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.

Two or three things about North Hills

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Two weeks ago two men were gunned down in front of the 7-11 on Sepulveda and Roscoe.   Their address was listed as the Palm Tree Inn.  Last night, fresh off watching Her, I walked up Sepulveda into North Hills.  I saw the usual women working the motels. Also people pushing churro carts and selling flowers.  Day laborers carrying duffel bags to the launderia.

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On Parthenia St, a man in front of the Igelsia Evangelista beckoned passerby into a service which was about to begin.  He handed me a religious tract.  ‘It’s important information. It is good for you. I promise.’   It explained how Christ would bridge the gap between sin and everlasting life. There was a place on the back for me to sign my confession.  Across the street another service was beginning at the Ministerio Cristiano Dios Con Nostros.  There weren’t enough chairs and people stood in the doorway.   Around the corner a man with a bullhorn stood behind a chain link fence beseeching people playing futbol at the North Hills Rec Center to repent and join him. His church was large and empty.

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I walked up Langdon Street and saw people emerging from their cars with creaky limbs after a long days work.  I saw people standing shirtless in open windows, their bellies hanging out in the evening breeze.  The shrieks of children playing in a scrum behind fortified gates of garden apartments filled the air.  Mattresses and couches were piled up on the sidewalks awaiting bulky item pickup.  Men with neck tattoos pushed baby strollers while their baby mamas kept up a steady patter of conversation.  People repaired their cars in the street. Gypsy merchants sold goods out of vans double parked in driveways.

On Sepulveda a police officer was talking to two prostitutes.  ‘I heard someone’s daddy was killed recently over at the 7-11.’  They shrugged indifferently.  In front of the Palm Tree Inn, a gang banger straddling a bicycle saw my camera and wanted to know how long I’d ‘been working with the police’.  I ignored him, and continued south, back to Van Nuys.

Ho, Friday Night

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‘I told you where it were already. I told you. It be in the back, underneath the bed. Inside the bag, underneath the bed. INSIDE the bag.  Told you that already. It be right there. Right where I left it.  Then somebody else took it. I left it where I left it. I hanging up now. F*** you, I hanging up.’

A helpful reminder on the Red Line

Teddybear on the motel bed, an ominous sign
A teddybear on the motel bed. Always an ominous sign…

The City of Los Angeles would like the riders of the Metro system to know that it is Concerned. About Teen Prostitution. And Sex Trafficking. In case you stopped off for a quick one at the Palm Tree Inn before you got on the train today, and are at this moment skulking away from the scene of the crime twirling your mustache like Snidely Whiplash it would like to remind you that you are an abuser. Of children! If you witnessed such transactions and didn’t report them, well….you a neglector! Of helpless teen girls! An unindicted co-conspirator!   We need to be on the lookout!  Report in!  The City needs to know!

The ProtectLAKids website offers helpful tips for us:

A young woman may be a victim of trafficking if she:

  • Looks fearful or depressed, and is not on her own
  • Is being closely watched
  • Does not have possession of her paperwork or money
  • Shows signs of physical abuse

Alternatively, she may be a victim of trafficking if she:

  •  Is standing on Sepulveda Blvd with her hoo-hah peeking out of her shorts, rain or shine
  •  Has a barcode tattoo on her neck evident when she ducks her head in and out of car windows.
  •  Always walking against the flow of traffic, a phone tucked to her ear,  but her lips aren’t moving
  •  She ‘lives’ at any of the motels between Oxnard and Nordhoff
  •  She’s offering ‘dates’ for $35 at the bus stop in the middle of the afternoon commute

Until the Committees of Concerned Bureaucrats figure out where Van Nuys is on the map, and the ABC’s of nuisance abatement, we’ll all keep our eyes peeled for those morose teenagers dragging teddy bears.

Ho in the Afternoon, Part 258

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Nothing quite says Van Nuys like biking home from the gym on a Saturday afternoon and getting squeezed up on to the sidewalk by a monster truck on an ass recon mission.  After cutting me off, he couldn’t wait to lower the window for these two.  They directed him to drive around the block and meet them on Bassett St.  Despite their charms they apparently failed to transact because two minutes later I saw him talking to a third hooker up on Vose.  Two minutes after that, I saw him making a u-turn on Raymer to collect a fourth.  She passed muster, climbed into the cab, and off they sped.

What was the determining factor, I wonder.  Price?  Acts?  Looks?

Sepulveda Blvd, the Farmer’s Market of flesh.    Come sample the wares!  At 2PM, it’s a wide-open town up here.   A cantaloupe or an ass-cheek, it’s all the same to the City of Los Angeles.

Ho in the afternoon

Under the shady elm, Tuesday on Sepulveda
Under the shady elm, Tuesday on Sepulveda

Giles and I went for a run around Hansen Dam Saturday. A lovely anaerobic hour of spring breezes, families on bikes, pushing strollers, holding hands. Returning home duly cleansed, I indulged my week-long desire for take-out fried chicken at El Pollo Campero. So there I was, on my way out of the parking lot, my greedy fingers already caressing the hot greasy bag on the passenger seat,  what do I see right in front of the car?  A pair of hos, direct from central casting, leading a john to the manager’s window at the Sepulveda Motel. They stood on the sidewalk and studied their Dollar Tree nails while he paid for the room.  Not a token gesture of concealment. A patrol car rolled past.  They yawned. On Friday we stopped at Royal Spiceland to pick up some garam masala for dinner. In the two hundred feet from the car to the store entrance:  four hos, heading out for the night in full ass cheek and side boob frippery, Red Bulls in hand.  I bike to LA Fitness this afternoon, three more on one block.  Working it.  Working the buttered-on neon lime and hot pink tops and tattered denim,  hoop rings and gangsta tats. Flats, not heels, on account of the miles they will be putting on. All this…in the afternoon.

The City could end this tomorrow.  By municipal decree it could end the practice of renting rooms by the hour. It could place the business licenses of problem motels on immediate probationary status. One strike: fine. Second strike: triple fine. Third strike: revocation of permit.  This is a fixable problem with a process solution.   There is no constitutional right to run an open-air brothel on a public street in America. I write that as someone with decidedly libertarian inclinations.  The people in the position to do something about all this could do it tomorrow. Yet they don’t.  Why is that?  How do absentee owners abide here what they would never abide for five minutes in their own neighborhoods?  Or to their own daughters? If one is working the check-in window at the hot sheets motel how does one rationalize taking a percentage from the sale of a trafficked woman? What slender thread of plausible deniability does one cling to?

My house, my block, my pocket neighborhood, my beloved working-class Brigadoon, all on the upswing, nearly unrecognizable from a decade ago, when viewed through the lens of renovation and restoration.

This bull***t on the boulevard is the ONE thing which has objectively grown worse.

The City has seen fit to make it illegal to purchase a disposable plastic bag on Sepulveda Blvd.  It will brook no compromise there. The Pharisees shall not cross!  Purchasing a woman, a child even, to be used as a disposable receptacle,  that is another matter, in another country called Van Nuys. Besides, it’s someone else’s child. Nobody we know. 

Ho, what a web we weave

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Sepulveda Blvd. has a hooker problem.  This is not news to people in Van Nuys. But if you are clicking here from another part of the world, take my word for it, there’s been one for some time. From the Voyager and the Hyland motels, from the Ridge and the Palm Tree Inn they promenade forth in pairs in the late afternoon, Molly-rolling through the night. Again under the unforgiving dawn they work the morning commute, a sullen cluster of the living dead in front of Jon’s supermarket. Without fear of interference from the municipal government, pimps wield a dark, alchemical power. Their chattel, formerly citizens of the United States, toil up and down the boulevard alongside backpack-toting middle schoolers. They block shoppers turning into the parking lot at Fresh and Easy. They take up benches at bus stops and threaten all manner of whup-ass at passerby who stare, frown disapproval, or worse, take pictures.  All this dreary pageantry playing out within a frisbee toss of the urban Mayberry of tree-lined streets that is the Real Van Nuys. The Van Nuys of the 60-hour workweek. The Van Nuys of Sunday barbacoa, birthday parties and mass.

Until now.  Our City Council person, Nury Martinez, has decided to get tough with these guys.  Seriously.  She’s done with being concerned. She’s taking a stand.  She’s going to….

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…’target liquor stores and strip clubs’.  That’ll do it!  No new licenses or permits will be issued for the next….45 days.  ‘It seems like the vice activities feed on each other,” Martinez was quoted in the Times, adding: “We don’t want these types of businesses to lure the pimps.”  There hasn’t been a new strip club or liquor store on Sepulveda in the past decade I have lived here, and probably a decade longer before that, but the council was undeterred. The measure passed unanimously.  Against the accusation of silliness, the proposal was amended to include motels.  For the next 45 days…..no more motel permits!   This will be sure to strike fear in the last motel builder in Van Nuys, who shed this mortal coil somewhere around the Carter administration.

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Just this afternoon, walking Giles, I watched two teen-aged black girls hook a passing car, and direct him into the Travel Inn.  ‘Just pull right on in there. We working there.’  In, he pulled.  They walked right past the motel office window. There appeared to be brisk activity in the parking lot and on the balconies. Not a cop or politician in sight.   They’ve got it figured out, though. No more Travel Inns!  No Travel Inn annex!  They’ve put their foot down! Nothing more to see here. Just a 15-year-old taking if five times a night from strangers, on prom weekend, a thousand miles from home. Daddy wants his money.

The Magic Button and the Hopeful Button

A street person's affirmation
A panhandler’s affirmation

Walking into CVS pharmacy on Sepulveda not long ago I was spare-changed by a panhandling couple at the front doors. I shunned them, as is my wont. (Mrs. UpintheValley always gives, to my consternation) Another person entering the store gave a dollar and they scurried inside after us, proceeding directly to the lotto machine. Or I should say, she scurried in. He followed, admonishing her for her profligacy: ‘Baby, no.  We need this money for bus fare.  C’mon. This is the third time tonight.’ Her: ‘I know what I’m doing.’ Him: ‘One dollar. One dollar only.’  She played five dollars.  Jackpot. Him: ‘How much? Twenty? Fifty? A hundred?  Holy Shit!’  The cashier handed her $200, while he hovered excitedly: ‘Can we get a carton of smokes? Can we get a frozen pizza?’ Her:  ‘I want to score.’  She called the dealer on her cell phone in the parking lot, while he continued to plead the case for at least one pack of smokes, while they were flush. In its own way, it was an entertaining domestic scene.

Jogging in Lake Balboa, I saw a woman who dressed like she might be going out to work the boulevard disappear down into the brush along the LA River.  She left this cardboard sign on the sidewalk at Woodley and Burbank.  In a given day, what does $100 represent?  What would she buy with that she couldn’t with $20?  Why is $20 magical, but the larger sum hopeful? If savings aren’t part of the picture, what doors of comfort open with the ‘hopeful’ jackpot? If you’re not buying comfort, are you buying time? Do you take a day off?  If you’re not buying time are you buying peace with yourself,  peace from the burden of the next $20 problem?

A panhandler's schtick
A panhandler’s schtick