When was the happiest ratio between car and rail in Los Angeles? Probably when the population was one quarter of what it is today. Let Harold Lloyd show you in three minutes of awesomeness.
Trolley photos courtesy of the Ralph Cantos Collection
The churro of death! At least I think it’s a churro. Perhaps it’s an elote with spinning metal kernels, like a tunnel boring machine.
Once Trump is dispatched, urchins will breach the yet-to-be-built wall bearing Mexican flags. This might be a case of being too truthful for one’s own good.
Like depicting a mournful pig contemplating mortality at the entrance of your carniceria.
Or portraying sex symbols as eight-nippled dispensers of milk.
The elevated station at Sixth and Los Angeles streets, 1950. The building on the left in bkgd is now the swanktastic PE Lofts. The building on the right contains the Santa Fe Lofts and other DTLA enticements.
One wonders which would be more surprising to the people riding the train that day: in the future there would be a swimming pool and day lounge atop an office building, or that people would eagerly proffer half their monthly income for a studio apartment there? That people would urinate in the doorways without penalty, or that men would congregate flamboyantly with other men at a bar called the Redline?
The station was replaced with a three level parking lot. Contrary to popular lore, the automobile didn’t bring an end to the train in LA. They were phased out and replaced by a fleet of buses.
And what happened to the train cars? Many of them were taken to Terminal Island to be melted down at the Kaiser Steelworks. But the ones in the best condition were sold to the city of Cairo, where they were ridden until the wheels came off, literally.
The first puker I had in my Uber was a teenaged girl who got ditched by her date.
“Make sure she gets home okay,” he declared nobly, before returning to the party.
“You’re not coming with me?” she asked in plaintive surprise. He kissed her through the window, then tapped the roof. I snapped the reins like a liveryman in Jane Austen and off to the Palisades we went, in unhappy silence. Then muted sobs. Then chest heaving, behold-the-perfidy of-men-type sobs. Then a baby hiccup, followed a split-second later by a giant splash on the floor behind me. No warnings.
Make sure s/he gets home okay is Uberspeak for I really want to have sex with someone else right now. Also, you have a ticking bomb in your car.
So….New Years Eve. Normandie Club. A guy asleep on his feet by the entrance, propped up by a girl in a tiny black dress who couldn’t wait to scurry back to the action. Make sure he gets….. to Long Beach. At 5x surge pricing, I wasn’t about to refuse.
I thought if I made it to the freeway without incident, we would be okay and navigated the bumps and turns like Roy Schneider with the truck full of nitro-glycerine in Sorcerer. We safely reached the 110, and then, as though sensing my relaxation, he roused himself from sleep, leaned forward and filled the car with a floral bouquet of cheap scotch, guacamole dip and gastric acids. The kind of thing that really gets deep, deep into the fabric and makes itself at home. I have a picture, but it’s just too gross.
Mrs. UpintheValley contacted eight auto detailers Monday morning. Only one got back to us. My new man crush, Arik from LA Mobile Detailing. On a national holiday.
Four years ago Arik was making crowns and veneers for his uncle before he decided to go into business for himself. Uber and Lyft drivers were a natural market for eco-wash services. He left cards at the Greenlight stations, thinking he might get some conventional cleaning business. Not quite. Emergencies of bodily effluence were the order of the day. He found himself taking puke calls with great regularity. He hired his brother to help with the grossest stuff. Most of the work is hand wash, enabling him to clean an entire car inside and out with two gallons of water. His business expanded to boats, planes, RV’s.
If Woody Allen is right and 80% of life is showing up, then Arik would embody the principle. He came back not once, but twice, to do battle with stench el pukus, which had an unfair head start seeping into the fabric all the way to Long Beach. A natural businessman, he was un-resentful of the call backs, and business is prospering. His entire family works for him now. His mother answers the phones. An Israeli immigrant, he’s engaged to an Azerbaijani woman, who is taking conversion classes at AJU. A very modern love story with old world trappings.
A pushcart + iPhone + Yelp = the New Economy. A pushcart – iPhone = Delancey Street, 1918. Technology may not improve human nature, but it will separate those who have their act together from those who are wanting. It will place rocket fuel to virtue and raise the cost of vice in equal measure. In something as basic as car cleaning the scissors graph of the two narratives part ways.
Los Angeles is ground zero for the new American century. It’s an animal like no other.
The original Valley people*, when they were rusticating in quonset huts in Griffith Park, just about where the Autry Museum and the Zoo are today. The Village lasted from 1946 to 1954. Hat tip, longtime reader Chip Corbin.
Rodger Young, Medal of Honor recipient, was from Green Springs, Ohio. He stood 5’2 and weighed 125 lbs, was going deaf, and near-sighted. He slipped past the Army’s 4F screens by signing up for the National Guard in 1940, after dropping out of high school, because he was having difficulty following the lessons due to his hearing difficulty. He was killed in the Solomon Islands storming a Japanese machine gun nest, enabling his platoon to safely withdraw under fire. An ordinary man who became extraordinary in a fearless hour.
His gallantry was memorialized by the lyricist Frank Loesser:
Fellow Ohioan Robert Heinlein was also enamored of Young, baptizing the transport ship in Starship Troopers with his name. He also included his citation for bravery in an appendix to the novel.
*After the Tongva, the Franciscans, the Robber Barons, the Chinese, the Chandlers and Barbara Stanwyck. I refer here to the Valley in its bedroom community incarnation.
Nothing like martial virtue to inspire biblical relations between genders. When we slaughtered the Hun and subdued the Japanese Empire in four years and warplanes rolled off the assembly line every ten hours in Long Beach, King Priapus ruled the day.
During the Depression very little housing had been built, and during WWII, none at all, creating entire communities living in temporary housing: trailers, quonsets, Wingfoot huts, and repurposed tugboat cabins.
Our little working class brigadoon in Van Nuys was carved from Carnation creamery cow pasture in 1947 as something called Allied Gardens. A GI and his brood could have one for $10,400. That’s $119,000 in 2017 dollars. No landscaping. No frills. A three circuit Zinsco electrical panel, no insulation, no AC. Fittingly, it was developed by Louis Kelton, for whom Kelton Street in Brentwood was named, establishing at conception the master-servant dialectical between the two communities.
At those prices, who wouldn’t want one? The stucco box was a pleasure dome after the quonset hut. Colored veterans were excluded by covenant from buying. Colored people lived where colored people lived and the women tended the homes of rich people on the Westside, like Louis Kelton. White people manufactured things and saved up for a backyard pool. Service at the pleasure of others, specifically of a household or agricultural nature, was nigger work. White people didn’t do that.
For forty years this arrangement held while white people gradually decamped to Santa Clarita or Thousand Oaks, discarding neglected houses like beater cars. Black people moved to Riverside, or all the way to the Mississippi Delta. Latino/Asian/Armenian immigrants, stacked up in apartments, busily practicing biblical relations between genders, counted the bedrooms, and said “we’ll take this gone to hell stucco box. Where do we sign?” In they came and out went grumbling white people, trailing blight.
Along the way, California stopped making things and began designing them. China makes our things now, in vast factory campuses, where workers sleep in stacked bunkbeds like poultry in battery cages.
Nobody uses the phrase nigger work anymore. We’re too enlightened for that. We just have a vast army of surplus labor doubled up in rooms and secreted in trailers behind the hedge, rising at dawn to beat the traffic over the 405 to
serve provide for the grasping needs of Brentwood. People who question these arrangements are bigots.
Walking the dogs yesterday I encountered a new neighbor who crossed the street to pet Trixie but really to introduce himself. We chatted amiably about Van Nuys. He worked in a law firm. His wife was a special ed teacher. They had two luxury brand cars in the driveway. He outlined the improvements he had planned for his house and wanted to reassure me the tacky car shed over the driveway was going, and the yard was going to be re-done.
“This is going to be Echo Park in a couple years,” he pronounced, seeking my affirmation, which I gave, but secretly doubted. Highland Park, maybe, but who am I to prognosticate? When we moved here from Los Feliz in the oughts, I was certain there were 10,000 people hot on my heels. We were going to be trend setters! We were going to
plant the flag of gentrification reap the benefits of being first. Who wouldn’t want to own a nice big yard for the price of rent on a one-bedroom apartment in Hollywood? Yeah, it might have been a little kitschy, a little dated, a little Fast Times at Ridgemont High 20 years after, with bars on the windows, but it was have-able, and fifteen minutes from Town.
Oof. I was only off by a decade. Now I just subtract a few years from my biography and pretend to be half a genius.
Van Nuys is changing, though, and quickly. The 1200-square foot stucco box is back in vogue, by demographic necessity. Which raises a question: how long before the quonset hut returns as a housing option? It’s rather spacious when considered next to Tiny Houses.
It’s already undergoing a revival as repurposed office space for creative types.
And as an architectural motif for people very far removed from utilitarian necessity. Perhaps the trend lines will converge. Everything old can be new again.
As was inevitable, New Urbanism has come to Van Nuys. The granny flat on a trailer. Tidy. Well-ordered, aesthetic. Entry off the service alley, away from disapproving neighbors. A parallel Los Angeles blooming behind the ranch houses. An elf kingdom sliding rent checks under the door, and scurrying away, unseen. It may be small-ish, but there is nothing cold or dismal about it.
When Mrs. UpintheValley decides the end of the hallway is not far enough, she can have this. On second thought, I’ll make it my Man Cave.
Such Cratchitville arrangements are not new, and exist de facto all over the city, without rental income involved. We decry eyesores, but on what legal basis do we deny people the ability to park on an industrial street, set up a hibachi on the sidewalk, pull a lawn chair out of a dumpster and proclaim oneself at home? Provided they are not committing crime or polluting the neighborhood, what’s to argue? The embrace of backyard trailer houses by city government will make it more difficult, politically and morally, to draw a firm line against the Shabby RV People. The shrubbery of the San Fernando Valley is already well-watered with the urine of nephews living in the casita (read: HomeDepot toolshed) in the backyard.
If parking on someone’s property and paying rent is the basis of legitimacy, then the presence of wheels gives the City plausible deniability. We are not codifying this, Los Angeles tells itself, we are giving the public a workaround from zoning law. If there are problems, theoretically they can be rolled away. Of course, this means any pushcart can now be recognized as an ‘housing alternative’.
There are people pushing carts all over the Valley. Or towing non-functioning vehicles from one parking location to another. There seems to be a stark dividing line within the world of the dispossessed between those with wheeled shelter and those without. A beater car is preferable to a tent by the freeway. It means one retains aspirations of hanging on, however tenuously by his fingernails, to a place in the Social Contract.
After the wheels are gone, there is the tent. Once the tent goes there is…the makeshift crackhead fort.
After you are unable to cobble together a crackhead fort, you just roll yourself up like a burrito and imagine the passion of St. Francis under the stars.