The Golden Age of Gasoline.


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In the 1920s, fanciful, imaginative, inventive gas stations were built all over the Southland.

They mined every era in history, borrowing minarets from the Middle East, Chinese pagodas and southwestern adobe ranch houses.

But the most memorable and dazzling ones looked forward to the future, sweeping in with illuminated glass signage, polished steel pumps and graphically inventive designs.

Attendants wore clean uniforms, and proudly serviced cars, luring drivers in with not only prices, but entertainment.

One station offered an all female staff, the other clothed their workers in jodphurs.

Comic book characters like Tarzan, dinosaurs from the pre-historic age, and Pegasus from Greek mythology, all gathered to sell gasoline.

One hundred years later we see that the people on the front lines in clean uniforms were the public face of a dirty business, one that has led the planet Earth into endless wars of terrorism, despotism, the melting of the icebergs and the degradation of our oceans, rivers and air. We are still fighting over oil, even as it swallows us up from the pipeline plains of Alberta to the violent sands of Arabia, even as its toxic vapors diminish human, animal and plant life in every corner of the globe. Fracking into rock for oil makes earthquakes in Oklahoma. But its addiction is unending. Everyone wants oil, from the warriors of ISIS to the kid in his 1988 Honda on his way to Valley College.

Our price for a cheap ride to the nail salon ends in the extinction of nature.

But for thirty cents a gallon, a family in Los Angeles once had a joy ride on the smooth road, going from shopping center to beach with the top down. And those days are gone forever.

Photos from the USC Digital Archives.

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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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.

Raymer-LA River USA Gasoline Farmer's Ranch Market Raymer-Kester

 

“Almost Lost Her….”


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(Postcard courtesy of Valley Relics)

Assisting Tommy Gelinas of Valley Relics in his cataloging of unique and historic items related to the San Fernando Valley, I came across this June 1974 postcard sent from Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys to a family in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

“My Dearest Ones,

Sorry I haven’t wrote sooner but so worried and upset over Mother. Almost lost her. Her pulse was dropping down to 15 from time to time. Then a week ago last Sunday she had a heart attack in the hospital. A week ago today they did surgery and put a pace maker in. She looks great and feeling so much better. If all goes well she will go to my place a week from today.

Love you.

Edie and Jim”

The medical center, still standing but greatly enlarged at 15107 Vanowen St., is described as a “unique circular medical center, located in the San Fernando Valley.”

Incident at Wendy’s


This morning, as I drove through Wendy’s parking lot on my way to LA Fitness, I saw a man lying face down on the parking lot asphalt.

I stopped my car and asked him if he was all right. He barely responded.

Not knowing whether he had overdosed, been stabbed, shot, or merely collapsed, I called 9-1-1.

Within minutes the LAPD showed up, followed by the LAFD.

What follows is, in my opinion, a fine example of professionalism demonstrated by law and safety officers.