Holiday Inn Express, North Hollywood.


Sunrise Ford

Holiday Inn

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”.

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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.

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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.

$1 Taco

Smoke Shop

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.

Los Burritos

Quick Lane

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.

Day at the Races.


Months ago, inexplicably, I was sent an email inviting me to experience a day of horse racing at Santa Anita Park courtesy of America’s Best Racing.

I was dumbfounded and somewhat suspicious, thinking this might be one of those messages from Nigeria advising me that Dr. Ooeexxlio had been kidnapped and his wife was in need of funds to get him out of Somalia.

I asked the sender of the email why I was chosen– as my knowledge and interest in equestrianism is as specious as my familiarity with Seabiscuit.  “We search for people within each market and try to convert them into new fans. It is all about getting new fans to head out to the racetrack,” explained Chip McGaughey, Brand Ambassador for America’s Best Racing.

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I agreed to go, and summoned up my memory of Cary Grant in the 1946 film Notorious “accidentally” meeting Ingrid Bergman at a Rio racetrack, both dressed impeccably, he in his suit and she in her veiled hat and tailored outfit.

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I put on my driving cap, recently purchased blue sharkskin suit and plaid tie, tie clip, Tattersall shirt, and wingtip leather dress oxfords. If I had to go to this event, I might as well go as if I were performing as the racehorses do, to compete and win.

Arcadia was there as it always is, a gigantic town of gigantic parks under the purple protection of the San Gabriels. I drove into the many square miles of asphalt parking lot, manned by good-looking, Wally Cleaverlike white boys who called me sir and took my $4.

I was met, at the gate, by a young and gracious couple: Jose Contreras and his wife Karina. Karina’s father is a jockey, she grew up in the sport, and her dad was riding that day.  Into the clubhouse we went, our left hands stamped with an invisible seal visible only under black light.

Santa Anita is a lovely old track, so its worn innards have gotten a much-needed facelift.  There are new, bright, white, stylishly designed concession stands serving craft beers, salads, and hearty sandwiches (I had thick sliced turkey on rye). Everyone I encountered at the track had that 1950s gaiety (in its old meaning) with plenty of “sweetie what can I get you” to the cashier who said, “My pleasure sir.”

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I was given a $50 betting voucher, as well as free beer and food, and then Jose and Karina brought me up into the box seats where we passed other patrons in the haze of cigar and cigarettes, beer and bourbon, enjoying the festivities of the impending races.

I’m not a mathematical person, but I caught on, somewhat, to the odds on the board, and used my dismal arithmetic to concoct winnings on 3 out of 9 races.  Jose was diligent and genuine in his love for the sport, and eager to bring another fan into the fold.

More guests arrived, other couples, newly baptized into the horse racing religion.  We cheered as our horses came around the track. As one close race came to an end, I shut my eyes, and squeezed my abs so tight I got a cramp.

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Jose and Karina brought us down to the paddock, an oval area of grass where jockeys and horses come down and parade around in a sort of modeling runway for the four legged.

We went back up to our box seats, and I again brought up my vague memories of old Lincolnwood, IL, where I grew up, and Evelyn Marx, a red haired woman of 50, who weekly drove her gold Sedan de Ville to Arlington Park and bet on horses, a diversion thought unseemly by my grandmother.

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As I left Santa Anita, I walked past those 1930s aqua walls, bathed in late-day sunlight, past scalloped awnings and architecturally fluffy touches of femininity: decorative, frivolous and joyful.  Slightly buzzed, somewhat richer, I walked away from a day at the races immersed in escapism.

America’s Best Racing wants to recruit new blood and return the sport to its preeminence. And they’re planting enthusiasm for it in the most un-likeliest of people. The marketing people have something up their sleeves, though I cannot begin to guess what it is.

Last Week on the Equestrian Trail.


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Last week, before the heat hit, late on a mellow Monday afternoon, I went with Andreas for a walk around the old stables, trails and grounds where horses are equal to humans, near Griffith Park, along Riverside Drive.

I hadn’t seen or entered these old places before, places where the noble creatures go trotting, riding and pacing; animals so big, up close, with their long trapezoidal heads and muscularity, emitting an intelligence and alertness, odor and breath; hay, dust and sweat.

The light was rich and deep and golden. We wandered behind one stable, walked over a bridge and turned onto a dirt- paved riding trail running alongside a watery trench. A young group on horseback came down, kicking up dust, laughing and yelling hello.

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Andreas, photographing, walked one way and I went another.

Justin Resnik

And then I walked, alone, out of that trail and back onto Riverside Drive where I came to Eurosport Horses and Justin Resnik, a wiry, tall, greying, boyishly effusive man who invited me into his compound where he keeps exquisite German, Swiss and other European horses in a fastidiously elegant and old-world stable, once owned by Gene Autry.

Seemingly placed on the front patio by a casting director were three good-looking people: a blue-eyed male worker hosing down the plants and squirting water at a playful pit bull, a young Latino student rider sitting at a table, and Mr. Resnik’s young blonde girlfriend drinking beer.

Massive horses, shiny, groomed, overpowering, without a stray mane hair, posed and loitered in their spotless stalls, as Mr. Resnik walked me through his brass-plated and polished facilities. He spoke casually of his Olympic riding, his entrée into high cost horse-trading, his childhood growing up in Malibu, and a multi-million dollar offer he rejected for one horse last week.

I, with $73 dollars in my checking account, was once again conscious of Southern California, the incredible luck of some, mixed with hard work and the right connections, the accidents of geography and heredity propelling taller, better-looking and better-situated people into better lives, even as we outside the gates press our noses through the iron and hope to be taken into their affluence and security.

Ronald Reagan on horseback rode across my mind for a second, singing his encomiums for the Golden State, a place where anything is possible if you can just grasp it when you are temporarily young. For me, an anti-Reagan, An American Failure, I have always looked forward by looking back, from youth onwards. Should I not have learned something from the 40th President? Where are my stables, my advisors, my investments, my followers?

What will become of me after my Pinterest is no more?

California and America always mourning those.

I said good-bye to Resnik and crew and went looking for Andreas who was somewhere up the creek without a cellphone. We got into his car and drove back to Van Nuys.

With a walk and a curiosity we had gone exploring. And come into an old California of man and horse, hoof and horseshoe, saddle and strap, somehow more lasting and more eternal than anything online.

The Mad City.


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Road-Rage

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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.

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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 Quiet Hour.


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Crescent Heights at Selma

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.

Curbside Blackmail.


Curb Service

One of the stranger and smaller (yet widespread) scams going around is getting one of these notices taped to your front door announcing that somebody will paint your curbside house number unless you instruct them not to.

The “company” placing these calls itself “Curb Service” but offers no license, no registration, no business address, no contact information. They are also asking a homeowner to pay for what is, legally, public property, not maintained by the homeowner, the curb of the street.

It is a form of blackmail. They do a service which they are not hired for. And then ask you to pay for it when it is done.

As an out they say you can tape this notice to your curb to prevent address number painting.

Like public strangers picking through private trash and recyclables, it is illegal.

Imagine Lido’s Restaurant taping a menu to your door and announcing that they were going to deliver a pizza to your house every Sunday night unless you told them not to?

Clear Day at Runyon Canyon.


Runyon Canyon

Runyon Canyon

Runyon Canyon Park

Today was one of those sparkling, clear, windy, sunny days, the days that sometimes blow in and suddenly charge the air, electrifying the atmosphere, opening up vistas stretching in every direction, from the Pacific to downtown, a day I went up to Runyon Canyon and climbed up the dirt paths, over rocks until I got to the top.