A jazz funeral for Old Blacktop


Our neighborhood was nailed together in the summer of 1948.  There were three basic floor plans, no landscaping, no insulation, no air conditioning, single bathrooms, galvanized steel pipes, primitive 3-circuit Zinsco electrical panels serving a meager two outlets per room. No less a personage than Bing Crosby himself declared it to be a paradise on earth. WWII vets and their sway-backed pregnant wives scurried in with gratitude.  Not long after the City of Los Angeles severed all ties of obligation, and for the next 66 years people paid their assessed taxes and fees and only once, to the best I can discover, have the streets been repaved.  Until this morning, when heavy equipment rolled in, starring this truly amazing machine, which strips away the first two inches of asphalt, grinds it into gravel, then spits it up a conveyor belt and into a truck, all while moving at a walking pace.



The Magic Button and the Hopeful Button

A street person's affirmation
A panhandler’s affirmation

Walking into CVS pharmacy on Sepulveda not long ago I was spare-changed by a panhandling couple at the front doors. I shunned them, as is my wont. (Mrs. UpintheValley always gives, to my consternation) Another person entering the store gave a dollar and they scurried inside after us, proceeding directly to the lotto machine. Or I should say, she scurried in. He followed, admonishing her for her profligacy: ‘Baby, no.  We need this money for bus fare.  C’mon. This is the third time tonight.’ Her: ‘I know what I’m doing.’ Him: ‘One dollar. One dollar only.’  She played five dollars.  Jackpot. Him: ‘How much? Twenty? Fifty? A hundred?  Holy Shit!’  The cashier handed her $200, while he hovered excitedly: ‘Can we get a carton of smokes? Can we get a frozen pizza?’ Her:  ‘I want to score.’  She called the dealer on her cell phone in the parking lot, while he continued to plead the case for at least one pack of smokes, while they were flush. In its own way, it was an entertaining domestic scene.

Jogging in Lake Balboa, I saw a woman who dressed like she might be going out to work the boulevard disappear down into the brush along the LA River.  She left this cardboard sign on the sidewalk at Woodley and Burbank.  In a given day, what does $100 represent?  What would she buy with that she couldn’t with $20?  Why is $20 magical, but the larger sum hopeful? If savings aren’t part of the picture, what doors of comfort open with the ‘hopeful’ jackpot? If you’re not buying comfort, are you buying time? Do you take a day off?  If you’re not buying time are you buying peace with yourself,  peace from the burden of the next $20 problem?

A panhandler's schtick
A panhandler’s schtick