All the street people rusticating in the Valley seem to have one denominator in common: they each have a bike. Even the saddest blue tarp shanty has a wheel poking out somewhere.
I’m old enough to remember when a bike was an expensive proposition. Now you can cook one from parts. You don’t have to worry about theft with a bike like that, which is part of the DIY appeal. The basic life problem of movement from location A to location B is resolved. The street bike empowers, even as it simplifies.
There’s a great movie line from Neil McCauley in Heat: “never keep anything in your life you can’t walk away from in 30 seconds flat if you see the heat coming around the corner.” As a personal code, it works in the white favela. For a man with a wife, a dog, a cat, and a mortgage, not so much.
But a bike, even if for only an hour or so, can put you one step closer to your earlier, pre-Cambrian self. It can unleash the Id. It can peel layers. Cranking pedals across the Valley, you can be the child who was the father of the man you are today. The First You, the one before all your Choices made you.
“Come down to the Kitchen, and let’s build you a road bike,” said Marcus, over the phone.. Off I went, like Homer Simpson in pursuit of Truck-a-Saurus.
And we cooked a bike…
Then we went back to his teacup bungalow in Echo Park and made comfort food, and drank craft beer and vaporized product and listened to Led Zeppelin on vinyl, through a tube amp, shedding adulthood like dandruff.
Back to the primordial ooze…
After a long afternoon, I staggered back to my car, bike in tow, and passed this house:
Two small bedrooms downstairs, and a view of the Autozone parking lot on Glendale Blvd. $900,000. Seriously.
Nobody who is tied to a paycheck, even a large one, would pay this. Yet there are people who are paying it, all over town. Trustafarians. Speculators. Chinese investors, phoning in blind bids from Chengdu, all cash, the better to park their money far away from the Hang Seng index.
And they love bikes in Echo Park.
Los Angeles is becoming a city of million dollar shacks and people living under tarps, with mobile phones, feeding off government handouts. We are becoming poorer in a cave of wonders. Wealthier in smaller spaces. The bicycle may be the last thing we all have in common.
No matter how bad/annoying/bloating/unhappy your Thanksgiving was, alternatively, you could be living on pavement under a tarp in the shadow of Living Spaces. The locus of your holiday concern could involve getting the cat back.
How many people live under that tarp? How many kittens? What happened at 6 PM, when someone’s back was turned? We called the number, but it was disconnected.
There was a shirtless man waist high in the tarps this afternoon. He told me someone did find the kitten, across the street at the gas station, then took her home to his apartment. When he saw the signs, he told the squatters he would bring her back. When he got home from work, the cat had escaped again and was roaming his apartment complex at Valerio and Lennox..
The Tarp Man is going to put up some new signs, near where the cat was last seen.
“God be with you,” I told him.
“God is always with me,” he replied.
He wore a ring on his wedding finger.
Now let’s all enjoy our third piece of leftover pie.
The white favela, having been forcibly dispersed from its redoubt along Cabrito Road two months ago, re-established itself in small clusters around Van Nuys. The largest of these was adjacent to the Smart and Final, which was, in a hat tip to the Law of Unintended Consequences, a mere hundred feet from the old favela, but ten times as visible from Van Nuys Blvd, or to anyone coming out the Home Depot parking lot. I was there yesterday buying beer for my
coolies my friend Marcus, who was helping me terrace the front yard with native succulents. This is was what we saw when we pulled into the parking lot. The cashier told us business had been off 30% in recent weeks. Smart and Final was suing the city and there was a hearing scheduled for the 29th.
This morning we returned to the Depot for more soil, and lo, the blue tarps were gone. The street swept bare of all traces of the encampment. A few police cars were parked at the end of the block. A city vehicle was collecting debris. It was the 28th.
Gone, baby, gone.
But not really. All over Van Nuys, the favela was on the move.
Their barrows heaped with shoddy, temporarily abandoned here and there, while they went back for the rest.
They will circumnavigate the un-policed areas of the Valley until they gather in such numbers as to be a recognized nuisance again. And by recognized, I mean the next time the City receives a notice of legal action on a corporate letterhead.
Winter is coming. They won’t be going North.
A smiling purse, a unicorn, a lighthouse in a storm…if you’re living out of your RV, what does it mean? Out of all the detritus of middle-class life one might collect during one’s perambulations through the Valley, why these three items? Why are they facing the outside of the house? Is it a political statement? Are they semaphores for the state of mind of those living within? Are they aspirational?
Perhaps they are offerings left in exchange for generosity to those living in tarp houses nearby.
Like this one.
They’re everywhere. This is the new normal in Van Nuys. This is what Prop. 47 has wrought.
Cabrito Street having been vacated post-murder, then gated off at the east end, the tribes have dispersed around the neighborhood, hunkering down in new locales amid the shrubbery.
As inexorably as the mimetic polyalloy particles of the shapeshifting T-1000 in Terminator 2, the favela has begun to reconstitute itself.
Little wagon trains of shopping carts are cropping up anew.
They perch on the embankment and bide their time. They got all day. I give it a month before it fully reassembles. Nature abhors a vacuum.
*An unfinished version of this post was published accidentally an hour ago. I apologize if it ended up in your inbox.
The first time I met White Eagle he was emerging from an abandoned warehouse with a shopping cart heaped with electrical wires. He was wearing leather pants and earrings, and looked like he played guitar in a glam rock band. For a guy living on the street, which he claimed to be doing for 13 years, and down to his last five teeth, he was oddly, unexpectedly attractive. He was on his way to the recycling center with his plunder, and his rapid-fire tweaker talk was so animated it arced across the space between us and I felt like I just did a bump myself.
From time to time I would see him while I was out walking the dogs, and there were these little nods of recognition, bum and homeowner. Usually he was coming or going from Raymer Street, bearing his loads of scrap and offered short, effervescent bursts of conversation which I politely nodded along with but could make no sense of a minute later as I replayed them in my head.
Once I found him in a reflective mood. I asked how he was doing. He professed loneliness.
“I’m homeless veteran and I’m gay. I’m a one-man leper colony out here.”
Four Mexicans had recently tried to beat him up, he said. For being a faggot. Even after he did them a solid by pointing pursuing police in the wrong direction. He put a stop to that quick. He wasn’t in the Navy Seals for 12 years for nothing. Or was it the Green Berets? His story evolved with different tellings. Sometimes he was on the street for 12 years, sometimes in the military. Sometimes both.
Earlier in the summer he was staying in The Narrows, a concrete channel behind Target. It was going to be dry down there for awhile, and they were going to make the most of it. They had tarp shade overhead and lights and a cookstove and a generator. The police told them they could stay as long as they didn’t make too much noise or bother the neighbors. Or so he said.
After the murder in the favela last week, I went looking for White Eagle, to see what I could learn. When I went to the Narrows, they professed no knowledge of him. When I went to the favela, they told he lived up at the 405.
“He never comes down here. That’s where he belongs.”
I went to the 405. Everyone was gone.
I mean everybody. Normally dozens of people live here. It was like the Rapture had come.
Next time you exit the 405 in the Valley and you wonder what’s going on down in the shrubbery, this is it. Urban hobbits have built a shire. Where they’ve gone now, and for how long, I don’t know. Maybe when I see White Eagle again, he’ll tell me.