In a long election year of Uber driving, I heard many things. On occasion, I was asked pointed political questions.
Guess who people wanted to talk about?
Some were eager to let me know how wonderful or terrible Trump was. Others, very furtively, wanted to suss out my views. It was phrased in terms of gee, what are other people saying?
Quietly, they were seeking my consent to vote for him.
Lotsa Bernie People in my Uber, too, and they were a very agreeable bunch. Free college for everybody may not be sound fiscal policy but it galvanized people and you have to give a measure of respect for the enthusiasm of your fellow Angelenos. Bernie put meat on the table. So did Godzilla.
No one asked about Hillary. Her name went unmentioned in Hillary-ville, across a span of 1,436 Uber rides. Jill Stein was mentioned once.
A month ago, I watched her motorcade roll down San Vicente on her way to a fundraiser…black, silent, funereal, an ambulance bringing up the rear. In Brentwood, no one waved. In the break room, my Latino co-workers ignored the TV when election coverage was on, which surprised me.
The gulf between moments like these and the smug triumphalism in the media could not have been broader.
Eight years ago, Barack Obama was presented to the world as Jesus Christ in political form. Once in office, he had nowhere to go but down. Even competent governance would play as anti-climax.
The Trump election has been presented to us as an extinction-level event for democracy. If he manages to not burn down the White House while chasing Melania through the East Wing with a cigar in his mouth, he will surprise to the upside. Imagine all the wet pillows then.
Last night I was Ubering and I got a ride request at the old landmark Johnnies Coffee Shop on Fairfax and Wilshire. It was lit up like Christmas and surrounded with placard bearing Bernie people cheering at passing cars. The exterior had been Bernie-ified with hagiographic muraling and artwork.
Enthusiasm was infectious. My rider, a young man bedazzled in campaign togs and paraphernalia, reluctantly broke away from a group of friends plotting Election Day volunteer assignments. Door knocking? Yes! Phone banking? We’ll do that too!
He needed to get home, to Beverly Hills, in time for curfew. And by Beverly Hills, I mean all the way up, as Fat Joe would say, way up past the Hotel, past the reservoir where Jake Gittes lost the tip of his nose, up where the architectural showcases perch on the spines of the ridge tops looking down the city like glass box gargoyles. He was 17.
“Tomorrow 8 PM, is going to be the most stressful day of my life, even more than the SAT.”
I asked him for a prediction. Even though he was unable to cast a ballot, he didn’t want to jinx it. As a backstop, there was always the hope of a Hillary indictment before July. But he hoped they didn’t need it.
Tomorrow is now today and in a few hours, by the time most of you have read this, we will know the answer to the first question.
He talked on, cheerfully dogmatic, about the banks and the oil companies running the country, how they had to be stopped, and how that would help put an end to inequality. He was a Mini-Me Bernie, minus the Brooklyn accent, chattering away in the back seat, texting friends, making plans. He was so sweet about it, one couldn’t mock him, even in the privacy of one’s thoughts.
If nothing else, this primary election, the first to matter in my lifetime, found a way of gathering a critical mass of idealists to each side. None were more positive and hopeful, in LA anyway, than the Bernie people. It speaks well of them.
When I got home I turned on the TV and saw that MSNBC had “called” the election for Hillary, before any ballots had been counted.
“I feel like I’m having a civil war inside my head,” said my Wise Artist pal. “I’m so divided.” She had a secret she wished to share. Only the day before, she crossed the Rubicon. She re-registered as a Republican so she could cast her ballot for Trump in the upcoming primary.
“I want to light a firecracker under this country.”
On Sunday morning I was in Watts, at the CicLAvia. In liberal, cosmopolitan Los Angeles, very few white people joined us on the trek. As a veteran CicLAvian, I found the low attendance disloyal and unpatriotic.
If one wanted to see the full measure of the economic hollowing out of America, here was the place the Bernie people and the Trump people could agree upon.
Along the way, I encountered a white man with a broken arm and his hand on a bible, sitting at a table in front of a closed church, nodding significantly at the riders as they went past as though beckoning them toward something. Of what, I could only guess.
Later that night we were in Pasadena at an awards dinner for Mrs. UpintheValley, hosted by a lovely, gracious woman who lives in the kind of house which ignites bonfires of envy in the hearts of working-class guests from Van Nuys. And everyone at the table was lovely and gracious and prosperous. And the host mentioned a former student who is now Digital Media Director for Elizabeth Warren, and this elicited giddy approval, for what higher calling could there be? Practically an appointment to the secular Vatican itself. And wouldn’t it be delightful if Hillary picked Warren as a running mate? Trump has zero chance of winning, after all. For the moment we were all two degrees of separation from the Good People Who Really Matter and didn’t that make the demi-glace on the hanger steak all the tastier?
Then on Monday I am at an industry workshop at AFI, where an actress/writer I’ve known for years, tough and talented, a woman you’ve seen on TV plenty of times, is staging a work-in-progress which included a Donald Trump-esque speech about immigrants. Afterward, in the notes, people argued whether it was Sarah Palin or Trump himself speaking, then someone said it couldn’t possibly be Palin, because the character was utilizing multi-syllabic words, and thus beyond Palin’s speaking ability. In Los Feliz, people found this observation clever and uproarious. Mirth owned the room.
The next morning I drove to Home Depot in Panorama City to buy a tape measure and there were dozens of men crowding cars in the parking lot, leaning into windows, pleading for day work.
Later, I took Trixie for her evening constitutional and we passed an Ayn Rand-ian tableau of trucks in my neighborhood filled with scrap metal.
Around the corner, we encountered this gorgeous example of late post-war American industry, preserved in amber, right down to the whitewalls. It felt like another signpost. We are nearing the end of something.
Admit it, you were beginning to feel tingles of excitement. This year, your vote was going to count, for the first time ever, perhaps. Your inbox was filling with solicitations to donate, to volunteer. Snatches of political gossip fluttered about you like the flappings of moths, as you went about your day.
Trump this! Sanders that!
Be honest, these are the only two you heard anyone talking about.
California, on the verge of 1968 all over again. Minus the assassination. (We hope)
All the old rules were in the wind.
Our two districts in the Valley were about to be hotly contested battlegrounds in which twelve precious delegates were to be dispersed, six for each party. Twelve! Like a jury pool, we waited in attention, preparing for the deluge. The fate of the country, down to us, on the final day of the primary season. One felt so enfranchised…
Yesterday, Other People, ahead of us in line, settled it. Boo!
Now we’re stuck with two candidates who are the subject of “#never” campaigns as the presumptive nominees. If you vote for Trump are you voting for or against the Republican party? It’s unclear. If you vote for Hillary you are voting for Wall Street. But she swears you’re not. What if you’re a double never, and earlier vowed, rashly, to support neither? What now to do?
You can put your palms together and come to center and bring a measure of order to the chaos of the world.
Today was my fifth CicLAvia, and the first in which I’ve seen the forum used for an organized protest. Pacoima (90% Latino) is an odd location for White People (TM) to take their message of chastisement of Other White People. Was the idea that few white people would be there to see, or be insufficient in number to reach critical mass and begin to jeer? A message on their Facebook page exhorts people to show up at CicLAvia en masse to Stand Against White Terror.
White Terror! Right here in River City Pacoima!
As I took this picture a white woman rode past and called out to them in an encouraging, sing-song voice ‘to vote for Bernie’.
Otherwise, they were ignored. A group of LAPD officers, the principal target of their ire, followed at a discreet distance, for their protection. You know, from the aggrieved white supremacist contingent laying in wait in Pacoima.
“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.
So off we went, on our DTLA adventure, encountering signposts along the way. I did my petulant best to ignore them.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Actually, that’s not exactly true. Bernie drew a big crowd, and then, in a remarkable act of self-abasement, relinquished the microphone to two women who stormed the podium. They demanded four and half minutes of silence and proceeded to lecture everyone, including the candidate, for their “white supremacist liberalism” and insufficient fealty to the Black Lives Matter agenda.
“Don’t ask questions! We’re shutting it down! Let her speak NOW!”
As political performance art goes, it was a thing of beauty. Vermont folded its hand in under a minute.
After the rioting in Ferguson and Baltimore, the #BLM movement has alienated much of the country save two groups of people: the media, and a particular species of upper-middle class liberal who is as separated from inner city life as is culturally, economically and geographically obtainable. In short, Bernie Sanders voters. After this weekend, I’m not sure where this leaves them, in this the seventh year of the Obama presidency.
All this was on my mind at the Culver-to-Venice CicLAVia today, which was lovely and pleasant as always…but kind of, dare I say it, lacking in local color.
I didn’t see a lot of bikes like this one, from the Valley CicLAVia in March. Nor many riders of the type who make bikes like this.
The crowd was rather….er, Bernie Sanders-ish. White, prosperous and polite. If voting habits and campaign donations are fair proxy, blissfully indifferent to the political arson they’ve set in motion around the country.