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.

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.