Thursday, June 17, 2010

Riding the rails

I've always had this fascination with those homeless kids who like to jump on trains and have big dogs and the nose plugs and always seem to be from the great North West. I also HATE driving in LA. It is my number one complaint among many, and I have always thought of our metro system as exotic and foreign. (I mean my best friend was born here and has never been below in her whole life). So I thought I'd take one for the wussy hipster team and spend the day riding the rails ala my fellow blond sister Veronica Lake in Sullivan's Travels.

I walked the two blocks from my place to the Hollywood and Western Metro Station, took a deep breath, and headed down. I was immediately stuck by two things. One: It was almost empty. Two: A day pass is only $5 ! $5! I spend more on gas every freakin time I drive to Santa Monica. They have these weird passes they call TAP, which LD Hadley could not figure out how to use, so this nice old man helped me out. Realization Three: Everyone on the Metro (especially the Metro employees) are super nice. Like almost eerie nice. I guess it's a way to put their more recognized brothers in NYC and London to shame.

It was 2:30 in the afternoon. The trains run very promptly every 12 minutes. I knew I wanted to go to Union Station so I hopped on the Red Line. Like almost all the trains I rode, it was about half full, this one with Lakers fans on their way to the Staples Center. Everyone's newspaper seemed to be opened to a story about the Dodgers. Men in business suits chatted with young punks about the finals game. On the way there we passed about five of the places I have written about- places it had taken forever to get to by car.

I arrived at Union Station in downtown LA, grand and crowded, and remembered how much I miss the special communal feeling of the hustle and bustle that comes with public transportation. That feeling of importance that everyone has places to go and everyone's in this brave new journey together. I think that's sorely lacking in the LA that I live in. But a seed was starting to germinate in my mind that perhaps the LA I live in isn't the real LA at all.

I decided to go to Long Beach- so another super-friendly lady in a kiosk told me to take the Purple Line to the Blue Line. The Blue Line is heaven for a nervous voyeur such as myself since the train quickly becomes above ground and goes right through all of East LA. You pass right by the Staples Center then on through neighborhoods in Compton, Watts, Firestone, Artesia. The train is slightly elevated so you can see what people are doing in their yards- kids playing basketball, old women watering plants and lost looking guys playing craps. A whole metro culture exist- swap meets and notaries sit right next to stops loudly advertising their wares.

The Blue Line lets out right at downtown Long Beach. I took a walk on the waterfront (where I saw another of my old haunts-the Queen Mary). As I watched a bunch of kids hanging out by the water and fans lining up to watch the Lakers I realized that we Hollywood folk, whether we live in Echo Park or Brentwood, really aren't members of the real "Los Angeles" at all. We are like travelers passing through, making it our own insulated and sadly isolated community and wearing blinders to the vibrant and rough city all around us.

But like all adventures which start starry eyed and exhilarated ("I will always ride the metro, I am getting rid of my car!") it soon became tempered with boredom, vague disgust and disillusionment. I took the Green Line to Redondo Beach and for the first time the train car was dirty and the people were sad. Most of the Green Line runs right through the Interstate, which makes you feel very nauseous and the Redondo Beach stop was not actually at the beach but in the middle of industrial hell.

Depressed, I caught the high speed Silver Line bus (literally in the middle of the freeway) back to the Red Line and was immediately perked back up. The bus driver was very friendly and so were the patrons and we soon became banded together trying to get through the escalating mayhem that was downtown LA during the final Lakers game. Many surface streets were closed and we had to forge our way through the sea of yellow jerseys and police helmets. Regular bus riders were helping the driver figure out streets and a lovely lady kept trying to fill me in with what was going on in broken English and I replied to her in broken Spanish.

It was 8.00 pm by the time we made it to the 7th Street Station and I was tired when I finally headed back home on the Red Line. But then these three adorable but hardened kid brothers in my car began singing a beautiful rendition of "Nothings Going to Change My World." Everyone listened. A couple of people danced and a majority of folk gave the kids whatever money they could. I think this is the "real" LA, the LA that counts- we entertainment types are only here till the mill closes down and stops spewing gold to a lucky few.

Travel: A
Ease: B
Subjective coolness: A
Overall: A

For Direction, hours and price:

Friday, June 11, 2010

Watts Towers

Oh lord, I'm all fired up. First off- pictures of Watts Towers do not do it justice. Second of all- standing in front of Watts Towers does not do it justice. In both instances the humorless California sun blots out its thousands of colors and renders it a huge gray ghost ship.

The artist behind these massive towers, the Italian construction worker Simon Rodia, was crafting a ship(once inside the structure the layout of a ship is evident, down to the steering wheel on one of the spirals). But it is a ship full of color and love and hope. It was a ship back to his homeland and it was a ship that symbolized the promise of America and the American dream.

Rodia built this amazing testament to genius and commitment in his own backyard in Watts. Using metal, special cement and found objects(china, bottles, plates, rocks, shells) he created the towers from 1921-1954. Once you are inside the site, you are in a sparkling collage of color and texture and weirdness. The towers are a textbook on the creative process which this strange, apparently unlikable man celebrated by pressing his tools in cement, as if doing them honor.

He covered everything on his property with mosaics, from the fireplace he used to melt glass and metal, to his mailbox and the bench his wife used to sit on when she was waiting for him to come home(she eventually left him due to his obsession with his project.) Hearts are everywhere, on the ground and between the tiles. Flying buttresses connecting one tower to the other are covered in porcelain and ingenious ladders are built into the towers so that the 4'9" Rodia could stand steady as he built higher and higher.

The towers are in a park and sit next to a very cool Arts Center for kids. Everyone who
works here- from the guy who gave me my tour, to the ladies in the office, are super cool and joyful. The center provides free artistic programs for 6,000 at risk kids in the city of Watts. They make some money through tours of the towers, but otherwise they are funded by the city.

And now the city is threatening to cut off funding for the Watts Towers Arts Center and they are in great danger of closing. That means 6,000 children will be left without a place to create their American future, without a safe place to hang out after school. For those of you who haven't been there- Watts is scary disadvantaged. I like to think I am pretty well-versed in desolate landscapes, but Watts only compares to some rural areas I have seen in Mississippi and Jamaica. Their kids need this center.

Please go to and sign the petition demanding the mayor keep his commitment to today's youth and continue funding both the center and the historical park. What a special place Watts Towers is. It is a living testament to the transformative power of art and its ability to make this sometimes gray world extraordinary.

Travel: C-
Ease: C
Content: A-
Subjective coolness: A-
Overall: B

Directions: Take the 101-S to the 110-S. After about 9 miles merge onto the 105-E. Take the Wilmington Ave. exit and turn left on Wilmington.
Turn left at E 108 Street, right onto Willowbrook Ave. and right onto 107th street. There is gated and street parking.
Hours: Wens-Sat. 10am-4pm. Sunday 12pm-4pm.
Price: Tour is $7 for adults and $3 for seniors and children(tour includes a 15 minute documentary).

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

LA River bike/walking path

Reflections along the LA River

(In the form of a Hollins University workshop poem)

Blurb, blurb, gurgle gurgle
concrete tub
not really a river, but alive just the same
with plants
and birds and mists and beer cans filled with earth

From Los Feliz Blvd. to the Colorado St. exit---
along the
I walk the paved path looking for dead bodies in the shallow stream
(a la Chinatown)

as the roar of automobiles is heard
their metal frames the only bodies in sight

I Inhale
the scent of fresh flowers and feces---
Lots of feces.

To my right I pass the golf course
where old men and swingers play
in the early morning drizzle
(thank god for residuals and unemployment).

It is Tuesday
and suddenly a horse ranch
appears through the chain metal fence.
Neigh! Slobber, bray.

Oh Thomas Wolfe, you were mistaken.
I am home again
back in Virginia where rich bitches and stable hicks
ride hard the dirt under drooping trees
our commonality continuing drunkenness from the night before.

I walk off the path under lovely foliage
A worker waves
saying you are welcome
Oh shit no
the jerk is actually yelling at me to get off the property
Screw you LA butt hole
there is no NO TRESPASSING sign!

I continue past the dumping grounds
LA parks and rec,
where recreation goes to die.
Men on bulldozers
push around old scraps of metal and
plastic playground pieces, kinda sad.

Whoa is that a body?
Nope it is just a bird.

I sniff the air, it smells of sea
It is another place of poo
this time human.

LA water treatment plant
your pretty reservoir and fountain
conceal your true filth
like Angelina Jolie.

Next is an office park straight
of the Midwest.
And always the concrete river
swelling from rain and pollution
and my tears
since I did not find a dead body and
will not

I turn around and walk back to my
Ford, dejected, soon I will be in a metal body
a speck on the 5
alone listening to Ira Glass...

Virgina Wolfe, Edgar Allen Poe,
something about the confederacy.

Travel: A
Ease: A
Subjective Coolness: A
Overall: A

Directions: Path I took starts where Los Feliz Blvd. and the 5 intersect.
Hours: Dawn to Dusk.
Price: Free!

P.S.- This post is done with great unskilled love.