The Will to Bezos

This is what war to the death for market share looks like from inside my car when dropping off at LAX.    Free=$195/week lease rate.   Fair=Anyone with a license is eligible to drive for Uber. In California, legal status is irrelevant.   If you complete 125 rides/Eats deliveries in a week, the lease is paid by Uber.     That’s one way to take a $5 billion write-down in a single quarter and bleed veteran drivers at the same time.

Make no mistake, the rideshare model is ubiquitous and profitable in the major cities. No one is going back to buses and cabs.   The ancillary businesses: delivery, freight, scooters and bikes, overseas markets are fiscal sinkholes.  So are endless recruitment incentives.

If Uber can agree with Lyft how to divide the market, each could raise fares one dollar per ride,  use it to retain the current driver fleet and pad their bottom line.

But that’s not what they’re doing.  Los Angeles is shaping up as the Gettysburg of the gig economy.  We are in the bloodletting stage before Pickett’s Charge.  There will be one dominant market player at the end of the horsemeat.

In another century we had Will to Power. Now we have the Will to Bezos.

Two Hollywoods, One Wheel

He stole my phone when I was kissing him!
The guy in the pink tank top?
Bitch, I knew he was going to do that.
Why didn’t you say anything?
Would you have listened? You were too busy eating his mustache.  

True Sunday story, right here. One can’t say they weren’t warned. Signs over the bar warned of cell phone pickpockets like it was Dickensian London, but with glitter.  In WeHo, the young pretty things boldly exploit middle-aged longing, the middle-aged dangle free drinks to pretty young things doubled up in rooms in Van Nuys,  and there’s a great drag show to distract us from all the Darwinian undertow.

At the other end of CicLAvia, there’s this post-Dickensian tableau. Only one tourist bothers to look.  Others step around her like she was topiary and figure out where the restaurant is.  No literary genius will immortalize the addict in the sleeping bag.  She’s part of the shrubbery now.

The city will not allow you to use a plastic straw but will defend the right to camp on the sidewalk like it was God’s commandment.   Don’t Normalize Trump, we shriek, but oh how we’ve normalized this.

After a lovely CicLAvian day from Vermont to San Vicente and back, I biked back to the Valley, three cocktails deep and sweaty. Small civic detail: there is no bike lane in the Cahuenga Pass.  None.   So right at the point where Cahuenga becomes a freeway alternative and cars accelerate accordingly, one is shunted into the gutter.  A dozen rotations of the pedals later, I hear this fsssssss…. and being in a happy frame of mind decided, oh, this must be some feral creature, some urban fauna lurking in the shrubbery, warning me away from his domain.  I’m communing with nature. How loverly! It wouldn’t be a flat tire. Not in under a minute.  Not me. I did the right thing. I didn’t park in the city.  I’m one of the good ones! 

Guess who pushed his bike back over the Pass, cars nipping at his elbow the whole way?  You’d think there’d be a bike path by now. Didn’t we pass a sales tax? Twice?

You can pretend for an afternoon, but the First Law of the City remains unchallenged: the car is king.   To believe otherwise is one of the 23 Lies we tell ourselves about LA.

Gagandeep in Basura

Yesterday I found a series of flashcards in the Sepulveda Basin discarded by a person who refers to himself as Gagandeep. They endeavor to explain the fetishistic relation between People of the Favela and trash accumulation.

After this card, the print becomes too small to read.

Gagandeep is a fairly common Hindi name, but in this context perhaps more satisfying as onomatopoeia.

Web search unearths many Gagandeep Singh: a heroic Indian policeman who saved a Muslim from an angry mob,  another who was a murder victim in Idaho, and a whole lot of doctors, including one on Van Nuys Blvd.  It could be the case this spelunker of diamonds in the trash is one of his patients and has appropriated the name.

Amidst the crusader tents of Bull Creek, medieval disease has returned, ass to mouth, to Los Angeles.

Oh, would a pan piper offer to lead them away. Who would ask questions? For ten million dollars I will blow my flute and you will suffer them no more, sayeth the Piper.  You may not know where I’m taking them.  

GoFundMe would answer the call in a day.   For the price of two lottery tickets per Angeleno, probably in an hour.   Then what?

What if an asteroid hit Los Angeles at dawn while the Favela danced around a Maypole in the desert? Our comeuppance.

Or, in the Black Mirror version, we are forced to watch the Soylent Green-like fate to which we have delivered them, and are so guilt-stricken we offer ten times the ransom for their safe return.

Or, we never find out, never see them again, and peaceably adjust to a civic mystery.  Untroubled, we begin to look at our ailing, inconvenient grandparents in a whole new light.

The Floor Scrapers

“I take no joy in cleaning, none whatsoever,” says Mrs. U.  “But the state of cleanliness gives me calm. I’m very unhappy in clutter.”

I’m certain the men scraping the paint off the floor of Gustave Caillebotte’s studio by hand in 1875 took little joy in their labor either, but Monsieur Caillebotte, a man of leisure, found it rather erotic…and now they are immortalized in the Musée d’Orsay.

The bottle of wine on the floor fascinates me. Was this common among the Parisienne working class, or an indulgence he allowed them as compensation for modeling?

At 34, Gustave retired to the countryside to garden and be a patron of the arts. A strange choice in my book, for a man with at least one masterpiece to his name. He became a lotus-eater and grower of orchids.

He turns up later in The Luncheon of the Boating Party, seated lower right, his attention fixated on the other man in the straw boater and singlet, who as the proprietor’s son, is not exactly a member of the party himself nor dressed for it.   Renoir immortalizes Gustave a second time, in longing.

Wish as I might, there is no eroticizing the floor in Chez UpintheValley.  The robot does half the work.  Flickers of recognition pass before me…momentarily I feel like Degas with an iPhone admiring the washerwomen, and then …no, darling. Just no. I really hate this. And it’s leading up to nothing. Finish the outlet box in the ceiling. 

Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo

On the bus, two passengers said, the suspect would make people move out of his way when he moved about. At one point, they said, he pulled out a handgun and, unprovoked, shot another passenger.

“He was acting weird, he was trying to press on people,” said one of those passengers, Carlos Hurtado, 23. “He was trying to make people know he was a bad guy.”

Said the second of these passengers, Luis Rodriguez, 41: “It could have been anybody. I could have sat where (the victim) was sitting. It’s like he was going, ‘Eeny, meeny, miny, mo.’ ” *

Imagine you’re on the Orange Line on a weekday afternoon and you see this guy acting out. He’s not physically imposing, just oddly aggressive.  If you were a nice middle-class lady on your daily commute from work, you might be inclined to express your disapproval at his behavior in a non-threatening way.  What reason would you have to think he was carrying a gun? You’re in the Valley.  Why would you think he killed his parents that morning in Canoga Park, killed two others at a gas station in North Hollywood, and was now riding the bus, waiting out the helicopter search?  You wouldn’t.  Your good manners would be your undoing.  You would be victim number 5.

I picked up two guys in Fairfax the other night, but only one got in the Uber.  Is your friend coming? I asked.  That wasn’t my friend, the rider replied. That was a homeless guy, bumming a smoke. I attract them. Recognizing their humanity is my weakness. They can sense I’m a listener.  I’m an easy mark. I’d rather be living in a tent on the street myself if the alternative was never talking to anyone.

This tender particularity of character is what makes it possible for 5 million people to share a single city. It also opens the transom for the deranged, the conniving, and the evil to elide the limbic danger detection systems under which we operate. You can share a smoke with a stranger, rarely will you be smoked.  But it happens.

We live in this tension between prudence and brotherhood. The urban reforms of the 90s: broken windows policing, determinate sentencing laws, civil anti-gang injunctions, were so complete in their victory over random street crime people under the age of 35 have no living memory of it.  I’m old enough to have lived through the tail end of urban decay, and even I have let my guard down.  I say whaddup to everyone, including people I probably shouldn’t.   My name is Eeny.  Someone else is going to be Mo.   Someone on the evening news.

That’s another of the 23 Lies We Tell About LA: we can empty the jails, abandon quality of life enforcement, vilify the police and the crime rate will remain unchanged.  Because Lake Balboa is safe today, it will be safe tomorrow.

*Photo credit, Leo Kaufmann, LA Daily News

Only Hillbillies Throw Trash in Creeks

As we say in the creative arts, everything is material.  Cast a wide net. Freewrite.  Be bold in the face of prohibitions. Daring in your approach.  Refine your choices later.

Down here, in the Narrows, where no one will bother you.  Where you can extract $1.99 of trade goods from two shopping carts of scrog and leave the remainder to the storm drains.

Number 22 in the 23 Lies We Tell About LA™:  Only hillbillies throw trash in creeks.  Hillbillies are deplorable people who know nobody and nobody knows.   They live way out Elsewhere, in the pill eating, strip mining, under-achieving, low information Heritage America.   Not like Us. We have a Green New Deal,  with pie charts and bar graphs and 2035 targets. We have Environmental Justice. We are beyond self-recrimination.

105° in the Valley, 78° in Santa Barbara

Mercifully, dogs can’t distinguish between a one hour journey and three.  They have nose memory instead.   Sea belch evokes sand which evokes wind sprints and cool foam sluicing through their toes. In the deep circadian rhythm involving cars, something wonderful starts to happen around Carpenteria.  That the car isn’t actually moving, is literally parked on the freeway…well, that’s a people problem.

There’s an old joke. A bunch of stray dogs are hanging around in Tijuana. One of them is from suburban San Diego.  He comes down on the weekend and brags to the other dogs his owners feed him filet mignon scraps from the table.  He sleeps in bed with them on sheets of Egyptian cotton.

“If you have it so good up there,” they ask the La Jolla dog, “then what are you doing down here with us in Tijuana?”

“Oh, that’s easy. I come to Tijuana to bark.”

So why are Mrs. UpintheValley and I leaving 75 miles of Los Angeles beaches, adding to the collective agony of the 101…to bring the dogs to Montecito?

So they can run off-leash as God intended.  We bring them to bougie, white  Santa Barbara so they can bark.   Santa Barbara is a high-trust city. It can afford to be generous in leash laws. Los Angeles is not, therefore cannot.

There’s also ample free parking and that sweet walkable dog-friendly Funk Zone.

One of the 23 Lies We Tell About LA™: it’s a great beach town.

 

“I Cares About Your Bag”


So here’s a little dialogue from this weekend in the Uber:
Rider: I love your shirt. Are you going to the after-hours club when you finish driving?
Me: I’m going to be the guy picking people up from the club.
How is your bag? Are you making the fat bag?
My bag is not so fat anymore since they cut the rates, but thanks for caring.
Hey man, you picked us up. That makes you part of our evening. I cares about your bag.

Much of what I love about driving is packed into this exchange. Yet for how much longer will this sentiment, this brotherhood of the app, hold true?   To summon a car with a flick of your thumb at any hour day or night, in minutes, to whisk you in any condition to any location in the county, no matter how remote, was a small urban miracle.  Gratitude was the order of the day.  For some, it remains so. But people with no living memory of taxis now consider Uber and Lyft to be an extension of their phone.  

In March both Uber and Lyft, operating as a duopoly, cut the mileage and base rate for LA area drivers 30%m without warning.  In the middle of a booming economy.   Mayor Garcetti, a man given to proclaiming on all Liberal Issues Under the Sun, uttered nary a peep, though he did put in a celebratory appearance at a Lyft IPO event.

Let’s unpack this.  The largest employer in LA (it’s not even close) is rideshare.  Most are side hustlers like myself. Imagine if Ford and GM announced a 30% UAW pay cut amidst record car sales. Would politicians in Detroit say nothing?  At what point would silence be considered assent?

What if GM and Ford began running ads on the radio, buying billboards, soliciting new workers at the new low rates…and as an inducement, leased them the tools?  What if they targeted non-citizens for recruitment?

You might start making a list in your head as to who really cares about your bag.

A Whole Lotta Fa

Three questions. When in history have mobs wearing masks and hoods beating on defenseless people ever stood on the side of righteousness?   If one is against fascism, why are your team colors red and black?  If what you’re doing is legit, why the mask?

The level of physical aggression evinced by the Antifa brigades of Portland and elsewhere is remarkable only by its cowardice.   Cold-cocking people when their back is turned. Pepper-spraying from two feet away while the recipient is busy fending off other harassers. Tossing concrete milkshakes in peoples faces.  Tripping, spitting on, kicking people on the way down.  A tire iron upside the head, while the victim is bending over to assist a woman.

Always from the weak side.  Only from the safety of overwhelming numerical superiority.

Would any of these people behave this way mano a mano, or more tellingly, on neutral ground?  Would they try it in Texas?

Portland is now the mirror image of Birmingham, Alabama 1963, only creepier.  Lawless mobs execute political violence in the street in open view of police, who allow them to act with impunity, in accordance with directives from city officials. The targeted beating of journalist Andy Ngo this weekend for reporting fearlessly (and alone) on Antifa has revealed a will to power on the Left distinguished by joyful sadism: Everyone to the right of us is fascist.  We should punch fascists preemptively. They should have no freedom of assembly, nor of speech. Milkshake them all. 

Our very woke media is tacitly endorsing this notion that those who voted for Trump forfeit civil rights, including the right to enjoy a meal peaceably at a restaurant.  A nation in which vigilanteism is licensed for the anointed is not one which will hold together.

My Valley is brown. My Valley is gay. My Los Angeles is very liberal. Brown and gay are always welcome at my table. Twenty years as a citizen of Los Angeles has scourged me of my liberal impulses.  I am a man heterodox in his views.  Somehow I get through my day without the urge to beat on people, although I do talk at the TV from time to time, refining other people’s arguments, basking in the unimpeded glory of my own.

The Portland-ization of Los Angeles has remained south of Ventura Blvd, for now, and for this I am grateful, but it will not last.  Even Van Nuys will be made to choose.  The world may not like our answer.  We know Fa when we see it.

*photo credit Wall Street Journal, YouTube