Urbanization encroaches, but the Valley retains an unextinguished surplus of beauty, lying in wait, ignored, ready to poke its head up to say hello when you are busy grousing about the world.
Turn the corner and there she is, primeval and glorious. At moments like this a life ensconced in 1950s architecture has a cranky kind of charm, considering the alternatives.
The vertical Valley is coming north and west one building at a time, leapfrogging blocks, out of scale with its surroundings. Godzilla stalking NoHo. Kong on Sepulveda. It’s the tribute 2021 pays to 1950 to keep what we have.
A small but spirited Recall George Gascon rally took place at Topanga and Victory yesterday, in quiet response to the noisy lawlessness of 2021.
Is this the mustard seed of a Prop. 13-style rebellion? A beginning of the return to broken windows policing? Or a doomed last stand by a declining demographic? I have no idea. After the past year I can’t trust my political instincts when it comes to predicting events in Los Angeles.
Shootings are up 73%. We don’t enforce property crime or public nuisance crime at all, so any numbers on that front are meaningless. No one is allowed to say so, but there is a historical connection between the two.
We are in the midst of our Great Unlearning. Or Re-Learning, depending on your view.
Note, but a year ago Jackie Lacey was on the verge of reelection in the jungle primary for District Attorney -Gascon a distant second place with 28% of the vote- when BLM activists began showing up outside her Granada Hills house in the middle of the night, chanting, knocking on her door. After weeks of this, her husband David emerged at 4:30 AM flourishing a weapon, ordering everyone off his porch and property. An orgy of sanctimonious media coverage ensued. Menacing!With a deadly weapon! Jackie Lacey, Crenshaw raised, a member of that disappearing breed of law and order Democrat, was recast as Wife of Dirty Harry. The Times saw to it she never recovered and now we have this George Soros-backed carpetbagger from San Francisco making decisions as to where the societal guardrails will be placed in L.A. Apparently they will be in El Segundo.
The recall rally took place across the street from the now defunct Promenade at Woodland Hills. Which invites a question: what if the restoration of law and order that brought people back to the cities is destined to become an artifact of the 90’s, like the traditional indoor mall, or Dawson’s Creek?
The same tech companies that devoured the mall also de-platform critics of BLM. Make of that what you will.
The final remaining tenant is the AMC theater. Like Macy’s, AMC may also be on its way to the graveyard of commerce. You can stream unlimited programming, so there’s that. But there also has been a decline in public decorum and fewer people willing to sit in close proximity with the unhousebroken. Cinema is becoming either an evening of Netflix on the comfy couch or $30 tickets at iPic in a posh zip code far from the unruly.
I saw The Dark Knight here. A packed house and a most un-woke film. It was so much better as a bonding experience with strangers. We walked out of the theater together knowing we had been part of something special.
America was another country then. Same people, different set of rules.
Things we’ve been told are true and cannot be questioned:
The solution to drug addiction and mental illness is free housing.Homeless housing cannot be a Quonset hut. It must cost $500K per unit.
Looting is speech.
Not putting handcuffs on black people will lead to better outcomes for the black community.
State mandated inactivity will protect you from the Wuhan virus.
Every infectious disease from Lyme to Ebola is named for its geographic origin, but Wuhan must be called Covid, because racism.
Also, disagreeing with the CCP is racist.
Disagreeing with the diktats of corporations wishing to do business with the CCP…extra racist.
You can catch the Wuhan virus walking by yourself outdoors in the sunshine without a mask.
You can catch it from door knobs. Everything must be de-sanitized multiple times a day.
Everyone must stand six feet apart, masked and mute. No large public gatherings.
Unless it’s a BLM rally. Or looting. Then the science doesn’t apply.
The first cases emerged from inside the Wuhan Institute of Virology, but a lab leak hypothesis is a conspiracy theory.
Only crazy Trump people would say such a thing. De-platform them all.
Dr. Fauci would never fund gain-of-function research at the Wuhan lab.
Okay, so he did. It would have been a “dereliction of duty” to have not done so.
But Ivermectin is unsafe as a prophylaxis against Wuhan.
If you say otherwise in Senate testimony YouTube will de-platform you. Because Merck.
The limits of free speech should be proscribed by organizations and unelected bodies outside U.S soil. Also, corporations.
Merck administered 4 billion doses of Ivermectin globally while under patent. Now in the public domain, it is ‘unsafe’.
Taiwan is not a nation but a rogue province of China.
Just ask John Cena.
A little something YouTube will not be taking down.
They’re the experts on truth. Not you.
This diminution of citizenship has crept up on us quickly, if imperceptibly. Our willingness to defer to authority for the benefit of all has been weaponized by forces that recognize no limiting principle. Ask yourself: why are you being told to apologize all the time now? Why are the parameters of acceptable speech disqualifying what was the majority opinion day before yesterday? Who is doing this? Why have we ceded that authority? The slippery slope pundits referenced when American politics was vanilla and operated within recognizable 20 yard lines? Yeah, that’s gone now. We’re at the bottom of the ice crevice, with a bump on our head, looking up at a sliver of sky, but we can’t find purchase. The only way out is through.
What does “through” mean, in this post-Constitutional moment? I’m not sure. The picture at the top of the page I took in Mendocino county, walking near the Eel River on a road with less than hundred people in an area as large as the San Fernando Valley. This Little Free Library stood at a crossroads between the river and a field, an artifact of Jeffersonian America. I thought of all the Little Free Libraries around Los Angeles, and the universal desire to share knowledge with strangers. Therein perhaps is a path forward. To be anti-fragile as a nation begins with personal anti-fragility. Thinking for oneself, the way the Founders intended. De-coupling one’s understanding of Truth from one’s curated feed. Of no longer being a prisoner to an algorithm. Returning to paper, if you will.
Drove up to Mendocino County last week, stopping along the way in Baywood on the Central Coast to visit an old friend, a refugee from Echo Park. We went to the local alehouse for charcuterie and libation.
Here, California on a plate. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit up front how awesome this was. The napkin is covering some truly sublime sausage. We basked in the sea breeze off the bay, chatted with the locals, scarfed the finger foods, swilled the grog and lived as the anointed for an hour. In our munificence we forgave each other our sins and toasted the health of all.
California cuisine: grab every tasty idea from around the world, source it locally, then serve it on a patio close to the ocean.
San Luis Obispo County is where white people and their dogs land when they leave L.A but can’t bear relocating to a red state. You get to pretend you’re still in Venice, but at half the price.
The charcuterie plate put me in an exploratory frame of mind. In the morning I decided to make the rest of the journey to San Francisco on farm roads in the valley. The big one. The San Joaquin, where the food comes from. I cut over on the 41, a highway much more crowded with cars than I remember it from my motorcycle days in college, then meandered off into farm roads, zig-zagging in a northerly way.
It is difficult to overstate the sheer scale of industrial agriculture out there. The vastness of the fields. The monotony of endless rows of nut trees and grapevines. You keep thinking, just up the road at the next little name on the map, the real valley will reveal itself…and it will be a charming farmstead with organic honey…and then you get to Raisin City…
…and the one commercial structure has bars over every window and is out of business. You can get snacks at the gas station, and probably buy meth from the kid on his bike riding in pointless circles in the parking lot, but you can’t get a sandwich. County after county, there is really nothing but fast food trucked in, frozen, then fried, fuel for the laborers.
All is utility and practicality. The San Joaquin has no retail face. A gigantic factory of food production, charmless and unironic, it smiles at no one. Anyone not behind the wheel of a farm implement drives 70 mph on two-lane roads.
When restaurants on the coast say locally sourced, this is what they’re talking about. When I worked at Whole Foods the rule was: “within five hours of L.A.” When they say grass-fed, they mean ground up cornstalks unloaded from a feed hauler at a CAFO.
Poverty is front and center in the San Joaquin Valley. There is no avoiding the subject. It’s like pre-civil rights Mississippi out there. No white people toil in the fields. When the anointed in the cities argue for open borders, they are speaking in favor of corporate interests. Oligarchy on a plate, in this, the bluest of states.
A permanent flow of cheap labor robs all workers of bargaining power, regardless of legal status. This extends beyond agriculture into other realms of the service economy. There is very little progressive, or just, about any of this. But it’s happening somewhere over the hill, in Uglyville, to people who know nobody and nobody knows.
Would you be a cop today? If you were a strapping young man or woman with a strong sense of civic duty, would you sign up for a career? Would you encourage your child? If you were already a cop, in say, Los Angeles, would you put in for a transfer to a rural jurisdiction or take early retirement? If you are mid-career and the rural departments are full up, and you’re stuck in LA waiting out your 20, how proactive are you going to be? If theft under $1000, mugging and assault are now misdemeanors (provided no gun is used), how much effort are you going to exert chasing violators?
Police encounter uncooperative suspects in a state of acute drug intoxication every day. There are protocols for this. Those protocols were followed in the case of George Floyd. Up until the last three minutes of the encounter, that is. The prosecution conceded as much at trial. Now Derek Chauvin has been convicted of murder. Not negligence. Not a failure to exercise caution. Murder, of a man with advanced arterio-sclerosis and a lethal level of fentanyl in his system. A man who had overdosed on fentanyl several months prior and for which he was hospitalized for five days. A man who left two chewed fentanyl tablets in the back seat of the police car with his DNA on them. Nine minutes with a knee across the shoulder blades is not going to induce cardiac arrest in a healthy person. Don’t believe me? Try it at home.
Chauvin inspires little empathy from me. He was negligent. I worry about the badge, not the man. I worry about the thin blue line, forgive the cliche, separating civilization from barbarism.
What happens to police work now? For starters, physical contact with violent subjects will drop away to nothing. Unless you’re charging at someone with a knife. Oh, wait…
After Chauvin, cops will no longer be proactive. They will drive by and wave. They will show up to take statements and file incident reports. Protection? Not so much. The broken-windows model, the one that transformed every shitty realm in LA, the policy which allowed the historical neighborhoods to rediscover their former glory, the policy that put equity into the hands of so many working class people, is now inoperative. We are entering the realm of No Handcuffs for Violent People. How does this effect Van Nuys? Too early to tell. How about the mortgage-holders in the neighborhoods in proximity to DTLA? Not good. Not good at all.
Mark Zuckerberg underwrites a private army worthy of Pablo Escobar. There are 6,000 security people on the Facebook payroll, $18 million per year dedicated to his detail alone. There is an escape chute in his office that goes to an underground garage and a waiting vehicle, staffed by ex-Secret Service and military people. He maintains this posture of maximum deterrence while living in Palo Alto, the least diverse and safest city in California. All while donating millions to the Racial Justice Accelerator Fund, which backs BLM, George Gascon, and various pro-crime initiatives, including the effort to de-felonize mugging and assault down here in L.A. He’s not alone in this. Jack Dorsey, Laurene Powell Jobs, Mackenzie Scott, Dustin Moskowitz, Patty Quillan, all heavy donors to The Cause. (That’s Twitter, Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Netflix, if you were wondering)
Lets unpack this. The wealthiest cohort in California is funding political street violence and altering laws that allow a very diverse population -lesbian Wiccan schoolteachers to chain-smoking Armenian bodyshop owners- to amicably share space. Truly remarkable, when you think about it, 17 million people speaking 43 different languages can share L.A. roads every morning, conduct commerce, work amongst one other despite incompatible and mutually exclusive understandings of the cosmos, socialize and dine, with a minimum of friction. This is possible due to agreed upon societal guardrails, developed over centuries. Los Angeles is the anti-Lebanon, the living rebuke to the idea Diversity+Proximity=War.
What if Palo Alto decides: let’s burn it all down in the name of perfection. That couldn’t really happen, right? Only in dystopian fiction…
Well….a small sliver of the population provides most of the funding for left wing causes. A handful of editors and producers at the Times and the networks set the narrative of our news feed. A microscopic percentage of the people who work in the entertainment industry decide what programs and films are greenlit. A tiny subset of administrators and admissions officers can impose Critical Race Theory on the education system by fiat, determining who is allowed to ascend into the professional classes. Five people and their advisors control the platforms on which freedom of speech is exercised in America and practically speaking, speech itself.
What if the Wuhan virus was the second most impactful event of 2020? What if the big reveal is just how small The Clerisy is and how ruthlessly it intends to impose its will?
The Chauvin verdict was made with a rioters standing ready outside the courthouse, and racially motivated looting and arson taking place in Minneapolis. With our very own Maxine Waters on the ground (behind police protection) calling for “confrontation” should the jury return a verdict for less than murder. One is obliged to forget a whole lot of American history to believe this ends well.
Apple has an ongoing crowdsourced billboard campaign promoting the capabilities of the iPhone. This year, in keeping with the moment, they chose black photographers utilizing black subjects. Fair enough. Take a look at the photo at the top of the page. This is what greets you as you enter West Hollywood, our most heavily looted neighborhood of 2020. This is not happenstance. TBWA/MediaArtsLab chose this photo out of countless others, and chose to place it at Doheny and Santa Monica, on behalf of the world’s third largest corporation and its major shareholder, Laurene Powell Jobs. This man, it says, has license to punch you. Little people, take it and like it.
God bless Vancouver. Californians were once like this. Now they’re in Texas. Not all of them, praise the lord. Some of us are still around. We keep the memory of liberty with us like a beloved and well-worn pair of work boots we can’t throw away. Rise and shine now, from our stony sleep.
How long did they think a free people were going to accept this? Now that warm weather is here again and we are approaching herd immunity, oh, how the little Commissars of Public Good, the unaccountable issuers of edicts desire this belle epoque of Maximum Karen to continue.
We will have a vaccine before the end of 2020, said the President Who Shall Not Be Named. Nonsense, declaimed the doctors of Twitter medicine on cable news. The week after the election it was announced we had two. Everyone will be vaccinated by April, said President W.S.N.B.N. Oh please, said the blue checkmarked Experts. Not a chance. Fact check! This week Biden announced 90% of Americans will have a vaccine available by April 19th, within five miles of where they live.
There is a preference cascade about to happen. People are on the verge of de-masking themselves. Without permission. With the edifice of Soviet-level disinformation crumbling, what is Karen, Inc. to do? Hmmm…oh I know, new strains! Mutations, from dark and distant continents. Not scary enough? Try this. The vaccine may not work after six months, a year…some point in the future. If everything just re-opens, how will we incentivize people to do what we say?
A passport. Yes, a vaccine passport, for safety. To enter all places of business. To travel. To attend school or have dinner. To partake of America, first display your checkmark of good citizenship.
The architecture is already in place, on your phone. So convenient! Now the vaccine is no longer tied to health, it is tied to freedom. Take it away, Naomi Wolf:
“…it’s not about virus, it’s the data. The vaccine is an excuse, a Trojan Horse, to get you to agree to a platform that is ALREADY 360 degree surveillance, geolocation, turns society off and on.
“Once this platform is ‘mandated’ you can no longer opt in or out of out as you do when you sign ‘I agree’ to terms and conditions on a website. You’ll be FORCED to ‘agree’ in order to work, socialize, travel. Then any functionality – social credit system that turns PayPal off..”
Naomi is a lefty. I can’t tell you how refreshing this is. One of the unexpected oddities of 2020 was the exodus of dissent liberals from woke media to the Substack platform: Glenn Greenwald, Matt Taibbi, Andrew Sullivan and Bari Weiss…to make a fearless witness against the perfidy of woke cancel culture.
Remember, we off-gas data from our phones perpetually. Think of your digital ghost as a form of opposition research against yourself. The virtual You is in the hands of five corporations with a clear political agenda and a willingness to act on it. They have already assembled a social credit score for you in all but name. They have used it to make money off you for years, now they will use it against you to implement restraints on behalf of government bureaucrats. Restraints which the government is prohibited from enacting.
This is the passport, ladies and gentlemen. When they ask, show them this.
We have reached the one year anniversary of 15 Days to Flatten the Curve. Which, let’s be honest, has been a nationwide exercise in poor people delivering pleasures to the wealthy and privileged. Indefinitely.
A year of “journalists” berating the little people on behalf of billionaires and government workers and the professional classes.
A year of dhimmitude and mask theater and gaslighting.
A year of Karen screaming at people going about their business, outdoors, bothering no one.
Having surrendered sovereignty to unaccountable and hypocritical actors, how does one bloom in the new Post-Constitutional America™?
I think about this when I encounter trees growing in confined spaces. Some species do better than others. They reach deeper into the soil. They break the concrete around them. Consider this liberty in action. Reach deeper. Don’t ask permission.
The alternative looks like this.
Be anti-fragile. Bloom from the weephole in the scorching concrete. Don’t ask permission. Stop submitting. Don’t be a prisoner. Reach for the light. Take your mask off.
What is it about vintage cars that we can’t let go? We scour junkyards. We burnish the metal with our bare hands as lovingly as we would polish a fertility goddess for luck.
Observe…a Mid-Century moment of Zen in the form of a 1957 Chevy Bel-Air Townsman. A gas guzzler before we had a phrase for it. Futuristic, yet simultaneously maternal. Like driving a sofa. When City Hall planned the post-war Valley street grid it had the Townsman in mind. Fins and chrome and low rise development as far as the eye can see. As she made a left on Sepulveda seventy years of suburban landscape condensed to a single frame and very briefly fell into a rare decadal alignment.
I drive a Toyota hybrid, a nearly silent machine of flawless efficiency and lightweight, plyable materials, perfectly suited to its time and purpose. The day the battery system ceases to work it will get compacted and placed on a barge to China and I won’t miss it. There’s no chance I’ll be looking for a used one in 2050 to occupy me in retirement.
And then there’s this…nest of 1970s Pontiacs stashed in Granada Hills. A fire swept through in 2018, scorching the cars beyond restoration, yet the carci remain like a murder of crows, waiting to be summoned to life by Stephen King or a landscape installation by Christo or a post-America where nomadic clans roam the Hobbesian landscape chaining the bodies of their defeated enemies to the hood like a 12-point buck. The owner isn’t calling the scrapyard. Why would he? Form, not function, is the obsession.
Looking down from Google Earth one finds hoarder yards with fifty cars stashed behind the fence, the remnant of a custom car culture of which the Valley was once the apotheosis: George Barris, Don Beebe and The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine Flake Streamline Baby. The cars won’t be moved until the owner dies and his quarreling heirs build an ADU. Unless…
In 2016 a man in Illinois named Chris Carter saw this picture on Facebook and recognized the van from its appearance in the 1979 drive-in classic Van Nuys Blvd., a film released a year before he was born. For a year he sleuthed online, crowdsourcing its location.
“I just couldn’t get it out of my mind. To see that van abandoned with a tree on it, and to know its former glory, how nice that it looked, how it was in a movie … I knew I had to do something.”
Since 1992 it had been parked by an access road on a bluff outside Lancaster. Carter drove to California with a flatbed trailer, hooked it up, returned to his body shop in Illinois, lovingly restored it, then drove it back to California for a celebratory cruise down Van Nuys Blvd., only to be charged with auto theft.
The “owner” of the Wild Cherry van, a woman named Laura Godin, had once cruised, traveled, camped and lived in the van as a young bride in the early 80s. Though she not registered it in nearly three decades and abandoned it on rural property she rarely visited, and had no plans to restore it, she couldn’t let it go, either.
What followed is what happens when the restoration impulse and the hoarder impulse lay irreconcilable claims to the same assemblage of metal.
Carter could have created a replica from parts of other 1975 Chevy Vans, but didn’t. Like Indiana Jones, he had to find the relic and bring it to the museum. Twice.
There was a time when we built muscle cars in Van Nuys at one end of the boulevard, sold them at the other end, and in between had an unregulated cruising culture. Now we have road diets and traffic calming measures and preposterously long red lights designed to make driving so unpalatable we will sell our cars and ride trolley lines that won’t be built for five years.
We won’t recreate Valley 1.0 but we can cling to the artifacts of memory.
Two years ago, UTLA went out on strike for a 6% pay increase and Vista Middle School was selected as one of the sites for a picket line. As a neighbor and husband of a teacher, I walked up there in an act of skeptical solidarity, to see how the shakedown of Los Angeles taxpayers was progressing.
What struck me at the time was the amount of honking support they received from passing cars in working-class Latino Van Nuys.
The outcome was preordained. The union banged the spoon and L.A. surrendered everything it wanted. Plus seconds. And dessert. What followed was Soviet-era astroturfed propaganda from UTLA bathing in the adulation of a grateful public, paid for by…the same public, who had no say in the matter.
Fast forward to 2020, and to the Wuhan virus. In a time of shared sacrifice and difficulty, guess who didn’t want to report to work and had the power not to do so and to be paid anyway?
Only 36% of students in L.A. Unified regularly engaged in distance learning, i.e. turned in homework and completed tests, i.e., received an education. This is desertion in the face of the enemy. It would be bad to do this to kids for a semester. For three semesters in a row, across two academic years?
Suffice to say, this is not what schools are doing in China. Or Korea. Or Europe. Or Texas. This is not what is happening at the prep school where Mrs. UpintheValley teaches.
What if Wuhan isn’t killing people so much as breaking America as we once understood it? What if the pandemic is a political toxin in medical drag?
To judge it by its works, if you were told a year ago that one-third of small businesses would be put to death by government policy, would you have believed me? What if I said the richest men in America would see their fortunes expand by 50%, also due to government policy? That the educational divide between public and private schools would become unbridgeable? That the tectonic plates between those who could telecommute and the service class who delivered their comforts would shift to the point they no longer touched? That the chief beneficiary of these changes would be China itself, which would exercise a veto over the discussion of pandemic origins by dangling the carrot of access to its markets? That the infrastructure of think tanks and academic departments which might serve as a bulwark of market critique would be revealed to be funded by China? That Zoom would become indispensable to our work life and TikTok embedded in our play and both would be Chinese owned? That teenagers in Wuhan would be throwing Lollapalooza-sized pool parties while Americans cowered in masks in the outdoors, fearing a scold of Karens. That bureaucrats would presume extra-constitutional powers. That the first amendment would become fully fungible to corporate diktats. That every cable network would maintain a death clock that magically disappeared with the departure of Trump, the first president to renegotiate trade agreements with China in terms more favorable to American workers, if only slightly.
That’s a lot of damage for 12 months. We can’t do much about geopolitical arrangements, but we can do something about Vista Middle School. We know a few things we didn’t know a year ago. Children are not at risk and are low vectors of transmission. Teachers are not retail workers. They can temp check every child who enters the building. They can demand plexiglass barriers and daily disinfection of classrooms. They can also accept the reciprocal obligations of public service to the working-class Van Nuysians who supported them when they were banging the spoon for more money.