Holiday Inn Express, North Hollywood.


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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.

A Nice Alley


Gone are vomit, trash, urine, needles, puddles and foul odors; the alley to the east of Cahuenga Blvd., south of Hollywood Blvd. is now a sparkling, paved and planted oasis of civility, thanks to an $800,000 grant and the initiative and idea of UCLA student Sarah MacPherson’s master thesis on alley transformation.

City Councilman Eric Garcetti worked with the now defunct and defunded LA Community Redevelopment Agency to procure an arrangement that allowed property owners, restaurants, and other businesses to work with the LADOT in repaving and landscaping a back alley which is now lined with cafes, wall art, lanterns and lights. 

There are 26 other alleys in Hollywood, and the Hollywood Business Improvement District hopes this project becomes a template to redo other forgotten spaces to help civilize LA.

Last night’s dusk tour was arranged by Design East of Labrea, and it began and ended at St. Felix’s Happy Hour.There are more photos on Facebook’s Here in Van Nuys page.

Another small step towards a more walkable, sociable, urbane city.

 

 

Among the Right Angles


The new community growing up around Lankershim and Magnolia is a place of right angles. Lofts and windows, rooflines and balconies: all are straight and horizontal, crisp and clean.

I walked around here today, mid-day, in the white sun, along Chandler, McCormick, Blakeslee and Magnolia, in-between new apartment rental offices, new hair salons, new trees, into new pie and new beer restaurants.  UPS and Federal Express trucks, moving trucks, street sweepers, security guards and parking violation officials swarmed everywhere, bringing goods and dropping fines.

It was déjà vu for me, remembering my daytime walks in New York City around Tribeca, Soho and Noho in 1988, selling advertising for the brand new New York Press.  The west side of Tribeca was just developing, and people were opening yoga salons, restaurants, and bars and looking at their reflections in the glass, just as they do today.  I was in an urban frontier, tamed, not by the lasso and rifle, but Robert DeNiro and JFK, Jr.

Frenetic, and fast, promiscuous and pretentious, I was full of energy and youth, dressing well, working out, caught up in an endless chase for sex and security and a way up. I ate in every good restaurant on my $15,000 a year salary and ended up with anyone who I laid my eyes on.

And I saw that urge today, as I walked past guys pouring out of the gym, and sexy girls on their cellphones, and the eternal sunshine of the spotless streets, a corporate paradise rented out and made up like a real city, but really just another atomized blot on the desert.

A “friend” of mine, who moonlights as an escort and personal trainer, rented an apartment in one of the large complexes near the Red Line and told me many sex workers inhabited his building.  But in the bright sun, under the bright signs, on the well-swept sidewalks, all is clean and happy and progressive.  And one must remember that one of the largest sex toy companies in the world, Doc Johnson, earning millions and employing hundreds, is headquartered nearby.

Anyone who comes to LA and says he is not a whore is also a liar.  And anyone who attempts to make an honest living here will surely fail.

Carfree Living

Los Angeles does not often impress in civic infrastructure, but this corner and pocket NE of Universal City comes close.

Of all the places in the San Fernando Valley, this one has taken off the most, in self-creation and self-realization, in the last five years.  It has done it by refuting and rebelling against the old car-centered model of Los Angeles.

You don’t need it here. You can get around on your bike, on foot, via subway, and go see an art movie, drink a craft beer, live in a loft, and attend live theater.  You can work out with elliptical trainers, free weights, Muay Thai, Kickboxing, and step and dance classes. Live comedy and live readings of short stories are performed at The Federal.  You can go to school, study and earn a degree at the Art Institute of Hollywood.

It’s a young place again, a dense, digital and creative section remade in the style of the early 21st Century. A place where hanging out on a coffee shop sofa is sometimes industrious, and working in an office cubicle is often useless.

Everything in Los Angeles starts as an experiment, and has its day in the sun, so to speak.  Westwood, the Miracle Mile,  Van Nuys, Panorama City, Canoga Park, all were started in a blaze of optimistic boosterism , like a Presidential campaigner, promising a lot and then sputtering and stalling and sometimes falling to pieces.

Along the edges of North Hollywood, the old decay and weedy lots sit, like determined and patient killers, ready to strike back  and take down life. And with a deathly silence the ancient Verdugo Mountains, back there in the distance, watch the silly activities and wait…..

The Empty Spaces


Large expanses of asphalt and black tar bake in sun day after day. These are the parking lots behind retail stores, many untenanted, forgotten and forlorn on the west side of Halbrent,north of Erwin, east of Sepulveda.

This area is chiefly known for two businesses: The Barn, a six-decade-old, red-sided furniture store and Star Restaurant Equipment & Supply advertised for 12 hours every weekend on KNX-1070 by radio fillibusteress Melinda Lee.

The Barn uses its parking lot to store trucks. But next door to the north, lot after lot is empty.

I came here this morning with a camera, lens cap off, a provocative act in the bracero’s hood. In the shadows, undocumented workers hide behind doorways and look away when I aim my digital weapon at asphalt.  I mean the Mexicans no harm or ill will.

Blithely walking and lightly thinking, daydreaming, I forgot that I have no business here amidst the enormity of emptiness and unproductivity.

I’m looking for a story, for an angle, for a job.

So many are out of work and so much can be done to employ mind and muscle and money.

There is such a wealth and a waste of land in Los Angeles, and America in general. Imagine what Tokyo or Bangkok would do with all these unused acres!

These empty spaces are within a five-minute walk from public transportation, Costco, LA Fitness, CVS and Staples as well as two grammar schools, three banks and an Asian supermarket.

This is a walkable place.

A well-financed visionary could build a low-rise, dense, green, urban farm upon these entombed soils, plant Oak trees, create a little garden with fresh fruits and vegetables, oranges, lemons, and asparagus.

This is a place of potential.

An architect could design some functional and modern attached houses, artfully shading them with native trees.

But for now, the parking lots suffer in silence; waiting for the day that California fires up its economy, wakes up from its long slumber and pushes progress.