Valley of Ghosts

The writing is on the wall, say the people who have left L.A., people now safely ensconced in the bluest dot available in a red state, the people to whom I listen on podcasts while walking the dogs in the early darkness that comes at 5pm now.

My Valley is haunted by the ghosts of those who have left but also those who have retreated indoors where a certain kind of life can be cultivated through the meticulous curation of deferred dreams and a supporting cast of delivery people.

But outside…the city we know and love is going away, piece by piece. First the reciprocal bonds of citizenship, then guardrails of safety, now tolerance and civility.

I step around people like this man multiple times a day, and no longer marvel at how much money swirls the drain, how many six figure salaries are paid out in Los Angeles to service ghosts.

Instead I wonder what ghosts dream of when they reach for the sidewalk.    What have they discarded in their crawl to perdition?

People used to arrive in the Valley with ambitions as basic as an affordable apartment or as grandiose as YouTube stardom. Now they come to colonize public spaces in a medicated permanent twilight.

This is not the worst urban malady, only the most visible one.  De-policing, vax mandate-related layoffs and the institutionalized hypocrisy of the elites will inflict greater long-term harm.

Who with influence over public policy practices the inclusivity he preaches? I shouldn’t use the categorical, but yeah, basically no one.

The Alexan, NoHo West

And yet…while all this is unfolding, construction continues apace. The pre-2020 fever dreams of an urbanized, vertical Valley remain in a state of forward momentum. For now.   Like a freighter coasting to port on a dead propeller.

As these urban villages go online, what happens if there are few takers for the new units?    I can think of two recently completed buildings in Van Nuys at around 25% capacity, going by all the unlit windows.  With hundreds more units completing in the next six months we’ll learn just how viable Los Angeles remains.

We’re poised between two fates. Boarded up storefronts and lifestyle emporiums on the same block.  We cling to the memory of 2019 in the expectation a course correction is due any day, because…because it has to, right? Things are not as bad as 1992, not yet, and we came back from that, right?

America of 1992 had very different demographics, a shared narrative, and wasn’t living in a state of permanent gaslighting.  It didn’t have depraved billionaires funding political street violence and installing prosecutors who refuse to enforce laws.

The recall of D.A. George Gascon, an easy sell ten years ago, failed twice to gather enough signatures.  Los Angeles 3.0 will have to find a way to transcend our historic political paradigm if its going to work.

For now I am obliged to place my faith (and hard won equity) in working-class Latinos, Armenian and Korean merchants to practice a California version of Irish Democracy.  I hope for a golden mean between the chaos unleashed by the Clerisy and the self-interest of honest people who don’t have Laptop Jobs and the luxury of partaking in the urban exodus, people who will fight, if not for the city as a whole, then at least for the block they live on.

That’s the ghost I cling to.  Sometimes I am, to paraphrase a dear friend, my own worst enemy.

Squeal Points

AFP/ Getty Images

There’s a guy on our street who likes to open the trunk of his car, roll down the windows, turn the bass up to 11, then go into the house to drink beer with his sound system parked in the driveway, rattling windows to the end of the block.  On a Tuesday morning.  He does this frequently.  The house is a rental, paid for by the government. The owner lives in the Hollywood Hills. Somebody had enough and called the police with a noise complaint.

“We’ll send a patrol car over,” said the LAPD.

Two hours later, no police.   Okay, perhaps not the most pressing issue the LAPD has on its hands.  Then again, it’s a weekday morning in the Valley. How much action can there be?

Have we crossed the rubicon beyond which quality of life issues are no longer enforced?  Or do we have a supply chain problem in public safety?

Fewer people are willing to be cops anymore. Urban cops. During the summer of George Floyd, young men delighted in going nose to nose with police lines for the benefit of cameras:

Punk ass bitch.
Make a move, Opie.
Where you gun, 5-0?
Whatcha gonna do, bitch?
Cracka.

The cop is required to be unflappable, at parade rest,  in a mimicry of boredom while aerosolized spittle pocks his face. Cell phones record his every twitch, waiting on the slightest crack in composure. Black cops? Even worse. Uncle Tom. Why you cooning? 

Raise the cost on enforcing laws enough and below a certain level they won’t be enforced anymore.   This is the squeal point.

Gadsden flag on the tarmac

The Biden administration, because it is totally, absolutely not authoritarian and only here to restore our democratic norms, is telling every company in America to fire vax-resisting workers six weeks before Christmas. Blue state governors and local officials, eager to play along, have similar mandates.

Because Americans are a free people, essential workers are pushing back. Nurses. Truckers. Railroad engineers. Cops and firemen. Sheriff Alex Villaneuva isn’t enforcing the mandate, so now the county has to fire 25% of its uniformed personnel. Only it hasn’t done so yet. They supervisors keep delaying. In New York, the fire department has 18 fire houses unmanned this week, the squads on unpaid leave. Garbage is piling up in the street after Mayor DeBlasio laid off 20% of the Sanitation workers.

Two weeks ago the pilots of Southwest Airlines staged a sick-out, resulting in the cancellation of 2000 flights. The CEO blamed it on anything but the the vax mandate, before quietly dropping vaccination requirements.  Then over Halloween weekend American Airlines cancelled 1,500 flights due to “high wind gusts” and…staffing shortages.

Union Pacific just dropped its vax mandate when 44% of railroad workers refused to comply.

The squeal point works in two directions.

Today America is the snail on the edge of a straight razor with edicts being handed down, then ignored. Then threatened again, and postponed once more.

There’s a financial economy and then there’s the real economy and logistics is the field on which they meet.

Kyrie Irving, integrity in motion

Kyrie Irving of the Brooklyn Nets is forgoing a $35 million salary and a chance at a championship ring on a super team that was built for him.

“To him, this is about a grander fight than the one on the court and Irving is challenging a perceived control of society and people’s livelihood, according to sources with knowledge of Irving’s mindset.”

“Kyrie wants to be a voice for the voiceless,” a source told The Athletic. 

The smart money says Kyrie will fold.  When the Nets begin to make a run, and he’s on the couch getting fat, and all of the Big Apple is blaming him for denying the city its first NBA title since 1973, he won’t be able to hold out.

It’s only been three weeks, but so far Kyrie is sticking to principle. He’s losing more money per day than most of us will make in a year.

Today the L.A. vaccine mandate goes into effect and today is the day I stop spending money in my beloved Los Angeles. My impact won’t be Kyrie-like in scale, but it will be felt, in the aggregate.

We should each of us think seriously what our squeal point might be, and why, and then try to hold out a little longer. If the state prevails on this, there will be no limiting principle to freedom of movement, of association, or commerce.

After that, its going to be Irish democracy, the refuge of a conquered people.