Answered Prayers

“‘Our nightmare has ended. It’s the answer to our prayers.’ This was the reaction of a Sherman Oaks mother of seven children when the Valley Times told her Thursday that state engineers have recommended that a guardrail be built along the Ventura Freeway where it faces her home. Mrs. Jack Rush, 4721 Greenbush Ave., had appealed for the guardrail since two cars, a load of lumber, a giant truck tire and a conglomeration of hubcaps and other auto accessories had come flying into her yard and the yards of her neighbors.”  

Seven kids. No guard rails.  Hubcaps flying into the yard. Hello, 1961. This is sounding so very early Paul Simon.

Please send us freeways, we once said.   We threw parties for them.  Actually, we still do, only we ask for more lanes and want them to end just short of where we live.

Men in rumpled suits once drew lines on maps with an enthusiasm born of consensus over what constituted Progress.

Jobs over here? Check…
People moving…where? Hand me my ruler.
We’ll put a tunnel under Griffith Park (not a bad idea actually) re-surface in North Hollywood, and then a straight run to Chatsworth.   Done!

The Whitnall Freeway (the middle line above) was never realized, owing to community resistance in the eastern half of the Valley, by then nearly built out.

People were beginning to discover elevated freeways were a tad noisy.  They had a way of shattering the very orderly calm families left the city to obtain.  Yet they serve the same necessity the left anterior descending artery does in the human body. No city functions without them.

This has been the sticking point in California for fifty years:  Older neighborhoods don’t want to concede an inch to ease the commute to the exurbs, despite relying on commuter labor. Exurbs want as much distance from the city as possible while drawing a paycheck from same.  Nobody wants to ride a train.

So, we build trains, hoping people will change their minds capitulate when things get bad enough. Young people love living in the snazzy new developments over the train stops and taking Uber to work.    Wealthy neighborhoods get high sound walls and a veto on new development and petition against sprawl, the working-class no sound abatement at all and encampments in the shrubbery.  As soon as they can swing it, they move further out, toward Bakersfield.

Everyone has a prayer to be answered, but few wish to marry their fortunes to those of a stranger. Each of us feels his righteousness to be well-earned. Which may be for the best. If you believe Saint Theresa of Avila, more tears are shed over answered prayers than unanswered ones.

*historic photos courtesy of Valley Times Collection

Way, Way East of Pasadena

What do you do if you want to have a fancy wedding in Los Angeles on a teacher’s salary?

You book an outdoor venue in Temecula on a Sunday in August and ask your friends to drive out and sit under umbrellas in triple-digit heat, which we were only too happy to do! All of us! No bother at all!

Ironically, Mr. and Mrs. UpintheValley had their first tiff at a gas station in Rancho Cucamonga on the way home from Vegas.  Since then the world East of Pasadena has remained terra incognita for us, even after two decades as Angelenos.  We’re not snobs. Except for bickering, we just never had reason to get out of the car.

There is a saying in L.A.:  the car is king. This is not correct.  In L.A. the car is the preferred mode of transportation.   The street grid overlays a network of former trolley lines which in turn mimic earlier horse trails which, by necessity, hewed to canyons and watersheds.  The underlying topography and the transportation backbone correspond to the historical evolution of the city.  The freeways were only cut in later.

Here in the outer, outer ring of suburbs, the freeway is its own world entire.

Massive three-level interchanges, which make the 405/101 cloverleaf in Sherman Oaks look like a piker, sprout from a tree-less scrubland, mocking the topography. One is lifted a hundred feet in the air then sluiced into a fresh arterial without any understanding of where one is, or why this great sorting of vehicles is taking place at this particular location since wherever you are there is no here.   You’re flying over a waterless arroyo and the bleached bones of luckless prospectors.

The towns, off-ramps to subdivisions really, adhere to the freeway for life support.  They all contain the following: a business park/distribution hub called The Pointe (with an E), an auto mall, an entertainment complex called The Crossroads, or The Shops At….

…and above all, gated communities with fanciful names like…Terramor.

Terramor evokes something reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands, a place very green, very watery, clannish, historical, and very far from Corona.

Should the three-hour commute from the city fail to dissuade the rampaging, machete-wielding hordes, there will be gates to repel them.  Gates! You can lay on your cool, air-conditioned pillow and bank on it.

Somehow one gets the feeling the hordes, when they emerge, will form ranks right here.  Take away the A/C, and I can visualize the Inland Empire going full Rod Serling in about a week.   The survivors will be headed in our direction, back to the city and its Mediterranean climate, looking for the Olive Garden.

Define fragility: two million people living off one pipe and one wire.  Disrupt either for any amount of time and the outer suburbs are not merely unpleasant, they are uninhabitable.  Maslow’s Hierarchy will prevail.  Forget lost cell service. Imagine a population of luckless prospectors the size of Houston poking through dry creek beds looking for a brackish puddle in which to insert a straw. There is a reason no civilization prospered here for centuries.

Then it’s back to the city, all two million of them. Not unlike the Monday commute we experienced on the way home.  Not unlike the commute people already make twice a day, five days a week, until the mortgage is burned.

Will five-bedroom outer commute California survive a Black Swan event?   I don’t know.  It may have no choice but to make the fragility work, but at a price point reflecting risk.

You don’t know who you really are until you get there.

Paul and Stephanie, joined in consecrated union.

EZ Freeway Access

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In the beginning,  shortly after WWII, someone built a nice neighborhood of single family homes in North Hollywood on what was once a fruit orchard.  Three bedrooms, two baths. Valley-sized lots.  A breezeway between the garage and the kitchen, for those warm evenings in the years before air conditioning, and room for a pool, if one could swing it.  A shopping center nearby. Schools. Movie theater. Bowling alley. The basic allotment of material pleasures. For 15 years or so people lived the Indoor-Outdoor Patio and Pool Life of the Valley and it was good.  Quiet, too.   Then one day a plume of dust rose in the south. As time passed, the plume drew closer, and it was preceded by men bearing clipboards and governmental edicts and checks drawn against the state treasury, sign right here, no sense fighting progress, it’s a fair offer.  One by one the houses to the south began to disappear as the Great Berm drew closer, until one day there it was, ten lanes of concrete, at rooftop level, skirting the property line. The men with clipboards didn’t knock at this house, though, and the Berm continued on, toward newer subdivisions to the north and west, but not before dropping a graceful swooping tentacle of asphalt down to the street, right where the next-door neighbor’s rose bushes used to be.

In a reasonable world, this should be a crack house by now, bars on every window, a pickup truck parked in the front yard, pitbulls chained to trees. Instead,  as the sprawl continued north up into the Santa Clarita and Conejo valleys, the house slowly withdrew behind trumpet vines, shrubbery and artisanal fencing. The neighborhood didn’t exactly go to hell. In fact, houses on this block sell at a post-bubble price of half a million.  In most of America you can live like Tony and Carmela Soprano for half a million. In North Hollywood, you get EZ freeway access.