The Purloined Stairs


Are we allowed to walk here?  I’m not sure. That gate definitely says no.  For good measure, it also has a lock.

On the other hand, it is temptingly ajar.  Always an invitation to a lifelong marshmallow test defier like myself.

Wait. What’s that at the first landing of the stairs? A 1930’s era city light pole.  Okay, so this is a public right of way. Good to know. Why then, the gate?

Let’s back up.  A half hour earlier, we were in the Cahuenga Pass on our way to the Tree of Wisdom.  Only we couldn’t exit southbound on Barham. The entire off-ramp had been removed, just like the one at Skirball was removed from the 405 last year. Both lead into the hills. Hmmm.

How inviting...
How inviting…

Well…why don’t we just get off at Highland and hike around Whitley Heights instead? Aren’t there a bunch of stairs up in there, just like in Echo Park and Beachwood Canyon?  Yeah, let’s do that!  So here we are, our first stairs.  Up we go…


WTF?  Who put this here?  Down we retreated….


Stairway #2.  Looks good!  A slight right turn at the top, and then…


Seriously? Is this legal?


Think again, peasant, before breaching the perimeter of Bella Vista Way. Smithers, release the hounds!  Okay. We’re getting the picture.


Around we wound, up through the graciously appointed Mediterranean village of secreted courtyards of Rudolph Valentino and Jean Harlow, passing four locked stairways, until at the top we came upon The Whitley Terrace Steps.  The one on the map.   Another gate. With a lock.

But, the gate was open….a clear invitation to mock the swells…


At the bottom, predictably, another gate. Tellingly, it also wasn’t locked.

The message, clearly intended for interlopers from the Valley as well as tourists from Omaha, was you are not allowed to walk here. You are trespassing in someone else’s yard. These stairs, which were built by the City of Los Angeles and are as much a part of the civic infrastructure as Griffith Park are off limits to you. They belong to us now. You know why? Because we put a gate here andno one who works for the city has the integrity balls to tells us to take it down.

Choose Your Monster

Confident in victory
Confident in victory

The Nostradami of cable news have abandoned predictive analysis in favor of absurdist performance art.

Monday Conventional Wisdom: Trump has no chance of winning New Hampshire. He’s too extreme for any state outside of the Confederacy.  

Tuesday MSNBC:  Maaaaaybe he could, but we’ve spoken to the Clinton camp and they are confident they are up by nine points. 

Wednesday: Too many ballots have already been cast in early voting for him to catch her.  

Thursday, Trump leading by 3: New Hampshire has too many old white people. 

Friday, CNN: “I’m not worried about New Hampshire. All she has to do is win Pennsylvania, Colorado, Virginia. That’s 269 electoral votes right there. Game, set, match.”  

Saturday, NPR: She’s looking to stabilize Colorado. Just in case. Also, Michigan.

Sunday:  The basic worry in a democracy is you have ignorant voters. They vote their gene pool.

The great and good American people are going to affirm our nations highest ideals by voting Bill Clinton’s wife into office.  And women shall rise and lead them!

Unless crucial counties in the battlegrounds confound pollsters and go the other way, in which case, our destiny was thwarted by a KGB/FBI plot! 

Everyone Who Knows These Things knows she’s safe behind her Blue Wall, it’s all but finished. Somehow Godzilla has managed to slip past the wall, with a subway car of screaming journalists between his jaws,   waving a rally towel.   Oh no, there goes Tokyo….

For 48 more hours, they can both be right.  Then we have to live with the aftermath.

Choose your monster. You’ll regret it either way.

Charreada and Charred Rubber

Charros at work, Hansen Dam
Charros at work

Mrs. UpintheValley and I took the dogs for a spin around and through the Hansen Dam basin today.  Near dark we returned to the parking lot to find…horses dancing to live banda music.  This was a spectacle neither of us had encountered before.  We watched with slack-jawed gringo fascination as they trotted in circles in time with the music.


Then plumes of smoke appeared in the parking lot, summoned forth by squealing tires.  The band kept playing, as though it wasn’t happening.  The horses kept dancing.


This burning of rubber -brake and gas pedals to the floor- went on for five minutes…then ten minutes. Unabated.  Like an eight-year-old throwing a tantrum, if an eight year old was given a bottle of El Jimador,  a Chevy Silverado and a dare.

In a test of wills between musical instruments and internal combustion engines, the rubber burners had the advantage of decibel range. And yet! The charreada continued as though this impromptu monster truck rally wasn’t actually taking place fifty feet away.  It was then I noticed the Park Rangers had set out cones to segregate these….completing claims to The Commons.  The trucks had their own appreciative audience as well.  A woman at one of the picnic tables told us this happens every month.  She shrugged it off as the natural order of things.

A buck is a buck
A buck is a buck

To Provide and Provide Not

City of Burbank
City of Burbank

Consider this urban pastoral, this friendly Sunday afternoon soccer game under the power lines on Whitnall.   Inter-racial. Inter-gender. Inter-age group. Featuring accents of Latin America, Asia and the British Isles.   As I walked past, I thought: this looks like it was assembled by a casting director. Los Angeles doesn’t really work like this, except in commercials.

Then I realized I was in Burbank.

City of Los Angeles
City of Los Angeles

Now turn around, face north, across Burbank Blvd, into North Hollywood.  This is what LA did with the same patch of ground. Across the street.

How does a world-class city get away with this?

The People Who Run Things have an answer to that question. We’re broke!  Los Angeles is a pauper. A patch of grass, in North Hollywood?  What are we, made of money? We can’t even pay our bills around here!

Okay then, riddle me this:


The City is in the process of dismantling the Sixth Street Bridge, one of the iconic, indispensable structures, perhaps the most photographed location after the Hollywood sign, and replacing it, at a cost of half a billion dollars, with this:

sixth street viaduct 2

The purported reason for this insertion of Dubai-like aesthetics into the downtown landscape is concrete. The original structure (1932) has received a propitious diagnosis of Alkai Silica Reaction.  Earthquake vulnerability dictates the bridge must be replaced.  Or so we’re told.

There’s just one problem. Why is it, of the dozen similar bridges built downtown in the 1930’s, with the same concrete mixing process, the only one which has received this diagnosis of ‘concrete cancer’ is the one which goes directly to the Arts District?  Why does the urgency to do something about it correspond to the arrival of the Nabisco Lofts?  Why is it being replaced by a playground for people who buy groceries at Urban Radish?

If the city is too broke for a grassy field in North Hollywood, how is it managing to pay for this? Just asking.

Exit, Cat People

A leftover, one of many
The leftovers

After twelve years, the Cat Lady and her creepy husband have fled the block…leaving behind an untold number of disoriented and emaciated felines, waiting for a dinner that is not coming.

Their persistent wailings have summoned catered meals from Mrs. UpintheValley, who is more than a bit fretful as what to do about them.

I had practical suggestions, starting with letting nature take its course.  They already outnumber humans in Los Angeles, two to one. Darwin can be our friend, I offered.

Not a chance.

Says she: “I feel like I’m living in the Great Depression next to a soup kitchen that’s gone out of business and people are rattling tin cups against the gate.”

The cat people left a pile of ratty furniture sitting in the yard, covered in duct tape and pieces of cardboard, reeking of ammonia, and no forwarding address.

Curious what a cat house looks like on the inside? We were. Let’s take a stroll, shall we?


This is as far as Mrs. U got.  The pungency of two decades of accumulated urine and glandular emission had metastasized the air inside the closed rooms to a kind of gassy soup. One staggered through as though underwater.  I felt myself getting a bit heavy headed, like I was huffing model airplane glue and simultaneously getting the flu.


A rabbit warren of rooms, in which every trend of interior decorating of the past forty years was given an opportunity to do its thing, starting with shag carpeting.


Drop asbestos ceiling with fluorescent light fixtures.


Popcorn ceiling, black light painting, and the always practical duct tape and cardboard over the floor vent trick. How could you go wrong?

Did I mention people were living here last week?
Did I mention people were living here last week?
When in doubt, more cardboard...
When in doubt, more cardboard…

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Here comes Santa Claws!
Here comes Santa Claws!
Plenty more where she came from
Plenty more where she came from…

Where is our train heading?

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Suppose a train left Washington, D.C., bound for Los Angeles. Suppose halfway across the continent the Engineer grew weary of his duties and walked back to the club car for an extended smoke break and a cocktail. Then he stayed for some dinner and chit-chat. Finding the conversation more enlightening than the drudgery behind the locomotive he decides to stick around for awhile.   For more smokes. More cocktails and sarcastic banter about the burdens of Engineering.

Obeying Newton’s Laws of motion the train passes through switching yard after switching yard.   Seeing no one at the controls, the switchmen pull levers to put the train on tracks of their choosing.

The train keeps rolling through the night.  It’s going somewhere, just not to Los Angeles.  Not any longer.

Can any one of us say with confidence we know where we are headed?   I thought I had a general idea. Events this summer have disabused me.  I know only the Engineer no longer wishes to be behind the controls.  His seat is vacant.   The switchmen are steering us now.  They are taking the train where they want it to go.

The shooter at the Palm Tree Inn

Do I look familiar?
Do you know me?

It would be hard to miss this guy, don’t you think? Nineteen days after gunning down two men outside the 7-11 at Roscoe and Sepulveda, one-eyed, face-tatted, heat-packing, quick-on-the-trigger Angel Santana was apprehended at the Palm Tree Inn…a block from the crime scene.   The motel was also the ‘residence’ of DeShawn Miles, one of the victims.

To quote Capt. Todd Chamberlain of the LAPD:  “There’s something more to it than race, whether it’s gang, whether it’s some other activity.”  Hmmm, I’m stumped. What other sort of activity could this be?

Somehow -for 19 days- this guy was at large in the neighborhood, despite having his face on TV.  I don’t think that speaks well of a lot of people.  As it happened, I walked through North Hills twice in that period, with camera and dog, and was confronted at one point by a tattooed sh**head straddling his bike and warily eyeballing passerby on Sepulveda.  He wanted to know how long ‘I’d been working with the police’.  I chalked it up to random street hassle at the time.  Now I wonder if there wasn’t more to it.

He was parked in front of the Palm Tree Inn.

If you lived here, you would never be home


This house has fascinated me for years. Whenever I’m stuck at the turn signal on Haskell I contemplate the desperation required to live there, and wonder what phraseology realtors used to sell it: Close to transportation.  Your own private cul-de-sac. No need to worry about the neighbors. Priced to move. Just don’t open the windows. Here’s what’s really amazing. Unlike other homes tragically located next to a freeway, this one arrived in 1966, post construction.  Some enterprising person saw this postage stamp of dirt with cars blowing past at 80 mph, and said to himself, the price is right, and dropped a pre-fabricated Lake Tahoe ski chalet down from a crane and declared himself a homesteader.  Who knows? Maybe it was a swinging bachelor pad/place of assignation for the hearing impaired back in the 1970’s.  There’s even an upstairs balcony in the back if one wants an unobstructed view of all ten lanes and the tactile thrill of 18-wheeler backdraft whipping your pantleg as you grill carne asada.