Bitch Work


On my night job with Uber I got pinged by two college-aged women outside the Lucky Strike in Hollywood.  When I arrived, they weren’t standing anywhere they could be picked up. Meaning, they were still inside.

“We’ll be right out. Just a few minutes.”

There’s no place to park and wait on Highland, not at night, not even in the daytime. Not even illegally.  Six lanes of angry, angry drivers nosing each other’s bumpers like cattle shoving their way up the chute to the knocker, only with Bluetooth and spilled coffee and riptides of tourists clogging the intersections. I drove around the block, which proved a ten minute ordeal in Hollywood Blvd’s new incarnation as Times Square West.

Ping. “Where are you?”

“I’m just now pulling back around in front of the entrance again.”

“Oh, we’re not there anymore.  We’re across the street. My friend needed some smokes. Can’t you just do a u-turn?”

“I could if I wanted a $500 ticket.”

For the second time I circumnavigated the madness of Hollywood and Highland.  We negotiated a pick up at the mini-mart up the block.  They were from Philadelphia and both were interning at a public relations firm for the summer. As part of their duties they attended a celebrity bowling function at Lucky Strike and were headed back to their apartment in Westwood.   I asked them how they liked PR. They liked it well enough.  They were a little bored though.

“I sat on my ass staring at the walls for five hours yesterday before I fell asleep at my desk.  I think they hired too many of us. There isn’t enough to do.”

The both of them managed to sit very erect, chests forward,  davening over their iPhones, fingertips floating across the screen like 1950’s secretaries taking shorthand.

I asked if they been asked to do anything objectionable. By objectionable I meant …. putting their fingerprints on a press release defending a Cosby-like guilty client, issuing opposition research, things of that nature.

“We haven’t been asked to do any bitch work, if that’s what you mean.”

Bitch work=demeaning errands.   Like picking up dry cleaning. Fetching coffee.  Any incarnation of unskilled labor in a professional setting.   Our conversation had stumbled, inadvertently, across the great dividing line of privilege.  These young women, and they were nicer than I’m making them sound here,  were living in West LA on their parents dime, simulating resume-building fake work for no pay,  but couldn’t bear the thought of dirtying their hands with actual entry-level labor.  And here I was shuttling them across town for the reasonable price of $12, which sort of made me their bitch.

Meanwhile all over the city, college students graduates are doing actual work, useful things like making coffee and stocking shelves, or wearing a name tag behind the counter at T-Mobile because….well, no one is paying their rent for them.  This labor is a source of secret shame as it just doesn’t resume well.  It also tracks one semi-permanently into the service economy, and no one wants that,  at least not a certain type of white college-educated person. The iPhone and the App may have connected us all very quickly, but also allowed for us to hide from ourselves a little bit.  We can pretend to be busier than we are.  We can pretend to be more important than we are. We can postpone Self-Recognition for as long as possible.

Valerie’s House and Ours

The future of Cabrito Street
The future of Cabrito Street?

Astute reader Johnny, who blogs from San Francisco, thoughtfully, on urban matters, has an interesting post this week with regard to portable housing for street people.  This is partly in response to my posts on Cabrito Road but largely his own observations on sustainable development in California.   It’s well worth reading.

FWIW, I find the Hobo House on Wheels concept oddly compelling. I could even imagine a KOA campground-like arrangement with a central mail drop, wifi hub and showers.  Not in Van Nuys, of course. Somewhere up in the Antelope Valley, on the edge of the desert.

Therein lies the problem.   Nobody want this guy “residing” on their block, or down the street, or anywhere nearby:


In an online tete-a-tete Johnny has pointed out the hypocrisy of my placing the campground in someone else’s town, thereby violating a standing theme of this blog: Van Nuys as Repository of Other People’s Social Engineering Schemes.

In my defense, I will say this:  there’s a lot of space in the desert. Hobo-ville need not be in anyone’s town. It would also by its remoteness separate the serious crack addicts from those who are merely in need of shelter.  People like this guy:

Bear, and his partner
Bear, and his partner

It would be an imperfect solution to a long unresolved problem: what to do with surplus people in a global city, a two hour drive from an open border with Mexico which disgorges an endless stream of fresh labor willing to work for less than $10/hr and sleep in a garage.

Crarckheads and junkies will sleep under the freeway and down on Skid Row, anywhere they can score quickly.  The schizophrenics will wander institution-less through our world. But the surplus people, the unloved, the forgotten, the un-hirable, those who flipped their canoe somehow and never put it upright again….maybe the tent-on-casters arrangement is a civic compromise preferable to this:

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Light and Dark in the banana republic of Los Angeles

Glendale has streetlights
Glendale has streetlights. How did they manage to do that?

Juan, a nice young man who works for a neighborhood advocacy organization approached me last week with a petition. ‘Sign here, and Nury’s office will ask for streetlights for the neighborhood.”

How wonderful.  Who could say no?  Sure I’ll sign…

Not so fast.  The streetlights are going to cost ‘only’ $6/month, per house. $72 a year, for life.

Juan was having difficulty collecting signatures.

Streetlights fall under the category of Things We Already Pay For.  That is, in the normal run of things in the wealthiest state in the country, from the vast pools of property tax revenue, income tax, sales taxes, utility taxes there are ample funds to light the streets.  Not so in the banana republic of Los Angeles, where we are now being asked to kiss the ring of jefa Nury, and pay a special assessment, to obtain what Glendale, Burbank, Pasadena,  even downmarket working class San Fernando already have by right of citizenship.  How soon before we are issued shovels and asked to fill in our own potholes?

In Van Nuys, $450,000 buys  moonlight
In Van Nuys, $500,000 buys moonlight

Hector Tobar, formerly of the Times, wrote recently the presence of a permanent caste of squatter communities is the signature characteristic of Third World cities. A life-long Angeleno, liberal, and son of Guatemalan immigrants, Tobar sees Los Angeles heading in this direction. This is true, but only half the story.  L.A. has its own twist on the formula: Swedish levels of taxation and Brazilian levels of service.    A two-tiered society with a narrow band of Beautiful People on the other side of the hill living in an urban playground of artisanal pleasures, and a vast workforce paying top dollar to live within commuting distance to serve them, then returning home to unlit streets.

All one has do is leave the city limits to see how different it can be.



Overheard in Uber:

Woman, into phone: “You don’t treat me right.   You keep thinking I’m disposable, but I’m not.  I cannot be flushed. I will circle your bowl, bitch.”

Second woman: “Are you the Dykestalker?”

“She needs to know how I feel. She doesn’t understand the sincerity of my emotions. I’m clogging her toilet.”

“But every time she tinkles, there’s your face ….”

“Deep down, she wants to know I’m there for her.”

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Lugubrious Armenian: “This the best of Glendale.”

“Where to?”

“This the very best. Not like down there. Much better people up here.”

“Do you have an address?”

“Just go straight.”

“I can’t go straight. That would put us over the embankment. Left or right?”


“We need to enter an address.”

“I hired you, so you drive. I tell you where to go. I say you go straight, you go straight. That’s the way it works.”

“I’m going to go left.  Maybe you’ll see a familiar landmark.”

Into phone: ‘My Uber driver is lost. Two minutes and already he’s lost.”


“How long do mushrooms last?”

“Five hours, I think.”

“No way! I can’t do this for five hours. I have curfew.”

“Do you think I giggled too much when I was getting out of the pool?   I do that when I get nervous.  Why did I have to ask him to bring me a towel like that? Do you think he thought I was being bitchy and stupid, our do you think he thought I was cute?”

“Do you want Doritos?”

“Tell me I was cute.”

“Do you want Doritos or the guac chips?”

“Now you’re freaking me out. You HAVE TO TELL ME I WAS CUTE.”

“Why am I the one going in? I don’t even have the munchies yet.”

“I’m texting C. She’ll tell me the truth.”

“I can’t do five hours of this.  My parents will have to put my brain in an institution.”


“Bro, just get me to work by midnight.”

Paper Street

The county census says two people live here
The county says two people live here

A ‘paper street’ is an administrative term for a named roadway laid out in the tract book but never built.  It exists, at the hall of records, but only on paper. On the terra firma, Cabrito Road is an unmaintained ailanthus-ridden no man’s land abutting the storm channel.

Los Angeles County undertook a comprehensive survey of its homeless population this spring.  It concluded two people were living on Cabrito between Van Nuys and Kester, a self-contained shire of broken down vehicles and open air domiciles cobbled together from pallets, discarded furniture, plastic tarps, old rugs, and scrap wood from the Home Depot parking lot.   Two.  A purple dot and a yellow dot on the great interactive map.

I’m not sure what methodology was employed, but you see a lot more than two people when you walk by. You hear nail pounding. The hum of generators. Barking dogs. Domestic arguments.  At night, television screens glow from within the tapestry of detritus.

But on paper, it’s just Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton killing time waiting for the next opening at the flophouse.   No white favela here.

Street preachers


When you don’t have a steeple to stand under, rent a building.  When you can’t rent a building, go to the park. When you can’t draw an audience at the park, pick up a bullhorn and shout at the traffic, passing by, servile on grease.  Let your cri de couer ricochet off the aluminum alloy and plexiglass and ear buds and touch screens.  They may not be listening, but someone always hears.  You will have made your witness.