Straight Outta Compton

WestCoast 097It is hard not to have contempt for L.A. – the city and environs of the valley of smog. It is an easy target to shoot at, simple to knock the mecca of all that is fake, the get-rich-quick schemes of land and development, the lack of planning leading to sprawl, the corruption and crime of the streets and higher offices, the tainted water politics, the tainted water, the air that is a dim gray or often a rust-colour. Who can love L.A.? The escapism of film, the gates of Beverly Hills, the lure of drugs and eternal high lifting up all those failed actors, screenwriters, endless farm boys and idle middle aged who feel that just one break is all they need to be a “late bloomer” as if g/G/o/_/d/s/es/ess had not determined long ago each path to stardom or obscurity.
For all this sprawl and smog, for all those burning hills and tricked out rides competing out on the roads, Union Station stands out as a reminder at the potential of “the west” that hope that the dirty old towns of Europe and gray cities of cold dour New England could be left behind in a land where the sun shone, and flowers bloomed throughout the year.
Amtrak pulled in early. The sky was not even glowing, other than the electric lights of the city reflecting in the heavens. The Old Pueblo is across from the station. This districts consists of a group of well-preserved buildings from the way back when. The taco huts, souvenir stands, and shops had yet to open. A small reminder as to how the city started, but like so many other old sections of so many other cities, calcified in time in order to allow bus-loads of tourists a chance to see what they needed to see. With everything closed, and the zombie homeless just starting to stir, I jumped into the metro system in order to take in as much as I could in the time I had.
WestCoast 104Heading for the Hollywood hills, the train is cleaner than those of Gotham, perhaps newer than those in Montreal, and they run with some frequency. The dawn had yet started to lift into daylight when I got into the city. Hollywood was still dim, just shaking of the night, the bums were just waking up and starting to stretch (except for those around McDonald’s), the tourist shops remained closed, but the public works were already setting up crowd control barriers and strangely, there were people sitting in lawn chairs already, some folks gathering at the crowd control barriers as they were set up as if the barriers grew the crowd rather than controlling it. What are these people doing here? I took the obligatory photo of the Chinese Theater or whatever it is, took a few shots of the stars, is Bugs Bunny a real person? Why does he have a star? What is this, an actor of some kind, who the hell is that? Wow, there is a huge crack in that star, they better fix it. A pile of blankets moved, the face of Dora the Explorer wiggled at me, almost winked and I wondered at the juxtaposition of the commercial cartoon face, and the broken life this blanket covered, as if this were a sheet cover at a mortuary. “We got the street,” the man said to the other men who emerged from the RV. “Film Premiere for Iron Man III.” an official tag hanging on the RV said along with important event names, permit numbers, and such. Son of a bitch. Iron Man III. People are already lined up, perhaps spent the night, having homes and running water in those homes, water heated upon demand, beer cold as they want it, are out here peeing into bags in order to be at the front of the crowd control devices in order to see the premiere of the third in a franchise of films. The third. The one with what’s his face and who’s her name. Directed by that guy who did that other film, the one with the action adventure where the massive shit blows up…. yeah, that one.
WestCoast 112Having some time before the connection to Portland, I decided to take a look at the ocean for myself and took the train the other direction, down to Long Beach. The subway connects to the blue line, and this train emerges from the tunnels quite soon after the connection. The first stop is the technical institute, which seemed to give some promise at the ride ahead, however, this was not to be and the ensuing miles of rail passed through those areas that now are tee shirt statements on the failure of civil society and economic progress. Watts, home of the riots, where racial segregation burst open in an insurrection that called attention to the plight of black America… and cemented public opinion that urban areas are dangerous to live in. Which may have led to a further collapse of cities, further weakening the position of urban dwellers and perhaps creating the “inner city,” however, the true cost, legacy, and causes are left up to social scientists and those with more academic acumen. What I saw out the window was small houses that at one point may have been quite livable, but appeared unrepairable or worse for wear and covered in iron gates, bars over the windows, barbwire surrounding the yard, so outside of getting yard time and going to work, the neighborhood seemed somewhat akin to an open-air prison, which considering the riots almost fifty years before for quality housing and access to education, seems as if the rebellion was not successful and perhaps demonstrating that riot activism is ultimately a failure.
Next up on the rail, we moved into Compton. An old city, it has also been the location of black middle class. This formerly middle class heratage is still seen in the many houses, which are often larger than those in Watts and in slightly better repair, since they changed hands into the rental market or were sold to poorer residents, often immigrants from Central and South America as well as Asia and Africa. The rail train picked up and discharged a number of people along the route, and like most American cities outside of Gotham, the poorer classes and minorities were overly represented and with these folks a number of health issues, such as obesity and the ashen faces of those who don’t seen much sunlight. It was surprising, perhaps is surprising however the tense may be, that for what I had seen of the Western Lands with all their supposed health, it seemed the same Spam-stuffed sallow-skinned crowd as one may see just about anywhere across the USA huffing and puffing to waddle up the disability ramps. Passing Compton, the train crossed a “river,” a cement drainage ditch that contains what is left of the Los Angeles River all the world appearing as a skate park or a movie set for apocalypse franchises or lots of really stellar car chases for films staring Mark Wahlberg or a chase rivaling that film Gone in 60 Seconds (1974).
Then, more nondescript crap, chicken places, taco places, chicken taco places, out of business chicken taco places, for an stretch that seemed so dreck that I thought I may just call this mission over and take the first return stop back, however, the train at times sped up being lifted off the ground for a birds-eye view of warehouses and little houses and I saw that I was close to Long Beach and figured that the time I had invested should pay off in seeing the beach, or at least making it to some destination. The train was split, and the passengers waited on the platform for the next train. It was slightly chilly and damp on the platform but it seemed that this was the point where the rail reconnected with the grid of the city ad that perhaps Long Beach would surprise me.
Indeed I was surprised. The corpulent lady in the wheelchair with the pirate flag flying was one of several wheelchair beggars and tramps who were wandering about the streets and clustered in the park. Apart from these few, the streets were vacant. I did not see the water, but I did catch a glimpse of the cranes in I believe Oakland. With time short, and from what I saw from the trolly-train, it seemed ill advised to miss my connection for points north, the coastline and what I had been told was the most fantastic stretch of America.
I validated my ticket for the ride back to Union Station.
What happened to that dream of L.A.? What happened to the fresh air, the beach, the warm weather, the orange and fig trees that just grow in people’s yards, what happened to paradise? Can a city exist without wrecking the very reason it landed there? It seems in this case that what could have been L.A. is gone, and cannot be found again. The city was made inefficient, built to funnel in resources, built to consume, water, land, air, and to expel only hollow shadows and projected lights. Will the newcomers to Watts and Compton build gardens, plant fruit trees, or capture rainwater, reduce their footprint, or will they consume the dreams, watch Iron Man III, Iron Man XXVI, and envy those living in the hills, lust after the supposed fast cars and easy money and again set fire to their houses in protest, each angry American generation the same as in the Day of the Locusts, but a diverse crowd this time, albeit a little fatter and perhaps using a few more mobility scooters.
WestCoast 122

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