When the Freeway Killer came to Van Nuys

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“Creepily and sadly one of my classmates who lived around the corner was lured and killed by the Freeway Killer while walking along the Pacoima wash to the 7/11 on Valerio/Van Nuys Blvd. That was the way we always rode our bikes…”  —Correspondence from a reader in Wellesley, Mass, who was raised on Lull St. in Van Nuys.

“Our neighbor had originally owned and farmed the land there.  Her husband had been “gassed” during WWI but I didn’t learn what that meant for many years. She had sold all but an acre of the original property and tract houses were put up.  She had retained a magnificent orchard–lemons, limes, tangerines, grapefruits, oranges, plums, peaches, pomegranates, and grew her own vegetables.  She let us have the run of her yard and we were too young to realize that it was full of black widow spiders.  Part of her original property was left undeveloped (a virtually empty field we called the dead end) except for a large old, empty house (the haunted house).  That was our playground….”

William Bonin killed 21 teenaged boys in the Los Angeles area between May 1979-June 1980. He accomplished this in the 1970’s fashion: by luring them into his Chevy van.  They were subdued, raped, then strangled, frequently with their own t-shirts.  The bodies were dropped off alongside freeways around Southern California.  Bonin had six prior convictions of sexual assault at the time of his murder spree, and had been deemed an “untreatable offender” by psychiatrists at Atascadero State Hospital.   Yet there he was, the Hurdy-Gurdy Man on parole, free to cruise Van Nuys Blvd when he found Victim #12, Ronald Gatlin.

Empty fields and fruit trees and free range to ride one’s bike unsupervised was the essence of Valley life for kids in the 1970’s. It was why families chose to live here rather than Venice. Van Nuys was thought of the way we think of Valencia now, a far away land, well removed from the chaos of the city.

Three Strikes laws and electronic dragnets have done away with the William Bonins of California. By any statistical measure, Los Angeles is far safer from random crime than it has ever been.    There are more shaded streets, more crosswalks and more speed bumps and safety helmets, but you don’t see kids wandering around, away from the reach of parents.

The Pacoima wash is fenced off now.  Once the playground is violated, it’s done.  Freedom can be a difficult thing to re-learn.

Cult of Personality

The divinization of Nury has begun
The divinization of Nury has begun

Flattery of politicians through muraling is the hallmark of Third World governance.   Why are we doing it in Los Angeles?

Why are we allowing politicians to put their faces on public service billboards, campaign style, paid for with our tax dollars?

Why are we allowing Councilman Jose Huizar to use the marquee of the historic Los Angeles theater on Broadway as his personal bulletin board?

Why are we allowing Kevin De Leon to throw a party for himself at Disney Hall, complete with mariachi bands and banquet tables, to “celebrate” his selection to the revolving post of Senate Pro Tempore?

Just asking.

Panorama Diptych

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Even disposable plastic crap from China has a backstory. The story begins with petroleum.

It doesn’t end in the Pacoima Wash.  This is but a waystation. The metal parts, the gears, the chain and spokes will eventually end up at the Raymer Street scrap yard, where they will be compacted, dropped into a container and trucked to Long Beach, then shipped back to China.

The Chinese will melt it down and make something new for us to buy.

Maybe, as Americans, we should make stuff for ourselves again.  We’ve done it before.  People who work with their hands tend to value what they make. They don’t so readily throw it in the creek.

Living spaces in the shadow of Living Spaces

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Bear, on his patio
Condos, Cabrito Road
Condos, Cabrito Road
Eduardo's bike shop
Eduardo’s bike shop

Feeling poor is relational. You might have a plump little belly but hate your kitchen when you watch the Real Housewives of Orange County.  You might hate the sight of your 1980’s dishwasher so much you tear it out and toss it in the garage even though it still kind of works in a grindy-wheezy sort of way.  You’d rather have a gaping maw in the cabinetry and tell yourself you’re renovating than face the tackalicious squalor in which you reside.

“How long are you gonna leave that there?” asks your neighbor after half a year.

“Until I figure out a way to get rid of it.”

“What’s wrong with you? Put it on the sidewalk.”

“But that’s littering.”

“Put it on the sidewalk.”

Twenty minutes later, its gone. Whoosh. Just like that.  Whisked away, by unseen hands.

That’s when I discovered the Great Los Angeles Disposal System.

Rusty pipes, moldy carpet underlayment,  broken office chairs. Whisk. Whisk. Whisk.  Plastic tarps. Broken Christmas tree stands. Mangled bicycles. Whisked. Taken to the scrapyard. Re-purposed. Repaired.

Gwyneth Paltrow unloads her designer unwanteds on Goop.  The rest of us unload our stuff on Craigslist.  You can trade brand label clothes at Buffalo Exchange.  You can bag up the never worn birthday sweaters from the in-laws and leave them on the porch for Goodwill. But the true detritus which neither fits nor belongs in the garbage can, even that has a small army waiting for it.

Beneath Cratchit-ville, the shadow world of wildly overpriced illegal units tucked within the hedge work of ranch houses, there is yet another, lower, rung to the class structure of the Valley.  Cabrito Road.

A small city of pallet and tarp houses, of broken down vehicles, a frisbee toss away from Smart and Final and Living Spaces. An English-language favela, where pets abound.  Where you can order up a bike entirely from spare parts.  Where people cook on camp stoves under the stars and watch TV on broken lawn furniture.

Fruits and Flowers

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For months now,  I have seen this same man and woman selling their wares at the corner of Paxton and Arleta, a no man’s land adjacent to the Pacoima Wash Spreading Grounds.  And I wonder, why here?  Why them?  Is it a franchise?  Do other fruit vendors vie for this location?  Is there a street vendor cartel which calls the shots and ameliorates disputes?  Is there a mordita? Are they making money? It is well off the beaten path. Are they being punished? One the plus side, at least there is shade.