Visit to a Dying Bridge


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The sun was out, the winds were blowing, the air was dry and we drove over in the Super Bowl ghosted city to see the 6th Street Bridge, an 85-year-old patient whose arms and legs still spanned the Los Angeles River, but whose execution was now under way in Boyle Heights.

We parked on the west side of the bridge next to steel gates and barbed wires. Homeless people still gathered in the shadows under the arches. A lone woman on a bicycle pedaled up and shot some photographs; as did an old man in a bright yellow Porsche convertible who sat in his car and then drove off.

Fascinating to me, even after 21 years in Los Angeles, is how civic grandeur and public spaces are degraded and neglected. I grew up in Chicago, where Buckingham Fountain, Grant Park, the Lakefront, Soldiers Field, the Field Museum, and Water Tower were proudly shown off and cared for. They left an impression on a small child. We drove downtown to admire our city, not run from it in fear and revulsion.

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What is one to make of the disrespected and defiled 6th Street Bridge with its decapitated light posts, the arches sitting in mountains of trash, the human beings laying underneath the noble, carved, Art Moderne piers? Where does 3,500 feet of concrete, erected in the grandest and most elegant way, where does it go?

Some who spoke of the life of the condemned bridge talked about movies that were filmed here. Is nothing real or important unless it starred in a film?  Does Los Angeles exist as an actual city or is it only a stage set whose humanity only matters when it is on celluloid? For all of the 85 years that the bridge sat in a sea of defiled urbanity did it only fulfill its importance when fakery was filmed around and on it? Is that why the exploits of the Kardashians are so valued, but thousands who set up mattresses under bridges in our city are ignored and forgotten?

One has heard from the leaders in Los Angeles, recently, that “working class Boyle Heights” and the new “Arts District” will mutually benefit from a new $428 million dollar bridge designed and constructed in modernistic form.

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But that is what they always say, these politicians and people in power, the ones who spend hundreds of millions, and, in the end, where are the human spaces, the parks, the housing, the stores, the markets, the schools, the health care, all those markers of civilization?

If life doesn’t exist under the 6th St. Bridge, then no bridge itself is capable of conceiving the rebirth of a neighborhood. It takes a village, as some obscure old woman once said.

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The Most Photogenic City


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We had walked over from her place on Benton Way in the late afternoon and stopped into a bright Mexican restaurant and sat at the bar where they had expensive tequilas and cheap margaritas.

At El Cóndor, on Sunset at Edgecliffe, the bartender was tall and black and efficient, fast serving the cold, salted glasses with the green mixtures to go along with the guacamole and chips.

We were talking and then a young guy sat down at the corner. The server, the busboy, and the bartenders seemed to know him as if he were a regular. He talked to a blond, bearded bartender, who left, and was replaced by a clean- shaven, quiet bartender in a denim shirt.

“I moved in with a girl,” he told the quiet bartender who listened and nodded politely and stared into the distance.

“I came here to act,” he said.

“What time do you get off work?” he asked.

“I’m going to a party later,” he said.

He was looking for a friend, maybe something more, but his plaintive loneliness reminded me of so many days and nights ago, and that certain summer twenty years ago when I moved to Los Angeles and lived with a girl. There was nothing to the relationship, other than a brittle friendship, and it died in the fall of 1994, never to return.

When you drink, you think, and you are articulate. The intuitions and insights flood your mind, and you feel relaxed and the fear and the anxiety leaves you and you can walk and laugh, cry and remember, and nothing will stop you, no inhibitions or tentativeness, no wary caution or reversion to propriety.

And the next day, if you are lucky, you remember a tiny portion of last night’s enormous revelations.

After we got back to her place on Benton Way, she told me I was her first activity of the night. Jason was downtown, visiting from Montreal, and she would be driving there to meet him.

But first she showed me those crazy, 1980s sweaters I gave her that had once belonged to my late Mother. She said they smelled like Louise, who died on September 1, 2014. My mother always dry-cleaned her clothes and hung them on wire hangers shrouded in plastic.


We sat on the gray sectional couch that had been in my mother’s apartment on Admiralty Way in Marina Del Rey, the couch that had been purchased at Crate and Barrel in Paramus, NJ on Route #17 in the summer of 2008, the couch that was selected as I pushed my reluctant father in a wheelchair around the store and my mother hobbled along. That couch covered the events of the last seven years, the deaths of its two owners. It lived to find a new home in Silver Lake.


We are not more than friends so I left to make way for love, which was fine, as I was happy to drive into the waning light and go back to a street I found a few months ago where the giant Church of Scientology looms over a motley block of cheap apartments.

That street was Berendo, near Lexington, and I found it just when the sun was setting, and the harsh ugliness of old, broken-down, and neglected buildings became comely, enticing and seductive.

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There were markers of Western history dropped onto the streets, like French chateaus and Spanish castles. There were homely, plain and workaday brick and wood apartments and houses, old wooden electrical poles and wires, and cars that were packed into tight alleys, and parked along the curb. Occasionally, a cat would crawl out from under a car and dart into another shadow.

Berendo was blasphemy, watched over by a cross atop on an old blue hospital now advertising SCIENTOLGY.

Under the gaze of the cult, I was walking, and photographing, a city unique in its fate and form.

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Los Angeles: the most photogenic city in the world.

Whatever you imagine it is, it is.

Her beauty is fragile and fleeting. Her people arrive to grab onto to something illusory and transforming.

She should be seen and felt in the fading light, after the hours when the sun is brightest and before the hours when the darkness descends.

4th of July in Years Past


From the USC Digital Archives, one finds fascinating and unusual photos of old California.

A search for “4th of July” brought up these photos and captions:

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“Photographer: Gaze. Date: 1952-07-04. Reporter: Gaze. Assignement: 4th July–Santa Monica. #23-29: Navy landing craft comes ashore in Fourth of July exercises at Santa Monica. LCM No. 268 in the foreground has just landed and No. 175 has just taken off back through surf. In addition to these landing craft, visitors streamed aboard the heavy cruiser USS Toledo and the destroyer escort USS Whitehurst.”

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Philippine Independence Day celebration July 4th, July 4, 1951. Elizabeth Rigor (“Miss Luzon”); Mayor Fletcher Bowron; Sartonio V. Abrera (consul of Philippines); Maria Torres (“Miss Visayan”); Aurora Garcia (“Miss Philippines”).

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Special 4th of July rites at St. Vibianas, July 4, 1951. Processional into cathedral with Archbishop J. Francis A. McIntyre.

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“Photographer: Gaze. Date: 1952-07-01. Reporter: Gaze. Assignment: 4th July advance. #41: Pretty Rita Simon looks as though she were about to take off on a giant skyrocket at Ocean Park which is one way of calling attention to the annual 4th of July fireworks exhibition which will be held on the end of Ocean Park Pier on the night of July 4 in tribute this year to four warships which will anchor in the Bay. Visitors will be allowed aboard from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. July4, 5 and 6. #42: L to R: Audrey Donahue holds her ears as Margie Brunner lights giant skyrocket and Rita Simon appears ready to take off with the explosive on the Ocean Park beach. The girls enact the scene to call attention to the annual fireworks exhibition to be held at the end of the Ocean Park Pier in tribute to 4 warships which will anchor in the Bay over the three-day holiday.”

The Capriciousness of Life.


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I was down in Venice yesterday on a foggy Saturday morning, down there to attend a training video for a new food processor I’ve been hired to test.

I parked on Sunset near 4th Avenue, not far from Gjusta, where I went to eat. They sell loaves of bread for ten dollars there.

And along Sunset I passed a man and a woman and a tent, their home I assumed. I ignored them and went to the restaurant and ordered eggs, toast and coffee for $16.

On the way back, the man and the woman had moved, and set up their tent on 4th Avenue.

Camera in hand, I went over to introduce myself.

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The man, Alexander, said he was from Pomona and was 22-years-old. The woman, Dina, said she was 44 and from Egypt. They both said they met in Israel.

They said they were artists. And they had ended up here and had no means of supporting themselves, so they were living in the tent, on the sidewalk, chased away by residents and police.

Alexander was smart, funny, articulate and intelligent. He said he was Jewish, an anomaly in Catholic and Hispanic Pomona. Dina said she grew up in Egypt, a Muslim, and her father was blacklisted for writing against the regime. She said she had children in Israel.

Alexander told me that the hardest part of being homeless was how exhausting it was. They had to be constantly moving, like Bedouins, and forage for food. Cleaning up was not easy, they washed their hands along the curb. Yet they seemed clean.

“Capitalism can be cruel. Even in poorer countries, people seem to look out for each other, to help. In America, the indifference is noticeable,” Alexander said.

“All of my family live in the same compound,” Dina said, thinking of her kin back home. And what would they think of her now?

Dina had the flinty, tough, tenacious soul of a woman from the Middle-East. She was genuinely touched that I cared enough to stop and speak with her, and discuss her plight and struggle.

They both said they needed a backyard to stay in. That would help them feel settled. I wondered why there was not a place in Venice or Santa Monica, in a community full of backyards, where one couple could camp out temporarily.

Their goal was to save $3,000 and return to Israel.

I don’t exactly understand how they got into this position, but I am sure that life doesn’t always reward the moral and punish the immoral.

Sometimes it is capricious, and good people end up in bad places, and if they are lucky enough, can dig out and get back on their feet.

But why is it that nobody can lend them a backyard and few bucks?

A few blocks from Dina and Alexander, Google is building a new office. And a friend of my brother rents a small apartment on Rose for $4,500 a month.

And Dina and Alexander sleep in a tent on the sidewalk while all around them humanity passes by.

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2015 is Different.


2015 is a different year.

Not only is it the first year I have ever entered without my mother, but around me, on the roads, in the skies, Los Angeles is changed.

The economy, we are told, is back. There are more cars on the road. The air is acrid, and brown, and smelly.

Gas is cheaper. Undocumented Californians can now drive legally with license.

The white-flowered Magnolia trees are blooming on Magnolia Boulevard.

Coughing, sneezing, wheezing, nose blowing all around.

Everywhere there are trucks of painters, tile setters, electricians, window installers, gardeners, pest controllers. It takes 20 minutes just to drive to the next stoplight.

The parking lots are packed with new SUVs.

Every other car ignores the rule against hand-held devices.

30 year olds and younger drive the slowest.

The Waze App is slicing speeding drivers, evading jams, down residential streets. Cars go 50 mph on 25 mph roads.

There is a boom going on, but it is a boom with low-paying jobs.

Houses cost a fortune. Apartments rent for ridiculous prices. Old people who own property subsidize their children who cannot afford to live.

Studio City is getting torn down, the little houses are replaced by massive two million dollar “Cape Cods”.

The people are without direction, but looking for somewhere to go. They get in their cars to go somewhere, to get to a place that none  really want to get to. But foot on the pedal, they move on.

2015 is a different year.

The recession is vanquished.

The go, go, go times are in the air.

Which brings us back to 2007.

 

 

 

There are no sudden storms in the Southland.


There are no sudden storms in the Southland.

They are slow, and anticipated for many days before arrival.

The rains of Los Angeles are not the violent and fast moving ones from my youth in Illinois.

They come from San Francisco, imported and exotic, served only in winter.

They travel, as if on a slow moving freight train, chugging down across the mountains, picking up wind and moving clouds with great effort, until, by eminent domain, they seize this region in rains, pushing out that squatter the sun, drenching the city in something purifying and disorienting, dark and light; a benevolent symphony of Earth’s workings, cleansing and renewing.

The rains of Los Angeles are a strange corrective of nature. They are more powerful and more intimidating than the human cesspool city of sudden violence and crashing cars. The Army of the Clouds is a conqueror who must be obeyed. Under occupation, rivers are rerouted, trees blown over, electrical current shut off, oceans churned, roads made impassible.

But they are kind in power, artful in practice.

They transform the ugliness of asphalt into reflecting pools.

They tame cars, dragging them through curbside baths.

They throw dark daytime shadows across the city.

And after they pass, one looks east, towards Pasadena and the nation beyond it.

And we stand, once again in the sun, in the Southland, in our winter.

Left to our own devices.

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