Saturday, August 13, 2016

I, Los Angeleno

  From the Mexican border to Los Angeles County, 80-90 percent of the original shoreline wetlands have been dug up, wiped out, built on.
  The amount of suburban and exurban and neo-tripleX- unurban development that's happened in Southern California -and that's an idiotic phrase because it didn't "happen", it was made, bought, built and sold- since the Second World War, is truly mind blowing. 
    Housing - the phenomenon of unchecked unending single home sprawl along the California coast- is one of the great unwonders of the world. 
   I never get used to it. It's like watching a fire. Or like watching something you hope will catch fire and never stop burning till the scrub fields, and the salt marsh, and the pine gatherings return. 
   But it's a hopeless hope. California's great undying myth is homeownership. Like capitalism, like cancer it HAS to grow. My door, my garage(s), my yard. Ad infinitum. 
   And the other undying aspect of Cali life is the story of what was. Or more accurately what wasn't. You get it first, you notice it, or seek it out, from the old guard, the third and fourth and that rarest of the rare, the fifth generation Californian - Cheryl Camp you red headed genius where are you now - they look up slightly from their Vans and their Dickies shorts, over the top of their rebuilt Broncos and the sun glazed eyes focus somewhere toward when they were 15 or 16 and they start to tell you about the open fields that were the Marina, hunting for foxes with rifles over their shoulders where the condos spread now, the old Irvine ranch lands above Orange County which into the early 60s stretched for 20 thousand acres. Santa Clarita when it was an empty desert camp. The back lot of Fox spreading across Olympic and Pico to lean up against Beverly Hills like a fantastic theme park for the celluloid visionaries in their Canyon manses. 
   The story of California is always what's been lost. The virgin territory of Old California. But what's actually been lost is the urge not to do something. Not to build or sell or develop. It's almost unimaginable to them. But somewhere in the depths of their psyche the Californian feels the urge- Don't Rent It- they just can't bring themselves to say the words.
    For a place constantly trumpeting its growth and richness and adaptability, the deeper narrative of the local is a false lost innocence, his or her lost lebensraum, how the promised land broke its promise to them, its Covenant. (Why are my taxes so high!!) Californians are hard but dreamy Protestants -Catholic, Jew, Muslim, Hindu no matter, the dream's the same- who can't figure out how they get even less now that they all decided to stop paying taxes for what they had. Saint Ronald, in the long run, let them down. And what's left to represent their American Dream? Nothingness. What's left simmering in their minds behind the wheel as they resent waiting for you to cross the street? The lust for open space, unused territory. Because it's the clearest expression of wealth; Land you didn't sell. 
    They say once you've made it thru six years in "The City" you can call yourself a New Yorker . I think you become a New Yorker like you fall in love or you can throw a spiral - it just happens for some people and not for others. 
    You can call yourself a Los Angeleno I think when you love a part of the town that no longer exists. You suddenly feel a ghost landscape in your heart. And you don't have to do anything about it.
   It's happened to me finally. 
  To get to Venice Beach from the airport you have to drive north on Lincoln Blvd. It's a simple and an easy drive, a god send if you travel a lot. I could get home or back to LAX in 15 minutes. 
  Lincoln drops down from Westchester Heights and into the giant Santa Monica basin. 7 miles of flatland, the great plain of Los Angeles, held in by the Mts to the north. When I first moved here to work in 1996 that descent out of the crowded and condo'd and mini malled Heights used to take you down into a long dark field. The Balloona wetlands. The delta of the northern flood plain of the LA river, which had never been built on. From the docks of Marina Del Rey it held out for two miles inland. A salt sea, scrub desert. Heavy succulents and dark bushes with spritzings of wildflower. Glimpses of calm water. Acres of what LA once was. The thing the Spanish said they saw when they landed in a bay with no harbor. Swampland and fields of seagrass as high as the saddle, one Captain wrote, his legs soaked to the skin by dew long before he reached the Mission 11 miles inland. 
    And here it still was, minutes after leaving the hectic airport. Primordial California. A beautiful nothingness in the epicenter of west LA wealth, no houses, no shops, no light. The drive home like passing thru the blacks at the edge of a stage - an intake of breath, a place to clear the mind before I dove back into the narrative of the city and my place in it. 
   And of course the point is it's no longer there. 
   Well half of it is. 
   The County sold it to Spielberg and Katzenberg and David Geffen, men with the power of Conquistadors, a power of Chinatown scariness, Stanford, Huntingdon, Chandler type strength. They were going to build their Dreamworks studio and leave half the wetlands alone. Which is half of what happened. The titans fought, the studio went elsewhere, half the wetlands closer to the water can still be seen and the other half East of Lincoln blvd is now the ultimate expression of that dreaded big box reality, Live/Work.  
  Is there a better moniker for the New America? LiveWork. The two now fused. You MUST work. It will follow you home. It IS you. Work IS home. Here are the keys. 
  So my lost LA is a hemmed-in triangle of weeds just south of Marina del Rey. Fitzgerald talked about My Lost City. I suppose this is My Lost County. (Los Angelenos being a little more expansive in their dreams). Strange the difference. NYers live in a compressed landscape of particulars but dream of the grand city. Los Angelenos live in a colossal city state but dream of a deli they used to go to when they were kids. 
   

20 comments:

  1. thank you decried a new continuous david

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  3. Your descriptive writing transports the reader to where you are writing about. Thanks for making life a little more interesting, for those of us stuck in relatively boring lives. A welcome distraction from classes (my new direction in life). The most interesting time for me this past week was cleaning up 3 rescue horses heading to their new homes. No matter which direction I choose to go in, I will always be 'tied' to nature.
    Thanks for continuing your writing.

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  5. You have a rare talent of transporting the reader to another place. I enjoy the diversion.

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  6. Thank you for this vivid piece of writing.

    Just wondering, did you move back to LA?

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  9. I love reading your posts, you make everything come alive with your descriptive words

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  10. Glad to see ur still writing, love reading ur blogs

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  12. Glad youre back! I use to live in Santa Clarita, cant imagine it being like you described!. cant handle the concrete jungles of NY, or Los Angeles. I take the open country anyday, free to breath and listen to the birds. very good reading David!!

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  16. Happy birthay david conrad 🎂🍾🎼💖

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  17. The way things used to be, the good ol' days, a simpler time, I hate all those phrases. I say this even after watching "Stranger Things" and LOVING it, it's my age I was 12 at that time and I remember what it was like but I won't say any of it was easy. It bothers me when people fantasize history as if it was all so easy once. Urban sprawl is somehow always portrayed as somehow just happening or newly agitating. I grew up a true Tex-Mex. I can trace my ancestry in Texas back to Mexico before Pancho Villa, something has always been changing. Someone is always taking over, something is always lost. If no one fights to preserve things then all we're doing is watching it all go.

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  18. Hello David,hope you see this message.my name is karina i'm from portugal and live in lisbon (the capital) and i'm 32 years old.i know that you had done lots of things in your like but what i love more is ghost whisperer.not because of the stories only but the love that you have with melinda.i know that is fiction,not real but i'm romantic so..lol...i work in a agency with actors too. If one day you come in lisbon can you remember me? My boss is an actor too. You can write to karinavalente@sapo.pt. please say something.i know that you have lots of fans but..i dont know...never knows one day we could be friends.

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  19. Hello David,hope you see this message.my name is karina i'm from portugal and live in lisbon (the capital) and i'm 32 years old.i know that you had done lots of things in your like but what i love more is ghost whisperer.not because of the stories only but the love that you have with melinda.i know that is fiction,not real but i'm romantic so..lol...i work in a agency with actors too. If one day you come in lisbon can you remember me? My boss is an actor too. You can write to karinavalente@sapo.pt. please say something.i know that you have lots of fans but..i dont know...never knows one day we could be friends.

    ReplyDelete