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.
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.
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.
Down the street there is a place where they are stocking beer and wine on shelves, checking people out, entering telephone numbers and emails into the database, loading boxes off trucks, unpacking and unloading shipments of spirits, and other liquors.
(Sounds like entry-level work except this company is as competitive and selective as Yale University)
They wear red jackets and they pass out red cards to customers and when you come here on some afternoons there is an extremely loud and jovial fat man making jokes and entertaining himself at the register, thrilled at his own wit and eager to laugh it up for everyone.
(Seems crass but the crowds love him)
A few times a year the wine goes on sale and you can buy two bottles for the price of one plus five cents.
On Fridays it gets crazy here when the customers who shop here get off work. They pour in like madmen and run like hell to get to the cold beer and warm tequila.
I had once worked in retail and I vowed to not work in it again. That was at Ralph Lauren in New York, at the flagship store, back in the early 90s, where I waited on such nobodies as Tom Selleck, Audrey Hepburn, Jackie Onassis and Elizabeth Montgomery, four of the five of whom are now dead, but hardly forgotten.
Ralph Lauren and his brother Jerry would come in and chat me up and ask me about business. Mrs. Auchincloss, Mrs. Scribner, Mrs. Radziwill, Mr. Bernie Madoff, Ms. Michelle Klier, all my billionaires, all my customers, all were satisfied.
I’m not bragging. Just telling it the way it was.
So now I live in Van Nuys. I’m not young. I think I can work in a big box beverage store, so I fill out the 30-minute online job application.
And there is one, big, fat, irritating part where they ask you multiple choice questions and ask you to check each one such as:
When I work I:
1. talk cheerfully to people I meet
2. speak to people in a direct and candid manner
Don’t both seem admirable? Isn’t cheerfulness as important as candor?
Which attitude best describes you at work:
If a customer comes in and asks me a question about wine I will try to be positive, but I sure will be careful when loading glass bottles of beer.
These are just a few of the hundred multiple-choice questions that are used by Bevmo to separate the wheat from the chaff or perhaps the wheat from the hops. The application is tedious and time-consuming.
Days later, I call Olivia, the Van Nuys Bevmo Store Manager to ask her if she has received my online application.
“Hmm…what’s your last name? Ok. Here it is. Oh I’m sorry. You are a RED. I’m not allowed to proceed to interview you. YELLOWS and GREENS are good. You can take it again if you like. Looks like you did not pass the multiple choice assessment questions.”
She offers no explanation.
I have merely been defeated by a color, stopped by stoplight as unknowable as God herself.
Bevmo, Bevmo, Bevmo…..
You are continuing Senator Joseph McCarthy’s red baiting. Only now the reds are applying for work.
And they won’t get hired until they turn green.
You think you know Van Nuys.
And then some small remnant of old property appears. And you are pulled back into a long lost world: unguarded, spacious, verdant, shaded, open and expansive.
It happened a few days ago, when I was traveling on Sherman Way and turned up Katherine Avenue, west of Hazeltine, to avoid late afternoon traffic.
As I approached Valerio, I saw the old San Fernando Valley in an apparition: a few large parcels of land, shaded by large trees, a ranch house set back from the street, unenclosed by fences, iron, brick, or barking dogs.
I returned last night with Andreas from Up in the Valley to explore the neighborhood.
At 14203 Valerio, we found a long driveway, headed with a sign of a family name: “The Schaefers”, and beyond, in the distance, many rose bushes, the long exterior eaved porch; all the indicators of normalcy and domestic tranquility that once presented itself in abundance around these parts.
I was surprised that some industrious Armenian had not bought up the land, torn down the houses and erected a cul-de-sac of concrete and columns, but there it was, a lone sweet house, a place that seemed welcoming, not hostile, unafraid and hopeful, a residence of grace and generosity, without violent defenses, grotesque proportions and malingering meanness.
There were no large SUVs, pit bulls, cinderblock or steel window bars. This was Van Nuys as it once was, up until perhaps 1975, a lovely place to live.
There was a large unpicked grapefruit tree in the yard, an old tree, another symbol of the post WWII days when organic was the only type of eating, and unselfconscious Californians ate well in their own backyards.
This house and this land will probably not survive in its present incarnation much longer. If there were a Van Nuys Historical Society it might honor this home with a citation. But for now only the camera can capture what was and what still is.
One of the delights of living near Van Nuys High School is watching a car full of kids park nearby, hang out for a while, and then deposit bottles and drug paraphernalia curbside before driving off.
Photo by Andy Hurvitz
Without cars, without traffic, without parking, Los Angeles would be a much pleasanter place.
Rage, anger, aggression all the lovely emotions that cars and drivers emit, all of it would go away.
But until that day, we have parking lots, and we have people who abuse handicap parking.
My late father was handicapped for five years, going from cane to walker to wheelchair, so I have a particular familiarity with disablement. Now my mother walks with a cane and also has a sticker to hang from her rear view car mirror.
I am temporarily not old or disabled.
This morning, as I was driving away from LA Fitness in Van Nuys, a woman turned in front of me, and pulled her Black VW Rabbit right into the first disabled person space near the gym entrance. She got out of the car, a woman about 35, in her spandex and sneakers, fast going into the facility. I shouted out to her, “This is a handicap space”. To which she replied, walking fast, “I am a handicap…”
Parking Enforcement Bureau
Later on, I decided to report her. And this is where it gets funny. 818-752-5100 told me to call 818-756-8438 and when I called 818-756-8438 they told me to call 5100 again and press “option #2″. Then I called 5100 and a person answered and said there was no option 2. I told her I wanted to report the illegal use of handicap at LA Fitness on Sepulveda near Erwin. She said, “Sir, I need an address. Erwin at Sepulveda in Van Nuys is not an address.” I went home and turned on my computer and called them back with the proper address: 6161 Sepulveda. Then they asked me what cross streets the address was near! The answer: Erwin/Sepulveda.
It’s a small matter, one of the small illegalities I often mention in this blog. Yes, it’s just abuse of a handicap placard. Compared to murder, assault, drive-by shootings, or a meth lab, it’s not much. So just let it pass. Let the trash pile up, let the taggers tag, let the streets be swamped with garage sales, let the whores work, let the johns get blown, let the dogs bark all night, let it go baby, let it go….
I voted in an election today to choose a new mayor, members for the Board of Education, a Community College District person, and a City Attorney.
I don’t know any of the people, save for Eric Garcetti, who my friend likes and taught tennis to when he was a young man.
“He always was polite. He is a Rhodes scholar.”
Poor Wendy Gruel did not get my vote because her last name recalls bad prison food like watery porridge.
Armed with my LA Times print-out and reading glasses, I walked from my house over to the Voyager (Adult) Motel and entered a room where one table was full of elderly attentive volunteers.
I forgot my wallet and asked an older woman if I needed ID. “Not in America!” was her feisty reply. She directed me over to the other side of the room, to a table staffed by young, multi-cultural texters who barely looked up when I walked over to them.
“Thanks for the ballot.”
“Huh? Oh, no problem.”
I took the strange and clunky, elongated ballot, put it into the plastic holder and used the short pen pointer to make holes next to the names I didn’t know.
After voting, I got a small sticker.
And then I remembered another upcoming election….
For the past few weeks, I have had door knocks and emails from two men running for the City Council District #6 seat, unknown Derek Waleko and unpronounceable Dan Stroncak. The seat was formerly held by fat huckster and do-nothing, now Congressman, Tony Cardenas.
City Council District#6 election will be on May 21, 2013.
Not today but on May 21, 2013.
Got that straight?
An election was held today in which less than 20% of voters will participate. Another election will be held on May 21, 2013 in which very few will vote, for City Council District #6, a desperately dirty, tired, poorly run area, populated by some beautiful but neglected homes, overrun by crime and illegalities, both small and domestic, large and international.
In our pocket, couches and condoms are street décor, and the local bird is a helicopter.
Who will come and focus their energy, attention and resources on Van Nuys?
If not me, who then?
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.
Civilization, as it is known to exist in Van Nuys, marched north on Sepulveda, and has now crossed Oxnard.
LA Fitness opened yesterday, many many square feet of ellipticals, treadmills, racquetball courts and indecipherable machines aimed at every body part on human bones.
Occupying the very spot where couch potatoes worshipped, Wickes Furniture, the new gym promises to bring an active lifestyle to an area where the Gluteus Maximus is almost extinct, and 16-year-old girls are considered anorexic at 300 pounds.
Bow-fronted, brown, low, and wide, the corporate architecture echoes its clientele. Doors open graciously, in the LA way, onto a wide parking lot, around which spin the orbiting stars of Wendy’s, Costco, Fatburger, CVS and Star Kitchen.
The new building turns its back away from the Metro Orange Line Busway. The Bus Rider and The Pedestrian will have to take the long walk around the north side of the building and enter through the parking lot side. Clearly this structure was designed somewhere in Texas, possibly by someone unfamiliar with Google Maps.
This morning I took an unguided tour of the interior which begins with a pool, an iconic symbol of sunny Southern California, placed indoors at the shady and dark NW corner, near the check-in, with many windows open to viewing for arriving and departing members. The wet old man in the Speedo will be the first image implanted on future arrivals.
But the equipment is, to use a reality TV word, amazing. There are dozens of aerobic machines, now equipped with iphone ready TV screens, so that sweat and heavy breathing can keep an eye and ear on Bill Reilly and Anderson Cooper.
Assembled like a marching army regiment are treadmills, bikes, weight machines, free weights, racquetball courts, and the most important feature of all: walls of mirrors.
Rusted stall doors, pee on toilet seats, un-flushed shit, the smoldering smell of cum in the men’s sauna, 400 lb weights left on leg presses, arguments, indifferent and constantly quitting trainers, torn shower curtains and clogged sinks, stolen wallets and broken-in windows in nighttime parked cars; all these future events have yet to happen here.
For now the glory is in the opening.
The carpeting is new, the paint is fresh, we are older but our gym is newer, and if we go here everyday, and eat healthy, we may live out the rest of our lives here in Van Nuys.
Apparently it’s hard to be a profitable supermarket when you have self-checkout, no cashiers to pay union wages, minimum hourly pay, non-existant health benefits, and cheap food.
Why can’t it be Gelsons that goes into Chapter 11?
Van Nuys Burglary Detectives are reporting serveral residential burgalries took place over the weekend in the area of RD991 (Mullholland Drive to Beverly Glen to Valley Vista Blvd. to the 405 Freeway.) All of these took place during daytime hours.
Several other burgalaries also occured in RD966 (Woodwan Ave to the 101 Freeway to Fulton Ave to Chandler Blvd.) Suspects are described at four male Hispanics, 20-25 years old driving a 2004-2007 Totota Camry or Nissan Altima metalic gold in color. Suspects were also discribed as wearing LA Dodger apparel.
In many of these burglaries the suspected enetered through open attached garages which gave them access to the residence.
If you have any additional information please call Van Nuys Burglary Detective Robert Kraus at email@example.com or 818-374-0031.
The Los Angeles Fire Department has a collection of vintage fire company photos.
In the LAFD archives, I found images related to Van Nuys’ Engine Company #39 which has occupied a building or two at 14415 Sylvan St. since 1919.
Curiously, it seems that present structure, dating to 1939, is merely an Art Deco remodeling of the original neo-classical structure. I could be wrong, but comparing the two buildings, which are in exactly the same location, seems to indicate this.
In the midst of the Great Depression, a grand and completely modern structure was erected or refashioned for a little over $4 a square foot.
Statistics from 1939:
July 25, 1939
Sq.Ft. Main Bld
Main Bld. 15,004
Garage & Storage 1,256
Hand Ball Ct. 1,122
Sq.Ft. Site 100×140
Number of Poles: 3
The Kesteridge Neighborhood Page on Facebook is a group of citizens who are actively monitoring issues affecting Van Nuys. We are located in the area between Victory on the south, 405 on the west, Sherman Way north, and Van Nuys Blvd. west.
We regularly post and keep an eye on crime , traffic, properties, as well as prostitution, police patrols, potholes, litter, pets, barking dogs, noise, helicopters, LAPD, etc.
Our group is growing and is kept in regular contact with the LAPD and the Van Nuys Community.
Please consider joining if you care about your community.
15300 Valerio St. Van Nuys, CA
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.
These 1948 clippings were just sent to me by Phil DePauk, who grew up here in the 1940s and 50s and now lives in Virginia. The photo of Van Nuys Boulevard at Christmas, however, is from an unknown source but is also dated 1948.
Mr. DePauk has a large collection of photographs and memorabilia, some of which is related to his family’s former business, photography.
Before regional shopping centers, Van Nuys was a regional shopping center, centered on a street, Van Nuys Boulevard. There was a streetcar running up and down, diagonal parking, and many thriving businesses.
And there was a Van Nuys Christmas parade attended by many.
Fresh and Easy moved in, a few years ago, into a mid-century shopping center on the SE corner of Vanowen at Sepulveda.
The first time I went to this British import I left unimpressed. It was like buying groceries at IKEA. It felt impersonal and cheap.
But gradually, in these years of lots of want and little cash, the nearby store with its handy $5 off coupons, green cards, self-service checkout, and reasonably priced items, grew on me.
A very friendly store manager recognized me, and she always said hello. I would quickly come down the aisles, with my reusable canvas bag, and snap up bananas, packaged lettuce, shredded carrots, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, eggs, milk, cream, 99-cent French bread… and get out quick. Salmon and chicken, beef and pork, sausages and luncheon meats, everything was stocked and easy to get. Esoteric mustards, organic soups, Indian and British foods were mixed into the eclectic shelves. Balsamic vinegar, almond milk, coconut rice, clam chowder soup: oddness and affordability.
The parking lot was not crowded. It was easy to get in and out of.
And, unlike Trader Joes, the drivers were not eye-rolling, mirror-checking, sunglasses on botox bitches behind the wheel. The de-facto driver was that sweet 200-pound mama in black spandex in a 1994 Nissan, slow and steady and smiling.
But that all might change. Forever.
Now it seems that Fresh and Easy will be closing hundreds of its stores in the US. The official announcement has not been made for the Van Nuys location, but the rumors of its impending demise seem ominous.
If F&E leaves, we will have the dirty but interesting 99 Ranch Market, specializing in Asian foods and decaying fish smells; and the bigger and equally strange Jons up on Sherman Way, well stocked with produce, but short on anything eaten by college graduates or urban metrosexuals: jars of Armenian pickled vegetables, bins of dried chilis, Mexican carbohydrates and sugary desserts, Mexican sodas, Mexican pork fat, freezer fulls of pork butt, pork head, pork shoulder, and plastic wrapped two-dozen quantity chicken leg packages, 50 pound boxes of Sun Detergent and aisles of frozen Russian Vodka.
Fresh and Easy was Van Nuys’ last chance to reach out to the Prius crowd. People who shopped here were poor but grew up rich.
If it dies, so do the dreams of all young, pale, tattooed and hungry gamers, bloggers, consultants and artists who live north of Oxnard.