Valley Grace

Last night I learned about Hallway Sex from Byron, a handsome young orphan from the South.   It’s when you pass your Other in the hallway of your apartment and she says “F-you” and you say “F-you” back, and that’s the sum of your intimacy for the week.

I picked him up at The Liquid Zoo, five drinks down and two months deep into the Hallway Sex Diet, on his way back to Culver City, where his Other had summoned him with an enraged texting finger.

She left me alone in the house for two days while she did her thing. I mean what did she expect? She knows how tempted I am to be an alcoholic.

When he first came to LA, before he became a model for skateboard wear, when he was still doing scut work, he lived around the corner on Sherman Way, and the Zoo was his hangout.  It was the one place in LA he felt comfortable with himself.  Three years on, after a bit of success and a move to the West side, the bouncer and bartender in Van Nuys remained his true friends.  They remembered his name and didn’t mind if he crept up on them out of the blue. Nobody stood in judgment of him in Van Nuys.

When she got pregnant, he gave up on the modeling and the vague gestures toward acting and enrolled in a welding certification program.  They were going to get married. He wanted to do right by God, and there was reliable money in it.

And then one day, after consulting with her mother, who has three kids by three different men who don’t support them,  she went off and got herself an abortion while I was taking my welding exam and things really fell off.

Hallway Sex.

I’m trying to not have hard feeling about it, but it hurts, man. I won’t lie. It hurts. I’ve been on this earth for 29 years, minus two years in jail, but this is worse.  Some days I’m half a Xanax from putting a shotgun in my mouth.

Byron’s unanswered phone vibrated angrily all the way to Culver. He exited the car apologizing for oversharing.

Only Fiction can provide the true conversation which then unfolded in the apartment, but Life can put another passenger in the Uber, heading back to Sherman Oaks.

Donna was five years younger than Byron and by her own admission stupidly happy to be moving in with her boyfriend and out of her parent’s house. But for college, she’d lived her whole life in the Valley. She attended Buckley.  All her friends went to Buckley, Curtis or Harvard-Westlake.  Her Los Angeles was a small pond. Everyone Donna knew, knew everyone else Donna might know.

We talked about the musical re-make of Valley Girl, which she knew all about it without ever having seen the original or having any familiarity with the soundtrack. She was rather more excited about the re-make of Clueless, which came out the year she was born but which every girl she knew watched during middle school sleepovers.  Who couldn’t relate to Cher Horowitz?

She didn’t like that her childhood home was now on a Waze street, thick with cars seeking a shortcut in the morning commute. Nor did she approve of second floors on ranch houses.

But those were trivial matters. Mostly Donna was really, really ready to move in with her boyfriend, who she thought she met at a party, but soon realized wasn’t the case. When they exchanged numbers they discovered they were already in each other’s contact list…from middle school.  Every phone either of them had ever owned simply sucked up the old numbers.

It would have been creepy in any other context, but in our case felt like destiny. Like we had been circling each other for twenty years and these, like, electronic cherubs were steering us.

In the movie version, Donna and Byron would have crossed paths and this blog post would have a very different ending.  In millennial Los Angeles, orphans remain orphans and children of the upper middle class have their destiny forged by middle school.

Way, Way East of Pasadena

What do you do if you want to have a fancy wedding in Los Angeles on a teacher’s salary?

You book an outdoor venue in Temecula on a Sunday in August and ask your friends to drive out and sit under umbrellas in triple-digit heat, which we were only too happy to do! All of us! No bother at all!

Ironically, Mr. and Mrs. UpintheValley had their first tiff at a gas station in Rancho Cucamonga on the way home from Vegas.  Since then the world East of Pasadena has remained terra incognita for us, even after two decades as Angelenos.  We’re not snobs. Except for bickering, we just never had reason to get out of the car.

There is a saying in L.A.:  the car is king. This is not correct.  In L.A. the car is the preferred mode of transportation.   The street grid overlays a network of former trolley lines which in turn mimic earlier horse trails which, by necessity, hewed to canyons and watersheds.  The underlying topography and the transportation backbone correspond to the historical evolution of the city.  The freeways were only cut in later.

Here in the outer, outer ring of suburbs, the freeway is its own world entire.

Massive three-level interchanges, which make the 405/101 cloverleaf in Sherman Oaks look like a piker, sprout from a tree-less scrubland, mocking the topography. One is lifted a hundred feet in the air then sluiced into a fresh arterial without any understanding of where one is, or why this great sorting of vehicles is taking place at this particular location since wherever you are there is no here.   You’re flying over a waterless arroyo and the bleached bones of luckless prospectors.

The towns, off-ramps to subdivisions really, adhere to the freeway for life support.  They all contain the following: a business park/distribution hub called The Pointe (with an E), an auto mall, an entertainment complex called The Crossroads, or The Shops At….

…and above all, gated communities with fanciful names like…Terramor.

Terramor evokes something reminiscent of the Scottish Highlands, a place very green, very watery, clannish, historical, and very far from Corona.

Should the three-hour commute from the city fail to dissuade the rampaging, machete-wielding hordes, there will be gates to repel them.  Gates! You can lay on your cool, air-conditioned pillow and bank on it.

Somehow one gets the feeling the hordes, when they emerge, will form ranks right here.  Take away the A/C, and I can visualize the Inland Empire going full Rod Serling in about a week.   The survivors will be headed in our direction, back to the city and its Mediterranean climate, looking for the Olive Garden.

Define fragility: two million people living off one pipe and one wire.  Disrupt either for any amount of time and the outer suburbs are not merely unpleasant, they are uninhabitable.  Maslow’s Hierarchy will prevail.  Forget lost cell service. Imagine a population of luckless prospectors the size of Houston poking through dry creek beds looking for a brackish puddle in which to insert a straw. There is a reason no civilization prospered here for centuries.

Then it’s back to the city, all two million of them. Not unlike the Monday commute we experienced on the way home.  Not unlike the commute people already make twice a day, five days a week, until the mortgage is burned.

Will five-bedroom outer commute California survive a Black Swan event?   I don’t know.  It may have no choice but to make the fragility work, but at a price point reflecting risk.

You don’t know who you really are until you get there.

Paul and Stephanie, joined in consecrated union.

Tidy, No Tipping

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Henceforth, all ranch houses in Los Angeles shall be vertical.  That’s gonna entail a lot more dusting and mopping.  What to do? Who will we find?  Americans are lazy as f**k.

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Look, someone left a card. There’s an App for everything.

Deep. Detailed. Delightful, like a really good massage.  No tipping required. Now we’re talking.

tidy blondes

They’ll even send a pair of blondes who look like yoga instructors.

Okay, maybe they won’t be blonde.  Maybe not fit, either.  But certified. As a bonus willing to labor tip-free, tidying up all the awkward social contract implications.

I wonder where they live, these non-blonde, non-yoga instructing floor scrubbers?  Two to a room in a dingbat apartment in Van Nuys, probably.

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Whatever happened to the old Van Nuys people?  You know, those dingbat apartment dwellers?   Maybe they moved to the Ozarks.  They should have obtained an education if they wanted to stick around.  They shouldn’t have gotten high.  They shouldn’t have gotten old.  How they gonna clean floors now?

The Once and Future Bento Box

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There’s a lot of this housing going up all over Los Angeles. Boxy, modular, poured concrete or stucco with some kind of horizontal wood feature set against a tiled entranceway.

This looked sharp and fresh half a dozen years ago but is entirely predictable now.  I’m not saying it doesn’t look good. I’m wondering how it will look 30 years hence. Will we look upon this housing stock the way we look at 70’s kitsch today? As an eyesore?

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Or will it fall into some oddball historical cul-de-sac like the once-modernist work of Richard Neutra, admired by preservationists, but neglected by owners?

Is Craftsman and Mission style architecture the only native California form which will stand the scrutiny of the ages? Which will be both loved and lived in?

Tippi Hedren at home, 1971

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Deep shag, newsprint and a tiny TV set…Sherman Oaks in the 1970’s.

In The Kitchen With Neil The Lion

Okay, so she had a maid, but what strikes me about this interior is how….downmarket it appears by today’s standards of kitchen porn. Glue down linoleum tile floors, tchotchkes, a dependable four burner stove, and cheaply varnished wooden cabinet drawers which I suspect lacked rollers.  No granite, no glass tile, no stainless steel, no Kohler.

As domestic infrastructure goes, the distance between movie star and working class family in Van Nuys is measured here in feet rather than miles.

….wait, why are you disturbed by this photo?  

Is it the lion?

Oh please, people kept backyard lions all the time in the 70’s. Stop being so judgy.

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If you want to judge, look at baby-faced Melanie Griffith waking up in the morning.

After Life magazine published a photo essay documenting the …er, unique circumstances of the Hedren household, they were encouraged by the city of Los Angeles to decamp for the Antelope Valley, where she founded the Shambala Preserve, and has rescued and fostered big cats for four decades.

The Way We Live Now, Pt. 1: Sherman Oaks

Option #1, Kodachrome Redux
Option #1, Kodachrome Redux

In the late 90’s,  there was a film called Two Days in The Valley.  Predictably, most of the film took place off Mulholland Drive.  In mansions. The few flatland scenes featured a bearded Jeff Daniels ranting defensively that it “was a nice place to live,” as though the proposition were very much in doubt.

The Kardashians claim residency in the Valley, by way of Calabasas.

Frank Zappa enshrined the eponymous Valley Girl in the pop lexicon from his redoubt in the Encino Hills.

Free Fallin, the closest thing we have to a local anthem since Bing Crosby, was written by Tom Petty in a post-heroin haze in Hollywood.  The jump off phrase: ‘It’s a long day, living in Reseda, there’s a freeway running through the yard,’ was chosen randomly for its imagery and meter, not for geographical coherence.

If you cross the Sepulveda pass on your drive home, that is sufficient, in our cultural understanding, to be Valli-fied.  In politics, if your district touches any ground north of Mulholland you “represent” us.   A study of legislative maps is an exercise is residency-avoidance.  Richard Alarcon, holder of one of the few seats wholly contained within the flatlands proper, managed the trick of never living here for years.

While the Valley serves on television as a perpetual stand-in for everything from the midwest to contemporary Appalachia, you have to go back to Fast Times at Ridgemont High for something approaching an accurate depiction of where and how people live here.

I’m going to make a ruling. The Valley begins at Ventura.  If you have a view, by definition you have no claim to Valley citizenship.   The real Valley is a place where nobody who matters lives and nobody knows.  Except the 1.5 million of us who do.  We’re the orphaned colony of Sacramento and City Hall.   And yet, Los Angeles would grind to an apocalyptic halt without us, even for one day.

Which raises the question, how do we, deep in the stucco boxes, our little lights twinkling in the street grid down below, how do we live here?   What are we getting for our money? It has occurred to me recently the math in the city no longer adds up.

Mrs. UpintheValley and I, the Little Marital Engine That Could, find ourselves, after paying an upside-down mortgage for several years,  sitting on a modest amount of equity.   What if we wanted to trade up?  Is it possible? What could we get?

Join me while I take a tour of the neighborhoods,  starting with Sherman Oaks.

The house above is listed at $900,000. Post-war, three bedrooms, 1600 square feet. All upgrades.  It is not, to use the industry term of art, ‘South of the Boulevard’. In fact, it is well North. North of the freeway. North of North, just off Burbank.

This used to be the American Dream…3o years ago.  It’s the kind of house no one builds anymore in the post-Sopranos, open-floor plan, granite kitchen, Great Room exurban splendor. This is an artifact of Americana, like Kodachrome film stock.

When it was built, who lived here? A teacher?  An auto mechanic? A grocery store assistant manager?

Who buys this house today, a junior partner at a corporate law firm? A dentist? I doubt this is what they had in mind on the climb up, but this is Los Angeles and what can one do? Even the swells must make compromises.

Do you make over $150,000 a year?  No?  Neither do we.  We’ll have to look a little further north.

Option #5, Poso-ville
Option #2, POSO-ville

A standard post-war stucco box, with predictably small square footage, but nicely fixed up.  Usually a good kitchen remodel, and lots of native plants in the yard.  Crucially,  south of Oxnard.  South, mind you. People aren’t paying $150K more for the same house as the neighbors two blocks to the north in Van Nuys for nothing.  They’re no longer Van Nuysians!   They’ve petitioned the city for redress and the city has lifted the mark of Cain from the chain of title, the albatross,  the hex on their postmark. They’re Part of Sherman Oaks, now. The dusky hordes and their obese children are Up There, tucked safely on the other side of the Orange Line.  One almost never sees them. Almost.

Unfortunately these houses are in the $650-700K range.   We could live here if we made $100k a year. What used to be the gold standard of earnings success gets you this…and white neighbors…in the Valley.

We don’t make that kind of money, but we’re getting closer.

Option #2, The Condo
Option #3, The Sad Condo

This is half a block from Sepulveda, about two miles north of Ventura Blvd. Like most condo buildings in the Valley, forgettable, colorless, slightly dated.  Not run down by any means, yet bearing the vague stigma of 80’s dreck. The apartments are what you’d expect: well-carpeted.  The elevator is very slow.  The only amenity within walking distance is Target.  Basically, a place to sleep, stash your belongings and watch TV after work.  Or a place to watch as much TV as possible, if that’s what your life has come to.  A friend of mine bought an apartment here in a bidding war, all cash. Divorce settlement.

This is where you end up when he leaves you for someone younger and prettier.  This is the House that Built the Botox Industry.

There are two listings here on Zillow, both two bedroom: $425,000.  If we wanted to live out our days like George and Martha, we could afford this!

A private esplanade on Valleyheart

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As bicyclists, birders and New Urbanists have long been aware,  there exists in digital space overlapping fever dreams of a Greenway along “51 miles of the LA River”.  A Google search will retrieve dozens of mock-ups.  This sublime alternative Los Angeles, we are given to expect,  is due to arrive by 2020.  Golden Road has already issued a commemorative IPA in celebration, sort of making it official.

Fifty-one miles would, by default, include the Valley.  Except that it won’t.  Unless one believes the western perimeter of the Valley is Universal City.  Cause that’s as far as the Greenway is going to extend.

Sssh. Don’t tell anyone.  People are too busy lining up for photo shoots with our money.

Besides, who bikes in the Valley?   Who walks, for that matter?

Los Angeles is spending $600 million replacing the viaduct between the Arts District and Boyle Heights with a mixed-use architectural showcase.  One block parallel to another bridge.

There are plans in motion to build a park atop the Hollywood Freeway. Price tag unknown.

The development of the Downtown to Elysian Valley segment of the Greenway, including parks, is going to run a billion dollars.

What are we getting in the Valley, west of the 170? This:

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We’ve all seen Chinatown. We know the score.

To give the appearance of inclusion in the great Greenway, several short discontiguous pathways, a half mile in length, have been scattered here and there: Radford to Whitsett, Mason to De Soto, and now the most recent: along Valleyheart, between Sepulveda and Kester.  One can’t complain as to the landscaping. It’s very nice.   But disconnected from each other and from the rest of the system, they serve no practical purpose for the general public. One cannot pedal to the Zoo, and thence down the Glendale Narrows to Downtown, as I did yesterday.

They are, in effect, taxpayer-built private esplanades for the people who live nearby.   No one else will be using them. One gets the feeling people in those neighborhoods wanted it that way.

This is our Angeleno moment: Dubai in Hollywood, Detroit in the Valley.

Speaking of Detroit, Andy Hurvitz has urban renewal schemes for parking lots up in Van Nuys:

Future Gardens of Van Nuys?