A Team Without A City

First place team, in No. 2 market in America

First place team, in the No. 2 market in America

“I’m having difficulty staying a fan this year,” said Steeler Guy at Thanksgiving Dinner. “I can’t get past the CTE.   It’s a gladiator sport.  These guys are going to be putting guns in their mouths in 20 years time.”

He admitted it didn’t stop him from walking up to Hollywood Blvd at 10 am last week to catch the early game at a bar. He too, had tremendous difficulty finding a bar willing to put the volume on, even when there were less than a dozen customers in the room.  He ended up at Hooters, of all places, where the Pittsburgh fans had taken over.

We agreed we were fortunate not to have sons to agonize over come time for the AYSO/Pop Warner family discussion.  Our imaginary parenting could be flawless while we watched someone else’s son go helmet to chest plate at top speed.

2020

2020 is foresight wishful thinking

The mockups for the new Rams stadium in Inglewood depict three tiers of luxury boxes and every seat filled to capacity in 2020.  We’re not moving in that direction.   At $2.6 billion, it will be the most expensive sports stadium ever constructed. Personal Seat Licenses will range from $175,000-$225,000 for club seats.  That’s what you pay Stan Kroenke, billionaire, to obtain the rights to pay him another $350-400 per ticket to see the game live.

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Here was the tailgate scene before the Texans game.  Based on this tableau, I would say the median Rams fan is 45 years old, drinks beer, and works in the construction trade.   Hard to see six figure PSL’s coming out of anyone’s wallet here.   Somewhere in Los Angeles, the thinking goes, lurk 70,000 rich people who aren’t going to the games now when the Rams are both a prodigal returned and winning, but will nevertheless appear deus ex machina in three years time, checkbooks open.  Rich people in LA will not allow their kids to play football.  What makes anyone think they’ll pay a fortune to subsidize a game of which they disapprove?

The people who will keep the game alive in LA are the three guys from Arizona we ran into at Dick’s Sporting Goods who drove all night from Phoenix just to see them once.  And oddballs in the Valley who are determined to have a slice of sports fan ecstasy and civic harmony after 20 years of no team.

To quote RB Todd Gurley:  “Please come to our games”.

Rail Killer, Me

Eastbound and downtown, one hour before Rams game

Eastbound and downtown, one hour before Rams game

Here’s a bittersweet factoid: halfway through a massive buildout of the rail system,  Metro ridership is down 16% in the past three years. Transit ridership is down nationally, but nowhere more so than Los Angeles, which alone accounts for nearly a quarter of all rider losses in America, even as we’ve connected the San Gabriel Valley to the beach through the addition of the Gold and Expo Lines.  Anyone want to guess how many riders ended up in the back of my car?

This is a forbidden topic of conversation in policy circles, where 30-year plans continue apace, as though rideshare never happened.

On the gentrification corridor

A Hopper-esque tableau, along the gentrification corridor

On paper, transit oriented housing has much to offer.  If we build snazzy new apartment complexes adjacent to train stations, the thinking goes, we can whisk people to and from work without anyone having to get into their car. It’ll be clean and fast, and people can sip their coffee and look down on the gridlock below with bemusement and relief. Throw in a little music, and….here, why don’t I just let Cameron Crowe perform the honors:

If we gave them great coffee! And great music!   Such was the pre-Jobsian America before the iPhone, and the Cambrian explosion of apps.

Overlooked in the optimism is an inherent contradiction in transit-oriented development.  It ain’t cheap. The very people who pay $2400 for a very modern, desirable one-bedroom apartment, fully stocked with amenities, are the least likely to utilize public transportation.  The train ushers in the housing, the housing sets gentrification in motion, the transit-oriented demographic gets pushed further away from transit lines, where people can afford to live.   If they can swing it, they take UberPool home for maybe a buck or three more.

I drive a lot of people home from work.   As rideshare spreads, this is more and more of my clientele.  In 2014, Uber lowered the per mile rate in Los Angeles to 90 cents, an act greatly decried by the drivers. The Uber argument was: the cheaper the rate, the more the demand, and greater revenue overall for drivers.  Uber runs on metadata, and the data was correct. My hourly has risen significantly each reach year I’ve driven.

Los Angeles does not run on metadata, it runs on politics.  Metadata says you match shift workers with employment zones. Which is to say, you start the rail system in Van Nuys, and East LA and Torrance, and you work your way toward downtown.  Politics says you do the reverse.  You build trains in the whitest, wealthiestliberal precincts of the city, where there is 98% approval for public transportation…for other people.  Because, climate change.

Last Sunday, we rode the Expo Line from the Rams game to Bergamot. We whisked silently along the treetops,  peering down into pedestrian-free neighborhoods brightly jeweled with succulents.  Near the stations, giant excavations were being dug for parking garages atop which fresh Bento Box transit-oriented apartments would soon sit. It was the most civilized public transportation experience I have enjoyed since crossing Puget Sound in a ferry, way back in the ’90s.

I had two thoughts. First, if we cannibalized our not insignificant equity at Chez UpintheValley, a princely sum in the red states, if I could obtain every dollar of paper profit today, fat stacks of cash in my eager hands, there was nothing we could buy here, as far as the eye could see.  Secondly, where we build trains, the whiter it gets. The whiter it gets, the more money I make driving.

The MacLeod Incident

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(November 13, 2020) The City of Los Angeles celebrates this week the grand opening of the Valley Riverway, an inter-connected system of landscaped bike and walking paths along the tributaries of the LA River.  The 60-mile network descends from the the Chatsworth reservoir along Browns Creek, from Porter Ranch on the Aliso Canyon Wash, from Granada Hills on Bull Creek, and from Sylmar along the Tujunga and Pacoima washes.  An East-West corridor on the Metrolink right of way connects the northern tier of the Valley, completing what local bicyclists are referring to as “the hyper loop”.

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“It is now possible to pedal continuously from pretty much anywhere to anywhere else in under an hour, without having to stop at a light,” said District 6 Councilperson Andrew Hurvitz, who secured the $100 million project using Measure M funding. “We thought it might be a nice linear park. We didn’t realize the extent to which it would be adopted as an alternative transportation network connecting neighborhoods.”

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Construction of the East Valley light rail line has brought traffic to a standstill during commute hours, adding to the Riverway’s appeal. The troubled addition to the Metro system, originally budgeted at $2.7 billion, is now on its second contractor, with cost overruns expected to reach $4.6 billion when completed in 2024.

“At 2% of the rail budget, the Riverway was considered by the City to be exorbitantly priced. It was an orphan with birth defects.  Until the MacLeod incident, that is,” said Hurvitz, referring to a now infamous cell phone recording of a conversation at a local pub between representatives of Sheila Kuehl’s office and Kiewet/Shea, the first contractor on the rail line: “A hundred million? That’s a rounding error for us. $300 million got misplaced during the Expo Line build no one has been able to find. We know it’s floating around somewhere, but the auditors got bored and stopped looking for it.”

The conversation, punctuated by cackling, went viral on Twitter, inspiring the hashtag campaign #RoundMeUp.   

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In the wake of the MacLeod revelation, the blogger known as UpintheValley staged an insurrection at City Hall “in the spirit of Yukio Mishima”. Taking command of a balcony, he unfurled a banner outlining the Riverway project, and made an impassioned speech to an audience of derelicts and office workers on lunch break, some of whom thought they were watching live theater and left tips for the ‘performer’.   The blogger had repeatedly been ticketed by police for climbing fences into the Pacoima Wash and refused to pay the citations on principle, claiming all of the river watershed as a public right. Liens had been placed against his house by the City, which he also refused to pay, precipitating a personal and legal crisis.

“Let us rise from our stony sleep, brothers and take back the commons!”,  he proclaimed, after a rambling preamble that referenced Beauty, freedom of movement, the Golden Ratio, and the perfidy of hack politicians. Exhortation to occupy the Mayor’s office was met with a bemused reaction from onlookers, who, sensing an absence of irony, returned to their cubicles. 

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He retreated to a hallway and committed a partial hari kari, in which the stomach wall is opened, but not fatally.  He then began a two-day walk back to Van Nuys, holding his gut bag, smearing blood atop each gate denying river access.  

When he reached MacLeod Ale, there are conflicting accounts as to his final words, which were interpreted as either: “the circle is closed”, or “I’ll have that beer, now.”  A special IPA, the Dolorosa, was subsequently brewed in his memory.

The fallout from his martyrdom led to what locals now refer to as the Valley Spring.  Hurvitz wrested control of Nury Martinez’s seat on the City Council in a special election, setting the stage for the Riverway approval. 

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Chupacabra Sighting

Ay Caramba

Ay Caramba! Could it be?

Oh, wait....

Oh, wait….

Not the mythical Latino Bigfoot, blood-drinking terrorizer of livestock and desert migrants, just a day laborer submerged beneath an eight foot high bag of leaves.

One wonders: does he believe in the Chupacabra?  What keeps him awake at night, besides debts and la Migra?

And the owners of the big homes surrounded by such high walls of foliage they require a small army of laborers to tame and haul away the leaves on their backs, lest the house be devoured by its own landscaping, what keeps them up at night?

Could it be the same thing?  If the Trumpacabra has his way, who will pick the socks off the floor, and scrape the poop residue off the porcelain and make the leaves go away?  And do it on the cheap?  And never talk back…

There’s a scary movie.

Gettin’ Jumped

Ready to be a ho

Wanna Lyft?

Thursday night in Studio City, I get a ride request from a 7-11.  A man gets in and asks a familiar question.
“How long have you been driving for Uber?”
“Two years.”
“Really? Me, too.  I’m a driver, also.”
“That makes us veterans. A rare breed.”
“You ever think about driving for Lyft? Cause I can sign you up right now, in ten minutes.”
Wait, what?

We pulled into a parking lot of a bar, and a woman, his supervisor, hopped into the back seat.  She opened a briefcase. They had a Lyft recruitment packet ready to go.

They were brand ambassadors. They seemed to already know who I was. Like how I had partially completed a Lyft application in 2016, that I never followed up on. They were friendly, eager to have me.  Flirtatious, even.

“We can do the vehicle inspection right here in the parking lot, while you download the driver app.”

Suddenly it was happening. I was being jumped. By the rival gang…

They photographed me standing in front of the bar, submitted my background check, gave me my pink trade dress. I was on my way to being a bi-sexual driver, as so many of us are, now.

It explained a few things. Like the generous spike in Uber driver bonuses of late. And the fresh TV ad campaign for Lyft featuring Jeff Bridges and Tilda Swinton.  Los Angeles is the biggest ride share market in the country, and Lyft has steadily been gaining ground.

LA is the misty plain upon which each company is intent on luring the other into a Pickett’s charge.  If there is going to be a defining slaughter, it’s going to happen here.

Much is made of Uber as a tech company, but the technology behind rideshare is easily duplicable. The company owns nothing, not even the infrastructure.  The phones and the cars are the infrastructure.  What Uber owns, and Lyft desires, is the transaction itself, the connective tissue between rider and driver.    This too, if you think about it, could be re-positioned onto a publicly-owned forum that could match drivers and riders, Craigslist-style, or more accurately Waze-style, in real time.

Rider demand is unslakable and growing.  Cheap fares get people off the bus. Fewer working people on the bus means the derelict/normal person ratio becomes less palatable, leading yet more people to get off the bus. More cars on the road mean fewer people want to drive, and more car owners booking ride share.

So the drivers are the whole ball game.  This may sound counter-intuitive. On paper, we’re 1099 peons from Palookaville. We have no collective bargaining rights, no benefits, no employment status. While nearly anyone without a DUI or criminal record can become a driver, in practice very few people do so.  Most who sign up wash out after a few months.  There is an initial gold rush when Uber enters a new market, after which subsequent driver recruitment efforts yield diminishing returns.   In a few years the market is established and pretty much anyone who is going to be a driver is already doing so, or tried it.

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Los Angeles has entered the Yojimbo/Fistful of Dollars phase of rideshare.  We’re all smoking cheroots now, trading our services back and forth to rival bands offering no quarter to the other. The money has never been better.   I’m ready to be a ho samurai.  I got my ho shoes samurai sword/six shooter out tonight. I got my pink dress. I’m bisexual, for like, whatever.

Luis, the Stone Cutter

Conundrum

Conundrum

There is so much construction and renovation going on in Los Angeles right now a 50 square foot granite job in Van Nuys qualifies as a nuisance, even if you’re waving cash like a drunken bachelor at a strip club. The normal laws of business are in abeyance when it comes to stone work.

The first contractor to visit told us he was in the middle of a 25 slab bathroom renovation in Pasadena, “but he would squeeze us in”.  Our kitchen was less than a single slab.

Of course we never heard from him again.  We went through a series of estimates ranging from $1100 to $3900, which meant fabricators were making up numbers and hoping suckers would bite.  Mostly, though, people didn’t call us back.

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After some gentle and persistent nagging we manage to prevail upon someone to pick up our slab at the yard. Then we waited for work to begin. And waited.

We were doing dishes in the bathtub.  Our leverage over the stoneworkers, even as paying customers, was effectively zero.

After six weeks the call came. The countertops were arriving in the morning.  The Luises, Juan Luis and Jose Luis, were standing on the porch at 8am.  Our finished pieces were in the back of their truck.

Complications ensued, as they say in comedy.  The biggest of the pieces, the crucial L shaped one,  had an overhang 3/4 of an inch too long.   The cabinet drawers couldn’t open.   Phone calls were made to the shop.  It was suggested I make the countertop 3/4 of an inch higher to accommodate their screw up.  I nixed the idea on principle,  while dreading the idea of the countertop leaving the house, to return to a nuisance pile to be dealt with by the fabricator at a future date, unknown.

After much negotiation in Spanish it was decided Luis (Jose Luis) would resolve the matter on site.

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They set up a table in the driveway, and he went to work, recutting and polishing the overhang in 106 degree heat.  It took four hours in the full sun.   I brought him water and chatted him up while he took breaks.    Turns out we were neighbors.

He lives with his wife and daughter in an apartment on Sherman Way.  He came from El Salvador 14 years ago, and started out sweeping floors at the granite yard.  He swept for three years before they let him use the tools.

Now he cuts and installs stone perpetually.  He doesn’t mind the dust.  He pays $2000 a month in rent and has a 14-year old who has to have the “good shoes”.  He told me it hurts him when she speaks English when she comes home from school.  He doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, doesn’t partake of drugs. To save money he drives a 2002 Mitsubishi.  Too many Latinos blow their money on cars, and partying on the weekends. “Good for the economy, but bad for us.”  Yet for all his el norte striving, he demands she speak Spanish in the house.

Sometimes other Latinos call him beaner. “Why can’t you speak English?”

In Central America he was picking cucumbers. In Los Angeles he has a trade which puts folding money in his pocket, and a daughter with a phone, surrounded by danger.  “Ai, peligro! Peligro everywhere”.  Spanish is his only hold on her.

Sons of Stone Cutters

Sons of Stone Cutters

Luis finished the edge detail by mid-afternoon. After a moment of suspense, our fancy new Ikea drawers opened with a perfect 1/8 inch of clearance, and with that, our upper-middle class pretentions for our working class stucco box were marginally closer to fruition, courtesy of El Salvador.

After he left I thought of the movie Breaking Away and wondered what would become of his English speaking, shoe-loving daughter.

Tidy, No Tipping

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Henceforth, all ranch houses in Los Angeles shall be vertical.  That’s gonna entail a lot more dusting and mopping.  What to do? Who will we find?  Americans are lazy as f**k.

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Look, someone left a card. There’s an App for everything.

Deep. Detailed. Delightful, like a really good massage.  No tipping required. Now we’re talking.

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They’ll even send a pair of blondes who look like yoga instructors.

Okay, maybe they won’t be blonde.  Maybe not fit, either.  But certified. As a bonus willing to labor tip-free, tidying up all the awkward social contract implications.

I wonder where they live, these non-blonde, non-yoga instructing floor scrubbers?  Two to a room in a dingbat apartment in Van Nuys, probably.

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Whatever happened to the old Van Nuys people?  You know, those dingbat apartment dwellers?   Maybe they moved to the Ozarks.  They should have obtained an education if they wanted to stick around.  They shouldn’t have gotten high.  They shouldn’t have gotten old.  How they gonna clean floors now?

Friendship, $1 a minute

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This is where we’ve arrived in Los Angeles. Rich people hiring underemployed artists to impersonate friendship, and the artist eager to sell himself in this manner.

are you tired of social media and just want to be social?

do you need a sidekick to help you finish those 10k steps?

some company on the way to your destination? 

an attentive audience?

someone with whom to complain about the general state of things? 

a way to connect with the outdoors?

maybe you want to hear a story on a neighborhood stroll?  

we can talk about whatever you feel like talking about. we can walk however you like to walk.

The paid companion, or lady-in-waiting, has a deep tradition, going back to English court.  It allowed women of a certain class but lacking a dowry proximity to the wealthy and enhanced marriage prospects.  You might meet Maxim de Winter on a cliff in Monte Carlo, and he might make you his nameless second wife.  Then again you might gain the attention of the Earl of Essex and send Queen Elizabeth into such a paroxysm of jealousy she drags you bodily from court by your hair, and has you flogged.

In other words, woman’s work.

But what does woman’s work mean, in an iPhone economy?  Anybody with any sort of personal service to sell can do so formally with the insertion of a Square card reader.  If what you have to sell is empathy, why shouldn’t you?  And if it pays more than your creative endeavor, then you may have little choice.  Man’s work, as it was formerly known, doesn’t pay a dollar minute unless it involves plumbing or electricity or transmission repair.    Therein lies the paradox of higher education.  If there should be a warning label for anyone entering the liberal arts, it would look a whole lot like this flyer, posted by a Yale man.