Imperiled


We are hosting, for the next few weeks, a family gathering. There are guests from Malaysia, Singapore and Switzerland, women all, except for the family patriarch, 83-years-old, who, despite his recent health setbacks, flew 19 hours to see his granddaughter graduate from business school and join the festivities.

The house is crowded and people are sleeping on futons, air mattresses and sofas. We bought sacks of sweet potatoes and Vidalia Onions and cartons of organic cherries, blueberries, and strawberries.

For mental health reasons, I stocked up on beer.

Because this is a Chinese-Malaysian family, I get to see and be a part of, close-up, the Hainan dialect, the Straits accented English, so sharp and so distinct;  and the laughter, and sometimes the arguments which I observe but do not partake in.

Prescriptive, advising, pedantic, loving, cautionary, understanding, this is the general aura. When you are in the embrace, you are looked after, and you look after others.

Around 3 O’Clock in the afternoon there are cakes and coffee and people gathered around the dining room table chatting and laughing and sending photos over mobile devices.


As an American, I take pleasure in people being awed by the things I never think about: the copious enormity of Costco, the directness of speech, the assertive and self-assured women, the large portions of food, the open vulgarity of sexual talk and provocative dress, and the friendly kindness of strangers.

On “The View”, a show blaring today, they were arguing and screaming about politics, and our guests, fully conversant in English, must have wondered about how we get away with saying what we want without fear of arrest or condemnation. There are sedition laws back in Malaysia and public discourse is held back, and one would not broadcast aloud against the government for long without inviting arrest.

Whoopi Goldberg could be a political prisoner there. Imagine that.

One of our guests liked the small chatter and joking banter she saw on the local KTLA news. It was so casual and relaxed she said; so un-like her country.  Target, Costco, Sam Woo…we really do have it all.

Nothing is so nice as being admired for banality.


We went to Vegas for a two-day trip to stay at room cheap, free parking for now Mandalay Bay and visit Hoover Dam.

In the casino, where machines insatiably swallow $20 bills, Liberty Bell shaped smokers waddle through. The smell of second hand smoke wafts through the air like hay in a stable.

We drank at Red Square during their happy hour and had two whisky cocktails for $24. Later on we ate Japanese food where a fist-sized piece of salmon goes for $49. When I went to withdraw cash from the ATM they took a $6.99 fee.

At the elegant Japanese restaurant at Mandalay Bay, men wore Affliction T-shirts and baseball caps or square toed dress shoes with cargo shorts.

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At Terrible’s Gas Station on The Strip the attendant who rang me up called me honey and at the Market Grille Café in North Las Vegas I was darling and I was sir and sweety at the Mizuya Lounge. Vegas is nothing if not affectionate to strangers.


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On our way back from Las Vegas yesterday morning, we stopped in the Mojave Desert to see the world’s tallest thermometer, use the restrooms and buy some water.

Hardscrabble, windy and roasting, Baker is significant in its nothingness: a strip of dilapidated and defunct motels, a country store selling hot sauces and craft sodas, and the home of the Mad Greek Diner, occupying a key corner off the highway.

We parked first at the thermometer, which was cool at only 93. We were looking for bathrooms, but we couldn’t find any there. Instead there was a metal and stone monument featuring an egg in a frying pan.

As we made our way down to the country store where urinals and toilets awaited, one uncle received a text from the young woman about to graduate. She was in her classroom at UCLA and her school was in lockdown after a shooting. A gunman, or possibly two, was on the loose.

The uncle told me, but we kept the knowledge of the unfolding events from the mother, the elderly father, and the aunt.

We got back in the car, and were stopped in the middle of the desert by road construction. The temperature outside was about 100 and the air-conditioning was blasting. The two aunties and their father were sleeping in back.

So I turned on the LA news, KNX 1070, and gradually the terrifying words filled the car: police, shooting, FBI, active shooter, two dead, locked in the classrooms, students, LAPD, bomb squad, SWAT team. The mother, napping in back, awoke, and gradually, without us saying anything, realized her youngest daughter’s school was now a crime scene.

A few more texts came from our girl. She said they were hunkered down in darkness. But she was all right.

We are all in our classroom with locked doors and the lights off. I think they confirmed it’s a murder-suicide.

Worried, in suspense, we listened to every development at UCLA as reported by KNX. Why did I turn on that radio?

We inched along at 15 or 20 miles an hour. The traffic broke, and we continued west, now at 60 or 70 MPH into Barstow, and then that steep, disorienting angle into the brown cloud that filled the mouth of the Cajon Pass, and later travelling along the flat 210, in Rancho Cucamonga, we got relief.

We are being let out now.

Our loved one was OK. But someone else lost a son, a friend, a husband; and a killer died who was also someone’s child. Bullets, brains, and blood took their monthly seat alongside erasers and magic markers.

America! What is wrong with you? You have so much going for you! Everyone likes you! People are so impressed by you! Don’t fuck it up! Use your God-given talents! Just like my mother used to tell me.

I am still deeply in love with the United States of America. When foreigners say something against it to my face, I remember it. I want to present it and show it proudly.

Born, was I, in the Land of Lincoln, 97 years after, the 16th President, died.

Riding back from Las Vegas yesterday, a typical American morning unfolded for our guests from Malaysia. I wasn’t proud.

I was ashamed.

Return to Van Nuys Savings and Loan


Ph: Maynard Parker
Ph: Maynard Parker

In an earlier post, I wrote about the old Van Nuys Savings and Loan, at 6569 Van Nuys Boulevard.

It was built in 1955 and designed by architect Culver Heaton with murals by noted artist Millard Sheets.

Modernity and innovation were expressed in its zig-zag roof, screened metal panels and wide, airy interior, a place of efficient banking and progressive faith in the future of Van Nuys which was booming in housing, retail, industry and education.

This was a place for people to save and earn 4 1/2% annual interest, guaranteed. This was an institution whose name was spoken of with pride. And who worked within the community to loan money and helped invest in productive enterprises.

Ph: Maynard Parker
Ph: Maynard Parker
Ph: Maynard Parker
Ph: Maynard Parker

Nobody in 1955 could have imagined what Van Nuys has now become.

La Tapachulteca is a Guatemalan grocery store that currently occupies the old bank building. I came here and photographed the exterior just as photographer Maynard Parker once did.

Yesterday, May 20, 2016, on the same day the brand new Expo Rail line opened to connect downtown to Santa Monica, a  homeless woman slept here in a pigeon pooped, urine sprinkled, dirty entrance where unwashed windows and grime completed a scene of degradation and filth.

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Door La Tapachulteca


Los Angeles is building its future in public transport by emulating the past.

Streetcars once ran up and down Van Nuys Boulevard. Service stopped in 1952. The boulevard was widened to accommodate more cars, and vast parking lots were built behind Van Nuys Boulevard, while walls of blankness went up on the street because all activity was now behind. The street went dead.

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And now only cars promenade along the boulevard, or rather speed past without stopping.

The store, like the bank before it, is scheduled to close down.

In its place, a new mixed-use residential/commercial building will be erected. The bank building, once an architectural jewel, will be bulldozed and dumped and carted away.

Perhaps a community needs to hit rock bottom to again climb up into prosperity.

If one building’s decline is emblematic of a whole area’s fall, can a new structure represent a new beginning for an entire area?

Time will tell…

 

The Nadir.


DSCF2605It is doubtful that Van Nuys Boulevard, especially that languishing, forgotten, distressed stretch between Victory and Vanowen, has ever been as low, neglected and poor as it is today.

No longer do the homeless hide in alleys. They are now set up on the sidewalk, their belongings piled into shopping carts, covered in tarps.

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At the 99 Cents Only Store, a steel gate guarding a delivery door is pulled back. Towels and curtains hang over it, and behind it are black feet in flip-flops.

There are other sleeping humans on the sidewalk, and the black woman with the black feet in black flip-flops is not unique.

From 2003 to 2013, Tony Cardenas served on the Los Angeles City Council in the 6th District covering Van Nuys. He was elected to the US House of Representatives from California’s 29th District and now represents Van Nuys in Washington, DC.

The man who calls himself “The Honorary Mayor of Van Nuys” is George Thomas, also the President of the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council, also the publisher of a newspaper called “The Van Nuys News Press” which “features stories on everything, but especially golf and travel.” Recent stories featured whale watching in Hawaii and the Kahalu’u Beach Park Condo on the Big Island, a “Property of the Week”. Mr. Thomas, who is also a resident of Agoura Hills, is currently running for state senate.

These are just two men, Mr. Cardenas and Mr. Thomas, leaders of Van Nuys. They do not live here. They may not even care about here. Their careers, not their community, are foremost.

 

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To say that Van Nuys and its Boulevard is without leadership or vision is obvious. This once thriving district of Los Angeles is now on intoxicated autopilot. It is careening fast into oblivion and may one day be as ill and impoverished as Skid Row.

With the “revitalization” of downtown Los Angeles, the mentally ill, the drug and alcohol addicts, and the other lost men and women of the city have to go somewhere.

They are going North by Northwest to the San Fernando Valley.

The ghost citizens arrive unwelcomed, their presence an uncomfortable reminder that we all are just one paycheck away from ruin, one illness away from financial catastrophe.

They have their carts, we have our cars; they have their hovels, we have our homes; they are unemployed and we are consultants.

We took our shower this morning but we resemble them more than we admit.

The homeless are the new pioneers, the new settlers of Van Nuys. They will come here to live on the sidewalk, in the alley, in the box behind the dumpster. They will multiply into the thousands, and Van Nuys Boulevard will be an outdoor city of tents, defecation, boxes, shopping carts, and the smell of urine in 110-degree heat.

Developers may snap up the cheap building. They may come here and build, that may be a good thing. But what are the larger solutions to end the dumping of human beings into the street? How will this street reform and repent itself? Will a few benches and a few trees and a Starbucks on the corner change the larger malaise?

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All Our Blights.


DSCF2550Cleaning out the median, north of Victory, on Sepulveda last Saturday, I stopped to shoot a  scene that spoke to me.

Here were all the blights that plague Van Nuys in one photograph.

An RV parked along the road, a home for the homeless. These improvised residences are everywhere in Los Angeles these days. Unaffordable housing and the societal acceptance of allowing our fellow humans to sleep on the street or in unlicensed housing is shocking. Or maybe we are no longer shocked. Which is itself shocking.

As teenaged girls rake and clean the median, they are attacking a problem that is essentially caused by illegal dumping. No authorities, no residents, no politicians have found a way to stop old sofas, mattresses, bottles, televisions, furniture, and every type of fast food from being dropped on our streets.

A billboard from Spearmint/Rhino advertises adult film star Veronica Vain . The advertisement looms over a family neighborhood, one with many children, and features a woman who performs public sex acts on camera and in person. Here is a NSFW link.

And then there is Carl’s Jr. whose offerings are a great contributor to rampant obesity. The ½ Pound Mile High Bacon Thickburger is 1230 calories. Ordered with Onion Rings (530 calories) and a Vanilla Shake (700 calories) a person could consume 2,460 calories, or about 1000 more calories than a sedentary human needs in an entire day. That would be in just one meal. The nutritional information is taken directly from Carl’s Jr.

Through all this detritus is the six-lane speedway Sepulveda. When it is full of traffic it is impossible. When it moves, many drivers speed and run through red lights. People risk their lives crossing this asphalt hell.

This is our environment, this is our city, this is our reality.

Clean Up on Sepulveda.


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Through a multi-pronged alliance between City Councilwoman’s Nury Martinez’s Office (CD-6), the Van Nuys Neighborhood Council, and neighbors who came together on Next Door, about 30 people gathered today between Haynes and Lemay on Sepulveda, and spent a good part of Saturday morning, raking, shoveling, pruning, digging, sweeping, and exhausting themselves to rid the dirt median of man made crap and improve a section of Van Nuys for at least a day.

Long an eyesore, the garbage strewn dusty, dry strip is a dumping ground of Carl’s Jr. burger bags, old condoms, half finished Styrofoam burrito plates, discarded diapers, tires, beer bottles, smashed soda cans, empty vodka bottles and anything else that might be dropped by an intoxicated prostitute at 3am.

Gloves, rakes, shovels, trash bags, water, all of it was brought along and given to the volunteers who included Field Deputy Guillermo Marquez, and Linda Levitan, both from Nury Martinez’s office; Penny Meyer, Howard Benjamin and Quirino De La Cuesta, all VNNC officers; and teenagers from Van Nuys. Families, older folks and an obscure blogger/photographer joined in to shovel and sweat.

Filled to the brim were garbage bags lined up along the curb and waiting to be picked up by the Department of Sanitation on Monday. Palm fronds, cut off from trees to reveal litter below, were themselves placed along the trash bags for disposal.

Work started around 8am, and by 11am the median had been raked and picked clean of garbage.