Feel Free…

To take your dog's poop home with you

…to take your dog’s poop home with you

To smoke heroin at the car wash

Or to smoke heroin at the car wash…

To waste away before an indifferent public

…and waste away before an indifferent public.

Our parallel worlds:  Civility in the neighborhood, enforced by gentle pleas and social shaming; feral disorder on the boulevard.

A state of nature and an oasis of calm separated by a distance as short as a frisbee toss.

The blessings of freedom may be enshrined in the Constitution but are enjoyed differently, depending on how you feel about personal responsibility and whether you act on it.

Would a billboard which read: “Feel free to smoke crack elsewhere” have a salutary effect? How about “Smoke faster, get it over with”?  Or “God loves you and wants you to be sober”?

Mark Zuckerberg has called for a universal basic income, welfare for all, offered unconditionally.  The rise of artificial intelligence and robotics will, as a matter of technological determinism, eliminate many jobs currently held by Americans.  A UBI would preserve the Social Contract. “So that we may have roles we find meaningful…and that everyone may have a cushion to try new ideas.”

Would it?  If you were told you didnt need to go to work tomorrow because you were being replaced by a seven-armed anthropomorphic device wirelessly operated from a server farm,  but not to worry,  your paychecks will keep coming courtesy of the US government,  unto death, what would you do with your time?

“I’d go surfing every day,” said my coworker, when I put the question to him. “I’d surf and I’d bake and I’d take pictures.”  And why shouldn’t he? It would be free.

But for how long could this immunity from labor be sustained?  Binge watching Netflix might not feel like freedom after awhile.  One might begin to miss the leash. The UBI people may begin to envy the clock punchers.  Jobs might be hoarded like property, to be passed on to heirs like a family estate.  Because we’ll all be compelled to remove moral judgements about idleness (robotics!) anger will be misdirected everywhere.

We might drive up Sepulveda looking at the guys smoking heroin at the car wash and think….those aren’t derelicts, they’re Early Adopters.

1099-Miscellaneous

It is possible in Los Angeles to list your apartment on AirBnB on Friday afternoon, crash with friends or lovers until Monday morning, pocket the cash flow, and in the right sort of neighborhood prize the rent without a day job.  That’s one kind of gig.

There’s an app you can use to clean the place and handle the next booking for you.  That’s a gig for the cleaners.  Also, the bookers.

If the guests can get hungry, they can scroll through their phone, and someone will shop for them, then dash to the door with food. That’s a gig for the dashers.

If your guest gets bored she can press a button on her phone and a car will arrive at the door in minutes and take her to the club. Driver gig.  Or side hustle, to borrow the corporate sales pitch.

Her boyfriend can beg off, stay in the house and go online.  “Take off your underwear,” he can text, and somewhere on the other side of the city or the planet a woman will remove her underwear, slowly, to keep the meter running.  The sharing economy, in action.

More of us are working, but fewer us are employed.  Our world is rounded in 1099 forms.

Uber has been extraordinarily good to me. So good I don’t have to consider renting a room in our house on AirBnB.   Everyone knows what it’s doing to the taxi business. Few know Uber has become so ubiquitous in the past two years it has displaced rental cars as the most commonly utilized ground transportation, even among corporate clients.  Last week Hertz disclosed massive losses, and may default on its bond debt.  Its fleet of aging cars are flooding the after-market. The inventory spike will put pressure on the dealerships to unload inventory, which makes for a buying opportunity if you want a new car to drive for Uber.

Whole Foods has been good to me, but its formerly dominant position in organic foods is under extraordinary price pressure from all sides and it may not survive another two years in its current form.   Uber has been selling rides at a loss  since arriving in LA, with no plans to stop doing so.  Amazon and Etsy are slowly strangling Fashion Square.   On the other hand, the Century City mall is expanding, upscale.  Our economy is bifurcating into hyper-luxury and dollar stores. Concierge service or waiting at bus stops with street people. UberPool is getting cheap enough to displace Metro riders. Soon, perhaps only derelicts will ride the bus.

Steve Jobs’ bicycle has democratized capitalism.  It means MacLeod Ale can rise out of an auto repair shop, find a clientele, and prosper where retail never could. It also means 100 people are simultaneously gripped by the same fever dream of selling biscotti made from their kitchen. Ninety-nine of them end in tears.  But they can console themselves by renting out the spare room.  Unless there isn’t one. Then they make themselves scarce while tourists cavort in their bed and rifle their drawers.

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It’s an extraordinary time to be grinding out a living in Los Angeles. Unless you’re not.

Perhaps we should hedge our bets, like my friend Johnny.

Cratchit-ville, USA

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The man who lives here works for a living, itinerantly, with his hands.   This is one of three illegal casitas tucked into the backyard of another house, each cobbled together from found materials.

For the longest time Rod had a tool van parked on the street with “Hire a Handyman” painted on the side.  Not long ago it disappeared without explanation.  He might have sold it to pay for something he shouldn’t, but I didn’t pry. Yesterday I encountered him trying to push a broken down RV with no windows into the driveway. His arm was in a cast. The transmission was missing, but it rolled, and he thought it might make a useful storage for his tools. I pushed it up the incline with his car, then he cranked it the last ten feet with a come-a-long strapped to the porch post, so the gate was able to close.

With the closing of the gate, one small problem was resolved. Fresh ones beckoned. The RV windows needed to be replaced to keep rain from getting in and harming the tools.  There was the longer matter of re-establishing his presence around Van Nuys without a work van that said ‘Hire a Handyman’ on the side.  Or should he get work, how to fit his tools into a two-door rice rocket with no muffler and expired registration tags.  Or, if he got pulled over, how to replace the muffler.

Working, poor. An endless chain of $200 problems.  A man does himself honor everyday he doesn’t throw in the towel, crawl under a blue tarp by the railroad tracks and sign up for public assistance.

My friend Johnny has a lot more on the topic of itinerant labor, up in the Bay Area.   He’s well worth reading.

Valerie’s House and Ours

The future of Cabrito Street

The future of Cabrito Street?

Astute reader Johnny, who blogs from San Francisco, thoughtfully, on urban matters, has an interesting post this week with regard to portable housing for street people.  This is partly in response to my posts on Cabrito Road but largely his own observations on sustainable development in California.   It’s well worth reading.

FWIW, I find the Hobo House on Wheels concept oddly compelling. I could even imagine a KOA campground-like arrangement with a central mail drop, wifi hub and showers.  Not in Van Nuys, of course. Somewhere up in the Antelope Valley, on the edge of the desert.

Therein lies the problem.   Nobody want this guy “residing” on their block, or down the street, or anywhere nearby:

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In an online tete-a-tete Johnny has pointed out the hypocrisy of my placing the campground in someone else’s town, thereby violating a standing theme of this blog: Van Nuys as Repository of Other People’s Social Engineering Schemes.

In my defense, I will say this:  there’s a lot of space in the desert. Hobo-ville need not be in anyone’s town. It would also by its remoteness separate the serious crack addicts from those who are merely in need of shelter.  People like this guy:

Bear, and his partner

Bear, and his partner

It would be an imperfect solution to a long unresolved problem: what to do with surplus people in a global city, a two hour drive from an open border with Mexico which disgorges an endless stream of fresh labor willing to work for less than $10/hr and sleep in a garage.

Crarckheads and junkies will sleep under the freeway and down on Skid Row, anywhere they can score quickly.  The schizophrenics will wander institution-less through our world. But the surplus people, the unloved, the forgotten, the un-hirable, those who flipped their canoe somehow and never put it upright again….maybe the tent-on-casters arrangement is a civic compromise preferable to this:

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