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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Last Night at MacLeod Ale.


During the day, I transacted business at Starbucks in Toluca Lake, and then, at night, I went, in denim shirt and pomaded hair, to MacLeod Ale, where all the whirlwind connections of my present life gathered, on the concrete floor of the brewery where the front door was raised up to the cold night air and smoky tacos were grilling outside on open-flamed ovens.

There was an RV trailer parked on the tarmac filled with knitting materials, and hanging knitwear, and, nearby, at the brewery tables, some people knitting. The urge to make something other than digital swipes propels a new generation.

Next door to the brewery, at the open door of Joe’s Auto Body, the acrid daytime odor of wet, chemical, sprayed car paint was yielding to roasting chickens and tamales on the griddle. Joe slouched on a milk crate, his face covered in white paint, phone in hand.

Dapper music collector Victor Torres, Jr. was spinning LPs on the record player, and his little brother Cesar was drawing illustrations and advising me on logos and creative visuals.

At the bar, Andreas and his friend Marcus, fresh off their bikes, had just pedaled here from Tony’s Darts Away in Burbank. I sat down at a stool to talk to Marcus and Andreas. Somewhere in his future, the former has plans to leave Echo Park and open a bakery in San Luis Obispo because it reminds him of his hometown, Gloucester, MA. He lost his job at Trader Joes after 15 years and told me he had grown up dyslexic and went to private school on scholarship.

I sipped a bourbon-aged beer, and spoke to another man, Mr. McReady, who was very happy. He was just fired, but had collected a great severance package, after 22-years-at-a Burbank cleaning empire. He has great, expensive, bendable eyeglasses and lives with his wife, who never comes to MacLeod Ale, on Calvert St. near Hazeltine.

Roderick
Roderick

Roderick Abercrombie Smith, the handsome, bearded, prodigiously talented, blue-eyed Scottish born painter, currently, happily, living in a van, was at the other end chatting it up with gregarious Ian Wright, the British born carpenter. I waved to both men as I ordered a beer from the always cordial manager Steve.

That beer was called Heather Bell [Scottish Gruit]. MacLeod describes it this way:

“An ale traditionally made without hops, but bitter herbs instead. Ours has heather tips, marsh rosemary, and red clover, and a few hops thrown in to keep it legal. Made in collaboration with our friends at Solarc Brewing.”

In the back, a table was set up for the LA County Bicycle Coalition (LACBC). Kelly Martin, Development Director, introduced herself. She was there with others from her organization discussing an upcoming 5-Day Long Climate Ride from Eureka to San Francisco whose sponsored riders will donate their money to the LACBC. Someone handed me a beautiful, scenic calendar with color photographs, but I left it on the table and wandered off.

Anita
Anita

Anita of Orion Avenue, articulate and lovely friend and neighbor, came in and we hung out. She is married, and a mom, and an engineer, and savvy, and concerned about Van Nuys. We love it and agree it is confounding.  We love the picket fences and houses on one acres– surrounded by prostitutes and discarded sofas.

As I drank, she complimented my “fantastic” hair and told me I had good-looking friends on Facebook. And then (unintentionally) ruined the moment when she asked me what I did for work.

Then the beautiful Pinay, Stephanie Chan, walked in her with her long-haired Belarusian born roommate, a woman who reminded me of Ali McGraw in “Love Story”. Ms. Chan just bought a condo on Sherman Way between Kester and Van Nuys Boulevard.

Andy, the tall Texan brew worker in tight jeans, who exudes lily white, baptized, boyish machismo, and demonstrates affection for hops and hugs, came over and talked about his “Leaving for El Paso” beer. Hud would have played pool with him.

I steered myself into the room where darts were throwing, and I walked around, lightly intoxicated, past all those crowded tables of young men and woman rolling dice and moving objects over game boards.

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Stacey

Back outside, I went to order tacos, and bumped into burly actor Stacey Hinnen, here at the brewery with his two little girls, and he regaled me with his story of his latest acting job, down in Cuba, working with Don Cheadle on “House of Lies”.

Mr. Hinnen played a Koch brothers type character who was down in the communist country to regain property stolen from his family when Castro came to power. The actor said he had a scene throwing fists at his brother in the middle of a courtyard.

If Mr. Hinnen agrees, and Mr. Hurvitz (me) can get his shit together, the actor will one day play a character I wrote, Shane Davis, in a web series about my street in Van Nuys.

Jennifer, the owner, came into the brewery and hugged me and I introduced her to Anita and they both realized they knew some mutual people connected to former Van Nuys resident Donnie Wahlberg.

And then one of the best young characters to emerge in the MacLeod firmament came over, boyish and lanky beer poet, Sam Wagner, native of Manhattan, here in Los Angeles to put his great imagination and large intellect to work in that industry which despises and wastes both of those attributes.

Lizzie, the tall, dark, Scottish niece, only 22 years old, was hanging with Sam. They both had met working at the brewery. She is smart and thinking she might stay a while in Los Angeles, a decision that has proven the undoing of many before her.

They were selling beer last night at MacLeod Ale, or so it seemed on the surface. But what they were selling were stories: intoxicating, delusional, impossible, and possibly real.

If MacLeod Ale’s chemical and financial alchemy survives, we, who wandered into here, and drank the spirits, may share in the dream.

Little.


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Little, petty woman, living in your shell

Married, bored, angry and morose

You have so much on your plate

Life passed you by

Sitting in your car, looking at your phone, stuck in traffic

Honking, texting, daydreaming

Medicated, distracted, burdened

Out there the world is dancing and smiling

Without you

Celebrities always smile

What happened at the box office this past weekend?

You got home and found everyone looking at their phones

Where should you eat dinner?

Who left their shoes on their bed?

Why can’t he remember to flush the toilet?

Hours spent on the phone with T-Mobile to fix text messaging.

Tomorrow you may be dead.

Between the Rains


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It was a perfect day to stay in, a rainy Sunday, windy and wet.

Chicken Cacciatore with mashed potatoes would come later in the day, but sometime in the middle of the afternoon, I went outside, between the rains, and walked around the neighborhood.

Gutterless Columbus streamed slow, dark rivers, past neglected houses and errant yards.

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On Haynes, an impromptu lake formed at the end of the street, temporarily transforming a ranch house into a lakeside cabin.

Blown down palm fronds littered Hamlin Street.  And up in the sky a patch of blue, like the eye of God, looked down on Earth.

Lord knows we need rain.

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Van Nuys: September 21, 1960


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Among the stranger aspects of modern American life is that we have gotten over old 1950s fears (Communists, homosexuals, fluoridated water, rock and roll) but have now supplanted new, sometimes exaggerated terrors to replace the old ones.

The above photograph by George Brich (LAPL) was published in the Valley Times on September 21, 1960 and read, “Jeanne Avery, 15, 14155 Cohasset St., Van Nuys, adds to the view along palm-lined Van Nuys boulevard, community’s main business street. The community is the largest in the Valley.” Van Nuys is nearing its 50-year anniversary and is being celebrated as one of the most beautiful and productive cities in the Valley.”

Can you imagine the outcry in 2016 if an adult male photographed a 15-year-old girl on the street and published her name and address in the LA Times?

“Thank you George Brich for violating my daughter’s privacy! Now every crazy pervert in the world will know where she lives!”

“This is completely wrong. No young woman, no matter how attractive should be photographed by a stranger and have her address published in the paper!”

In 1960, America had a benevolent and innocent view of itself. It was considered an honor for a teenage student to be photographed in the local paper. And nobody meant anything ironic in describing Van Nuys as “one of the most beautiful and productive cities in the Valley.”

In 2016, the average American, the average person living in Van Nuys is probably photographed hundreds of times a day, in security camera videos, in mobile phone images, waiting in a car at a red light, filling up for gas, withdrawing money at the ATM, driving through McDonalds, or stopping to shop at Target.

But the intentional photograph by camera on a public street has now become a provocative act. Its artfulness, its quirkiness, its freedom has been put on probation. Public photography itself is now under suspicion.An art form and a means of communication has volunteered to restrain and censor itself. Even when no law has been broken, and no privacy invaded. And this in itself is irrational and a denial of our American way of life.

There is nothing against the law in taking a photo of a person on a public street. You don’t need their permission.

They understood that in 1960.

 

The Incarcerated City.


 

_ABH2013 On these winter days, when the streets are emptied of cars, and the skies are filling with rain clouds, our neighborhood of Van Nuys cools down and empties out, revealing a strange amalgam of enormous parking lots; as well as businesses and homes surrounded by iron gates and fences.

In its entirety, these fortifications evoke prison: a high security, patrolled, guarded, and fearsome place where criminals and children are kept back by a fortress of steel and iron.

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For sixteen years I’ve lived here, always imagining that every New Year will bring an imaginative, humane and socially comprehensive new architecture into Van Nuys.

I fantasize that the parking lots will be torn up and rows of orange trees replanted in the soil. I think someone will see the enormous plots of land, now taken up with blight and decay, and see this as the new place to construct walkable communities with native plants and organic gardens surrounding little residential communes.

That is the dream, shared by some of my neighbors.

Reality is something else.

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On Sepulveda, between Archwood and Lemay, the hellish Ridge Motel is on Death Row, surrounded by fencing and covered with graffiti and garbage. It had long outlived its usefulness and functioned only as a prostitution and drug outlet, blighting its surroundings and neighbors.

Across Sepulveda, Fresh and Easy has closed, taking with it moldy produce and difficult checkouts. But sometimes I’d come here, and liked its convenience, its weird combination of English, Indian, Spanish and Asian foods, its overpriced milk, eggs and breads. And I miss that friendly manager who always smiled and helped me.

One Thanksgiving, about 2012, we bought our entire meal here and ate it back home with my mother, a pre-made, plastic topped collection of containers with sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries and turkey. My father had recently died, and my mother was to die two years later, and the holiday meal had a morose sadness intensified by the microwaved artificiality of our victuals.

Fresh and Easy is gone, but what remains are those walls and gates around it, and that big parking lot in front, and a reminder that even when there is no business, or no people, we will still live in an incarcerated city, a place where entrances and exits are controlled, and guarded from either imagined or real, chaos and crime.

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And those vast spaces of nothingness that are spread all over, those too are outdoor jail yards of lifelessness, neither urban or rural, human or natural.

These are the prisons that keep us captive and hold our imaginations and our existence hostage.

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