A Narrative of Displacement

This was the first tableau I encountered in the Mission District after parking the car.  Tech people chatting amiably next to a mural decrying the displacement of renters by tech people.   The afternoon was off to a very meta start.

When we were younger and rather prettier Mrs. U and I once lived near Valencia street when it was known primarily for taquerias.   Now you can buy retro sci-fi themed tchotchkes for $3200.  Is there a viable business model for this?  Probably not, but doesn’t matter.  The people who start stores of this nature have already made their money in you-know-what and are doing it for fun, which would be an example of loose capital not displacing labor, rather sober capitalism itself, as historically understood.

For the hyper-aspirational parent,  Valencia St. is also home to Aldea Baby and Paxton Gate Kids. In a city which has largely displaced young families, it is difficult to believe the register would ring often enough to pay SF rent. In the new paradigm one need not chase sales volume to be in the black, rather the loose money of a few undiscriminating uberwealthy couples who want their wunderkind to design rocket ships.

Staffing is an obstacle.  As my friend Johnny explained it to me: “unless you pay $20/hr, no one shows up”.

So much muraling in the Mission celebrates matriarchal themes…ironic for a city in which matriarchal power, otherwise known as procreation, has been forsaken by the women who live there.

San Francisco is not entirely motherless. I was hosted by a mother of two, a dear friend who lives in a house which dropped on her head as a marital dowry.    Inherited property and trustafarian arrangements are one workaround to the Google problem (the other being a time machine to 1992), but mothers anchored to paychecks tend to find raising children in communal rentals difficult and decamp for the outer commuter rings, or further.

SF is white AF now  (and Asian), far more so than we lived there.  The Mission is Latino no longer.   Black people…? Well, there was once a lovely movie made about the disappearing black population in SF called Medicine for Melancholydirected by Barry Jenkins, who went on to win an Oscar for Moonlight. You can no longer stream it on Netflix,  which makes the memory piece of black SF also now a memory.

And yet…the nouveau riche, Chewish San Francisco loves its narratives of third world oppression.

As though to illustrate the point for tourists from LA, this woman, who appeared to be about 60, wearing designer clothes that mimicked what one might pull out of a dumpster, parked her Mercedes in front of Delfina restaurant, turned up rap music and began dancing ecstatically atop her seat. She shouted things about “black and white together” and held up a special issue of National Geographic.

I’d be lying if I didn’t say I loved it there. There are bike lanes everywhere, including through the freeway exchanges.  I made full use of them.

Unlike LA, the bike is king!  Befitting royalty, cars yield to you.  Entire auto lanes have been displaced, to use the word of the day, in favor of pedal pushing.  This is Market Street. Can you imagine LA City Council saying yes to this on Wilshire Blvd.? I can imagine it, but I wouldn’t bet on it.   SF may be an unpleasant city for driving, but there is a tradeoff. It is much, much quieter, even the commercial districts, when cars move at slower speeds.  As I had no job to which to commute I was free to ignore the annoyance of others, and live with entitlement for a few days.

You can also let your dog run off leash at the beach, from the Marina to Pacifica. As fate would have it I ran into Danny Glover, one of the last black men in SF (the other being Willie Brown) twice, jogging by himself on Sunset Beach.

It’s when you try to leave San Francisco fully reveals itself.   This was me, 3pm, wasting 40 minutes trying to get on the Bay Bridge.  Once you get through Oakland, you think…

Only when you get to Castro Valley do you realize your commute is not opening up, it’s just starting.   Eight miles ahead of you, the Silicon Valley traffic from the 680 is funneling into the 580. You are one hour from Livermore.

After Livermore, clear sailing, right? No more on-ramps. Nothing but windmills and cows until Tracy.  Wrong. Five miles an hour over the pass.  Three hours from the city, limping into the Central Valley, one tired lion among many, extending to the horizon.

Here is San Francisco, you realize, not Valencia Street. The place you left is a theme park for the wealthy and for tourists. San Franciscans, to broaden the definition…live out here.

Define fragility: one roofing nail in the road.

More fragility: Millennium Tower, eighteen inches out of plumb already.  The foundation piles do not extend to bedrock.  They are held up by friction and they have begun to torque, twisting out of equilibrium.

Displacement.

Are we going to look back on this era of millionaires bicycling to dinner and retail workers driving home to Stockton as a harbinger of the future or an obvious signpost of folly?

Ride of the CicLAvians

In a moment of kitschy pathos we encountered the defiled star of Lillian Gish on Vine Street Sunday afternoon, at the CicLAvia in honor of the LA Philharmonic centennial.

Fitting perhaps for an actress known for her doll-like, waifish fragility. Her oeuvre was one of purity in danger, seduction and abandonment, flight from lecherous hands, and being set adrift on ice floes.

In her most famous screen appearance she threw herself off a cliff rather than submit to an amorous white actor in black face.

I was in a Ride of the Valkyries frame of mind as we pedaled downtown.  An afternoon of bike as king cranked dormant gears in my head, the ones which say why not?

Why can’t we always bike? Forget arriving to work in a timely manner. Think of the journey! Forget the supply chain, and the power grid. Practicalities are for sissies. This is how it should be! Yes yes!  New rules!  Clear the roadways! We all pedaling now.  Everyone must pedal! We should ride by torchlight!  Make way. A new age now begins!  Here in LA, where so many utopias were discarded and dystopias foretold.

Why must the essentials for a deliciously stylish life require a four level parking garage? Rethink it!

Every mile or so someone would hold up a foam finger and pull a piece of yellow tape across the road, and just like that, hundreds of people would submissively cooperate.  We were digital people in a digital age again, agreeable and rules oriented. My fever dream was bite-sized. My Lillian is sadly never in need of rescue.

With no blood and soil urgency at hand, I filed it away in a drawer in my head called Ironic Historical Feedback Loops. I kept the Wagner, but eliminated the KKK in my chain of association. See how easy that was? The mind is good at lying about what the heart knows to be true.

The MacLeod Incident

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(November 13, 2020) The City of Los Angeles celebrates this week the grand opening of the Valley Riverway, an inter-connected system of landscaped bike and walking paths along the tributaries of the LA River.  The 60-mile network descends from the the Chatsworth reservoir along Browns Creek, from Porter Ranch on the Aliso Canyon Wash, from Granada Hills on Bull Creek, and from Sylmar along the Tujunga and Pacoima washes.  An East-West corridor on the Metrolink right of way connects the northern tier of the Valley, completing what local bicyclists are referring to as “the hyper loop”.

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“It is now possible to pedal continuously from pretty much anywhere to anywhere else in under an hour, without having to stop at a light,” said District 6 Councilperson Andrew Hurvitz, who secured the $100 million project using Measure M funding. “We thought it might be a nice linear park. We didn’t realize the extent to which it would be adopted as an alternative transportation network connecting neighborhoods.”

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Construction of the East Valley light rail line has brought traffic to a standstill during commute hours, adding to the Riverway’s appeal. The troubled addition to the Metro system, originally budgeted at $2.7 billion, is now on its second contractor, with cost overruns expected to reach $4.6 billion when completed in 2024.

“At 2% of the rail budget, the Riverway was considered by the City to be exorbitantly priced. It was an orphan with birth defects.  Until the MacLeod incident, that is,” said Hurvitz, referring to a now infamous cell phone recording of a conversation at a local pub between representatives of Sheila Kuehl’s office and Kiewet/Shea, the first contractor on the rail line: “A hundred million? That’s a rounding error for us. $300 million got misplaced during the Expo Line build no one has been able to find. We know it’s floating around somewhere, but the auditors got bored and stopped looking for it.”

The conversation, punctuated by cackling, went viral on Twitter, inspiring the hashtag campaign #RoundMeUp.   

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In the wake of the MacLeod revelation, the blogger known as UpintheValley staged an insurrection at City Hall “in the spirit of Yukio Mishima”. Taking command of a balcony, he unfurled a banner outlining the Riverway project, and made an impassioned speech to an audience of derelicts and office workers on lunch break, some of whom thought they were watching live theater and left tips for the ‘performer’.   The blogger had repeatedly been ticketed by police for climbing fences into the Pacoima Wash and refused to pay the citations on principle, claiming all of the river watershed as a public right. Liens had been placed against his house by the City, which he also refused to pay, precipitating a personal and legal crisis.

“Let us rise from our stony sleep, brothers and take back the commons!”,  he proclaimed, after a rambling preamble that referenced Beauty, freedom of movement, the Golden Ratio, and the perfidy of hack politicians. Exhortation to occupy the Mayor’s office was met with a bemused reaction from onlookers, who, sensing an absence of irony, returned to their cubicles. 

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He retreated to a hallway and committed a partial hari kari, in which the stomach wall is opened, but not fatally.  He then began a two-day walk back to Van Nuys, holding his gut bag, smearing blood atop each gate denying river access.  

When he reached MacLeod Ale, there are conflicting accounts as to his final words, which were interpreted as either: “the circle is closed”, or “I’ll have that beer, now.”  A special IPA, the Dolorosa, was subsequently brewed in his memory.

The fallout from his martyrdom led to what locals now refer to as the Valley Spring.  Hurvitz wrested control of Nury Martinez’s seat on the City Council in a special election, setting the stage for the Riverway approval. 

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Young John and Elias

John Connor in the wash

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Boys move to uncharted spaces by instinct.  The first step to manhood is leaving your yard alone.   We map the world beyond our parents command first by foot, then by bicycle.

What is this strange world, we ask ourselves.  How far can I go? How high? How fast? Who am I? What is my nature?

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The channels of  the LA River are an imperfect playground for boys, yet irresistible for that very reason. There is communion with frogs and other strange fauna down in the wash, and the call to adventure along new pathways. The wash liberates one from the street grid.    There is refuge from cars, and in the quiet, unique sounds.   An alternative transportation corridor connecting neighborhoods, an in doing so a place of escape unto itself. A bridge to Terabithia in the middle of the Valley.

On Feb. 17, 14-year-old Elias Rodriguez disappeared on his way home from school.  The local TV news took up his cause and the city posted a $50,000 reward for his return.  A tipline was was established. Foul play theories were entertained.

Two weeks later his battered body was found 20 nautical miles away, on a sand spit in the Glendale Narrows, dragged there by storm waters.  He tried to cross the Pacoima Wash on foot in a rainstorm and paid with his life.  Glen Oaks Boulevard was three blocks away, civic minders were quick to point out, he could have safely crossed the wash there. Let this be a teachable moment.

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Well, sure, if you enjoy GMC Yukons whipping past you at 50mph, three abreast, stray dogs and bicyclists be damned, that sort of advice makes sense. This is not how boys think. The straight line to Elias’ grandmother’s house takes him through the hole in the chain link fence behind the Cesar Chavez Learning Academy, across the wash and up onto 7th st.  It was a route he had taken before.  Kids from the school who lived in the neighborhood took it all the time, on the down low.

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That we should have miles of pre-paved walking and bike trails off-limits to the public, is a failure of civic imagination.  Fencing it off with chain link and putting up hazard signs and pretending this will save the life of a boy like Elias is insulting.   The least we could do is build a pedestrian bridge from the school to the neighborhood it serves. But that would entail admitting the alternative to the street grid exists.

If storm water was rising a bit more rapidly than Elias was expecting, once he descended the embankment reversing course would feel like a kind of defeat.  You do what makes sense in boyworld: draw from the well of courage, make a dash for it and hope your footing holds.

That’s would I have done. I look at Elias Rodriguez at 14 and think: that was me. (Was? You still do stupid manchild bulls*** all the time -Mrs. UpintheValley)  This is trueI love climbing trees, bushwhacking, walking the railroad tracks and into the dark underbrush of the Favela.  That it is forbidden only adds to the appeal.

In The Terminator trilogy,  the savior of mankind turns out to be a boy from the San Fernando Valley. Savor that for a moment. Heroic efforts are undertaken in the Old Testament of the first film to save his mother, Sarah, merely so John Connor can be born.  T2 begins with 14-year-old John fleeing a Herod-like death sentence carried out by the shape-shifting T1000.

What does John do? He gets on his bike, and eludes his executioner by pedaling down into the storm channels of the LA river.  This is a world he understands because he’s been down there before.   By design, a natural pathway of escape from a pursuing truck.   A world where a boy might seek advantage.

Elias journey

John Connor had Arnold Schwarzenegger to rescue him.  There was no such deus ex machina for Elias.  Once he lost his grip, the stormwater would have been moving at a good clip. There is the possibility he was knocked unconscious early in his journey. This would be a mercy. For the first three miles, the slopes of the wash are at 45 degrees, and there would be hope even a poor swimmer could grab hold of something and climb out.  Once it merges with the Tujunga Wash, the sides go completely vertical, twelve feet high, a true storm channel, a veritable freeway of water. The odds of escape under one’s own power would fall to zero.   Down and down you would go, past Grace Community Church, and Judy Baca’s Great Wall of Los Angeles, past CBS and Warner Bros and past the Zoo you went to on school field trips.  You would bob like a cork within a shouting distance of hundreds of houses, you would pass beneath street crossings with cars visible to you, windshield wipers flicking madly, deaf to your cries. You would skid and roll and bounce past the private riverfront esplanades of Studio City, and wish for the superpower of Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four, to elongate your arms like rubber, to grab hold of some kind of railing, and pull yourself free. To arrive soaking, bruised and bedraggled at the patio door of the nearest house and ask to use the phone to call your mother.  But that only happens in comic books and movies.

This is how we're made
This is how we’re made

Isn’t this an argument for higher fences and greater restrictions on ingress to the river system? No, the opposite.  We lose one or two boys a year to the storm channel. We lose dozens to hit and run drivers on the boulevards of LA.  The River should not be a place of danger, but of exploration.  We’re dealing with human nature.  If there is no boyhood to be had in the Valley now, there will be diminished manhood in ten years, even less in twenty.  The answer isn’t more time in front of a screen.

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CicLAvia comes to Pacoima

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This guy rode the entire course backwards
This guy rode the entire course backwards
Fat white lady crosses street, causes commotion
This lady waddled into the street, causing commotion
Speaking of white people....
Speaking of white people….

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.

This is the real Pacoima
This is the real Pacoima
...and this.
…and this.

#BikeLivesMatter

They love Bernie in Venice
They love Bernie in Venice
In Seattle, not so much
In Seattle, not so much

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.

I have a pretty good idea where the media is leading the rest of us.

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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.

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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 Yeti Bike, winner of the UpintheValley Most Creative award
The Yeti Bike, winner of the UpintheValley Most Creative award

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.

A private esplanade on Valleyheart

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As bicyclists, birders and New Urbanists have long been aware,  there exists in digital space overlapping fever dreams of a Greenway along “51 miles of the LA River”.  A Google search will retrieve dozens of mock-ups.  This sublime alternative Los Angeles, we are given to expect,  is due to arrive by 2020.  Golden Road has already issued a commemorative IPA in celebration, sort of making it official.

Fifty-one miles would, by default, include the Valley.  Except that it won’t.  Unless one believes the western perimeter of the Valley is Universal City.  Cause that’s as far as the Greenway is going to extend.

Sssh. Don’t tell anyone.  People are too busy lining up for photo shoots with our money.

Besides, who bikes in the Valley?   Who walks, for that matter?

Los Angeles is spending $600 million replacing the viaduct between the Arts District and Boyle Heights with a mixed-use architectural showcase.  One block parallel to another bridge.

There are plans in motion to build a park atop the Hollywood Freeway. Price tag unknown.

The development of the Downtown to Elysian Valley segment of the Greenway, including parks, is going to run a billion dollars.

What are we getting in the Valley, west of the 170? This:

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We’ve all seen Chinatown. We know the score.

To give the appearance of inclusion in the great Greenway, several short discontiguous pathways, a half mile in length, have been scattered here and there: Radford to Whitsett, Mason to De Soto, and now the most recent: along Valleyheart, between Sepulveda and Kester.  One can’t complain as to the landscaping. It’s very nice.   But disconnected from each other and from the rest of the system, they serve no practical purpose for the general public. One cannot pedal to the Zoo, and thence down the Glendale Narrows to Downtown, as I did yesterday.

They are, in effect, taxpayer-built private esplanades for the people who live nearby.   No one else will be using them. One gets the feeling people in those neighborhoods wanted it that way.

This is our Angeleno moment: Dubai in Hollywood, Detroit in the Valley.

Speaking of Detroit, Andy Hurvitz has urban renewal schemes for parking lots up in Van Nuys:

Future Gardens of Van Nuys?

Bikestock Comes to the Valley

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Earlier this week I was concerned my fever dreams of bike-centric development for the Valley would founder on the shoals of low turnout.  Ours would be the first CicLaVia in which no one from the neighborhood showed up.  In my more cynical moments, the Valley can be reliably disappointing.

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It didn’t take long to see my concerns were unfounded.

Really unfounded.  For a few hours Ventura Blvd was Beijing, 1972.
For a few hours Ventura Blvd was Beijing, 1972.
Except with more dogs
Except with more dogs…
And Go Pro cameras
…and Go Pro cameras
And street dancers
Street dancers.
Whole families with sno-cones
Whole families with sno-cones
Everybody got their freak on
Everybody got their freak on
Cigar, Big Gulp and gold rims.  Enough said.
Cigar, Big Gulp and gold rims. The 818, tableau vivant.