los angeles


Cahuenga Pass, circa 1938CAHUENGA PASS

I dreamed there was no knife in my hand after I took the punch to the side of my head.

It was a nice dream while it lasted, but I came awake with a jump at the subconscious knuckle crunch of fist against temple, much in the same way people who are falling in their sleep jolt awake just before they impact whatever hard parcel upon which they are about to land.

Blinking the blur out of my eyes, the flood of relief I felt at the absence of the knife boiled entirely away in the instant I found myself still in the jail cell I’d been placed in after being booked for murdering the road-rager who’d thrown the blow.

Because there had been a knife in my hand. Funny thing, not only do I not remember how it got there, but I had initially planned on just accepting the slug. In a way, I totally deserved it.

I’d gotten off work. I was coming from Hollywood into the valley through the Cahuenga Pass where I’d been in a hurry to drop off a package for my boss at the FedEx near a curve in the road past Barham. I was in a rush to get home to my Encino apartmetn and cleaned up for a date later all the way back over on Melrose with none other than Elie Tolsen. I’d known Elie since high school, but back then crush be damned, I was a stoner fuck-up to whom such a princess wouldn’t give the time of day. Since then, I cleaned up nicely and got a promising job at Paramount. She’d filled out nicely and landed a co-starring roll on a popular TV cop show that just so happened to film at the same studio.

So there I was, FedEx package delivered and putting my car in reverse there on the driveway apron, trying to make every second count. Instead of backing out, heading east and turning around safely and sanely somewhere back in the direction from which I’d just come, I opted instead to back out across the clear eastbound lanes and arc into the space for left turns in the center of the street.

While I executed the obviously questionable maneuver perfectly, it surprised the driver of a car coming west around the bend who laid on the horn as he passed me, an alarm I fully deserved. After pulling into the lane I came up behind him stopped at a red light a couple blocks down. While the driver of the car was just glaring at me in his rearview mirror, it was the passenger who’d gone totally apoplectic with anger, turning fully in his seat full-throat yelling at me and flipping me off through the rear window. Seriously, there was spittle involved. Man overboard!

The irony is not only did the driver try to calm his friend down, but I also gave it my best attempt to placate the asshole. I mouthed sincerely that I was sorry and gestured as best I could to indicate I was certifiably the worst driver in the world who shouldn’t be allowed to walk the streets much less operate a motor vehicle upon them.

It didn’t translate to the guy riding shotgun. He just kept laying on with the fuckyous and the assholes and the middle fingers and the kickyerasses to the point where I had enough and returned fire. Then he gestured: let’s fucking go right fucking here, right fucking now.

Next thing, the light’s turning green, but he’s out of the car and moving towards me. Nothing about him was outwardly concerning — 5’10” maybe 175 pounds, no guns in his hands. But regardless of his lack of physical stature or weaponry, logic dictates that one should not stay frozen in a confined and hardly defensible space such as the interior of a vehicle as some stark and raving lunatic closes the distance. One should get out, the better to fight or to flee.

But for some strange reason, I stayed put — surprisingly calmly so. Ignoring the psycho as he arrived at the driver’s side window and instead looked straight ahead at the driver of the car who also remained behind his wheel but now in exasperation held his head in both hands.

I don’t remember what the fellow yelled and spit at me through the open window, neither is it important. What is important is that my failure to engage enraged him further enough to first slam his hand down on the roof of my car and then bitchslap at the side of my head, coming into contact with my left ear enough to cause an intense burning sensation.

Here’s the thing. I don’t take pain well. I don’t mean to say that I have a low threshold for it, it’s just that I woefully lack the ability to ignore whatever thing — be it animate, inanimate or in this case highly animated — that is the cause of that pain. I’ve destroyed chairs that I’ve stubbed toes on. I flushed a hamster down the toilet that bit me on the pinky. During my first year in junior high, I put a towering ninth grader in the hospital for suckering me into accepting a high five with a nail held between his middle and ring fingers. The school security guard had to pull me off him to stop me with hands full of his ears and hair from banging his head face first into the playground asphalt for the tenth time. It’s a byproduct overdrive impulse to inflict an equal or greater amount of damage to that which has been inflicted upon me.

Slim as it may have been, any chance of me not going batshit at the eird slap was taken off the table when his fist came in full contact to my temple, the force of which drove me across onto the passenger seat, upon which sat my backpack and in which resided the buck knife with a folding four-inch locking blade that was a gift from the warehouse manager of a previous employer back when I hadn’t quite cleaned up so well.  The job was in a bad part south and east of downtown and the manager told me for very good reason that I should never ever be without a knife.

In the ensuing daze of ear-ringing semi-consciousness I won’t deny going through the complicated process of opening the appropriate pocket of the backpack, removing the knife from its leather case, and locking it open. It’s just that I sincerely don’t remember doing so. All I recall is that when I felt him grabbing at my shirt and pulling me back toward him, I came up more quickly than he expected. With my left arm I pinned his right arm against pillar of the car frame and kept pushing the forearm away from me at an unnatural angle until there was a very satisfying crack and and even more satisfying a scream. Then what may have been the butt of his left palm connected with my forehead and I saw a light show before my eyes during which I drove the knife in my right hand into and out of and into and out of his midsection.

I couldn’t tell you how many times, other than I didn’t stop until he slumped and fell away from my car onto his back in the number one westbound lane just in time to be run over by a passing FedEx truck. Whether he was dead before he hit the street, or was finished off under the tire treads, I don’t know.

All I knew when sirens sounded in the distance and grew louder with each passing second was that I had killed two things, a man and my date with Elie. I was far more upset about the latter.

In the 12-plus years I’ve been a-blogging, I don’t think I’ve ever gone more than a week or two without posting SOMETHING. So you can imagine my shock when I saw I’d last been seen here basically more than three weeks ago.

The funny thing is, I’ve still been communicating, but mostly on Facebook, which for reasons known only to Mark Zuckerberg has been able to squirrel its way in to becoming something of my defacto mode of e-communication. I don’t even tweet much anymore.

But enough about that. Without any further preambling, here’s some of the stuff I’ve been doing of late:

1) Kayaking The Los Angeles River

As part of a pilot program this summer, a section of the long-lost Los Angeles River coursing through Elysian Valley was reopened to the public for use as a recreational resource, an opportunity angelenos have not had since the 1930s when the river’s channelization was begun to prevent flooding.

As a boy I accidentally discovered the river, and from that single experience I have never stopped being enamored with and zealously protective of what so many others have dismissed as our city’s woeful waterway — little more than a drainage ditch to the sea. Though I’ve been aware of its potential, I never imagined that one day I’d see such a sea change in perception so that  the river would made accessible and embraced not as a prohibited place but as public parkland to be explored and experienced and as something to connect with after so long a disconnect.

kayakroute

So for me, thanks to L.A. River Expeditions (Facebook), to be among the first wave during this historic first season and doing what you see in these clips at the top and after the jump: putting a kayak into its waters and putting my butt into that kayak and paddling — however awkwardly — downstream for a water-level perspective of my beloved river, it’s not a dream come true. Because I never dared to dream this could ever happen. Not in my lifetime.

No, it’s much more than that. To me it’s nothing short of a glorious miracle. And for that I’m thankful to everyone who has fought so tirelessly and valiantly over the years to get the city’s much-maligned and misbegotten river recreated in enough influential minds so that it can now be leisurely recreated upon.

Physically and soulfully these waters were very moving.

2) Unrocking The parkway in front of our house

I can’t remember if it was four or five years ago, but it all began when our next door neighbor contacted me to tell me he was redoing the section of parkway in front of his house with river rocks, and would I be interested in going in for half of the cost and doing mine as well to give the two parkways some continuity.

I figured why not. It would look better than the dirt and dead grass that had been there and it would be an opportunity to do something positive with the guy with whom, frankly, I’m not on the best of terms.

So a few weeks later he shows up with a metric ton of the palm-sized rocks and we pour them out, and the continuity lasted for all of as long as it took for the grasses and weeds to grow from between our rocks. See, he keeps his section of the parkway completely sterile, using gardeners he’s instructed to pluck pretty much even the slightest growth of green. Me? I’m my own gardener and I instructed myself not to give a hoot about what grows.

The only thing I’d been meticulous about is putting the rocks back that people for some stupid reason can’t resist kicking or tossing all over the place: the gutter, the street, the sidewalk, our front steps. And yes, I’ve even confronted people I’ve witnessed taking the rocks – literally picking up several and walking off as if there’s a “Free Rocks — All You Can Carry!” sign posted.

Fast forward to this week, and I’m finally done with these rocks. Agreeing to partner this design option for our parkways did nothing to improve things with the neighbor, and so I decided that it’s time to reclaim or refresh our decidedly seedy section of the parkway and remove the river rocks.

I started yesterday (August 12), and quickly discovered that it was something easier said than done. What I thought would take a couple hours of clearing the roughly 40′ x 4′ area, is going to take about eight or more… mostly because over the ensuing rainy seasons, what started as one layer of rocks on the surface of the soil is now in places two or three layers of rocks that have been buried by the flow of water and soil, hastened by those people who’ve tromped on them and pushed them deeper. It’s really quite remarkable how low some of these rocks have gone.

I found out during the first four/five foot long section I cleared from the driveway apron to the magnolia tree, which also involved digging up all the dead patches of grass. And there are a LOT of dead patches of grass.

Soooo, what you’re seeing here in this timelapse is roughly 45 minutes of me attacking with little more than a spade and begloved hands the second four/five foot section between the magnolia tree and the brick walkway. Ended up filling the bucket three times. That’s a lotta rocks. And I’ll do it again tomorrow. And the day after. Until it’s done.

Not sure yet what I plan to do once it’s all cleared. I may just leave it bare. I may plant something. Or I may supersaturate the soil and set the rocks back into the wet dirt side by side like so many tiles. At least that way if some idiot wants to take one or toss one  it’ll require a little more effort than just bending over and getting grabby.

Menial labor? Meaningful labor? Bit of both from where I’m toiling.

It’s not like me to go more than a couple days between posting anything, and my excuse is that it pretty much took me the weekend to recuperate from the all-nighter I pulled Friday shadowing the 340-ton rock between South Los Angeles and its destination at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on the final night of the journey that began in Riverside County about a week and a half ago.

I left the house at 8:45 p.m. to bike downtown and meet up with my friend Joni, wherein we pedaled down to Figueroa Street south of Gage in time for the rock’s 10 p.m. departure aboard its elaborate 200-foot long, three-traffic-lane-wide transporter.

Here’s a clip of the monster vehicle juuuuuuust barely clearing a speed limit sign at the bend in Figueroa Street just south of Exposition Boulevard:

That above location will now forever hold a frustrating place in my head as it was where I suffered one of the most dumbfounding brainfarts of my life. In addition to the camera I used for the realtime footage, I was also timelapsing each pass-by with my GoPro cam on a small tripod. After the truck had passed, I packed up what I thought was both cameras into my pack and Joni and I headed up through the USC campus to get ahead of it to await its first left turn at Figueroa and Adams. Upon arrival I went to unpack the GoPro and it wasn’t there — meaning I’d somehow managed to leave it behind. I made the obligatory return to the scene of my idiocy but I knew the whole way back that the odds of the device sitting there untouched amidst all the foot traffic were slim, and sure enough when I arrived it was gone. Sigh. All I could do was hope whoever found it needed it more than I did and would take better care of it than I had, and I returned crestfallen to Fig and Adams where I spent pretty much the rest of the night (and weekend) flip-flopping between letting it go and kicking myself for committing such an incredible and inexplicable fail.

The good news is that the rock was making great time. We met up with my friend Elson at Adams and Normandie and after that the crew flawlessly executed the rig’s toughest turn of the night, a right onto Western from Adams. Not much later the rig completed the left from Western onto Wilshire at 1:30 a.m., and things suddenly looked like they might wrap up way ahead of schedule. But thanks to illegally parked cars along that homestretch as well as a traffic signal that needed to be moved out of the rock’s way (see photo below), it then took three hours to get from there to the front of LACMA, pulling to a stop at 4:30 a.m. for an extended stop/photo opp before a large crowd who cheered its arrival. Continuing west it made a right from Wilshire Boulevard onto Fairfax and then a right halfway up the block onto the museum’s grounds where it will be installed in the Levitated Mass exhibit slated to open in about six weeks. I said goodbye to Joni via text as she was somewhere else near a plug recharging her phone, and Elson and I headed back east through the quiet streets by the dawn’s early light.

Here’s a clip of the vehicle passing in front of the United Methodist Church on Wilshire Boulevard between Highland and La Brea:

About a block and a half after the church, an LADOT service crew jumped into action to elevate the traffic signal at Fremont Place so the rock could continue rolling:

Not taking anything away from the largest rock to be transported since ancient times, but honestly, the vehicle was more impressive than its precious cargo. And not taking away from the enjoyment of being witness to the final leg of its journey across town, but by the time I got home at about 7 a.m. all the coffee in the can wouldn’t have kept me awake, and I crashed until 11 a.m. and then again from 1 to about 4 p.m. on the backyard hammock. Sunday, I did manage to do some leaf sweeping in the front of the house and go get Susan and me some lunch, but that was about it for productivity.

Still, if I had the chance to do it all again, I wouldn’t hesitate. And I wouldn’t lose any of my equipment.

After my trip Thursday to the Metro Courthouse to see about the status of the ticket I got on my bike in December turned out to be a wasted one, I pedaled up to the Central Library to redeem the day by checking out an exhibit of historical Los Angeles maps that are being displayed in the branch’s first floor galleries (If you’re interested, I wrote at Blogging.la about why it’s something worth checking out).

Of the excellent selection of cartography arrayed, one that I found very intriguing was the first true plat map made in 1884 showing ownership of various parcels of land throughout the city’s original core boundaries. And after marveling both at the creek that used to run down what’s now Silver Lake Boulevard as well as at what had been the unknown original reservoir location to the south of what’s now the Silver Lake Reservoir (basically submerging Silver Lake Boulevard between Sunset Boulevard and Effie Street), I snapped the following picture of the northwest corner of it for further review to determine which not-yet-subdivided parcel contained our future lot (click it for the bigger picture):

So today I opened it up, and from the bottom third of the above pic was able to translate the near nonexistent street grid of the city 128 years or so into the future and find the intersection of Canal and Temple streets then are today’s Bellevue Avenue and London Street, from which our street extends northward over parcels that were first owned by a GH Smith & GS Patton.

With a last name of Patton I wondered if that wouldn’t be the coolest thing if that person might not be a relation of none other than famed World War II General.

So I took a shot in the dark and googled “GS Patton land owner Los Angeles” and I wouldn’t you know there stood a good chance that it was Patton’s dad. Via a link to the book “Los Angeles from the Mountains to the Sea, Vol.2″ by John Steven McGroarty, a passage in it showed me that GS Patton was General Patton’s father, who it turns out owned a lot of real estate after coming to Los Angeles in 1878 (see the bolded text near the end of the passage below):

Since there’s some vagueness as to whether that bolded sentence referred to Patton or Benjamin D. Wilson, the influential father of the woman he married, I went searching from more proof. So I next googled “GH Smith.” The first hit took me to a book titled “Out West, Vol. 25″ by Charles Lummis that identified a “Col. G.H. Smith” as being one of the founders of the Los Angeles Public Library. Then another reference identified him as “Geo. H. Smith,” and finally I got to the George Hugh Smith Wikipedia page, and found what I was looking for (text emphasized below):

George Hugh Smith was born in Philadelphia, the son of George Archibald Smith and Ophelia Ann Williams. His family moved back to Virginia when he was a child. Smith attended Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington, Virginia with his cousin George Smith Patton, and graduated in 1853. Smith was admitted to the bar in 1855, and he practiced law until the out break of the Civil War.

Smith and Patton… cousins!? Dang.  Further on down Smith’s Wiki page it says he came to Los Angeles in 1869 and got into the legal side of the real estate game:

In 1870 Smith joined the law partnership of Alfred Chapman and Andrew Glassell, the firm becoming known as Glassell, Chapman & Smith. Their law practice was confined chiefly to real estate transactions and they made their fortunes in the large partition suits.

In fact, if you look on the map two parcels south of the Canal and Temple streets intersection you’ll see one owned by an A. Glassell — no doubt Smith’s partner, Andrew.

So there you have it, folks. In the grand scheme of things this might not be much more to most than an asterisk in the annals of Los Angeles’ first land boom, but to a history geek like me, it’s just diggity dang cool knowing that in 1884 the father (and cousin) of the legendary World War II general — and two notable gentlemen in their own right — were the first owners of the standard plot of land upon which our little house was build 22 years later in 1906.

UPDATE (02.25): I learned through this nifty little documentary vid linked from this post at the Eastsider LA Blog regarding the history of The Cut that was first a railway and then Sunset Boulevard, that a geneological clarification is in order. While GH Smith was in fact the cousin of GS Patton II as well as of Patton II’s son, the famed World War II general, Smith was also and more importantly Patton II’s and the general’s step-father and step-grandfather, respectively. The general’s paternal grandfather, GS Patton I, was killed in a Civil War battle, leaving Susan Thornton Glassell a widow, who Smith subsequently married in 1870. So in addition to being a bloodline cousin to Gen. Patton, Smith was his step-grandfather by marriage and, in fact, the only grandfather he ever knew.

 

I haven’t done much here in way of tooting/touting my upcoming bigger-and-better-than-last-time’s Watts Happening Ride next month, but I figured since I slapped together the spokecard art yesterday, why not start the tooting/touting now:

Basic details — When: February 18 at 9 a.m. Start/Finish: Happy Foot/Sad Foot sign at the northwest corner of Sunset Boulevard & Benton Way in Silver Lake. Approximate time to elapse: 5-6 hours. Total distance: 32.95 miles.

Optional partial ride: If doing the full ride isn’t feasible, consider joining the ride at approximately 9:30 a.m. downtown on Spring Street (anywhere between 2nd & 9th streets) for the roughly 9-mile segment to the Watts Towers. The 103rd Street Blue Line station is near to the towers and can be an alternative to get you back into downtown.

The Facebook event page is here. The complete route map is here.

A Thursday Los Angeles Times article on the then-pending City Council vote to demolish the historic 6th Street Bridge over the Los Angeles River in favor of a replacement of more modern design, illicited a strong enough reaction to what seemed the councilmembers’ foregone conclusion that I wrote the Times a letter that morning.

My issue is not with the bridge’s required destruction — that’s long been mandated by its increasing instability due to a chemical reaction that’s slowly decomposing its concrete. My issue is with those factions who are demanding that no aspect of the 79-year-old icon be incorporated into the new bridge, which renderings depict as having little more character than a Golden State Freeway overpass in Burbank.

On Friday, the council — with the surprising notable exception of Tom LaBonge — did as despicably expected and decided not to remember history, but to forget about  it.

My letter ran at the top of today’s opinion section. Here’s a snap of the print version (click it for the bigger picture):

On the occasion of my cousin Margaret’s last day in Los Angeles before flying home to Nashville, I picked her up from my mom’s to show her some sites, and we ended up doing more than I expected:

Watts Towers
Central Avenue Jazz District
Central Library
Disney Concert Hall
Angels Flight
Grand Central Market
Million Dollar Pharmacy
Million Dollar Theater
Bradbury Building
Pershing Square
Biltmore Hotel
Olvera Street
Union Station

We really lucked out in that Disney Hall was offering access to its auditorium since the philharmonic was practicing at the Hollywood Bowl:

We headed south on Grand and caught the Angels Flight back down to Hill Street where we strolled through Grand Central Market to Broadway. After a visit to the awesome botanica-ness of the Million Dollar Pharmacy, we found the gate to the Million Dollar Theater half-up and though I was hesitant to try the lobby doors, Margaret had no reservations and found them unlocked. With the permission of a gentleman stationed near the concession stand we were able to admire the auditorium’s unique circular design.

After that we wandered back to the library via Pershing Square and the Biltmore and made our way to Olvera Street for lunch followed by a walk through of Union Station before getting her back to my mom’s. Awesome!

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