This is the first sentinel we encountered on our way to the fancy tile emporium in NoHo.
The second sentinel, awaiting our return. He shuffled over to us as though he were about to deliver a handwritten letter. One grows accustomed to panhandlers at the intersections, conniving or addicted, but not hunched with calcium loss. I’d say he looked about 70, the same age as my bathroom.
The bathtub was forged in cast iron by the American Radiator and Standard Sanitary Co., then dropped into the framing by a road gang in 1948, with no thought given to later renovation, leaving only one exit route, via sledgehammer.
This was the American Radiator Building in New York City, gilded icon of the Jazz Age, all Gothic turrets and coal-inspired black brick.
It once had a showroom in the basement for its useful, class-neutral products: radiators, boilers and bathroom fixtures. Now it’s a Moroccan-themed cocktail lounge called Celon where one can order a Lavender Oasis martini for an undisclosed price. The Radiator Building is now the Bryant Park Hotel.
Because one cannot over-improve for the neighborhood anymore, even in The Nuys. Because we are all hostage to whatever 1948 house we landed upon in the somnolent years before The Restoration. Because no one can trade up to Echo Park. Because equity trumps the purchasing power of a paycheck, so we bloom where we’re planted.
Because a white tiled bathroom would make Mrs. UpintheValley so very, very sad.
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.
Echo Park is done. The Mysteries of Baywood await. Fresh doors, untrammeled by passion.
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.
All the street people rusticating in the Valley seem to have one denominator in common: they each have a bike. Even the saddest blue tarp shanty has a wheel poking out somewhere.
I’m old enough to remember when a bike was an expensive proposition. Now you can cook one from parts. You don’t have to worry about theft with a bike like that, which is part of the DIY appeal. The basic life problem of movement from location A to location B is resolved. The street bike empowers, even as it simplifies.
There’s a great movie line from Neil McCauley in Heat: “never keep anything in your life you can’t walk away from in 30 seconds flat if you see the heat coming around the corner.” As a personal code, it works in the white favela. For a man with a wife, a dog, a cat, and a mortgage, not so much.
But a bike, even if for only an hour or so, can put you one step closer to your earlier, pre-Cambrian self. It can unleash the Id. It can peel layers. Cranking pedals across the Valley, you can be the child who was the father of the man you are today. The First You, the one before all your Choices made you.
“Come down to the Kitchen, and let’s build you a road bike,” said Marcus, over the phone.. Off I went, like Homer Simpson in pursuit of Truck-a-Saurus.
And we cooked a bike…
Then we went back to his teacup bungalow in Echo Park and made comfort food, and drank craft beer and vaporized product and listened to Led Zeppelin on vinyl, through a tube amp, shedding adulthood like dandruff.
Back to the primordial ooze…
After a long afternoon, I staggered back to my car, bike in tow, and passed this house:
Two small bedrooms downstairs, and a view of the Autozone parking lot on Glendale Blvd. $900,000. Seriously.
Nobody who is tied to a paycheck, even a large one, would pay this. Yet there are people who are paying it, all over town. Trustafarians. Speculators. Chinese investors, phoning in blind bids from Chengdu, all cash, the better to park their money far away from the Hang Seng index.
And they love bikes in Echo Park.
Los Angeles is becoming a city of million dollar shacks and people living under tarps, with mobile phones, feeding off government handouts. We are becoming poorer in a cave of wonders. Wealthier in smaller spaces. The bicycle may be the last thing we all have in common.
Once upon a time there was something in this country known as the Penn Central Railroad, and it went bankrupt in the 1970’s. The eastern terminus was the Boston seaport. A novice developer named Frank McCourt put up $300,000 in equity to purchase the 24 acre rail yard by the waterfront. A decade of Jarndycean litigation ensued, and when the smoke cleared, McCourt emerged as the title holder. Happily for him, during that time his legal opponents had turned the yards into a parking lot, generating $4 million in annual income. The parking lot now belonged to Frank and became his personal cash cow. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts paid him $30 million for use of half of it during the construction of the Big Dig. He then sued the state for infringing on his property rights and won an additional $32 million. In 2004 he bought the Dodgers, leveraging the equity he had in the parking lot in Boston.
Let’s unpack this. McCourt puts up less than a million dollars to be a developer, develops nothing in two decades, and ends up owning one of the storied franchises of sport. Eight years later, without a World Series appearance or any serious investment in the team, he sells for….$2 BILLION. That’s twice the price of any franchise in history. That’s $1.3 Billion more than the Dodgers were valued in 2010 by Forbes magazine.
Here’s the punch line: McCourt gets to keep a 50% ownership of the stadium parking lots and their yearly income of…reportedly, $5 million. Have you ever heard such madness? Who would be the signatory to a deal like this? Where is this money coming from?
And now the Dodgers are off television in 80% of LA, hostage to machinations between competing cable interests. Or so we are told.
Here’s the real punchline: McCourt is not actually the villain here. You read that correctly. Other than being a cheapskate owner and living like Croseus off increased ticket prices, what are his sins? He made two exceptionally advantageous deals, one to buy and another to sell. On neither occasion did he hold a gun to anyone’s head. Under his reign, all Dodger games were on TV, half of them on local broadcast, freely to be had with an antenna.
No, the villains here are prominent local businessmen Stan Kasten, Peter Guber and Magic Johnson. They may be rich, but they don’t have a billion dollars between them. They don’t have half a billion. What they have is the cable rights to future Dodgers broadcasts, against which they have leveraged this deal. Under the new regime, Dodger games are available only on a newly created one-team channel called SportsNetLA. Time Warner Cable is demanding from competing cable operators $5 a month/per subscriber to carry the broadcasts. Naturally, Direct TV and others are resisting. What the new Dodger ownership is demanding is nothing less than a lien against the earnings of every working southern Californian with a TV connection, whether they watch baseball or not.
The Dodgers have the right to charge $20 for parking and $40 for nosebleed seats, even $10 for a hot dog, if they choose. They can package all their broadcasts behind a paywall like NFL Sunday Ticket. May the team live and prosper, and I say that as a lifelong SF Giants fan. What the new owners DON’T have the right to do is off-load the obscene weight of the McCourt buyout on the unsuspecting people of Los Angeles. If selling the Dodger channel on an a la carte basis was a viable business plan, (i.e, if there were enough Dodger fans willing to pay), they would have done so. It isn’t, therefore they haven’t.
The investors are not paying McCourt, we are. Against our will, and without being told we are.
So, if I have this straight in my head, I am now in a position of rooting for the remnants of the Howard Hughes empire to hold the line against the former head of Sony Studios and a subsidiary of the 3rd largest media company in the world in a battle over who will finance the contracts of Zack Grienke and Clayton Kershaw, and possibly a Grove-like development in the hills above Echo Park. Because if Direct TV caves, the others will as well, and very soon we will all be getting a bump in our monthly bills, and when we sit down to write checks every month a nice piece of that will be going directly into the pocket of Frank McCourt, parking lot king.
No wonder they got Magic Johnson to be the public face of this deal.
That’s one way people in Brentwood screw people in Van Nuys.