Gratitude in Wuhantide

I’m eating steel cut oats this morning on the brick patio, fully nude, presenting my uncurated self to the sun,  and the new neighbor behind me, the one who doesn’t do autobody work or landscaping or hump boxes at TJ’s, the one who works in the music industry,  the one who peeked over the bamboo in April to say how much he admired my deck and with whom I made tentative plans to invite over for wine on said deck once, you know, the lockdown craziness had passed...is also on his patio this morning,  talking on the phone:

Do you know what the Magna Carta was? You think you do, but you don’t.
There were two. Most people don’t know that.
The secret Magna Carta was a way for the Royal family to collect money from countries the world over.
They’re richer than anyone knows. You are paying them money without knowing.
The Windsor family owns most of Los Angeles.  No, they do! Accept it.

It has been that kind of summer.  I wander naked, oatmeal bowl in hand, eavesdropping on conspiracy theories and call it Wednesday.

We can’t agree on the facts anymore, so we create entertainment to explain our world.   We burrow inward like the polyphagous shot-hole borer, lay our larvae, and let our fungus devour the tree from the inside. Two years after the pestilence, the sweetgums are falling all over my neighborhood this summer.

The Beautiful Young Man who Meditates could not be more at peace as he informs Mrs. UpintheValley, from a lotus position atop a car hood, the virus was invented for the purposes of installing tracking devices on everyone.

Los Angeles is getting a little autistic now, four months in. By robbing ourselves of facial cues behind our masks we can longer discern irony or return smiles. We fall into suspicion without exchanging words.   We make sport of denunciation.  We look inside our phones for the smoking gun proving the Other Side crazy.

The underlying facts remain unchanged, even if we don’t accept them. The virus will be lethal to 80-year-olds and obese diabetics.  The rest of us not so much, and on a declining scale of risk. Children not at all. So, by all means, close the schools. Let us have governmentally-inflicted entertainment; let’s put a tub of popcorn on the stove for Fear Porn II: The Return of Newsom.     

We deserve to be painted by Brueghel or Bosch.

What to do with this weird unrequested time-out?  Your early resentment at the induced economic coma is now a bit more philosophical. You decide to make a gift of it.  You make an abundance of your mornings.  There is nothing stopping you from creative projects. You are fertile in the afternoon, foraging for cuttings to propagate the yard, at least one per day.  You find rocks in the riverbed for the garden.   You finish the driveway and the retaining wall and it is glorious. You read Joan Didion, seeking a historical mirror, an interpreter of the weirdness, but can’t get past the fact she rented a 12 room mansion in Runyon Canyon on a magazine writer’s pay.  You try binge-watching House of Cards, and it already feels like an artifact of another era.  You shift to The Great, Hulus irreverent take on Imperial Russia, and huzzah, it hits the mark.  Portentously.

You ride your bike from Culver to Redondo -crowded beaches and wait time for patio tables- and note the general mask defiance. The following weekend you try the familiar haunts of downtown and find full mask compliance and a city on life support and mostly closed.   Skid Row remains in full bloom, giving the street parade a harder edge than normal. You wonder where the loft people are. Upstairs living off DoorDash, or out of town?  Has an exodus begun?   What of all the unfinished condo conversion?  You sense billions swirling the drain.

On the return home, you stop at MacLeod for a four-pack of Doubled Over Happy.  You adjourn to the upstairs deck, erected in a frenzy of inspiration only to be underutilized. The wisteria has grown over the trellis, providing full shade. There are always breezes. You have spent a good deal of time up there this summer, fertile and creative, closing a circle on a project started years before.

Tis a great bounty, this deck, prized by your own labor.  Unlike so many Sunday returns through the Cahuenga pass you are grateful for what you have. You feel advantaged to be living in the Valley. Gratitude snuck up on you while looking elsewhere.

The Distance Between Us

There are, as of yesterday, 39 Wuhan Coronavirus deaths in the United States, according to the CDC.  Twenty-two were in a single nursing home in Kirkland, WA.   The median age of victims: 80.  Most had correlated health problems. But now you can’t buy canned soup or bottled water in Van Nuys.  There is no rice left at 99 Ranch market.  Our answer to the long odds of infection is consumer-driven scarcity.

Since Wednesday:
-Broadway
-Disneyland
-MLB spring training
-and the NCAA tournament have gone on hiatus.
On Monday, LA Unified is joining them, setting the table for an unprecedented child care crisis among hourly wage earners.

We are in the grip of maximal measures.  We won’t be using any more toilet paper should the virus reach the San Fernando Valley than if it didn’t, yet we buy out every roll in the store anyway because it feels like we are doing something.  We are under the sway of cable news, where catastrophism prevails, everyone is a Fake Expert for Five Minutes, and all roads lead to the Oval Office, as though there was a special button underneath a desk called Pandemic Wing Attack Plan R, press here to release whup-ass.  

Wash your hands.  Cover your cough. Stop touching your face.  Settle in for some binge-watching.   First principles, from actual epidemiologists, now arouse scorn. That’s all?  There has to be more to it than that!   Don’t tell me about washing!  What’s happening? Who do we blame?  

Mrs. UpintheValley just poked her head in the door, greatly agitated, to announce the LA Public Library system will be closed for the rest of the month.  She gathered the books on the coffee table into her arms like Diego Rivera’s flower girl, assessing by touch if they were sufficient to last the duration.

This just in: MacLeod is no longer serving peanuts.   Social distancing has officially begun in earnest.

That looks to be about six feet apart.  Like contented canines let us disappear inside our homes…for the places we normally gather for solace are now off-limits. Let us use this crowded fortnight, after the diversions of wine, fornication and Netflix are exhausted, to consider how isolated we have become from one another. Maybe this contagion can be repurposed.

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:

Gent Map

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