Jeff Spicoli Lived Here

Fast Times at Ridgemont High was on TV the other day…I was drawn in by nostalgia but stayed for the spectacle of teenagers working after school.   I couldn’t get past it.

Every character in the movie had a job, including Phoebe Cates, the Megan Fox of her time, dutifully served the public while draped in a corporate issue smock so unflattering it would never make it past the wardrobe assistant today.

First, the oddity: when do we see this anymore?  Then the deep memory: we all did this when were young.  Then the recognition: how completely we’ve restructured things.  White teenagers working at the Galleria? That’s what an open border is for.

A job used to be the first step to adulthood and freedom from parental constraints, the children of professionals just as likely to be slinging pizza as those of an auto mechanic.  Almost everyone today not explicitly rich claims membership in the middle class.  It’s the conceit at the heart of the 1%/99% formulation. But in 1982 it was mostly true if you viewed it aspirationally rather than by income quintile.

1982 was faux wood paneling, Formica countertops, cheap linoleum, tchotchkes, and self-maintained yards.  This could be Sherman Oaks as easily as Arleta.  All rather downmarket by modern Dwell standards, but perfectly in keeping with the aesthetics of the time.

Anyone whose house looks like this today is, well, probably “poor” or elderly.  Escaping…this… prison of dreck is the great motivator of contemporary LA.

The first commandment of Valley 2.1: all ranch houses shall be gutted and made Zillow-ready.  Better yet, they shall be replaced with more units. Which brings me to the condemned house in the first picture, in the shadow of an IMT apartment block on Sepulveda. I have it on good authority Jeff Spicoli lived there. Now it’s going to be six McMansions.   If they have kids, they won’t be working after school.   They will intern.  Peasants from Chiapas will man the espresso machine and pull the weeds.

The global south is on the move. The Red State high achievers are on the move. Both are coming here. Ambition leaves Cleveland as quickly as honorable men flee Chapo’s brigades in Sinaloa.

Chinese yuan is in search of a safe harbor. The Federal Reserve is printing money and handing it out at no interest to banks: start funding things, anything, spin the dials of consumption. Come pension fund apparatchiks, say the banks, come ye Central Asian strongmen, ye Israeli billionaires and Gulf sheiks looking to elude the virtue police, build an apartment block in Van Nuys, start collecting rent and citizenship is yours. Hedge your bets here, in the former land of hedges.

Stacy and Brad, Damone and Spicoli, Linda and Ratner, they had no idea what was coming.

St. Elizabeth of Fryman Canyon

In Fryman Canyon, they no longer allow you to park on the streets to the public trailhead, but they love their Harvard socialism.

There is a small pay lot on Laurel Canyon that has perhaps 1/3 of the capacity needed for weekend hikers. In the event of overflow, we would use one of the many empty streets nearby and partake of the public good known as the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy, an accommodation the gentry has done away with. First by guile, and now by civic order they’ve persisted.

There are three houses on this street for sale, all over $5 million. Is this in keeping with Elizabeth’s claim to be capitalist to her bones?  

The $2000 Studio Comes to Panorama

For that price, it better be Instagram about to happen. And it is.  The long-vacant Panorama Tower has, after 25 years, adaptively re-purposed and will open for leasing next week, Blade Runner views in all directions.

Infrastructure is minimal, in keeping with the live/work loft fiction.   At 600 sqft, units are generously sized for a studio,  but there is no getting around the one room problem. Two people who aren’t sleeping with each other are going to have trouble sharing it.

Clearly the developer wants white people to move here though I anticipate few will arrive with children.  The Era of the Vertical Valley has begun.

Little Doelger Boxes

The Sunset district in San Francisco is a quiet beach town 15 minutes from the urban core…

…and five minutes from miles and miles of off-leash sand. I have friends who live here and it’s always fun to visit. When I stay over I take their dog for a run in the morning mist.

Many of the houses were built in vast tracts over sand dunes by Henry Doelger, much in the same vein as Henry Kaiser built Panorama City.   They have a standard template: 2-3 bedrooms/one bath over a single car garage.  As the Sunset gradually slopes toward the ocean, the elevated configuration offers every house a water view.

They may look small from the outside but are actually quite substantial:  my friends have built two additional bedrooms and baths in the undeveloped downstairs space adjacent to the garage, fully within the footprint for the foundation.  Doelger houses may not wield the aesthetic pull of the Victorian but have stood up well over the years: old-growth timber, oak doors, coved ceilings, terrazzo steps rising from the street…

Doelger went on to develop the Westlake district in Daly City, immortalized in the song “Little Boxes” by Malvina Reynolds, later by Pete Seeger, and covered by just about everybody.  Cultural condescension notwithstanding, the little boxes of ticky-tacky have become a $1.2 million proposition. Our California moment can be summarized thus: the mockery of the boomers is now the desideratum of Gen Xers, and the reason Millennials must move to Texas.

You may know the song from the TV show “Weeds”, which was about rather big boxes in the outer reaches of the San Fernando Valley  (Amazing how many pop reference points have a Valley tie-in).   Though it went off the air in 2012, the transgressive premise was a widow dealing marijuana in the suburbs to pay bills.   Sunday night, ganja in the cul de sac!   Now they sell it off of billboards next to the convenience store. You couldn’t make this show today.

I met a guy last month who works in a weed warehouse in North Hollywood producing 100 pounds a week, all the workers with W2s. One of three jobs he had. The other gigs were downtown, tending bar. His wife worked at the swank Nomad Hotel.  A hundred hours of labor a week between them.  They were from New York.

“If you get your hustle on, you can kill it in LA,” he told me. They had a dream. The dream was to afford a condo. If they had a condo, no one could stop them from having a dog.  They loved dogs.

A little box was beyond their expectations.

Thrifty No More

Impractical, gorgeous, Jet Age modern Van Nuys Savings and Loan, more recently operating as La Tapultecha mercado, has finally met the wrecking ball.   In the 1960s it paid 4% interest on savings accounts.   Trying finding that today. Banks offer 1%, maybe, less monthly fees.

Usury was illegal then. Usury, meaning 18% loans. Anything beyond that was in the hands of the mafia. Now credit cards frequently charge 30%. Payday loans can run to 400%.  They offer them up the block at PL$, 24 hours a day, from behind bulletproof glass.

It was a different world, reflected in the architecture.

To understand just how shocking the idea of 18% interest was not so long ago, here’s a clip from the original Fun With Dick and Jane, set in the San Fernando Valley of the late 70s. The protagonist couple, middle-class and overextended, visit a clip joint looking to borrow their way out of trouble. The scene is an earth-toned bridge between the aspirational world of mid-century thrift, with passbooks, and the quantitatively eased may a billion debtors bloom electronic currency casino we enjoy today.

Guess who’s living inside the old safe?  You can’t blame them. The door was open, and it’s quiet inside.

A Darker Valley

Wasco, Kern County: Almonds, opiates, unbuilt subdivisions, and the Merced-to-Bakersfield High-Speed Rail line, still under construction, soon to be…
a) a carcass, abandoned for lack of funds
b) a fully funded anachronism offering service between farm towns
c) history’s most expensive bike path
d) the most Instagrammable spot in the San Joaquin Valley
e) Caligula’s horse

Beatdown by the 405

A masked brigade of thugs descended on a Van Nuys homeless encampment Saturday and administered an indiscriminate, day-long beatdown on garbage.

Wielding shovels and white uniforms they laid waste to waste, detritus of all forms: syringes, month old sweet and sour pork, used batteries and piss jugs fattened by sunlight.

No one invited them.  Some brazenly wore MAGA hats, in defiance of local codes.

“I figured if I was ever going wear mine in LA, this would be the day”, said a woman from Santa Clarita.

Patrick, a self-described “red-pilled black man” drove from Loma Linda to get in on the action.

Looking at moments like a post-apocalyptic religious cult, they shamelessly swarmed the garbage field in plain view of its creators, the people of the tent favela a short distance away.

By afternoon,  eight tons of garbage were dispatched into two giant containers.  The field was scraped down to the gravel.

As their eco-system shrank by the minute, newly homeless rats burst from bags and scampered in circles in search of safety. Fresh dank dark places were in short supply.

Looming over the fascistic process of cleanliness was a mysterious leader named Scott who exerted a Svengali-like hold on the garbage beaters. “Thank you for helping out”,  he would tell them as they removed their hazmat suits.  “Thank you, Scott, for organizing this”, they would reply.

Then they touched elbows in lieu of shaking hands, as though speaking in code.

*before photo courtesy of Pacific Pundit

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.