Four children, all flown the coop. One in the Marine Corps. Grandchildren spread out around the Valley. The mortgage paid off, long ago. She spends her days shuffling around the neighborhood, with her hat on, sometimes looking lost.
“You’re either getting closer to Jesus, or you are drifting away,” Dudley counseled. “What are you waiting for? What are you longing for?”
This was how my Sunday started.
I texted Mrs. U, and repeated the proposition. Her response was swift: She longed for me to “appreciate our house in the Valley more.”
“I get it,” I replied, then affirmed my understanding by gathering the dogs and driving to the Arts District for the day.
Astute readers may have noticed a decline in my good humor about living in the Valley of late. It’s a cyclical thing. The more time I spend cycling through other parts of the city the more dismayed I am about the civic state of affairs here. When I don’t leave the Valley for a while it doesn’t seem so bad. Like a well-worn 1970’s beige living room set, you get comfortable putting your feet on it after awhile. Then you go to someone else’s house for the evening and you realize you live in squalor, and your couch is hideous.
From Jesus to petulance in four paragraphs! My learning curve, moving counter-clockwise. This is not new for me.
So off we went, on our DTLA adventure, encountering signposts along the way. I did my petulant best to ignore them.
They really love the guy. He’s like a secular Moses for the NPR set. I couldn’t help wondering if the traffic sign was foreshadowing.
On our way up the hill to the secret garden behind Disney Hall we encountered this remarkable 1960’s era mosaic on the the side of the AT&T building by the artist Anthony Heinsbergen.
From a distance, Disney Hall looks like the Rock of Gibraltar. Up close the titanium panels are ill-fitting in spots, and being only an eighth of an inch thick, have visible gaps which make clear what you are seeing is not structural, but the shiniest of shiny facades. Not cheap, exactly, but Vegas-y.
It was nearing the magic hour and the Music Center was filling with photographers and models, many of them couples, looking for the perfect engagement photo backdrop.
We were in the mood for a libation after our exertions and we started down the hill, through Grand Park, when -cue trumpets- Moses appeared.
An un-ironic Moses, direct from the Old Testament, with tablets, burning bush and Golden Calf.
I was a bit floored. This was the Kenneth Hahn building. Ten years ago, the Board of Supervisors voted, in this very building, to strip the County Seal of any reference to the Cross. Here we have the old cheese itself: the Commandments. The Laws of Moses. The Torah. Did no one notice this? Somehow this had survived the ACLU pogrom, by what collective misdirection and silent agreement I know not, but it was spared and I found myself marveling.
What did people think the Roman numerals stood for? Perhaps the foundation of Western Civilization is more solid, more capable of surviving its internal conflicts than I give it credit for.
We finished our walk at the temple of enlightened consumerism that is Whole Foods at Eighth and Grand. We had arrived at a place as far removed from Van Nuys as one can get and still be in the same city.
There is a lovely, cool, dark oyster/wine tasting bar there. We ordered cauliflower nachos and a glass of Cotes De Rhone. Bernie Sanders was on TV. A woman at the bar was shaking her head.
“It won’t make a difference,” she announced to me, unsolicited. “Even if he wins.”
“Why not?” I replied, playing along.
“This country is in so much trouble. It’s on the verge of going under. The banks are running this country. Unless we change our hearts, it’s over.”
I didn’t understand her either, but for someone with $100 worth of half-consumed comestibles in front of her, she was awfully miserable.
We tried a little shopping before we returned home. Mrs. UpintheValley was in a vegan’s paradise. Two wall-sized glass cases just for seitan meats and almond cheeses. She stood in front of it for five minutes, then closed the door.
“There are too many choices. I can’t decide. I need to come back when I have more time. Let’s go home.”
Which brought us full circle to Dudley’s question: what was I longing for?
Mrs. UpintheValley and I took the dogs for a spin around and through the Hansen Dam basin today. Near dark we returned to the parking lot to find…horses dancing to live banda music. This was a spectacle neither of us had encountered before. We watched with slack-jawed gringo fascination as they trotted in circles in time with the music.
Then plumes of smoke appeared in the parking lot, summoned forth by squealing tires. The band kept playing, as though it wasn’t happening. The horses kept dancing.
This burning of rubber -brake and gas pedals to the floor- went on for five minutes…then ten minutes. Unabated. Like an eight-year-old throwing a tantrum, if an eight year old was given a bottle of El Jimador, a Chevy Silverado and a dare.
In a test of wills between musical instruments and internal combustion engines, the rubber burners had the advantage of decibel range. And yet! The charreada continued as though this impromptu monster truck rally wasn’t actually taking place fifty feet away. It was then I noticed the Park Rangers had set out cones to segregate these….completing claims to The Commons. The trucks had their own appreciative audience as well. A woman at one of the picnic tables told us this happens every month. She shrugged it off as the natural order of things.
All the street people rusticating in the Valley seem to have one denominator in common: they each have a bike. Even the saddest blue tarp shanty has a wheel poking out somewhere.
I’m old enough to remember when a bike was an expensive proposition. Now you can cook one from parts. You don’t have to worry about theft with a bike like that, which is part of the DIY appeal. The basic life problem of movement from location A to location B is resolved. The street bike empowers, even as it simplifies.
There’s a great movie line from Neil McCauley in Heat: “never keep anything in your life you can’t walk away from in 30 seconds flat if you see the heat coming around the corner.” As a personal code, it works in the white favela. For a man with a wife, a dog, a cat, and a mortgage, not so much.
But a bike, even if for only an hour or so, can put you one step closer to your earlier, pre-Cambrian self. It can unleash the Id. It can peel layers. Cranking pedals across the Valley, you can be the child who was the father of the man you are today. The First You, the one before all your Choices made you.
“Come down to the Kitchen, and let’s build you a road bike,” said Marcus, over the phone.. Off I went, like Homer Simpson in pursuit of Truck-a-Saurus.
And we cooked a bike…
Then we went back to his teacup bungalow in Echo Park and made comfort food, and drank craft beer and vaporized product and listened to Led Zeppelin on vinyl, through a tube amp, shedding adulthood like dandruff.
Back to the primordial ooze…
After a long afternoon, I staggered back to my car, bike in tow, and passed this house:
Two small bedrooms downstairs, and a view of the Autozone parking lot on Glendale Blvd. $900,000. Seriously.
Nobody who is tied to a paycheck, even a large one, would pay this. Yet there are people who are paying it, all over town. Trustafarians. Speculators. Chinese investors, phoning in blind bids from Chengdu, all cash, the better to park their money far away from the Hang Seng index.
And they love bikes in Echo Park.
Los Angeles is becoming a city of million dollar shacks and people living under tarps, with mobile phones, feeding off government handouts. We are becoming poorer in a cave of wonders. Wealthier in smaller spaces. The bicycle may be the last thing we all have in common.
“Your car has been seen on Sepulveda Blvd, a known area of street prostitution.”
“If you aren’t soliciting, you have no reason to worry about finding one of these letters in your mailbox. But if you are, you and your wife or family will have something to discuss at dinner. This letter will discourage you from returning. Soliciting for sex in our neighborhoods is not okay.”
“Our license plate readers are everywhere.”
Sincerely, Nury Martinez
Since my car is frequently seen on Sepulveda Blvd., I guess I can look forward to receiving many such notices like this.
Mrs. UpintheValley‘s car is on Sepulveda twice daily. In fact, she’s in the habit of frequenting the known prostitution hot spot that is the Jon’s supermarket parking lot, the better to prize meat for her husband. No, really. You don’t think…?
Gee, and to think we were sharing the same bed all these years.
Wait, what? Seriously?
Sssh. We didn’t see this. Strike it from our memory.
It’s not like it’s illegal or anything. They do this all the time now. Movie set construction, for example.
We can rest on assurances from industry lobbyists, manufactured joists will last at least….thirty years. Assuming no one lets their bathtub overflow. And nobody split the 1×3 bottom plate with a nail gun while nursing a hangover.
Look how well that mid-80’s housing stock has stood the test of time.
Back to Van Nuys, and its dependable squalor of concrete blocks, old growth timber and strip malls…