Leaving the 405 Behind

Mario, heading south

You live in Northridge. Do you vary your commute, or are you a creature of habit?  Sometimes I take Sepulveda on the way home.  It’s longer, but more contemplative. Sometimes the moon is out and you can enjoy it. I love the grandeur of the lights twinkling.

Music in the car, or quiet? Music. I’ll listen to the same piece of music for about a week then change it up.   I ponder where I am in my life, but try not to think about it too much.  I am inclined toward depression, but I don’t take medications. I don’t believe in that.  I jog instead.

Religion? I was raised Buddhist.

Is there a caste system in LA?  Yes, but you can break through it.  Socially, women don’t like to hear you’re from the Valley. There’s a stigma. But I don’t lie about it.

Do you find driving over the hill to wait on wealthy people uncomfortable?  Not really.

You live with your parents, is there any tension over that?  No pressure from my parents. They don’t have a timetable for me.  They understand the cost of housing in LA. I put the pressure on myself.

You’re a jazz musician. I’ve been playing saxophone since I was a kid.  I also really like grappling.  I train at the Gracie Barra gym in Northridge.

What’s your favorite virtue?  Awareness.

What’s you idea of happiness?  I’m still trying to find my own happiness, so I don’t know how to answer that question.

What’s your idea of misery? Misery would be not fulfilling your life’s mission.

To that end, you’re leaving the store. What will you be doing? I’m going to be training a lot more.  In a couple months I’m going to go to Brazil, but I’m not going to fly. I’m going to take the bus through Central America.  I’m going to find my way there.

That’s a very long way from the 405.  That’s as far as you can get, and not get lost.

Last White Man in Van Nuys


Well, not exactly.  Plenty of white folks left in those areas of Van Nuys now known as Valley Glen, Lake Balboa and Sherman Oaks.  But Old Van Nuys, in its working class, starter home glory,  is now the landing place for strivers from Central America and Asia.  At the time of Prop. 187, they were hot-racking it in boarding houses or sleeping on a cot in the back of a store. Today they hold mortgages.  Happily they perambulate the aisles of big box outlets, they fill the pews, the maternity wards and car pool lanes.  To walk the dogs on a Saturday night in springtime is to have one’s olfactories titillated by unfamiliar barbeque and to hear three different languages in the space of a block. A landscape of bouncy houses and childrens balloons, of men drinking beer around a television in the breezeway broadcasting futbol and UFC.

Slide over to tyhe leafier landscaping of Northridge or Studio City and the houses are bigger, the lawns better tended, but you don’t hear or see the neighbors quite in the same way. No one is kicking a soccer ball in the street. And far fewer are sitting in the pews.