The MacLeod Incident

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(November 13, 2020) The City of Los Angeles celebrates this week the grand opening of the Valley Riverway, an inter-connected system of landscaped bike and walking paths along the tributaries of the LA River.  The 60-mile network descends from the the Chatsworth reservoir along Browns Creek, from Porter Ranch on the Aliso Canyon Wash, from Granada Hills on Bull Creek, and from Sylmar along the Tujunga and Pacoima washes.  An East-West corridor on the Metrolink right of way connects the northern tier of the Valley, completing what local bicyclists are referring to as “the hyper loop”.

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“It is now possible to pedal continuously from pretty much anywhere to anywhere else in under an hour, without having to stop at a light,” said District 6 Councilperson Andrew Hurvitz, who secured the $100 million project using Measure M funding. “We thought it might be a nice linear park. We didn’t realize the extent to which it would be adopted as an alternative transportation network connecting neighborhoods.”

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Construction of the East Valley light rail line has brought traffic to a standstill during commute hours, adding to the Riverway’s appeal. The troubled addition to the Metro system, originally budgeted at $2.7 billion, is now on its second contractor, with cost overruns expected to reach $4.6 billion when completed in 2024.

“At 2% of the rail budget, the Riverway was considered by the City to be exorbitantly priced. It was an orphan with birth defects.  Until the MacLeod incident, that is,” said Hurvitz, referring to a now infamous cell phone recording of a conversation at a local pub between representatives of Sheila Kuehl’s office and Kiewet/Shea, the first contractor on the rail line: “A hundred million? That’s a rounding error for us. $300 million got misplaced during the Expo Line build no one has been able to find. We know it’s floating around somewhere, but the auditors got bored and stopped looking for it.”

The conversation, punctuated by cackling, went viral on Twitter, inspiring the hashtag campaign #RoundMeUp.   

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In the wake of the MacLeod revelation, the blogger known as UpintheValley staged an insurrection at City Hall “in the spirit of Yukio Mishima”. Taking command of a balcony, he unfurled a banner outlining the Riverway project, and made an impassioned speech to an audience of derelicts and office workers on lunch break, some of whom thought they were watching live theater and left tips for the ‘performer’.   The blogger had repeatedly been ticketed by police for climbing fences into the Pacoima Wash and refused to pay the citations on principle, claiming all of the river watershed as a public right. Liens had been placed against his house by the City, which he also refused to pay, precipitating a personal and legal crisis.

“Let us rise from our stony sleep, brothers and take back the commons!”,  he proclaimed, after a rambling preamble that referenced Beauty, freedom of movement, the Golden Ratio, and the perfidy of hack politicians. Exhortation to occupy the Mayor’s office was met with a bemused reaction from onlookers, who, sensing an absence of irony, returned to their cubicles. 

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He retreated to a hallway and committed a partial hari kari, in which the stomach wall is opened, but not fatally.  He then began a two-day walk back to Van Nuys, holding his gut bag, smearing blood atop each gate denying river access.  

When he reached MacLeod Ale, there are conflicting accounts as to his final words, which were interpreted as either: “the circle is closed”, or “I’ll have that beer, now.”  A special IPA, the Dolorosa, was subsequently brewed in his memory.

The fallout from his martyrdom led to what locals now refer to as the Valley Spring.  Hurvitz wrested control of Nury Martinez’s seat on the City Council in a special election, setting the stage for the Riverway approval. 

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Before Fame or Infamy…

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…Andrew brings them to MacLeod for photo shoots.  Eric B., as unknown as unknown can be, two years ago, wearing the colors on Calvert St.  Who would have thought he would go further than any black man in the history of The Bachelorette franchise? On Monday he’s bringing Rachel and a television crew to the hood-side of Baltimore to conduct an anthropological study meet his family, feeding the idle voyeurism of millions.

But not before turning up in Andrew’s Flickr feed. We way ahead of the curve in The Nuys.

No Hay Almuerzo Gratis

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American children are seriously overweight,  and the kids in my neighborhood are fatter than most.

In its wisdom the LAUSD has taken the position kids are not getting enough calories, and has summoned them back to school during summer vacation with standing offers of free lunch. No studying. No playtime. Just waddle in and chow down, courtesy of the government.  You don’t even have to be a student, only a minor. Anyone will do. It’s free!  From the magic bucket of stuff you didn’t ask for and which has no bottom,  and no purpose but to grow the payroll downtown.

God help the politician who tries to put an end to this.  Para ninos!   Nino pequenos hambrientos!  Muere, hombre malvado!

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Apparently the feeding includes food trucks.  This was not my lunch room experience as a kid.  Okay, I went there.

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I was feeling curmudgeonly about this as I walked into Macleod yesterday and availed myself of the free peanuts. Like a horse I ate, munching contentedly, scattering the shells around my stall.  Chomp, chomp. Crack, crack. Glug, glug.

Well, they were free.…once I bought the beer.

It occurred to me, as I gazed upon Roderick’s peanut gallery, it was theoretically possible at this very moment an aspiring Matisse at Vista Middle School was working off her portion of carbs by etching dancing nudes on to the back of a styrofoam clamshell.  If Roderick can create portraiture from peanut shells, perhaps the clamshell itself will become a new textural form. Perhaps the food, like the peanut, is beside the point. It’s the shell that matters. The vessel is the gesture.

1099-Miscellaneous

It is possible in Los Angeles to list your apartment on AirBnB on Friday afternoon, crash with friends or lovers until Monday morning, pocket the cash flow, and in the right sort of neighborhood prize the rent without a day job.  That’s one kind of gig.

There’s an app you can use to clean the place and handle the next booking for you.  That’s a gig for the cleaners.  Also, the bookers.

If the guests can get hungry, they can scroll through their phone, and someone will shop for them, then dash to the door with food. That’s a gig for the dashers.

If your guest gets bored she can press a button on her phone and a car will arrive at the door in minutes and take her to the club. Driver gig.  Or side hustle, to borrow the corporate sales pitch.

Her boyfriend can beg off, stay in the house and go online.  “Take off your underwear,” he can text, and somewhere on the other side of the city or the planet a woman will remove her underwear, slowly, to keep the meter running.  The sharing economy, in action.

More of us are working, but fewer us are employed.  Our world is rounded in 1099 forms.

Uber has been extraordinarily good to me. So good I don’t have to consider renting a room in our house on AirBnB.   Everyone knows what it’s doing to the taxi business. Few know Uber has become so ubiquitous in the past two years it has displaced rental cars as the most commonly utilized ground transportation, even among corporate clients.  Last week Hertz disclosed massive losses, and may default on its bond debt.  Its fleet of aging cars are flooding the after-market. The inventory spike will put pressure on the dealerships to unload inventory, which makes for a buying opportunity if you want a new car to drive for Uber.

Whole Foods has been good to me, but its formerly dominant position in organic foods is under extraordinary price pressure from all sides and it may not survive another two years in its current form.   Uber has been selling rides at a loss  since arriving in LA, with no plans to stop doing so.  Amazon and Etsy are slowly strangling Fashion Square.   On the other hand, the Century City mall is expanding, upscale.  Our economy is bifurcating into hyper-luxury and dollar stores. Concierge service or waiting at bus stops with street people. UberPool is getting cheap enough to displace Metro riders. Soon, perhaps only derelicts will ride the bus.

Steve Jobs’ bicycle has democratized capitalism.  It means MacLeod Ale can rise out of an auto repair shop, find a clientele, and prosper where retail never could. It also means 100 people are simultaneously gripped by the same fever dream of selling biscotti made from their kitchen. Ninety-nine of them end in tears.  But they can console themselves by renting out the spare room.  Unless there isn’t one. Then they make themselves scarce while tourists cavort in their bed and rifle their drawers.

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It’s an extraordinary time to be grinding out a living in Los Angeles. Unless you’re not.

Perhaps we should hedge our bets, like my friend Johnny.

Sunday at the Brewery

Brain lock!
Locked in…
MacLeod Ale's favorite son, Roderick, and his cigar boxes
MacLeod Ale’s favorite son, Roderick, was there with his cigar boxes

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Jim Payne explains his deceptively simple 3-D technique
Jim Payne explained his ingeniously low-tech 3-D photo technique
Which proved the most engrossing exhibit of the show
Which proved unexpectedly engrossing…

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The downside of the artist’s life: hauling the un-sold wares back to the car, Willy Loman-style, at the end of the weekend.

The Return of Mid Century Cool?

Destined for Landmark status?
Destined for Landmark status

Don’t laugh, Van Nuys may already be happening. If Glassell Park can be totally a thing….

…lets explore the process in depth with this graphic analysis:

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The prerequisites are already in place:

1) the last neighborhood of pre-war buildings ideal for adaptive re-use

2) along the Sepulveda corridor, lots of car-oriented low-rise dreck rapidly being replaced with higher density, with ground floor retail

3) Quiet streets with a full canopy of trees

4) The Orange Line

5) Uber

6) MacLeod Ale

7) Historical reference points embedded in our collective pop culture

 

Surcharges and Grace

Why optional?
The muddy waters of “optional”

Karl Strauss, a mid-major brewery out of San Diego, has a new branch pub in DTLA. Interesting beer, if not quite as fresh, or as sublimely complex as at MacLeod.  Good happy hour pricing.   Nice appetizer plates. Terrific service. Also, as Mrs. U and I were to discover, surcharges. Related to labor. Which are optional. Confused?

Lemme back up.  We knew about the surcharges in advance because they were referenced in the Yelp reviews.  Those who referenced them were outraged.   As in: “You should not pay it or even go here. I have never seen this kind of unethical business practice before and you should NOT visit here.  -Bo L.”  As in:  “there is a 2 dollar charge on our tab for some sort of minimum wage increase bs story our server told us about which we highly disagreed with so we took it out of the tip, that’s not cool. -Erik D.”

Over our beer flight, we talked about it with our server who explained it was due to the Los Angeles minimum wage going up Jan. 1. Instead of raising prices on food and beer (and purchasing new menus), and to keep the prices uniform across the other seven pubs in SoCal, they were adding a 3% surcharge. But, she assured us, we could talk to the manager if we wanted it removed.  Hello?

No, we said. If it’s going to wages, we’re happy to pay it.   Who would refuse to pay this?

As the Yelp reviews suggested, she let us know some customers were deducting the surcharge from servers tips.  On her behalf, we left $30 on $24.63.

Later, driving, I thought about it some more.  The surcharge wasn’t going to her. It was going to the kitchen people. Servers feed off tips. The back of the house runs on wages. Since the opening in November Karl Strauss has used four different terms: “GovMandatesSurcharge”, “EmployerSurcharge”, “KARLcharge” and now, simply: “Surcharge”, with the caveat you can opt of paying it altogether.

This raises more questions than it answers. If the 3% add-on exists to satisfy the minimum wage mandate, then it shouldn’t be optional. Raise prices and be done with it. Optional makes it seem like only some of the money is going to Carlos at the fry bin for making the garlic truffle fries just right, the rest is fattening profit margins.  The skinny girl in the black t-shirt behind the bar was implying it was going to her. Naturally, we overtipped (modestly) to compensate for those she implied were punishing her in retaliation.

Who, exactly, is electing to cross this unspoken line of shame and demand the manager to recuse them from the 3%?  As someone who works in Brentwood and drives Uber at night, I think I have a pretty good idea. The mannerless wealthy, that’s who.

Lemme paint a picture here.  There is a certain type of person who returns from a weekend ski trip to Utah, walks pass the cab stand at the airport into a waiting Uber, leaving three enormous suitcases on the sidewalk to be loaded into the back. As you enter the onramp to the 105 they demand to know, in a particularly anguished tone of voice, “why are you going this way?”   Because the 105 to the 110 to the 5 to the 2 is the most direct route, you reply.  By about eight miles. You point helpfully to the Uber app mounted on the dashboard, which displays the correct route on a map,  clearly visible from the back seat.  In response, they passive-aggressively open up their own navigation app, turn up the volume on their phone, and you spend the next half hour taking orders from a disembodied voice with a British accent: “in one quarter mile, merge right….” Orders which duplicate, turn by turn, the exact route you are already taking.

When you arrive in La Canada, a maid scampers out to take the bags as you unload them.  They disappear into their five bedroom house, unburdened. You’ve just saved them about $30. They tip you…..nothing.  And why not? Travis Kalanick told them the tip was already included.   Everybody knows you tip for service, even when not explicitly told to. But when you tell people it’s optional…

That’s the problem with financing wage increases through semi-voluntary surcharges.  A certain type of person will feel entitled to opt out, and it won’t be the guy who delivered pizzas in college. Anyone who worked in service or owned a business serving the public knows better.

Which makes me wonder why Karl Strauss is doing it this way.

Amy to Austin, With Love

Her last night at Macleod...
Her last night at Macleod…

She’s taking her Punter’s Club mug, ring tone laugh and Indiana niceness with her. Also, the red hair, the maxi dresses and her peripatetic, public book-reading way. The full Amy.

Sigh.

That’s not fair.  She’s going for the right reason.  Love, the only permissible rationale for abandoning our beloved working class brigadoon of Van Nuys.   In five years we will be Highland Park, and everyone in this photo will be regaling the newcomers with anecdotes, but for now the Nuys is still so un-cool, it’s actually cool to be here.

And Amy?  Enjoying the full measure of happiness she extended to everyone else.

Bending and Tipping at MacLeod

Yoga, then a pint
First yoga, then the pint

“Turning yourself into a pretzel is less important than coming to center.”

People fond of such aphorisms, I can’t help notice, have no problem pretzeling themselves at will. Me, I huff, I puff, I grunt, I teeter-totter on the balls of my feet, trying to hold a basic warrior pose. Eventually I re-establish my breath, and then its on to the next position, and fresh agonies.

Sweat enough, and you forget yourself.  Shavasana arrives like your own happy coffin.   An afternoon baptism: death, burial  and resurrection.  Then you roll over onto your side, reborn.

You’ve earned a pint.

I’m not sure why people didn’t think of this earlier, but the beer and yoga era is upon us.   MacLeod has its own yogi now, Jess Bishop, up from WeHo on Sunday afternoons.

The cool concrete floor is well-suited to practice.

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Jess entered her practice from the side door of college athletics at Pitt, where she ran track and obtained a Masters in Teaching. “Yoga deceived me. I thought it would make me a better runner”, said Jess, “but what it taught me is acceptance.”

There followed three years of teaching English in Phoenix, a bad breakup,  moving to LA, acting, yoga teacher training (on the advice of her mother) and steady work based out of CorePower along with private sessions.

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“There’s something about taking an hour for movement and mindfulness and breath, then unwinding with a beer.”

Twelve bucks, Sundays at 1pm.  Chaser pint included.  Down, dog.  Brewasana.