by RIP RENSE
This Town is Toast
Oct. 31, 2003
An old friend
from the Midwest dropped me a line, asking "just how bad is it out
It gave me pause. I had to stop and think. Hmm.
Just how bad is it?
It almost never rains anymore. The much
ballyhooed L.A. sunshine is a party guest that never, ever leaves. After a while, you feel
like if you just confess, they'll turn the light out and leave you alone. Even if you
didn't stick up the 7-11.
Vin Scully is getting old. Chick Hearn
is gone. The Apple Pan and Musso & Frank's can't possibly last. Philippe's is
often messy and the sandwiches are smaller. Chinatown is Vietnamesetown. Chasen's is a
distant memory. Otto's, perhaps the nicest bar in town, and for years the choice of
concertgoers and L.A. Philharmonic musicians, is replaced by a pretentious and expensive
chain. Esa-Pekka Salonen, the obscenely hyped L.A. Philharmonic conductor, has zero
affinity for music of the heart. He is a technician, a sound fetishist. The Dodgers have
become a pick-up team of trades and castoffs, with a couple of heroic pitchers.
Only about five people in all of L.A. take this
place seriously as a community. One of them is the superbly prepared and poised host of
KPCC's "Air Talk," Larry Mantle. Another is cornpone Huell Howser of KCET. You
want to kind of whisper in their ears, "psst---nobody cares."
The local paper puts local news in section two.
Then, of course, there are massive
supermarket and transit strikes. Who'd have thought that Wal-Mart would scare the
health care out of Ralphs, Albertsons, and Vons? That the insanely expensive Red Line,
Blue Line, Gold Line, and Green Line would all be off-line?
That's just for starters.
Beat-up crackerbox houses from the 1950s sell
for half a million bucks. And those are the ones under flight paths or fifty feet from
freeways. Main arteries are so choked that traffic long ago spilled into quiet
neighborhoods---which are now riddled with speedbumps, fleeing pedestrians, frantic
shortcut-searching drivers, and double-paned glass. Stop signs are regarded as an affront
to freedom. The freeways are an oxymoron; dead-stopped at any time, day or night, weekends
included. Nobody knows their names anymore---they're only numbers.
This town is toast. L.A. has more
faults than faultlines. The entire city is in a state of character assassination;
once-quaint districts are rife with garish palaces that are aesthetically competitive with
Turkish bathhouses. Charming cottages and quasi-landmark bungalows are gutted and
converted into towering concrete mausoleums, where self-satisfied residents accumulate stuff
and await death.
The government does nothing to stop or limit
building or density. Developers eschew questions of appearance; plain concrete boxes eat
every available inch of lot space. Massive Playa Vista is as ugly and unnecessary an
addition to L.A. as Arnold Schwarzenegger; it is an instant Yupster ghetto that will spawn
untold gridlock and, no doubt, a thriller starring the surgically reconstituted Meg Ryan.
The Dodgers are now owned by Boston real estate
developer Frank McCourt---who, in all probability, will tear down Dodger Stadium in favor
of. . .towering concrete mausoleums. Realtor Alan Casden, who tried to buy the stadium in
order to build towering concrete mausoleums, is hailed as a local hero for having built or
acquired about 90,000 artery-clogging apartments. Average rent for tiny one-bedrooms:
Mayor James Yawn wants to spend a
billion or two to rebuild Los Angeles International Airport. Why, I don't know. Two blocks
from his office, thousands of people continue to live in cardboard boxes, existing largely
on a diet of trash can pizza crust, heroin, crack, and Mickey's Big Mouths. Much of
downtown is being "gentrified" with "lofts" for the fabulously
The architecturally vulgar and elitist new $270
million concert hall is named after that great composer, Walt Disney. The new $250 million
downtown cathedral looks like a giant crematorium. The Lakers play in a joint named after
a stationery store. Amusement park architecture abounds, from Universal City to the Third
Street Promenade to The Grove in Beverly Hills. Mini-malls are neither mini, nor malls.
Everything looks designed for children.
Packs of feral pit bull terriers, Rottweilers,
doberman pinschers---castoffs and offspring of pets---roam south-central, ever in search
of fresh mailman or schoolkid. Packs of feral SUVs and convertible Mustangs roam the rest
of the city, full of glinting teeth, cell phones, lattes, guns, and facelifts. And rap
basses that leave you jolted awake at 3 a.m., shouting "earthquake!"
The new police chief, William Bratton, claimed
he would stop gang warfare by cleaning up graffiti. This past summer, I saw more gang
graffiti than I have ever seen in my life. Bratton now says that after a few months as
chief, he wondered what the hell he was doing here. Fox Eleven reporter John Schwada
recently broke a story about how the Mexican Mafia is deliberately provoking gang warfare,
by hiring non-gang members to plant opposing gangs' graffiti in one another's territory.
A punk crossing the street in front of me a few
months back pulled a pistol out of his pocket, apparently to be impressive. I was
The population of local high schools looks
straight out of penitentiaries. Giant pubescent children with shaved heads and oversized
clothing lurk menacingly on streetcorners, exhibiting all the psychological sophistication
of . . .feral pit bull terriers, Rottweilers, and doberman pinschers. Scold them for not
moving aside on a sidewalk, and you take your life in your hands.
A PBS documentary recently
followed some Venice High School students (my beloved alma mater!) through a typical day.
They said they attended class "to come down off my high" and get gossip. One
revealed his life's aim of becoming a sniper, saying he wanted to join the army because it
would be "so cool" to go to Iraq and "snipe someone."
Shaq and Kobe can't stand each other.
Well, I ramble. But my friend from the Midwest
wanted to know how bad it is here, right? Oh, wait a second. I read his next sentence.
He meant the fires!
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