Panorama Diptych

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Even disposable plastic crap from China has a backstory. The story begins with petroleum.

It doesn’t end in the Pacoima Wash.  This is but a waystation. The metal parts, the gears, the chain and spokes will eventually end up at the Raymer Street scrap yard, where they will be compacted, dropped into a container and trucked to Long Beach, then shipped back to China.

The Chinese will melt it down and make something new for us to buy.

Maybe, as Americans, we should make stuff for ourselves again.  We’ve done it before.  People who work with their hands tend to value what they make. They don’t so readily throw it in the creek.

Bikestock Comes to the Valley

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Earlier this week I was concerned my fever dreams of bike-centric development for the Valley would founder on the shoals of low turnout.  Ours would be the first CicLaVia in which no one from the neighborhood showed up.  In my more cynical moments, the Valley can be reliably disappointing.

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It didn’t take long to see my concerns were unfounded.

Really unfounded.  For a few hours Ventura Blvd was Beijing, 1972.

For a few hours Ventura Blvd was Beijing, 1972.

Except with more dogs

Except with more dogs…

And Go Pro cameras

…and Go Pro cameras

And street dancers

Street dancers.

Whole families with sno-cones

Whole families with sno-cones

Everybody got their freak on

Everybody got their freak on

Cigar, Big Gulp and gold rims.  Enough said.

Cigar, Big Gulp and gold rims. The 818, tableau vivant.

Rails of Future Past

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In 2008 Los Angeles County passed Measure R, a half cent sales tax, dedicated to public transportation.  The tax was to fund 30 years of projects: freeways, bus lines and rail.

Thirty years.

Six years later, the Unseen Hands Which Have No Self Interest But Our Greater Good are back, with another half-cent sales tax,  Son of R, or Measure R2, to augment the first one.  That would bring sales tax close to a dime on the dollar.

Why so soon?

Condensed version: They (UHWHNSIBOGG, inc.) spent most of the money already, borrowing against all those pennies to be collected decades into the future, to build stuff now.  On the Westside, mostly.  Like the Expo Line.  Now they need more of our future pennies to borrow against.

To soften up Valley voters, who are still waiting to reap tangible benefits of the last mordita,  billboards are going up around the Valley this week, touting the shiny rail projects to come, here, up in the Valley.  Soon.  Just as soon as we pass another tax increase.  “We’re building the future right now.”  We promise.

There is exactly one transportation project under serious consideration in the Valley, on Van Nuys Blvd. It might take the form of light rail. Or it might be a trolley. Then again it might take the form of a dedicated bus line up the median.  Then again it might merely consist of lane re-striping and synchronized traffic signals for buses running along curb lines all the way up to San Fernando.

Rail to San Fernando? This sounds oddly familiar.   Let’s take a trip down memory lane:

The Red Car, in Valentino's Day

The Red Car, in Valentino’s Day

In 1925, before talking movies, you could ride a trolley from the Mission all the way to Long Beach. You could ride as far east as Pomona. As far south as Santa Ana. You could ride West from downtown along Venice Blvd, to the beach, then along the coast to Redondo.  You could pack a picnic basket and ride to the top of Mt. Lowe and take in the view. Watts was a major junction. Amoco Oil had its own spur east of downtown, as did a place called Wingfoot off Slauson Blvd.  Panorama City was known as Broadmoor (!) and one realizes now the sweeping curve on to Parthenia St. in front of the El Super is paved atop old rail lines, as is the other sweeping curve on to Sepulveda right in front of Green Arrow.

Pacific Electric Trolley, 1947

Pacific Electric Trolley, 1947

I once worked a Habitat for Humanity project re-habbing an old boarding house in Venice which served as a getaway for women who worked in factories downtown.  They would tie a ribbon in their hair and ride the trolley out to the beach for the weekend. It was endowed by a benefactor who felt women who toiled in sweatshops were entitled to sun and light and space and joy, now and then. There was no charge to stay.

Why is this not a bike path?

Why is this not a bike path already?

In the spirit of CicLaVia, which is coming to the Valley on Sunday, I have a modest proposal.

Perhaps some of these billions in bonded future pennies,  a sliver of them, the spare change of our future change, the tip jar to the $15 lattes we will be buying 20 years hence, could be put to use developing greenway bike paths along the LA River System and its tributaries, the Pacoima and Tujunga Wash, Bull and Aliso Creek.  Here’s a little civic secret: the pavement is already there.  It’s  half-built already.

Because while much of the old Pacific Electric of Raymond Chandler Los Angeles may return in a modernist form on the Westside and Downtown, the only streetcar we will see in the Valley is the one on the billboard. The apartment blocks of Langdon Street will not be known again as Mission Acres.  That City is a memory.

Memory, to paraphrase John Le Carre, is a whore.

A Buddhist Gift

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There is something unintentionally discursive to riding a bike in L.A.

An absence of bike lanes in most of the city and nearly the entirety of the Valley means there is seldom a direct line between destinations. Nor is there, practically speaking, a direct zig-zag between points on the grid.

There exists in state law, but not in practice, a curtilage of three feet between cyclists and cars sharing a lane on city streets.  In a bizarro Los Angeles where the streets were ten feet wider, this might work.  In theory.  Some of the time.  In the el mundo real ciudad de Angelis one runs with the bulls even when one sprints down Sepulveda in full tuck and with great purpose.  Even in the Valley, on its abundant boulevards, there is not room for car, plus bike, plus three feet between the two, and this assumes a rather sporting cyclist gamely willing to play Russian Roulette with side view mirrors.

So the bicyclists get squeezed up on to the sidewalks at the choke points of the commute. Pedestrians are aggrieved when they see cyclists bearing down on them or feel them brushing past, gears whirring, as they take a post-prandial constitutional.

I will stipulate bikers can sometimes be jerks, but usually they’re just trying to stay out of traction. They’re trying to avoid this:

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So one learns the hard way (flipping over a car hood and picking asphalt out of one’s scab is instructive) that to safely go straight one goes left-right-left.  The pain-free route between two points can sometimes be one which leads you into residential streets. But even by-ways offer their own hazard, and there are days like today when a prudent, prophylactic left-right-left-right-left-left can still land one in a tangle of fuchsia bougainvillea thorns, bleeding from the forearms and cursing an indifferent getaway car.  Even on a residential street, way off the boulevard.

Now imagine re-mounting the bike and seeing the spire of a Buddhist pagoda peeking over the flowers, and a monk beckoning you into his driveway.  Like Alice through the Looking Glass you follow him through the gap in the hedge and you see this:

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And this:

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And he doesn’t speak a word of English and he smiles enigmatically and he gestures for you to walk through the garden and visit the statuary. He doesn’t care about the camera. He doesn’t care if you are Presbyterian. He doesn’t even ask. A half hour later, you get back on the bike, but you’ve forgotten your route. Then you remember it, but it no longer has the same purpose. So you abandon it.

You’re not going somewhere any longer, you’re just pedaling.

Pedaling is joy.  Pedaling is youth.  Pedaling is liberty, glad and big.  You pedal pedal pedal left-right-left-left-left-right-left-right-right-right-left-who-cares which direction. Because pedaling is your breath.

Silently, you thank the monk.  Pedaling is a Buddhist gift.

Echo Park Afternoon

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Man, I hate driving back to the Valley after a day like this, and what a lovely day it was.

Wait, what am I saying? I love strip malls! And dreary boulevards!

Let’s not forget fat people at Costco, living in their sweatpants!

But darling, don’t you like owning our own house?

Right now,  I’d rather rent and be one of the cool people again.   Just for a month.  

But what about the animals?  Where would they live? What would become of the garden?

What garden?  Hipsters don’t need gardens.  They have craft cocktails and art events to which they can bike.  They live in a world with actual bike lanes.

You’re being silly.

I’m being true to myself. I’ve been lying to myself for a decade. I see clearly now.

I think we had too much sangria.

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Even the ugly buildings are interesting. Look.

You can paint eyeballs on the side of the house if it makes you feel better.

Echo Park is my mistress.

You have no mistress.  And you like having lots of space.

I don’t need space. I could sleep on Allison and Marcus’s couch.  

And what would you do for food?

Who needs food? I could be a breathatarian.  I could trade my worldly goods for bike tools.

Darling, bike lanes are first world problems.  So are aesthetics.

What’s with this traffic? Shouldn’t we be home already?

Squeaky Wheel

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Last week, in the run-up to the city council election, I posted of the ongoing problem of the crackhead encampment blocking the Bear Mural on Roscoe Blvd.

Two days later, the crackheads were gone.

Whisked away, as though by some kind of municipal rapture.  Only tagging and little heaps of discarded clothing remained.

I’m not sure how I feel about this.

To have a cranky blog post turn the gears of the City machinery in a helpful direction is…satisfying on the one hand.  On the other….really? Really? This has been going on for over a year. I tag Nury Martinez’s name on election eve and suddenly somebody who matters picks up the phone and calls Street Services?

Okay, I choose to be grateful.  Full props to whoever made the call, whatever the motivation.

I have keyboard, hear me squeak.

Samaritan

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The man on the right fell off the curb, tipping his walker and its contents into Van Nuys Blvd.  A cavalcade of cars turning left off Roscoe weaved around him without stopping.

The man in the blue shirt was heading in the opposite direction. He left his car in the street to render assistance.

There was a lot of angry honking.

For one stoplight cycle, these were the two most hated men in Los Angeles.