greasers, cars, hanging out, and being young.
Now we look at these photos, themselves archival relics, and wonder how Van Nuys was ever so young, so thin and so very white.
It was blustery, cold, and windy. The skies were full of fast moving malevolence and I was speeding east on Vanowen, coming from lunch at Evergreen on Sherman Way, burning off fuel and the last evaporated remnants of Soju which also means “burned liquor” in Korean. I was sober, but I was sad, just my nature, brought into more vivid clarity after I saw an old friend for lunch who now lives in Boston and will not be returning to LA.
I was in my car, in my head, listening to Sylvia, David Raksin’s 1965 movie soundtrack about a mystery woman from back east investigated by a new lover in Los Angeles.
A blue open house sign on the corner of Louise and Vanowen advertised “Andy and Autumn”, two realtors. Alliterative and suggestive, it took my name, suggested a short story or film noir (“Susan and God”?) and reflected the weather: gray, moody, autumnal.
I drove up one of those gross cul-de-sacs packed in with remodeled ranch houses, where architects had gone shopping like some go to Ross or Marshalls, and had come out with bags full of bargain facades, cheap and badly made, in English, Spanish and Persian Colonial, slapped onto one-story houses crammed all together with big garages, big cars and big people.
Here live successful and normal people doing well in life.
Come look at them.
They live behind the smoked glass, the shutters, the awnings, the iron gates. They live inside air-conditioning ten months a year. They get their news from Fox News and their feelings from Facebook.
Andy and Autumn’s open house (at 6606 Lasaine Ave. in Lake Balboa) had an open door, opening into a dark, high ceilinged entrance. I knew, before I stepped in, that I was back in Barry and Helene/Frances and Paul territory, my relatives in Woodland Hills and West Hills. I was in their kind of home, built in the 1970s, covered in wall-to-wall brown carpets, beamed ceilings, red vinyl kitchen tile and dark brown cabinets with de-luxe garbage compactor and overhead florescent light fixture.
The only authenticity missing was a large boiling pot of chicken soup with onions, carrots and celery cooking on a July afternoon in the San Fernando Valley and a red-haired, nasal-voiced woman yelling, “Herman! Your sister is on the phone!”
There was a second floor, up a flight of brown-carpeted stairs, and four or five small bedrooms with brown carpet, and three bathrooms also in brown carpet.
Other buyers walked through the house, young couples and old couples, one looked Jewish and one was definitely Muslim in her head covering. The world may be exploding and angry, but here in the San Fernando Valley we are all Americans, dreaming of ugly houses we cannot afford and hoping for deliverance from unavoidable debt and unintended celibacy.
I spoke briefly to the realtors standing in the dark 1970s living room, a dark space from a dark decade where light rarely entered a house except from television.
I told them I was a writer and a photographer and gave them a card. And then I walked out, down a sidewalk, past the other pleasant and plastic monstrosities, architectural travesties, brutes in vinyl , gruesome and deformed; proudly and pitifully unaware of their unimaginable homeliness.
One beastly residence had two octagonal porthole windows, crooked vinyl panes, a Spanish tile roof and a pipe railed 1980s balcony clashing violently with a five-armed ornate lamppost, all elements fighting a generational war of ornament.
A few minutes on some streets in Lake Balboa, CA can induce vomiting.
I drove off, in my car, and went south down Louise, made a left on Victory and ended up inside a two-car garage in another pocket of the San Fernando Valley where my battles continued online and alone.
For a few weeks now, Yummy Dogs, a Van Nuys purveyor of New York style Sabrett Hot Dogs, has been haunting me with their tweats, imploring me to stop by and see owner Rick and his food cart on his stopovers in Lake Balboa and Calabasas.
Today I met owner Rick Feldman (b. 12/12/74), an affable and sweet man in a baseball cap who was born in Southern California, but spent time in my old neck of the woods, Skokie, IL. His white sneakers unintentionally gave away his Chicago origins.
He previously worked as a landscape contractor but brain surgery forced him to relook and reevaluate his life, and he decided to sell hot dogs, a fun and less stressful job, he claimed, than overseeing construction. He lives in Lake Balboa. And is married to a woman, an arrangement once widespread.
On this partially sunny day, he was in the back parking lot of a dark glass office building along Sherman Way, not far from the Van Nuys Airport. Streams of deskbound young Latinas in black tops and black bottoms, taking their only exercise of the day from office seat to car seat, poured out of the building, followed by those men in name tags, blue shirts, and goatees who populate this part of the San Fernando Valley office world. Many stopped by to try the various incarnations of carne doggeria: the Spicy Dog, the Jumbo Spicy Dog, the Veggie Dog.
Rick, pulling the steamy dogs out and into waiting buns, chatted and served and directed the customers towards his international array of condiments: powdered cumin, dry and yellow mustard, Sriracha, Tabasco, and pepperoncini. He talked up his self-roasted coffee, brewed and served a la cart.
In his new venture, under the bright umbrella, he seemed happy, happier than most anyone without a hot dog cart.
In North Hills, at Plummer, west of Sepulveda, the old and new San Fernando Valley sit side-by-side, stretched out on hot flat roads baking in sun.
North of Plummer, along asphalt and stone paved Orion Avenue, remnants of large properties sit in dry decay, pits of impoverished ranches behind dumps of rusted old cars, tarp covered boats, obese RVs, piles of wood, barking dogs, torn up sofas and iron gates. Un-watered and un-loved, once young and lush, now mangled and vandalized, blocks of withering draught, many acres of empty ruin, sit neglected and forgotten beside the roaring 405.
Rural delivery mailboxes, elderly Aloe Vera clumped and planted along the road, sawed stumps of logs, green Valley Oaks on yellow grasses, tall and proud wooden utility poles, cyclone fences; the San Fernando Valley of 1945 awaits its final pronouncement of death on this stretch of Orion.
And then there is a border crossing at Plummer.
South of here, the streets are crowded, full of cars, pick-ups, street food, apartments, children, fat women in black spandex, tagged walls. The hum of traffic and the sound of Spanish, the ringing bells of ice cream on wheels, the smoke and smells of taco trucks, the improvised milk crates set up al fresco in a church parking lot for cheap and exhausted dining, the young fathers and mothers pushing strollers and herding children along, the food signs for pollo, jarritos, sodas, asada; in the churches, on the faces, behind the apartment doors: the presence of Jesus in every corner. Selling food, fixing cars, repairing tires: industrious, solicitous, hard-working people find a way to earn a dollar in myriad ways.
A poor barrio of exiles pushes its agonies and joys along, making new babies, holding onto life in the dust and noise, a small vital, gritty corner of the San Fernando Valley, feared and despised, loved and appreciated, rejected and courted, here for good.
Along the pretty streets in the lush neighborhood north of Victory, west of Sepulveda, on Peach, Orion, Firmament, and Lemay Streets, there are numerous roses at the peak of bloom.
The flowers sit on properties with big lawns, round driveways, mature trees, picket fences; all-American looking estates, many dating from the 1940s.
Most still retain an open appearance, but on Peach, especially, the iron walls of garish and hostile security fences have broken up the grand openness and quaint neighborliness that once marked this district.
Two canvassers were walking down Orion Avenue north of Victory last night, passing out literature for Cindy Montañez, who is perhaps the best known and best financed person running for the vacant City Council District #6.
According to her campaign literature “she is the only candidate endorsed by the LA County Democratic Party”.
Montañez (b. 1974) was raised in the city of San Fernando, CA along with her five siblings by parents who were immigrants from Mexico. She attended UCLA.
She is an accomplished public servant and explorer who has navigated many hidden corridors of the political landscape. Not yet forty, she stands poised and positioned for state or national fame.
Like Mulholland before her, the path to power flows down pipes from the Owens and Colorado River, baptized and blessed by DWP, the largest municipal utility in the United States.
Her brief resume:
*Democratic Assemblywoman from California’s 39th Assembly District from 2002 until 2006.
*Montañez stepped down in 2006 to run for the California’s 20th State Senate district. However, she lost that primary to Los Angeles City Councilman Alex Padilla.
*After leaving the Assembly, Montañez was appointed to the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
*Cindy now works as a government affairs consultant for various clients, as well as the Assistant General Manager for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.
She seems the most likely to get elected.
Her name and gender are backed up by solid government work.
Up on the second floor, a muscular, middle-aged salesman with high Charles Bronson cheekbones and slicked back hair stood in his Zaaz exercise shop waiting for customers who would get on a machine, plunk down two grand and vibrate their bodies into athletic form.
His name was Eddie. He was born, Italian-American in East Cleveland, OH. I met him many months ago and we stopped again to speak today at Fashion Square in Sherman Oaks.
I may have been walking around the mall in a catatonic state of Zyrtec. Tired, not going anywhere in particular, I had just browsed Apple laptops, tried on Hugo Boss jackets and was gliding on the second level of the mall like a cloudy whisper of oceanic fog.
Empty, adrift, morose, I was swimming in circles, unmoored from the sea of purpose and ready to be hooked by Zaaz.
Eddie noticed my dourness and asked how things were going. And then he spoke of his own spiritual self-affirmations, his belief in the Lord Savior Jesus Christ, of good things ahead. And he asked me what I believed in.
I told him I was born and raised a Jew, Bar Mitzvahed but not a believer. So he stepped up on the machine, an exercise pulpit palpitating with electric vibrations, and from above he spoke down to me, a congregant, about my heritage, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; and of Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, Joseph and Mary and God. He talked of shalom, and peace, and evil in the world, his formidable biceps holding tight to the handles and shaking with impulse and motion.
Still moving on the whole body vibration machine, he revealed his own doubts, his down days when he had no money, his deflated acting career. He spoke of his intimacy with Jesus, the touch of God, the God who had once been a man and died on the cross to save the world and return it reborn.
He got off the machine. And stood down on the marble floor, feet planted firmly, looking at me, man-to-man, eye-to-eye as a mall choo-choo train chugged and whistled past.
He then wrapped up his short sermon with a quote from Proverbs 2:7:
“He will keep the salvation of the righteous, and protect them that walk in simplicity.”
We shook hands in earnest. And I walked from J Christ to J Crew in search of my next ministrations.
The New York Times writes today about a growing movement, especially in France, to limit public photography of strangers by so-called street photographers. In the land of Henri Cartier-Bresson, who used the term “Decisive Moment” , to describe that flash of life’s movements captured by lens, the art of unposed and candid snapshots may be restricted.
I find this trend odious and unwarranted.
The role of the photographer, capturing people out in the open, in public spaces, doing anything, must be a sacrosanct and protected part of a free society.
In response to the NYT article I wrote this letter:
As a photographer in the US, my observation is that the once clear lines between public and private presentation, where you put on a hat and gloves before leaving the house, where you didn’t use swear words in public, and people presumed that others were decent and honorable, well that whole world was upended by the 1960s.
Throw in the internet, which opens the whole private life of a person up for public display, and people are, naturally, feeling invaded by strangers. The easiest way to express their anger is by acting hostile towards the man on the street with a camera.
Is it rational? No. Is it legal to prevent street photography? No. Can children in a playground, a person being arrested, a woman sitting alone in a cafe be photographed? Yes.
We are ironically freer and more liberated in acting out our vulgarities and misbehaviors, our decadence and eccentricities, yet we are going back to that question of honor, privacy and human dignity that every culture struggles with.
Will we allow free and lawful street photography? Or will France and other Western countries cover the collective lens with a legal burqa?
Not often is Van Nuys convinced it is a community, but last night, about 40 of us pretended it was, and gathered in the Columbus Avenue School to hear LAPD’s Senior Lead Office Vince DiMauro talk about the crimes that are a trademark of our district: prostitution, gangs, tagging, noise, and vacant properties.
We were in a well-ordered academic hall, which I had last seen at my elementary school, Lincoln Hall in Lincolnwood, IL some four decades ago.
An upright piano, lunch tables stacked into the walls like Murphy beds, a state and a national flag on either side of the stage, a cop speaking kindly to attentive citizens, present among us were these venerable elements of American civic life and values.
And then Donna from the Mary Magdalene Foundation got up to present her plea for the prostitute as victim, which set off some incendiary cerebral explosion in one of the candidates, who found her characterization of whore as human indefensible. His outburst provoked some other outbursts, but the uproar lasted only briefly, and back into good manners we went.
Middle-aged and older women provided, as they usually do, the moral backbone of the meeting. Voices, articulate, erudite, educated, spoke of grating and gross indecencies in the hood: thumping boom-box music parties, tagging, pot smoking derelicts, trash, litter, burglaries. Looking around at the room, at some of the carefully lip-sticked pale faces, nice tailored burgundy jackets and lovely little pink cardigans, one temporarily forgot that outside these school doors life was grosser, poorer and coarser.
Some of the attendees last night came out and admitted to being long-time residents of Van Nuys. One man moved here in 1958, others had been here since 1965, 1973, 1979. They had stayed here, lived and loved it, every bit as much as Sandra Tsing-Loh hated it. And it was those lovers of Van Nuys who go to community meetings. And dare to imagine that life can lawful and orderly, clean and respectful, decent and courageous.
Optimism, inserted into despondency, can be revolutionary.
Actor Noah Gillet
in Van Nuys, CA
photo by Andy Hurvitz
The Hollywood Advisor called yesterday as he usually does, four times a year, from his car, stuck in traffic, on the 101.
I am on his speaker phone and he, I imagine, is exiting at Cahuenga trying to merge into traffic, as he tells me the latest promising development on the next show that he might sell.
He is a font of upbeat news, always pushing forward, always going to the next meeting, always sure that the suits will green light his latest pilot.
He tells me there is a job I would be perfect for on the next show that hasn’t been sold. My talents and my interests would fit in just right. The last person he told that to was hired, turned out to be a disaster and they are no longer speaking.
The Hollywood Advisor, eager to get me going, into paying work, productively outputting something prosperous, told me I should do a travel blog of the San Fernando Valley because he knows some American women in Italy who write about Tuscany and he thinks it can be done for Reseda too.
He is a smart guy, quick as a whip, always ready with a pitch, and a self-taught expert on fine dining, child rearing, network broadcasting, international travel, women and their needs, investment strategies, elder care and where to find to find the best food truck on Abbot Kinney.
I have no pitch to sell, just a vaguely formed idea about a cinema verite web series on the characters who live on Hamlin Street in Van Nuys.
In the past few months I’ve read “How to Be Gay”, “Hemingway’s Boat”, “Selected Poems of Carl Sandburg” and “Touched With Fire” about manic depression and artists. I write a blog, I take photographs, I wander the San Fernando Valley and ride the train down to Silver Lake always recording, in words and images, what I see.
What have these books done for me? They expanded my mind and left me penniless.
The Hollywood Advisor advises that he doesn’t know who would buy my Hamlin St. show should it ever be produced. He has to run. He is late for a meeting. We will talk again sometime in late summer.