Dark Fulfillment

We want what we want when we want it. Our desires can be fulfilled…up and down the class structure…cheaper, faster.  Hyper-efficiency and supply-chain management are the cardinal virtues of our time.

Remember when Wal-Mart was the Death Star of retail?  Crusher of towns?  Come China, unload your shipping containers of plastic thneeds.  We’ll take the whole flotilla.  People feared Wal-Mart as much as they once feared Microsoft. They were both just too…dominant, and now not at all.

Now we have Amazon traffic jams on our block in the afternoon, and there is no limit to things we can obtain, overnight. Need an obscure component for your kitchen faucet?  If you go to Lowe’s they’ll try to re-sell you a new Kohler for $200. Alternatively, you can order a rubber washer on your phone for $4. Eighteen hours later it’s in your hand. A three-minute crash course at YouTube University and your problem is fixed.

Framed in this way, Amazon looks heroic. But most days, stuff comes not because we need it, rather because its One Click away.   Idle clicking is the empty calories of shopping.  In our Cambrian explosion of online vending,  any niche start-up, any cottage craftsman can find a willing buyer, in theory, somewhere in America.  The sheer scale of options eclipses traditional shipping sources ability to keep up with demand. Packages frequently arrive in cars driven by underemployed, modern-day Pony Express riders hustling a buck in a reprise of an earlier Toquevillian America…except for the economy being run (mostly) through one company.

Los Angeles is becoming a city of high-end boutiques at the top end and dollar stores and street vendors at the other, in a classic barbell formation. The narrow middle, which isn’t actually narrow since it includes most of us, is moving online. This is not the way our city is structured geographically, which is to say horizontal, reflecting an earlier egalitarian class structure.  There are architectural showcases on Van Nuys Blvd which have sat vacant for years having no desirability as a boutique. Then there are squat freight structures that once served railroad spurs east of downtown you can’t lease for $50 per square foot today.

As recently as the birth of the iPhone, 75% of American porn was made right here in the Valley.  Porn was a lucrative business run on a factory basis like the Warner Brothers of old.  It was difficult to obtain, meaning pricy, which was reflected in the remuneration to performers.  Now it is ubiquitous and cranked out on webcams in apartments all over the world for electronic tips.   An economic theorist might posit this as empowerment for women, who can now bypass the middleman. No service contracts. No suitcase pimps. No one denied employment due to lookism, only gratuities.  In practice, thousands of cams are aggregated through a single entity, PornHub, the Amazon of adult entertainment.

The Atlantic has an article this week detailing the cheerful efforts of a high school senior from Stockton to start her cam career.  Dripping with condescension toward inland California and its people masquerading as concern for her welfare, (the presumption being no working-class life there is worth having) the first paragraph spells it out for us: the largest private employer is an enormous Amazon fulfillment center.

For the moment, she will step into a zero-gravity orbit in which the laws of hyper-efficiency don’t apply, and for a few days, she will be the NewNew Girl, as gaze arresting as her fellow Stocktonian Jeremy Meeks, peeking out from a screen grid of camgirls grinding for tokens in a debauched race to the bottom. She will quickly become a character of out of Dreiser or Hardy, unneeded as the old Van Nuys Savings and Loan.

Our world is flat, and it wants fulfillment.

 

*Photo credit YouTube

Towers of Panorama

Tower Records is no more but when it was around it meant something if your town or neighborhood had one. The Valley had four and one of them was rumored to be in Panorama City of all places. I was so skeptical of this I had to double check on Google Streetview:

If this seems like a rather sad and stark neighborhood declension, note within a five block radius of this location The Broadway became WalMart, Robinsons became El Super, and Ohrbach’s became the Valley Swap Meet.

General Motors became Home Depot, setting things into motion, which is as concise a summation of post-industrial Los Angeles one can make in five words.

This was the Panorama Tower, 1962. Mid-century sleek, but empty since the Northridge earthquake, nearly half its lifespan.

After a quarter century, it is being redeveloped not as offices, but as lofts.  Live/Work (read: GrubHub and YouTube Whoring) has come to downmarket Panorama, just in time for the rebuilding of the trolley line.  There are plenty of people in the neighborhood who already clean floors and do windows, making it a green and holistic proposition by New Urbanist standards, even if that was never the intention.

Our official industry now in Los Angeles is lifestyle porn. We don’t build muscle cars on Van Nuys Blvd. anymore, but we will soon have Wayfair couches and quartz countertops.

The tents are with us forever .

The line starts here

DSC_0130

Holding up deal coupons, Target, Van Nuys.  Thanksgiving Day. Discounted flat screens, Playstations and other temptations which would cause one to forgo dinner with family, await.

DSC_0092-001

Back in the break room, employees prepare to face the horde.

DSC_0108

Wal-Mart, Panorama City. Taking no chances with civil unrest.

DSC_0100-001

All the way around the building, four hours until doors open on Black Thursday, formerly known as Thanksgiving.