Mississippi, California

Drove up to Mendocino County last week, stopping along the way in Baywood on the Central Coast to visit an old friend, a refugee from Echo Park. We went to the local alehouse for charcuterie and libation.

Here, California on a plate. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit up front how awesome this was.  The napkin is covering some truly sublime sausage. We basked in the sea breeze off the bay, chatted with the locals, scarfed the finger foods, swilled the grog and lived as the anointed for an hour.  In our munificence we forgave each other our sins and toasted the health of all.

California cuisine: grab every tasty idea from around the world, source it locally, then serve it on a patio close to the ocean.

San Luis Obispo County is where white people and their dogs land when they leave L.A but can’t bear relocating to a red state.  You get to pretend you’re still in Venice, but at half the price.

Outside Cholame

The charcuterie plate put me in an exploratory frame of mind. In the morning I decided to make the rest of the journey to San Francisco on farm roads in the valley. The big one. The San Joaquin, where the food comes from.  I cut over on the 41, a highway much more crowded with cars than I remember it from my motorcycle days in college, then meandered off into farm roads, zig-zagging in a northerly way.

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West of Fresno
South of Turlock

It is difficult to overstate the sheer scale of industrial agriculture out there.  The vastness of the fields. The monotony of endless rows of nut trees and grapevines. You keep thinking, just up the road at the next little name on the map, the real valley will reveal itself…and it will be a charming farmstead with organic honey…and then you get to Raisin City…

Raisin City

…and the one commercial structure has bars over every window and is out of business.  You can get snacks at the gas station, and probably buy meth from the kid on his bike riding in pointless circles in the parking lot, but you can’t get a sandwich. County after county, there is really nothing but fast food trucked in, frozen, then fried, fuel for the laborers.

All is utility and practicality. The San Joaquin has no retail face. A gigantic factory of food production, charmless and unironic, it smiles at no one.  Anyone not behind the wheel of a farm implement drives 70 mph on two-lane roads.

Dairyland

When restaurants on the coast say locally sourced, this is what they’re talking about. When I worked at Whole Foods the rule was: “within five hours of L.A.”  When they say grass-fed, they mean ground up cornstalks unloaded from a feed hauler at a CAFO.

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Gustine
San Joaquin River

Poverty is front and center in the San Joaquin Valley. There is no avoiding the subject. It’s like pre-civil rights Mississippi out there.  No white people toil in the fields. When the anointed in the cities argue for open borders, they are speaking in favor of corporate interests. Oligarchy on a plate, in this, the bluest of states.

A permanent flow of cheap labor robs all workers of bargaining power, regardless of legal status. This extends beyond agriculture into other realms of the service economy. There is very little progressive, or just, about any of this. But it’s happening somewhere over the hill, in Uglyville, to people who know nobody and nobody knows.

Besides, the charcuterie is delicious…

Verisimilitude

There are no streetlights in Baywood.  No sidewalks. The only public light sources are the Alehouse, the Merrimaker and the laundromat.  Locals hear the surf crashing on the sand spit a mile away across the estuary and complain, the way one might complain about the freeway noise back in Los Angeles, where the over/under starts at $100,000 year.

Baywood is where you retreat when LA doesn’t work for you anymore but you want to stay in California. It’s where the life you wanted to have in Van Nuys or Echo Park is re-booted.

L.A. 2.0, on wheels...
L.A. 2.0, now on wheels…

It is where you park your RV in your friends driveway and figure out your next move.  And where you go when you close your bike shop, once named Best in the City by the LA Weekly, after 11 years.

Where you break out the wrenches and drill set, and turn the RV into a mobile bike base camp and solar-powered graphic design suite.   Where you simplify things by designing your own escape pod.

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LA being LA, the bike shop lives on as the filming location for a Netflix escapist fantasy called Flaked.  The show is set in Venice and centered on a guy named Chip who owns a store hawking hand crafted three legged stools of his own design, but has no apparent customers yet manages to stay afloat.  Chip also lives rent-free by the beach and dates women half his age, and spends much of the first season perambulating around Venice on his bicycle, unencumbered by adult responsibilities like a monthly nut, or a business plan.  Flaked, by objective measurement, is not a quality show. The verisimilitude problems are impossible to get beyond. But I binged on it as a secret vice, the way Mrs. U watches the housewife shows. Punching a clock in the Valley, who wouldn’t want to live the life of Chip?

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The world is smaller than we think it is.  Fate not long ago placed one of the Flaked co-stars not named Will Arnett in the backseat of my Uber and he would spend the ride home trying without success to court, Chip-like,  a much younger female passenger. After she exited the car without yielding a number,  he laughed about it with me.  He agreed with my assessment of the show.  The lie it was telling about Los Angeles was his livelihood. He couldn’t have been nicer or more gracious.

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The real life Chip is more more athletic and better looking.   Also un-entitled and self-effacing and responsible. As he packed up his store he found letters to his workers he never sent, some dated five years ago, listing all the reasons he could no longer keep it going. Owning a business is not like a regular job. You cant just flake. He employed 15 people and spent years working with the city to open up bike lanes and paths. Now he loads up on packets at the hamburger stand to take back to the RV as he waits to hear from unemployment. Ask him if he’s bitter and he says no.  He’s put in his time in LA. The only thing he misses about it is being faster than every car on the road when riding his bike.

The trail forward looks like this
The trail out of LA looks like this

 

Escape to Baywood

Where Marcus lost his name
Where Marcus lost his name…
and is known as The Baker
…and is now known as The Baker

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Where your living space doubles, but your rent goes down.  Where you leave your wallet on a bench at the Ale House, and its waiting for you at the bar the next day.  Where the civic moniker is a paddle surfing cow. Where the streets just now are getting paved and the sewer lines at long last being put in.  Where your vegetable oil burning Mercedes comes to die.  Where you name your dishwasher Humphrey.  Where you rise at 3 AM to shape the loaves, and stay open only until the last one is sold. Where all your needs can be satisfied within a two block radius. Where if you want to go West, you get on a kayak. If you want to go elsewhere, you get on a bike.

You’re never going back to Echo Park.

The Crack in the Door

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When it comes to time to move, there are things you you put in the U-Haul, and then there are things you leave behind.  Like the crack in the door that appeared when you slammed it during a fight three years ago.   You’ll never have to see that again.

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Echo Park is done.  The Mysteries of Baywood await. Fresh doors, untrammeled by passion.

Leaving Echo Park

Marcus, in repose
Marcus, in repose

After 17 years in Mt. Washington, Atwater, and Echo Park, grinding out a living at the Silver Lake Trader Joe’s, enjoying the musical and culinary feast of the East Side,  biking every trail,  biking everywhere, owning the city by leg and pedal,  my golf and drinking buddy Marcus is decamping from Los Angeles.  He’s going to run a bread bakery in Baywood, on the central coast.  His beautiful Other, Allison, is going with him.  She’s said goodbye to a private school administrative job and its attendant stress and annoyances and soon Mrs. UpintheValley will have to make do without her.

Baywood,  rising at 3am, to shape the loaves.  Living over the bakery.  Running the store, working the farmer’s market.   No Sunset Beer Co. or Mohawk Bend just a few blocks away.  No commute, either.  No unceasing demands of entitled parents. Long, quiet hours as the master of one’s destiny.

Cheaper rent is an easy explanation for this, but it’s not about the money as much as it is about a change in the course of one’s life.

Then again, cheaper rent makes the change in vector possible.  Without it, you’re chained to your traffic slot on the 405 with the rest of us.

Next month a one-bedroom teacup bungalow on Allesandro St. will be going on the market for $2500/month.  There will be a stampede of applicants.  This is the way Los Angeles is now.

We all wished them well
We all wished them well