Two Hollywoods, One Wheel

He stole my phone when I was kissing him!
The guy in the pink tank top?
Bitch, I knew he was going to do that.
Why didn’t you say anything?
Would you have listened? You were too busy eating his mustache.  

True Sunday story, right here. One can’t say they weren’t warned. Signs over the bar warned of cell phone pickpockets like it was Dickensian London, but with glitter.  In WeHo, the young pretty things boldly exploit middle-aged longing, the middle-aged dangle free drinks to pretty young things doubled up in rooms in Van Nuys,  and there’s a great drag show to distract us from all the Darwinian undertow.

At the other end of CicLAvia, there’s this post-Dickensian tableau. Only one tourist bothers to look.  Others step around her like she was topiary and figure out where the restaurant is.  No literary genius will immortalize the addict in the sleeping bag.  She’s part of the shrubbery now.

The city will not allow you to use a plastic straw but will defend the right to camp on the sidewalk like it was God’s commandment.   Don’t Normalize Trump, we shriek, but oh how we’ve normalized this.

After a lovely CicLAvian day from Vermont to San Vicente and back, I biked back to the Valley, three cocktails deep and sweaty. Small civic detail: there is no bike lane in the Cahuenga Pass.  None.   So right at the point where Cahuenga becomes a freeway alternative and cars accelerate accordingly, one is shunted into the gutter.  A dozen rotations of the pedals later, I hear this fsssssss…. and being in a happy frame of mind decided, oh, this must be some feral creature, some urban fauna lurking in the shrubbery, warning me away from his domain.  I’m communing with nature. How loverly! It wouldn’t be a flat tire. Not in under a minute.  Not me. I did the right thing. I didn’t park in the city.  I’m one of the good ones! 

Guess who pushed his bike back over the Pass, cars nipping at his elbow the whole way?  You’d think there’d be a bike path by now. Didn’t we pass a sales tax? Twice?

You can pretend for an afternoon, but the First Law of the City remains unchallenged: the car is king.   To believe otherwise is one of the 23 Lies we tell ourselves about LA.

Ride of the CicLAvians

In a moment of kitschy pathos we encountered the defiled star of Lillian Gish on Vine Street Sunday afternoon, at the CicLAvia in honor of the LA Philharmonic centennial.

Fitting perhaps for an actress known for her doll-like, waifish fragility. Her oeuvre was one of purity in danger, seduction and abandonment, flight from lecherous hands, and being set adrift on ice floes.

In her most famous screen appearance she threw herself off a cliff rather than submit to an amorous white actor in black face.

I was in a Ride of the Valkyries frame of mind as we pedaled downtown.  An afternoon of bike as king cranked dormant gears in my head, the ones which say why not?

Why can’t we always bike? Forget arriving to work in a timely manner. Think of the journey! Forget the supply chain, and the power grid. Practicalities are for sissies. This is how it should be! Yes yes!  New rules!  Clear the roadways! We all pedaling now.  Everyone must pedal! We should ride by torchlight!  Make way. A new age now begins!  Here in LA, where so many utopias were discarded and dystopias foretold.

Why must the essentials for a deliciously stylish life require a four level parking garage? Rethink it!

Every mile or so someone would hold up a foam finger and pull a piece of yellow tape across the road, and just like that, hundreds of people would submissively cooperate.  We were digital people in a digital age again, agreeable and rules oriented. My fever dream was bite-sized. My Lillian is sadly never in need of rescue.

With no blood and soil urgency at hand, I filed it away in a drawer in my head called Ironic Historical Feedback Loops. I kept the Wagner, but eliminated the KKK in my chain of association. See how easy that was? The mind is good at lying about what the heart knows to be true.

Dept. of NGAF


“Can you watch the game, just for a few minutes?”
“I’m reading.”
“We’re inside the 20. There’s 12 seconds left.”
“I told you I don’t like football.”
“Just pretend.”
“Go Giants.”
“Rams! Girl, football!”
“I’ll cross my fingers. How’s that?”

Final score: Seahawks 16, Rams 10, with the game tying pass dropped in the end zone, seconds after this photo was taken.

So it’s all her fault.

Also the fault of the bars downtown that refused to put the game on. What is up with that?
Me: Do you guys have the Rams on TV?
Mikkeller: (laughter) We never have games on.
Karl Strauss: Well, yeah. But its on mute.
Why? Why would you have a giant TV over your bar broadcasting the NFL, and sullen bar staff playing music instead?  Why would anyone watch a game they can’t hear? Its Sunday afternoon. Bars are three-quarters empty.  Thousand of CicLAVians are zipping past your door on bicycles. Some of them like football.  You going to send them back to the Valley?
Apparently, yes.

Four bars we went to with the TV on mute. Four! A gorgeous fall day we had on the bikes, ready to be topped off with a couple quarters of smashmouth football.  The Rams, vying for playoff position. Twenty years we’ve been waiting for this, and now, bupkes.

At Fifth and Spring, from an open doorway we heard a sudden roar of fandom, whistles, play-by-play, people in game jerseys spilling out on the sidewalk, the happy smells of spilled beer and fried food. All the encouraging indicia of sportsjoy.

The Rams? No.
The Chargers? No.
So we have established there are NFL fans in DTLA. Only their loyalties are elsewhere.

Mrs. UpintheValley, sensing my incipient crankiness,  persuaded someone at Beelman’s Pub to put the sound on, for which I am grateful. We ordered the requisite carbohydrate-laden appetizers and settled in for excitement.

All seven of us.  Six, if you count her.

The City’s Shameful Secret


It was here, not long ago, during a break in my nocturnal journeys around the city, I overheard two women discussing theater, and bumbled inadvertently into a sketch from Louie.

Me: “Are you an actor?”

“Why are you asking?”

“You were talking theater, and I–”

“That’s not something I can readily answer.”


“When you say ‘actor’, what do you mean?”

“Are you of a theatrical inclination? Do you go on auditions?”

“Why do you want to know about auditions?”

“I just wrote a–”

“Auditions are a private matter.”

“I was speaking figuratively. But I accept your reticence on the matter.”

“Really, it’s not something you should be asking people.  It doesn’t belong to you.  Hate that conversation. People make assumptions.”

“Hate that conversation, too.”

“Then why are you starting it?”

Friend: “Yes, maybe she’s acted. Maybe. But you shouldn’t assume that.  It’s demeaning.”

“Acting? Or discussing it?”

“What the f*** do you do, anyway?”

Bloggers give it away for free, that’s what we do. We easy.

Musicians also give it away for free, but they often get laid in the process. Artists pay to hang their work in a group show, and people come to swallow the hors d’oeuvres and discount chardonnay and flirt with other patrons of the arts and make plans to meet up later and ignore the obscurantism on the walls.  Theater is a pro bono exercise in social obligation.  Stand-up comedians have to persuade a requisite number of their friends to pay a cover charge and a two-drink minimum or the club owner won’t let them assume the stage for a 5 minute slot on open mic night. YouTube is a global flea market of platonic self-conception and exhibitionism which generates a billion dollars a year in ad revenue for …Google.  Unless you’re in Jenna Marbles territory, you don’t see a dime.  Most of her money comes from products she promotes through her site.


At CicLAVia I watched Jamey Mossengren, a “world champion” juggling unicyclist spend the last ten minutes of his performance aggressively panhandling from the audience. He had worked twenty years perfecting his craft and could we not thank him by dropping some singles in his bag? Some of us did. Most didn’t.  His naked insistence he be paid for his work was noble, and at the same time, degrading.  I’ve felt better leaving a dollar on the tip rail at a strip club.

So why is there, in the city Greta Garbo built, something particularly shameful about being an actress?   The woman in the bar was the third in recent weeks who responded angrily to inadvertent conversational tripwires on the apparently forbidden topic of thespianism.

Perhaps because Hollywood is thought of as a giant machine for taking money away from pretty people who want to be famous.  To admit to longing is to confess to being a sucker.  To admit spending milk money on lottery tickets. To admit to carrying a crack pipe of ambition in your purse.  To feeding off the half-eaten desserts of wealthy people at your catering job.

What would Barbara say?
What would Barbara do?

It is all those things, of course, and probably always has been.  But there wasn’t Vanderpump Rules in Barbara Stanwyck’s day.  A successful actress didn’t ‘play herself’ for $700 a week in a cross-branding exercise promoting a rich woman’s portfolio of restaurants and claw for screen time by….acting out.



CicLAvia comes to Pacoima


This guy rode the entire course backwards
This guy rode the entire course backwards
Fat white lady crosses street, causes commotion
This lady waddled into the street, causing commotion
Speaking of white people....
Speaking of white people….

Today was my fifth CicLAvia, and the first in which I’ve seen the forum used for an organized protest.  Pacoima (90% Latino) is an odd location for White People (TM) to take their message of chastisement of Other White People.    Was the idea that few white people would be there to see, or be insufficient in number to reach critical mass and begin to jeer?    A message on their Facebook page exhorts people to show up at CicLAvia en masse to Stand Against White Terror.

White Terror! Right here in River City Pacoima!

As I took this picture a white woman rode past and called out to them in an encouraging, sing-song voice ‘to vote for Bernie’.

Otherwise, they were ignored.  A group of LAPD officers, the principal target of their ire, followed at a discreet distance, for their protection.   You know, from the aggrieved white supremacist contingent laying in wait in Pacoima.

This is the real Pacoima
This is the real Pacoima
...and this.
…and this.


They love Bernie in Venice
They love Bernie in Venice
In Seattle, not so much
In Seattle, not so much

Actually, that’s not exactly true. Bernie drew a big crowd, and then, in a remarkable act of self-abasement, relinquished the microphone to two women who stormed the podium. They demanded four and half minutes of silence and proceeded to lecture everyone, including the candidate, for their “white supremacist liberalism” and insufficient fealty to the Black Lives Matter agenda.

“Don’t ask questions!  We’re shutting it down! Let her speak NOW!”

As political performance art goes, it was a thing of beauty. Vermont folded its hand in under a minute.

After the rioting in Ferguson and Baltimore, the #BLM movement has alienated much of the country save two groups of people: the media, and a particular species of upper-middle class liberal who is as separated from inner city life as is culturally,  economically and geographically obtainable. In short, Bernie Sanders voters.   After this weekend, I’m not sure where this leaves them, in this the seventh year of the Obama presidency.

I have a pretty good idea where the media is leading the rest of us.


All this was on my mind at the Culver-to-Venice CicLAVia today, which was lovely and pleasant as always…but kind of, dare I say it,  lacking in local color.


I didn’t see a lot of bikes like this one, from the Valley CicLAVia in March.   Nor many riders of the type who make bikes like this.

The Yeti Bike, winner of the UpintheValley Most Creative award
The Yeti Bike, winner of the UpintheValley Most Creative award

The crowd was rather….er, Bernie Sanders-ish.  White, prosperous and polite. If voting habits and campaign donations are fair proxy, blissfully indifferent to the political arson they’ve set in motion around the country.

Rails of Future Past


In 2008 Los Angeles County passed Measure R, a half cent sales tax, dedicated to public transportation.  The tax was to fund 30 years of projects: freeways, bus lines and rail.

Thirty years.

Six years later, the Unseen Hands Which Have No Self Interest But Our Greater Good are back, with another half-cent sales tax,  Son of R, or Measure R2, to augment the first one.  That would bring sales tax close to a dime on the dollar.

Why so soon?

Condensed version: They (UHWHNSIBOGG, inc.) spent most of the money already, borrowing against all those pennies to be collected decades into the future, to build stuff now.  On the Westside, mostly.  Like the Expo Line.  Now they need more of our future pennies to borrow against.

To soften up Valley voters, who are still waiting to reap tangible benefits of the last mordita,  billboards are going up around the Valley this week, touting the shiny rail projects to come, here, up in the Valley.  Soon.  Just as soon as we pass another tax increase.  “We’re building the future right now.”  We promise.

There is exactly one transportation project under serious consideration in the Valley, on Van Nuys Blvd. It might take the form of light rail. Or it might be a trolley. Then again it might take the form of a dedicated bus line up the median.  Then again it might merely consist of lane re-striping and synchronized traffic signals for buses running along curb lines all the way up to San Fernando.  Then again, they might not build anything at all.

Rail to San Fernando? This sounds oddly familiar.   Let’s take a trip down memory lane:

The Red Car, in Valentino's Day
The Red Car, in Valentino’s Day

In 1925, before talking movies, you could ride a trolley from the Mission all the way to Long Beach. You could ride as far east as Pomona. As far south as Santa Ana. You could ride West from downtown along Venice Blvd, to the beach, then along the coast to Redondo.  You could pack a picnic basket and ride to the top of Mt. Lowe and take in the view. Watts was a major junction. Amoco Oil had its own spur east of downtown, as did a place called Wingfoot off Slauson Blvd.  Panorama City was known as Broadmoor (!) and one realizes now the sweeping curve on to Parthenia St. in front of the El Super is paved atop old rail lines, as is the other sweeping curve on to Sepulveda right in front of Green Arrow.

Pacific Electric Trolley, 1947
Pacific Electric Trolley, 1947

I once worked a Habitat for Humanity project re-habbing an old boarding house in Venice which served as a getaway for women who worked in factories downtown.  They would tie a ribbon in their hair and ride the trolley out to the beach for the weekend. It was endowed by a benefactor who felt women who toiled in sweatshops were entitled to sun and light and space and joy, now and then. There was no charge to stay.

Why is this not a bike path?
Why is this not a bike path already?

In the spirit of CicLAvia, which is coming to the Valley on Sunday, I have a modest proposal.

Perhaps some of these billions in bonded future pennies,  a sliver of them, the spare change of our future change, the tip jar to the $15 lattes we will be buying 20 years hence, could be put to use developing greenway bike paths along the LA River System and its tributaries, the Pacoima and Tujunga Wash, Bull and Aliso Creek.  Here’s a little civic secret: the pavement is already there.  It’s  half-built already.

Because while much of the old Pacific Electric of Raymond Chandler Los Angeles may return in a modernist form on the Westside and Downtown, the only streetcar we will see in the Valley is the one on the billboard. The apartment blocks of Langdon Street will not be known again as Mission Acres.  That City is a memory.

Memory, to paraphrase John Le Carre, is a whore.