Knockdown, Improve, Engulf and Devour

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When I park my car on Westgate, I walk past construction sites like these on my way to the store.  Every single storey house north of Montana is getting knocked down upon change of ownership.   Perpetual construction. Multiple job sites on a single block.

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A couple weeks ago I arrived at work to find I had become a reluctant, though inadvertent, villain.  Whole Foods was in the process of evicting the Brentwood newsstand, a neighborhood institution for 28 years, and I was compelled to walk past a picket line to enter the store.

Marck Sarfati, the owner, put on a full court press in the media, deploying celebrity petitioners, and a Holocaust survivor father, whose “survival” depended on the stand’s income.  About his expensive watch and luxury car, nothing was said.

Before it was a Whole Foods, the Brentwood store was once called Mrs. Gooch’s.   There were seven of them in Los Angeles when they were bought out by John Mackey in 1993.  The parking lot, that most prosaic of LA disputed zones, was shared by the store and the stand, and a perpetual sore point of overlapping demand.  Whole Foods had waited years for the lease to expire, and now they were getting the parking spaces back, and there wasn’t nothing Tommy Chong and Dustin Hoffman could do about it.

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So there the drama percolated for a few days, before we discovered Whole Foods had just been devoured, plank and nail, by Lex Luthor for $14 billion. The flagship of organic food and upper-middle class virtue-signaling consumption was now a subsidiary of the largest retail entity in the world. Amazon stock increased $18 billion in value on news of the merger, which meant Jeff Bezos had purchased 432 stores and 91,000 employees for the price of lifting a pinkie finger and cooing: because it’s my birthday Smeagol, and I wants it. 

Walmart killed Main Street (sort of) and now Amazon is killing Walmart. To avoid being overtaken in ten years by a more nimble start-up yet to rise from a Y Combinator confab, Bezos is buying up the premium real estate of retail.

American wealth is moving, inexorably, like metal shavings in a magnetic force field, toward the coasts. In the coastal areas, it is piling up into the canyons, and closer to the beaches, or to higher floors downtown. A winner take all economy concedes nothing to the middle.

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I don’t think Mr. Sarfati is going to be able to keep his newsstand. On the bright side, I have bitchin new Ikea cabinets, and one curious foundling black kitten.

A Sunday journey

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Secular abundance on Grand Street

“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.

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So off we went, on our DTLA adventure,  encountering signposts along the way.  I did my petulant best to ignore them.

They love Bernie Downtown

They love Bernie downtown

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?