Despite upgrades and vast physical improvements in buses, trains and modes of public transport in Los Angeles, there are still glaring and inhumane gaps in the Metro System that seem to be devised to torture and humiliate the people who ride them.
One of them is this garbage-filled, plastic bench waiting area at Metro’s Rapid Line #734 stop in Van Nuys near Oxnard and Sepulveda. It is a direct connection for riders who come from across the street off the Orange Line and intend to travel north on Sepulveda. Sometimes as many as 30 people stand here and wait, baking in the noxious Valley heat, next to a bench that can accommodate only three.
Out in the sun, out in the rain, riders stand; without overhead shelter or trees, in front of the oil soaked parking lot of Pet Boys, where cars inside service areas are treated better than humans standing outside.
To add insult to injury, most of the riders are dressed in all black, a hue which absorbs the most sunlight.
83-years-ago, the San Fernando Valley was an all together different place than today.
Rural and urban, it was dotted with Spanish style gas stations, grocery stores, small houses; orange and walnut groves, neatly designed and well-kept businesses, with swept curbs and gracefully articulated architecture. Store signs were designed to fit into architecture and each letter and every proportion was sensitive to the greater architectural whole.
Photographer Dick Whittington worked this region back then, and his images are kept, for posterity, in the archives of USC.
Heartbreaking it is to see what has become of the corner of Lankershim and Victory today, a grotesque piling together of cheap plastic sprawl and indifferent commerce, junk food and junk culture. Even without looking, people know the location Lankershim and Victory is synonymous with ugly. Guns, crime, speeding, littering, illegal everything…that is what it is today.
What started out with great promise, California, is now ready for the apocalypse.
If they ever decide to revive Van Nuys, they might come up to Valerio, Orion and Cohasset Streets, north of Sherman Way, West of Sepulveda, East of the 405, an old place on the map where big estates sit in semi-ruins next to newer neighbors carved up and gated in.
The old Valley comes and goes here like a dying patient, brittle but breathing, broken-down, evoking another time. Behind peeling picket fences, on big dried out lawns, under shingled roofs, among the orange trees, someone’s dream home still stands, tended to by an old woman with a watering hose who sweeps her driveway with a corn husk broom.
On Valerio at Orion, high hedges obscure a flat-roofed, two story high bungalow, casement windows and divided French pane doors. Silent, mysterious, dignified, it might have stood alone among many acres of groves in rural Van Nuys. Across from it stands another two-story house, probably built or related to it.
All the dreams and history of Southern California since the 1920s are packed into this pocket: the Spanish house, which gave way to the 1930s and 40s storybook sprawling ranch, which yielded to the 1950s and its bizarre angularities, culminating in the ostentatious 1980s and 90s when concrete, gates and columns joined guns and burglar alarms in defining suburban living.
All the eccentricities and domestic styles are on display.
At 7433 Orion, a 1960 (?) a two-tone blue and white Buick coupe sits on the driveway in front of a red ranch.
At 15148 Cohasset, a broken down picket fence stands guard in front of a long Spanish/Moderne ranch house, in fast decay but wearing its old metal, wood and vinyl windows in mismatched dignity.
At 15351 Cohasset, an elegant red brick gate, atop which stands a leaning lantern, guards a big white ranch with double hung windows, the kind you see in Beverly Hills or Studio City. A copper bell is daintily affixed for ringing arrivals.
At the corner of Wyandotte and Orion, dazzling horticultural brilliance of California covers a Spanish house guarded by a massive Date Palm under which a profusion of aloe, oranges, cacti, succulents, and vines climb, crawl and cover.
And finally it ends where I started walking at 15414 Valerio, an English cottage which has a cryptic sign hanging over the front entrance: SNAKES LANE.
This is Van Nuys too. And it is hidden away and forgotten, gently existing somewhere beyond false perception and demonizing stereotype.
Los Angeles is not, by nature, an introverted, bundled up, snuggly, gray, rainy city.
But this year, the rains came early.
And we have had several weeks of storms, cold nights, blustery evenings.
And sparkling days with intermittent showers and drizzles, puddles and frost.
Nearby, up in the mountains, the nights are much colder and snow has fallen, snow that is visible way down here in the San Fernando Valley.
These few days, between Christmas and New Year’s, transformed and tamed the City of Angels into a Portlandia: wool sweaters, hot green tea in gloved hands, dog walkers and hikers encased in down jackets and flannel shirts, Icelandic wool caps and long scarves.
In Studio City, at 3pm on a Thursday afternoon, Laurel Tavern was filled with down-vested drinkers.
In Van Nuys, there were hardly any barking dogs left outside at night.
Only the occasional swoop of the helicopter…
I went up to the rocky, steep and trampled dirt of Runyon Canyon a few days ago. From that high altitude, I climbed higher to a mountain overlook, a physical cliff, where the streets spread out below in every direction and I could see for miles from downtown to Catalina Island.
This is where you come with your parents when they visit from out of town.
And you can sometimes convince them of this city’s virtues, because they meet its bright views absent its shady people.
And again today I went up into Wilacre Park above Studio City to capture something as brief and beautiful as a child walking for the first time: a sun and smog cursed city magnificently and somberly draped in dark and gray clouds, chilled, sobered and intellectualized by the absence of suffocating heat and blinding light.
A meteorological delusion. This is not Los Angeles. But the camera captured it. It must be real.
Refreshed and purified, swept clean for the New Year, the city and the region, ready to welcome 2013, another year, which will once again dump its toxins of illness, worry, debt, violence, deceit, sadness and broken hearts into our lingering days.
I could live here happily if it just looked sadder a few more months of the year.
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.
From the LA Conservancy (words are quoted):
“ACTION ALERT UPDATE:
Century Plaza Hotel Project in Final Environmental Review
Planning Commission Hearing Thursday, August 23
Van Nuys City Hall
14410 Sylvan Street
Van Nuys, 91401 “
Century Plaza Hotel (1966).
As you may know, the 1966 Century Plaza Hotel in Century City was threatened with demolition in 2008 to make way for a proposed mixed-use project. If you were one of the many people who supported its preservation, thank you!
Through intensive advocacy, strong local leadership, vocal public support, and collaboration with the developer, the hotel was saved and incorporated as the centerpiece of the mixed-use development plan.
The plan has entered the final stage of environmental review, with the preservation option as the preferred project. This preferred plan will preserve the hotel building while allowing for new construction of two 46-story towers at the rear of the site.
This plan has the input and support of the Conservancy and the National Trust for Historic Preservation, as well as neighborhood groups in the immediate area surrounding the hotel.
We are not asking for letters or e-mails in support of the preservation project, but we wanted to keep you informed on the process and let you know that if you would like to comment as a member of the public, there will be several more opportunities to do so.
The first is this Thursday, August 23, at a meeting of the Los Angeles Planning Commission at Van Nuys City Hall.
Planning Commission Hearing
Thursday, August 23
Van Nuys City Hall
14410 Sylvan Street
Van Nuys, 91401 “
Our nation and the world is horrified and sickened by the bloodshed in Aurora, CO.
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, here are some of the local headlines of what is happening in our neighborhoods over the last four days:
- 15-Year-Old Boy Shot to Death in North Hollywood Identified. The deadly attack occurs on the 11000 block of Tiara Street, according to police.
- Man Shot in Butt at West Hollywood Park
- Second Anaheim officer-involved shooting during weekend kills man
- Man holding knife to baby’s throat shot by Moreno Valley police
- Suspect in L.A. homeless stabbings linked to two other attacks, police say
- Man killed, woman injured in Boyle Heights shooting
“W.P. Whitsett recounts the tale of the founding of Van Nuys at the city’s 23rd birthday party. February 22nd, 1934.”
UCLA Library, Digital Collections.
If he could only see it now, the great progress Van Nuys has made, culturally, aesthetically, economically……
Sometimes it seems, driving at dusk, on Reseda and Saticoy Boulevards, there is a liquor store at every corner.
When the heat has broken, people come out of their cramped homes and walk the street in waning daylight.
They are the faces of the world: Latinos, Armenians, Blacks, Koreans, women in hijab pushing baby strollers.
Reseda at dusk is a crummy beautiful place, a land of liquor stores and Dodger billboards, tacos and lotto, Corona and Cerveza, check cashing, bottled water, Marlboro and ice and Western Union moneygram.
America on TV is a white family in a white house with a white picket fence.
But here in Reseda, packed into thousands of apartments and houses, are the teeming people who work all day and take a little walk at nightfall.
In honor of my new short story “Somebodies and Nobodies“, which ends on the Fourth of July, I present an excerpt:
“He climbed back over the balcony rail and lowered himself, floor-by-floor, jumping onto each level and then exiting by grabbing, over the rail, swinging down, bending, moving, slithering, twisting, down and down, until his feet finally touched ground.
He was still trapped inside the compound. He held onto the twelve foot high, barbed wire fence and began to climb.
And then his movement triggered the security lights. He pulled himself up over the fence, out of the compound and into the park. Sirens started wailing. The lights shot over the fence, and he could see armed guards coming through and giving chase.
He bolted like a gazelle through the park, his thickly powerful muscled legs no match for the blue-suited, paunchy police.
He cut diagonally across Admirality and into the parking lot of Café Del Rey restaurant along the water, next to the yachts, boats and the docks.
The sky suddenly lit up in pink and orange, a brilliant colossal light show illuminating the harbor, throwing the buildings into daylight under the night sky.
He ran into a crowd of people watching fireworks, and realized as he ran that he was running on the Fourth of July.
He sprinted down the promenade, under the exploding fire show, across to Mother’s Beach, where more revelers and partiers drank and laughed on the blankets and sand. <brUnder pyrotechnic protection he evaded helicopters.
He ran over to Washington, onto the beach and dove into the ocean. He swam out, past the pier, turning north and swimming the crawl along the shore, parallel to land.
Somewhere in the ocean near Rose Avenue, some 50 yards out, he stopped swimming and began to kick his legs and tread water. He went on his back and floated with the motion of the ocean. His heart slowed down as he rocked in the sea. And, for the first time in days, he felt free in his own capsule of calm and tranquility.
Kicking his legs and treading water, he pulled out the VHS tape from his spandex pants and released it into the ocean. He let the tide pull him in, as he collapsed onto the beach in elated and relieved exhaustion.”
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.
It’s tough to write and tough to get others to read my short stories.
I recently set out to challenge myself to write three short stories based upon the music of a composer whom I admire, the late Billy Strayhorn.
Somehow the songs from “Billy Strayhorn: Piano Passion” entered my sub-conscious and inspired me to write. I listened to the music and let my imagination breathe.
In “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing” a peaceful gardener is taunted by a neighborhood thug, a small tale that involves the Armenian genocide and a young man’s death on the streets of Los Angeles.
“Something to Live For” takes us to Woodland Hills where a department store clerk, working in a dead end job, comes to idolize a rich, older, mysterious man with a tragic past.
“Lush Life” paints a story of a sour success, a Los Angeles decorator who seeks to ruin a rival by destroying and seducing the rival’s client, and, in the process degrading and demoralizing himself and others.
In my work, I again return to familiar themes of Western anomie and people adrift online and in life, searchers and artists and wanderers who yearn for approval and recognition but often end up shamed and despised.
There is a strong urge in America to build up and build out, but there is also a corollary force of self-destruction, manifested in our long working hours, obesity, and what Mencken called “our libido for the ugly”: the billboard, fast-food, freeway and condo wasteland.
I won’t be so arrogant as to proclaim my fiction true, only to modestly state that I hope some truth is present in my writing.
I try to entertain and create and write something of value and artistry. It is a small pin on the map.
But I would rather start with a small diamond circle of integrity than create a large circle of lies encompassing the globe.
The dehumanized environment of sprawl, the mania for fame, the race for riches, the destruction of nature and the cheapening of life, the debasement of entertainment and the loss of privacy, these are some of the themes stamped onto my work.
In Carthay Circle, not far from Fairfax and Wilshire, I stumbled upon a neighborhood of old homes, gracious and traditional, smack up against glass skyscrapers.
Calm, clean, prosperous, and quiet, it represents one of those anomalies of life in Los Angeles, which people either find exhilarating or deadening, the idea that you can have a suburban house in the center of the city.
In a few years, a subway stop will exist only a block north of here, making this area even more convenient, and blessedly less car-dependant.
Braden Wise is a recently relocated transplant from the Midwest who has settled in Los Angeles and brought his graphic design talents to bear on the City of Angels. More of his work can be found here.
There is something going in Los Angeles right now called proposed redistricting and a dire warning flyer, from one of my neighbors, arrived on my doorstep this morning warning that if these new changes go through “Van Nuys will start at Victory Bl. and be lumped in with Panorama City, Pacoima and Arleta.” I was implored to show up for a meeting at the Walter Reed Middle School in Studio City on Thursday, February 9th to make my objections public.
I don’t personally know who wrote this flyer and I don’t know why it matters if Van Nuys is associated with communities north of here. If prostitution, gangs, garbage and fat, short women dressed in skintight black spandex have not lowered my property values yet, then I doubt that my new city council boundary will make much difference.
Have you been to the corner of Kester and Victory lately? It is not a pretty sight. McDonalds, at this location, is considered an upmarket restaurant.
And who are these haughty and snobby Van Nuysians who imagine that they belong in a district with Studio City and Sherman Oaks? The issues that matter to an 29-year-old single, white entertainment executive living in Franklin Canyon are quite different from a 29-year-old Salvadorean single mom supporting three children, two grandkids and two parents in a one-bedroom Victory Boulevard apartment.
The City Council is in business for one reason only: power. It is their job to insure that they have a job. We constituents only matter if our last name is Broad or Caruso.
I don’t care what district I am in because I can only control my quality of life as far as my front curb.
I have a favorite person whom I have known for 15 years, since he came to Los Angeles, fresh-faced and smiling, out of Arkansas and onto Zelzah Avenue in Encino where he tried his hand at acting and improving at the Groundlings.
Sadly, he left here and went to graduate school at NYU, got married, got children and got divorced.
His name and accomplishments have danced across my computer screen as his Facebook friends have grown to over 1200 people and at various times he has credits as a writer, screenwriter, producer and columnist.
And last night I saw him for about 1.5 hours, for the first time in seven years, and we met in a crowded bar on Santa Monica Boulevard where you can only valet park, and he was with a friend, a friend with an iphone who was texting continually and the three of us went to another bar on Fairfax where more people joined us and I was the only one who was born north of the Mason-Dixon line and the conversation revolved around projects in development and people who were waiting to hear some confirmation of some impending entertainment job that was supposed to happen but had not. Y’all know the story…..it’s called Hollywood.
Narcissist that I am, I stared into mirrors of the bar, and compared and contrasted myself to last night’s companions.
I know I haven’t reached any level of professional accomplishment in my own life, and that screenplay I should have sold has never sold, and that book I should have completed has not been written, and those titles and jobs I might have climbed into and those incomes I might have earned have not been earned, but somehow, against those obstacles of my own making, I have become happier in the past few years.
And I think I know why.
I don’t work in entertainment. I really don’t. I write a blog. I take photos.
And it is refreshing. I see myself and I see Los Angeles as entities with possibility and hope whose fulfillment does not depend on someone working at MGM, Sony, Sundance, AMC or E!
People who live in Los Angeles but do not work in entertainment, these people are generally better off financially, ethically and psychologically.
On Mullholland, driving west, they can see the hills and the orange sun setting without the big lips and huge face of Angelina Jolie darkening the dusk. The earth is older than Hollywood and will be here years after man has vanished.
But for today, if only Hollywood and its poisons could be taken out of the bloodstream of Los Angeles, the city could be experienced for what it is, honestly, fervently, innocently.
To just live here without an entertainment agenda or ulterior motives is liberating.
I drove yesterday, in the bright sun, with the dry winds blowing, and had lunch with friends, and I stopped into my favorite clothing store, General Quarters, and chatted with Blair Lucio.
Blair envisioned, imagined, created, and opened a perfect little traditional men’s store. He doesn’t hop and jump and whore himself for publicity. He was not keen on me asking him if I could borrow some of his clothes for shoot. He doesn’t want to loan anything out because he has a few pieces and he intends to sell them.
He may succeed and he may not. I certainly hope he does. But his methods have garnered my admiration because they are true. Unlike the Hollywood wanderers…
And tomorrow and the day after I will talk and text with Hollywood people, the people who think they will become the next big thing and make love to Andy Cohen or get backslapped on-stage by Simon Cowell, or work in a bright writer’s room on a dark show about zombies, vampires or detectives. Some will pick up the microphone and lay down tracks, and others will Twitter incessantly, hoping that fate will bend to ego and self-promotion. They will be enacting and working on the self-destructive and futile passion of pursuing a career in Holllywood.
Across Van Nuys this winter, they are demolishing some large buildings.
Prominent among the big, ugly ones now being hacked away and dumped into large containers, is the former Wickes Warehouse Furniture Store on Sepulveda Blvd. north of Oxnard.
The white, windowless, concrete structure, which housed perhaps the world’s ugliest collection of overstuffed and ungainly furniture, was “going out of business” for many years now. Down to only a few 15-foot leather sectionals, Wickes was doomed. Death came quickly. And the little old lady in Burbank cried for days in her beloved Barcalounger.
Located next to the Busway, on land where Metro once promised to develop housing near the bus, it is near many acres of unused Metro parking, within sight of Wendy’s, Costco, Fatburger and the Chevron oil storage yards. The enormous parcel could be the future sight of a walkable, green, agricultural and urban mass transit project.
But this is not Japan or Switzerland, Dubai or Chile, Italy or France, Canada or Australia, Malaysia or Singapore, India or China.
This is the United States of America. There is nothing we can accomplish if we keep talking and keep electing Congress. We talk big and build small.
To refute other’s grand visions and my own authorial imagination, this promising parcel will face insurmountable hurdles. Those obstacles will include tens of millions of dollars in legal, environmental and political challenges. Surely, it will one day emerge resplendent…..as an asphalt parking lot, perhaps to be rented by Costco for the convenience of its customers.
On Van Nuys Boulevard at Burbank, near where they have just planted eternally green Astro-Turf, the old Chevrolet dealer building is a carcass of bent metal, piles of stucco, and spongy insulation hanging on steel rafters like just killed sharks on dockside hooks.
This is another prominent corner, where Van Nuys Boulevard becomes Van Nuys, and where the street is eight-lanes wide, full of cars and trucks who out-speed each other. No pedestrian enjoys walking here. The sad people on plastic benches, who wait so many hours a day for the bus, they are watched with pity by those sitting inside their car.
The Piano Store Reborn
And on the NE corner of Van Nuys Boulevard and Burbank, the former piano store, where no shopper shopped and no pianist played, has been emptied and is now under construction to become something that is only one story tall, on a street whose width is five times the height of any building on it.
Retail watchers are anticipating the opening of something small and forgettable!
The excitement of waiting for monotony has whetted the appetite of many a passerby.
What will open here? A yogurt store! A nail salon! Or maybe another uniform store! Nothing with any imagination or ambition would dare show up here or it might suffer the fate of the ¾ empty Smoke City Market down the street.
It is like 1939 again in Van Nuys. The Depression is ending and the ones with money are tearing down, speculating, building and buying at depressed prices, banking on a recovery that will once again make Van Nuys safe for bad cooking and fast cars.
A street in Sun Valley, where flooding once occurred, and polluted rain water carried toxic waste, garbage and chemicals down to the Ocean, has been rebuilt to incorporate green landscaping, flood control, and solar power lighting. Courtesy of Tree People, the Metropolitan Water District and the LA County Department of Public Works.
Last week, mid-week, it rained. A storm started the way storms do in Southern California, by announcing its front three days before arrival.
It came down slowly, from the north, and the skies darkened, ever so perceptibly, on Sunday, and by Tuesday the rains poured.
When the storm blew out, on Wednesday, the air was clean and refreshed. And doughy white clouds marched across blue skies.
Three small trees, all oaks, arrived from the city, ready to plant. There was room for only one on our property: a Coast Live Oak, which will look quite magnificent on my 100th birthday.
I went down to my brother and sister-in-law’s house on Saturday and took photos and videos upon the arrival of their new brindle boxer puppy.
These are videos that will show a 2012 Prius on the driveway, and these are videos of my 7-year-old niece and my 5-year-old nephew and a two-month-old puppy.
In five years or ten or twenty years, people will watch these and marvel at unwrinkled and smiling faces of youth, beauty and innocence; days we all have and days we spend in childhood never knowing how ephemeral and passing and short it all is.
I left the Marina and drove east across Culver City on Saturday, along Washington, and turned north on Robertson and went east on Pico and ended up on La Brea at Blair Lucio’s store General Quarters.
Mr. Lucio, on his own, without partners, has opened a concrete floored, iron and corrugated steel men’s shop decorated with black and white photographs of motorcycles, Steve McQueen, and images of postwar life in Southern California.
He is a young, well-groomed man with impeccable taste and good manners who favors plain front khakis, single needle cotton dress shirts, worn leather and canvas knapsacks and pure pine athletic soap.
He worked at Nordstrom’s and that retailer’s high standards of etiquette and service seem to have been branded with a burning iron into Mr. Lucio’s character.
If I had more cash I would spend it here because everything is high quality, classic and well edited.
LACMA has installed a show, Living in a Modern Way, devoted to the same place and era that Mr. Lucio adores: the post-WWII years, when California innovated in the arts, home furnishings, architecture, textiles, graphic design, automobiles and industrial products.
The exhibit has a full-scale reproduction of Ray and Charles Case Study House No. 8 in Pacific Palisades as well as an Airstream trailer and Avanti car.
Most interesting are the people who attend these events. They have artful, creative, charmed and haunting faces and they don’t look anything like the rest of the people who live in Los Angeles.
I went to see Luke Gibson’s architectural photography exhibit on the 8th Floor of the Wiltern on Saturday night.
It was dusk and the sun was setting and you could look north and see the Hollywood sign; and in the east the hills and houses were bathed in a sweet and gentle melon light.
The steel casement windows were open and I sat on an indoor ledge and looked down at a revitalized and busy Koreatown intersection with its new glass tower across the street and crowds pouring out of the Western/Wilshire Metro station; walking, using the city as a city should be used, on foot; with vigor, purpose and joy.
Luke’s aunt, an older and beautiful blond woman, came up to me and introduced herself. She was carrying an Ipad and remarked how proud her family was of their photographer nephew.
She had come up from Lake Forest in Orange County that evening, along with her daughter, son-in-law and two very tall young ladies, her granddaughters.
I told her that I lived in Van Nuys and she said she had graduated from Van Nuys High School. Her father had come from North Dakota and the family had lived on Ventura Canyon in Sherman Oaks.
We spoke about the mythical and magical days of yore, the California that really existed but really exists no more: orange groves and walnut groves; clean streets and unlimited opportunity for all. It was all gone now, except on DVDs and in our minds. And she was sweet and smart and savvy and even at seven decades, the ideal California girl.
And she knew how to how work that Ipad and had uploaded online Scrabble and Yelp.
I had some work to do on Sunday and I went to meet someone at the Marriott across from the Burbank Airport, but before our meeting, I walked around Fry’s Electronics where the most advanced and latest technology is sold to the least educated and most obese.
Outside Fry’s, in the parking lot, the sun was brilliant, the heat was dry, the mountains were radiant, and the planes flew across the sky and down into airport, gliding into an atmosphere of calm, glistening, radiant, and intense light.
There was hardly any traffic on sun-bleached, treeless Empire Avenue, the service road that runs between the south side of the airport and the railroad tracks.
I thought of Amelia Earhart and Charles Lindbergh and all of the lesser-known war workers who once assembled planes here under a fake city blackout cover. Times past of productivity and progress.
After my meeting, I drove on that road, and over to Van Owen and down Vineland.
I was unaware that a few hours earlier, a distraught man, despondent over his finances, brandished a bb gun, called the police and told him he was armed. The cops came and asked him to disarm and when he refused, they shot him dead in front of his family.
Hours later, I went to Ralphs on Vineland/Ventura to do some Sunday grocery shopping and got on the 101 at Tujunga, traveling west, back to my home here in Van Nuys.
I was in my Mazda 3, with my friend Danny, watching the road, navigating the heavy traffic, and preparing to exit the 101 near Sepulveda.
I wasn’t going fast or slow, just driving defensively, cautiously, courteously, speedily, not excessively, within reason, as one does when approaching an exit ramp.
And then the dissolve, the madwoman in the rear view mirror…
A wildly gesticulating female driver, in her white SUV, held up her two fingers in a double fuck you to me from her driver’s seat.
Her hands were making digit signs, signs that she emitted in a mad, contorted, deliberate, accelerating, irrational, insulting spastic performance. I watched her gesture fuck you, fuck you, and fuck you again from her car as we got off the ramp at Sepulveda.
And then I pulled up next to her. Again she pulled up her hands to signal numbers, fives and ones, supposing that I would know that she alone knew how fast I was going and it was not fast enough for her. And how angry, enraged and beyond reason she was. She was unashamed, unembarrassed, unhinged.
And tragically, she is what is called average or normal these days. An insane and out-of-control driver, furious when her 90-mile-an-hour motoring is temporarily impeded by another auto.
We waited at the light next to her. We yelled at her and my friend said she was “cuckoo” and then the light changed. And I turned right and she turned left onto Sepulveda, but I would not be lying if I said at that very moment I too was enraged. I was ready to assault or kill this woman who had destroyed my peaceful Sunday afternoon with her madness on the 101.
It has happened to me several times before when I was the target of a woman, always a woman, always white, always showing their fingers and their fuck-you on the road, behind the wheel, when I, obeying the law and doing absolutely nothing wrong, was just driving and being courteous.
I am not a person, I believe, who goes around with a vast arsenal of fury inside of me. I talk things out. I listen to Chopin and Bach and I exercise and run and drink wine and beer and laugh a lot.
But this is California these days. There are no rules for how to behave in public. The Grossest Generation: that is what this generation is.
She is the reason that I also sometimes hate Los Angeles and wonder if all of the nostalgia for the greatness of our past can make up for the uncivil awfulness that passes for civil society in the Golden State.
Well, at least we can remember how golden the Golden State once was.
It was a delightful weekend until I got on the 101.
The protesters who call themselves Occupy Wall Street are a disparate and varied group of progressives or leftists or anti-status quo men and women who are tired of our 30-year-old program to promote the interests of the very wealthiest and neglect the needs of the very poorest.
No nation stands still and watches its very core, the middle-class, sink into poverty, unemployment, joblessness, illness and idleness. Eventually, a nascent and small group of angry people takes action and sits down somewhere where they will be noticed. Now they are sitting down and speaking up right in the middle of the most powerful financial district in the world.
It’s long overdue, this growing anger at the legislative corruption of a Congress which prints money only to have it spent overseas on wars; a Congress that spends lavishly on tax breaks for companies who hire workers in foreign lands, while cutting health insurance and jobs at home.
America, we are told, cannot afford affordable education, health care, housing, public transportation, police protection and environmental preservation. But we somehow can spend trillions on sending private companies overseas to weaponize, fight, advise and spend American tax dollars in Africa, Asia, South America and Europe.
The Republican mantra says the government must not interfere at home. But overseas we can invade and rule. In fact, we must.
Very few of us fight and die in war these days. So the coffins which come back are not seen nor do many mourn the dead. We live in a time that values convenience over justice.
And inconveniencing the wealthy and the privileged is the point.
Occupy the 405.
Protests need to move to the wealthy section of Los Angeles so that Beverly Hills, Brentwood, Westwood and Santa Monica also feel the pain. If protesters stopped traffic and brought cars to a halt, the news media would have a field day. Anderson Cooper would set up his rig right on Sepulveda and Wilshire and helicopters would swarm overhead as tens of thousands gathered to demand what all Americans need.
Stand on the Freeway.