Consider this urban pastoral, this friendly Sunday afternoon soccer game under the power lines on Whitnall. Inter-racial. Inter-gender. Inter-age group. Featuring accents of Latin America, Asia and the British Isles. As I walked past, I thought: this looks like it was assembled by a casting director. Los Angeles doesn’t really work like this, except in commercials.
Then I realized I was in Burbank.
Now turn around, face north, across Burbank Blvd, into North Hollywood. This is what LA did with the same patch of ground. Across the street.
How does a world-class city get away with this?
The People Who Run Things have an answer to that question. We’re broke! Los Angeles is a pauper. A patch of grass, in North Hollywood? What are we, made of money? We can’t even pay our bills around here!
Okay then, riddle me this:
The City is in the process of dismantling the Sixth Street Bridge, one of the iconic, indispensable structures, perhaps the most photographed location after the Hollywood sign, and replacing it, at a cost of half a billion dollars, with this:
The purported reason for this insertion of Dubai-like aesthetics into the downtown landscape is concrete. The original structure (1932) has received a propitious diagnosis of Alkai Silica Reaction. Earthquake vulnerability dictates the bridge must be replaced. Or so we’re told.
There’s just one problem. Why is it, of the dozen similar bridges built downtown in the 1930’s, with the same concrete mixing process, the only one which has received this diagnosis of ‘concrete cancer’ is the one which goes directly to the Arts District? Why does the urgency to do something about it correspond to the arrival of the Nabisco Lofts? Why is it being replaced by a playground for people who buy groceries at Urban Radish?
If the city is too broke for a grassy field in North Hollywood, how is it managing to pay for this? Just asking.
No matter how bad/annoying/bloating/unhappy your Thanksgiving was, alternatively, you could be living on pavement under a tarp in the shadow of Living Spaces. The locus of your holiday concern could involve getting the cat back.
How many people live under that tarp? How many kittens? What happened at 6 PM, when someone’s back was turned? We called the number, but it was disconnected.
There was a shirtless man waist high in the tarps this afternoon. He told me someone did find the kitten, across the street at the gas station, then took her home to his apartment. When he saw the signs, he told the squatters he would bring her back. When he got home from work, the cat had escaped again and was roaming his apartment complex at Valerio and Lennox..
The Tarp Man is going to put up some new signs, near where the cat was last seen.
“God be with you,” I told him.
“God is always with me,” he replied.
He wore a ring on his wedding finger.
Now let’s all enjoy our third piece of leftover pie.
In the late 90’s, there was a film called Two Days in The Valley. Predictably, most of the film took place off Mulholland Drive. In mansions. The few flatland scenes featured a bearded Jeff Daniels ranting defensively that it “was a nice place to live,” as though the proposition were very much in doubt.
The Kardashians claim residency in the Valley, by way of Calabasas.
Frank Zappa enshrined the eponymous Valley Girl in the pop lexicon from his redoubt in the Encino Hills.
Free Fallin, the closest thing we have to a local anthem since Bing Crosby, was written by Tom Petty in a post-heroin haze in Hollywood. The jump off phrase: ‘It’s a long day, living in Reseda, there’s a freeway running through the yard,’ was chosen randomly for its imagery and meter, not for geographical coherence.
If you cross the Sepulveda pass on your drive home, that is sufficient, in our cultural understanding, to be Valli-fied. In politics, if your district touches any ground north of Mulholland you “represent” us. A study of legislative maps is an exercise is residency-avoidance. Richard Alarcon, holder of one of the few seats wholly contained within the flatlands proper, managed the trick of never living here for years.
While the Valley serves on television as a perpetual stand-in for everything from the midwest to contemporary Appalachia, you have to go back to Fast Times at Ridgemont High for something approaching an accurate depiction of where and how people live here.
I’m going to make a ruling. The Valley begins at Ventura. If you have a view, by definition you have no claim to Valley citizenship. The real Valley is a place where nobody who matters lives and nobody knows. Except the 1.5 million of us who do. We’re the orphaned colony of Sacramento and City Hall. And yet, Los Angeles would grind to an apocalyptic halt without us, even for one day.
Which raises the question, how do we, deep in the stucco boxes, our little lights twinkling in the street grid down below, how do we live here? What are we getting for our money? It has occurred to me recently the math in the city no longer adds up.
Mrs. UpintheValley and I, the Little Marital Engine That Could, find ourselves, after paying an upside-down mortgage for several years, sitting on a modest amount of equity. What if we wanted to trade up? Is it possible? What could we get?
Join me while I take a tour of the neighborhoods, starting with Sherman Oaks.
The house above is listed at $900,000. Post-war, three bedrooms, 1600 square feet. All upgrades. It is not, to use the industry term of art, ‘South of the Boulevard’. In fact, it is well North. North of the freeway. North of North, just off Burbank.
This used to be the American Dream…3o years ago. It’s the kind of house no one builds anymore in the post-Sopranos, open-floor plan, granite kitchen, Great Room exurban splendor. This is an artifact of Americana, like Kodachrome film stock.
When it was built, who lived here? A teacher? An auto mechanic? A grocery store assistant manager?
Who buys this house today, a junior partner at a corporate law firm? A dentist? I doubt this is what they had in mind on the climb up, but this is Los Angeles and what can one do? Even the swells must make compromises.
Do you make over $150,000 a year? No? Neither do we. We’ll have to look a little further north.
A standard post-war stucco box, with predictably small square footage, but nicely fixed up. Usually a good kitchen remodel, and lots of native plants in the yard. Crucially, south of Oxnard. South, mind you. People aren’t paying $150K more for the same house as the neighbors two blocks to the north in Van Nuys for nothing. They’re no longer Van Nuysians! They’ve petitioned the city for redress and the city has lifted the mark of Cain from the chain of title, the albatross, the hex on their postmark. They’re Part of Sherman Oaks, now. The dusky hordes and their obese children are Up There, tucked safely on the other side of the Orange Line. One almost never sees them. Almost.
Unfortunately these houses are in the $650-700K range. We could live here if we made $100k a year. What used to be the gold standard of earnings success gets you this…and white neighbors…in the Valley.
We don’t make that kind of money, but we’re getting closer.
This is half a block from Sepulveda, about two miles north of Ventura Blvd. Like most condo buildings in the Valley, forgettable, colorless, slightly dated. Not run down by any means, yet bearing the vague stigma of 80’s dreck. The apartments are what you’d expect: well-carpeted. The elevator is very slow. The only amenity within walking distance is Target. Basically, a place to sleep, stash your belongings and watch TV after work. Or a place to watch as much TV as possible, if that’s what your life has come to. A friend of mine bought an apartment here in a bidding war, all cash. Divorce settlement.
This is where you end up when he leaves you for someone younger and prettier. This is the House that Built the Botox Industry.
There are two listings here on Zillow, both two bedroom: $425,000. If we wanted to live out our days like George and Martha, we could afford this!
I pick up a lot of Uber riders who look like this, or are trying their damnedest to. Not so much in the Valley, that goes without saying. Maybe Studio City on a weekend, coming out of Black Market or Page 71. But more likely emerging from an expensive apartment building in Brentwood, going home, alone, to a modest building in Koreatown.
Frequently the name on the Uber account is male.
She has Expensive Hair, and a $300 pair of 5-inch heels, but she’s not going out to the club with her friends. She announces she needs to finish her cigarette, and you wait for her because women like this know just how deep a line of credit they have with the male species ay any given moment. On the ride, she lowers her window, leans back and watches the city go by, brushing strands of hair from her face like she’s modeling Wistful, by Calvin Klein. You realize she’s using the open window to sneak a second cigarette but you say nothing. She catches you looking and asks where you’re from and you tell her, and she announces she’s from Kentucky. Apropos of nothing, she goes on to tell you, her Uber-confessor, she’s been here eight months and she doesn’t have a job.
In a city few people can afford to live in, on paper, people live here all the same. They arrive in greater numbers each month. How does anyone pay $2400 for rent? If their parents aren’t supporting them, then who?
There is no starker demarcation of class in this city than the Beauty Line.
The Beautiful are waited upon. The Unattractive, The Squat, The Dark, serve them.
Before you start hating, be honest. How many beautiful waitresses do you actually see anymore? Besides in the movies.
The Beautiful Waitress was once a Los Angeles institution. When one could prize a one-bedroom apartment in Los Feliz with an avocado tree outside the window for $650, one could get by waiting tables. Back when one could buy acting classes a la carte, instead of being compelled to enroll in a accredited acting program (for profit, natch) with Ivy League-level tuition, the Beautiful Waitress could be the agent of her own destiny.
Today’s waitress is fat, heavily tattooed, and living rent-free at home with her parents. In the Valley.
Stop hating. Look around you. Who’s bent in half, doing nails? Who’s getting her nails done? Who’s fetching items from the stockroom? Who’s cleaning? Who’s making the caramel macchiato? Who is tapping her fingers impatiently on the counter? Who is working the register at Whole Foods while a parade of underfed fawns in Lululemon clutch the arms of their 45-year-old ‘boyfriends’ and display conspicuous public affection for the benefit of onlookers?
These are observations, not judgements.
I’m not sure what the half-life of a Sugar Baby in Los Angeles is. I know they don’t last long in your mouth. You can suck on them for a while, but then the temptation to bite down into the chewy part overtakes you. It’s an autonomic, id-driven thing. Then you reach into the bag for another.
The Sugar Daddy calls an Uber.
Beauty is a form of Capital, until it isn’t. Then it’s just another form of Labor. The cry ride across town with the window down is the time to assess. Before you end up bent over a rail at 3 am at Charlie Sheen’s house while he prattles in your ear about undetectable viral loads and lambskin condoms.
Maybe at the end of the day, the clock-punching women chained to their meager paychecks end up happier. I don’t know. I’m just the guy who gives the rides, and I know the math in this city doesn’t add up.