Goodbye, Freasy

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Well, this is a blow. Fresh and Easy is closing all 97 stores in California this week.  Liquidation of inventory has begun. Mrs. UpintheValley took advantage of the markdowns to clear out the bulk items at the Sepulveda store, which was always so conveniently situated right on the way home.

Soon it will be another empty husk in a strip mall. Maybe the Dollar King next door will expand into it like an invading ant army.  Maybe it will sit empty for half a year, while the landlord sits on the property, watching its value increase by the minute. In Los Angeles, the real estate casino always wins.

I suppose a sudden arrival of Trader Joes would be too much to hope for.

Not sure why the Freasy didn’t do better.  While it didn’t offer the vast inventory of Costco, or priced as cheap as SuperKing or the Mexican markets, it had an interesting product mix; plenty of vegan and gluten-free options, pre-packaged semi-gourmet meals for singles, ample parking, easy self-checkout.  Also, it was the only place in the Valley open 24 hours, which made for a welcome 3 am pit stop after a long night Ubering.  Andrew at HereinVanNuys described it as like grocery shopping at Ikea, which was not an inaccurate assessment.   It was a store that made perfect sense on paper, but never got the trade to come through the doors.

Seeing the going out of business signs made me think of a different strip mall, at Selma and Cahuenga.  A decade ago it was just another shitty corner in a tacky, at times crime-addled, part of Hollywood.  There was the inevitable liquor store/laundromat combo, the impossibly tight parking spaces, insufficient in number. Crackheads and winos, puttering about. Trash.  Garish signage. A forgettable eyesore.

Today there are three, count them, three, gastropubs, a Pinkberry, and a couple boutiques.  In one strip mall.

The corner of Sepulveda and Vanowen a decade ago had a Ralphs, a Baskin Robbins, high traffic and good visibility.  It was surrounded by quiet leafy neighborhoods of mid-century homes populated by middle class people with jobs.  Dated, certainly, but a solid business investment, one would think.  Apparently one would be wrong.

The divergent fates of these two corners say a lot about what’s happening to this City.

Morning, Ho

Working the commuter trade
Sepulveda, 8 AM

Seeing a gaggle of booty-shorted women working a corner in the harsh, unforgiving morning light, one thinks: who does this?  Who pulls over in the middle of the commute, in full view of the yoga moms and clock punchers and school buses and negotiates a curbside transaction for full release? 

Men do.  Otherwise these ladies wouldn’t be here.

The Daily News profiled an undercover operation not long ago, in which the first john nabbed was suddenly surrounded by his wife, mother and kids, all yelling at the police demanding to know why he was being arrested. It turned out he was procuring his…date…down the block from his house. In daylight.

Men. We stupid sometimes.

A Proclamation on Behalf of The Pimp

US Supreme Court

Amidst the anticipation of this week’s Supreme Court decisions regarding gay marriage and Obamacare, yesterday with quiet fanfare the great edifice of law put scales to the question of Sepulveda Blvd motels.

Our motels! Our hooker strip!  Us!  Right here in the Valley!

In Los Angeles v. Patel, the Court struck down municipal code § 41.49, which allowed the police to inspect motel records without a warrant, specifically to identify patrons paying cash and staying less than 12 hours.  Meaning, hookers and johns.

The decision was argued on fourth amendment grounds, with much discursive argument as to what constituted a private record and whether motels met the definition of a ‘closely regulated’ business, and what exactly was an undue burden on owners.

Short version: The vice squad now needs to go before a judge to make a garden variety motel bust.

Shorter version:  That’s never going to happen.

Subtext:  A tacit admission by the motel owners association (Patel) that street prostitution represents a significant percentage of their bottom line.  Enough so, they were willing to go to the Supreme Court to hang on to it.

The winners are…well, you can guess.

The Court did not hear the testimony of Kat Stacks, former prostitute, turned hip-hop groupie and now as-told-to-author:

“I got turned out by a nigga when I was 14 and he was almost 10 years older than me and he my baby daddy. He gave me my new name and my tattoo…I was wit him for five years, and I was faithful, I did whatever he wanted and I worked seven days a week…I seen girls working on crutches cause they Daddy broke they leg…He put me out on the track in New York. Once I went through that horrible experience he put me in white places where I won’t get hurt at, but he first had to put me in a place where I could go through all this shit and learn not to be a weak bitch.”

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All three women justices voted in favor of the motel owners.  Make of it what you will.

‘Yo no soy una puta mierda’

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Sepulveda, Sunday afternoon.  A blogger we all know is biking to the gym.   Up ahead he sees a…potential photo subject…promenading along the sidewalk, a celebration of booty short, thigh tattoo and wedge clogs.

As he reaches for his trusty point and shoot, a utility van cuts to the curb in front of him, interposing between photographer and subject.

The van driver honks at the woman.  Two short demanding beeps. Turn your ass around, business is at hand.

She spins on her heel, displeased.   She lets him know.

“Yo no soy una puta mierda, mother—–”

The driver is confused.  The Woman Presumed To Be a Ho advances angrily on the Man Who Would Be Her John. She slaps the front of his van.  He shrugs, looks at her in bewilderment, as though to say, ‘what was I to think?’

“Yo no soy una puta mierda!”  And off she clomped.

A Forgotten Man

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Suppose you were driving home from work and you came to a stoplight and you saw a guy, seemingly down on his luck, asleep on a bus bench in the twilight. This reminds you of an image you’ve seen before, but can’t quite put your finger on. Being a street photographer you might recognize a camera-worthy moment, and take a few quick snaps.

Waiting for the light to change, you might review them in the viewfinder, only to be interrupted by a second man leaning in your passenger window, wanting to know what you were doing.

It’s a bit confusing, cause while you’re having one conversation with your lap: meh, the light’s not that great,  someone is suddenly in mid-converstion with your right ear, practically inside your car, verbally polite, but physically aggressive.   He’s just crossed three lanes of traffic to speak to you.

This guy, below, on the right side of the frame, with the pink weed socks and the baleful stare:

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There, in the middle of Sepulveda Blvd, in the short eternity in which the light refused to turn green, you have what diplomats refer to as a tete-a-tete. You reassure him you were not taking his picture.  In truth, your focal point was so fixed upon the tableau on the bench, you hadn’t “seen” him at all.  He was entirely peripheral, and found his way into the frame by happenstance.  When he came to the window you assumed he was some sort of panhandler.

But he was there, in the frame,  and he wanted you to remember that.  He didn’t wish to be forgotten.

Point taken.

Dark skies

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An adolescent impulse led me to bike down Sepulveda twice yesterday, under a bright/dark sky on a wet/sunny afternoon.

At Vanowen I crossed a swirling lake in the middle of the intersection.

At Oxnard, I was sweating under my hoodie.

Then the rain resumed, plunging in sheets while in another part of the sky, the sun broke brightly through a hole in the cloud bank.

By Ventura I was soaked through.  And still sweating.

On the way back, the rain paused long enough for the streets to drain.

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I felt a bit like Dorothy fleeing the approaching cyclone. Or Elvira Gulch.

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Then I crossed Saticoy and reached our neighborhood pocket park, and the Pink Trumpet trees were aflame.  I had left Kansas.

Cindy vs. Nury, Part Deux

Matching lipstick and dress? Wedding ring on display? Check.
My lipstick matches my dress? Check. Wedding ring on display? Check.

Nury Martinez has Good Hair.  Even by lofty Latina standards,  Latinas being naturally advantaged in all matters coiffure, Nury has gorgeous, telenovela quality hair.  That’s my takeaway from last night’s ‘debate’ between her and repeat challenger for la jefa of Council District Seis, Cindy Montanez.

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Cindy’s no slouch in the hair department herself, though.  She’s abandoned the pantsuits of 2013 and adopted a kind of I-shop-at-Costco-just-like-the-rest-of-you-Van Nuysians look. And I can prove it, see? I just toss it carelessly over my shoulder along with my sensible bag and push my own grocery cart across the lot to my minivan. 

If I didn’t know she pocketed over a million dollars in taxpayer money from a pair of political patronage appointments while waiting for the party machine to clear a seat for her, I’d almost believe it.

Now wait a minute, you might be thinking. What kind of misogynistic nonsense is this?  These women are professionals. One of them is your councilperson. How dare you dissect their appearance. For shame.

Well, they didn’t leave us much choice in the matter. Because there wasn’t a whole lot of substantive distinction between the two.

They’re both Opposed to Street Prostitution. Opposed! Asked what they do in the way of interdiction both women emotively delineated the state of play on Sepulveda Blvd and left it at that.  This re-describing the problem in lieu of answering the question would prove to be the operative template of the evening in all questions relating to Van Nuys.  Budget shortfall?  Tough decisions need to be made. Raising the minimum wage to $15/hour?  It’s hard living on $10/hour.  It requires further study. Developing Van Nuys Blvd?  It used to be nicer when we were growing up, now it’s blighted. We should work with the business community to improve it.

In matters pertaining to the Great Wide Realm Over Which the Council Has No Authority, they offered opinions freely.  Alternative energy?  Yea. Fracking? Nay. GMO foods? Double Nay. Free trade? We should be very concerned, but…yes. Er, unless it takes away American jobs.  Then no. Sort of the way they both favor alternative energy mandates, as long as they don’t raise electricity rates, which of course they do and which have already locked in a 30% surcharge on every DWP bill for life.

These were not helpful questions for undecided voters, frankly, and the moderator would have done better to skip them.

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Which brings us back to…presentation.

Cindy, I have to say, came off well in that respect.  She grew on me as the meeting wore on.  My ears pricked up at the mention of the civic impact of aesthetic improvements in San Fernando.  It made me wish she showed up at my house as promised 18 months ago.

You can file this under condescending remarks from a white guy, but she’s articulate.  Nury….I’m not sure what’s going on there. She’s hanging on to a rather baroque accent for a college graduate raised in the United States.  This may be an entirely political calculation for all I know. In the absence of policy differences, each side appeared to be utilizing semaphores to hint at who they were and whose votes they were seeking.

As a side note, Nury packed the room with shills who punctuated her pablum with orchestrated clapping and cheering. This was off-putting, and toward the end of the meeting skirted the edge of outright intimidation. Not an attractive look for an incumbent.  She would be well-advised not to repeat this if there’s to be a return match.

**Andrew Hurvitz was in attendance as well and, as always, has his own amusing take: Power For the People’s Own Good.

Davening, iPhone, Boulevard

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When did this happen to us?  When did communing with the handheld device take the form of liturgical prayer?  How did we come to worship our devices in public with the same fervor we once gripped the wisdom of the Patriarchs, and without embarrassment?

No, that’s not quite right. Embarrassment requires an understanding, or perhaps a mere awareness of those sharing the space around us.  Gadgetry has obviated the membrane between the public and private sphere.

Our spines crumple forward in submission to our appetite for escape. Our necks droop like penguins in the zoo, staring down at a created Antarctica balanced on our webbed feet. Time travelers from the 1990’s would be puzzled by the sight of us.  They would wonder if all the Vitamin D had been removed from our diet in a diabolical plot.

I’m hardly one to comment.  Even perched upon the stern unforgiving yoga stool at which I labor, inevitably my posture sags, shell backed and slack-jawed, as I type.  Occasionally I catch flies in my mouth.

There is antidote for this,  in Van Nuys, where one can re-establish the plumb line from the back of the head to the heel.

MacLeod Ale.  Calvert Street. No screens. No gadgets. Just British Ales, peanuts and conversation.  Occasionally music.  Remarkable what a little fellowship conducted eye-to-eye, standing upright, glass in hand, can do for your spirit and your love for your fellow man.

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