What's wrong with this picture…

I’ve been reading about the anthology Yes Means Yes on Bitch PhD. I think, despite the fact that just yesterday I started (but did not finish) a blog post about my large stack of unfinished projects and books, that I need a copy of this book pronto. I almost ordered it online last night but then decided maybe I should use my purchasing power to actually support a physical bookstore in my community and so I put off the purchase with the intention of popping over to Vroman’s for it at some point. Then this morning while I was stuck in traffic on Sepulveda I thought “Oh, I should just stop by a bookstore in Westwood during lunch and pick it up there.” The logic in my brain was 1) Westwood is the neighborhood adjacent to UCLA 2) UCLA is a University 3) Universities are surrounded by bookstores 4) Thus Westwood has bookstores. While point 3 might be true in a sort of vague general sense, it is not true of UCLA. Here we have the UCLA bookstore (which doesn’t have Yes Means Yes, I checked), a mystery bookstore (and while it might be a mystery to me why female sexuality is so fraught with BS in our society, I don’t think the bookstore in question would see it as part of the genre), and a Borders far enough down Westwood Blvd that I’d either have to take a really long lunch or drive there (and really if I’m going to support Borders I might as well order online from an independent bookstore somewhere else). I guess I’ll be making a pilgrimage to Vroman’s some night this week after all. Here’s hoping that the women’s studies section is far enough from the gardening and crochet sections that I am not lured into their grips. I think their gardening section must have some sort of gravitational field going or something, as it’s very hard not to get pulled in.

Meanwhile (and somewhat related to the book in question) I’m listening to the Taj Mahal album my mother owned while I was in high school. At the time I absolutely hated this album, not due to the musical style, but because of the song “Big Legged Mamas are Back in Style Again.” At 14 or 15 years old I was seriously offended by this objectification of fat women (I felt the same way about “Baby Got Back” for what that’s worth; but that at least I didn’t have to encourage my mother not to play at home). Of course, looking back, it’s absolutely hilarious that I thought of myself as being part of the mentioned demographic since at my heaviest I think I was 145 pounds (which at almost 5’10” would have put me on the slightly low side of normal weight). Moreover, fifteen years or so later, I have to agree with my mother that whatever problems one might have with songs objectifying women, extending some appreciation to non-stick-figures is a very very good thing indeed.

Still in Hollywood (well, within 20 miles of hollywood, close enough)

People sometimes ask me what it is that I like about living in L.A. (usually in conversation where I have just admitted that I thought I’d hate it here when I moved but quickly came to love it). Of course there is one obvious answer. It’s about 68 degrees today and while it is hotter in the summertime than some other places in the country it’s also less humid. So when you sweat it actually evaporates and cools your body off the way it’s supposed to.

There’s more to love about LA than just weather but it’s sometimes hard to convey. I have long likened feelings for cities to romantic relationships. Along those lines one might describe LA as the brilliant, interesting, and kind boyfriend who somehow can never hold down a job and is always leaving his underwear on your floor and his dishes in your sink. Your friends can’t understand why you don’t kick him to the curb but you can’t imagine how you’d live without him. Sure things would be cleaner and you’d have more money if he were gone, but life would be less interesting and exciting.

This analogy came to me a week or so ago as I was coming home from work, sitting in stop and go traffic on the 405 coming out of Westwood into the valley. The 405 is one of those freeways that you can pretty much guarantee will throw a monkey wrench into your commute. It’s the metaphoric equivalent of a moldy bowl that probably once contained cereal festering in your sink. Usually I forego the freeway in favor of the slightly less direct–but often faster–Sepulveda Boulevard. Sepulveda is a lovely drive in its own right, meandering slightly with hills rising off to one side. The 405, though, is a beautiful sight, if you can just let go of your frustrations with traffic long enough to appreciate it. One of the reasons this particular stretch of freeway is so crowded is that it’s one of the few routes through the Santa Monica Mountains. At 4:30 in the afternoon in January that means golden light of a sun about to set lighting up the hills rising on either side of you as you creep toward the top. And when you finally crest the hill you are greeted by the spreading vista of the San Fernando Valley.

I have heard people complain that Los Angeles isn’t green. I will acknowledge that this is probably somewhat true of the less prosperous neighborhoods but in general I find that my complaints tend to run the other way (too much of the city is falsely green due to heroic efforts to keep turf-grass healthy in an environment not suited to lawns in the least). Aside from my ire about the constant use of sprinklers, though, I have to say there is something magical to me about the view from freeways (or the view from a landing plane) of city stretching out in all directions until it is checked by the hills. The city is nestled within the confines of the geography, having started as a small pueblo along the LA river (which I am lead to believe once actually contained water before it was lined with concrete and fell victim to the water needs of the city). No one in their right mind would have planned such a large city on such unfriendly terrain. But yet here we are.

And I think sometimes what I love most about LA is the improbability of the whole thing. It is a city built on shifting ground, punctuated by two mountain ranges (and plenty of other hills), with very little fresh water and almost zero precipitation for seven months of the year. At the same time it is a city where you can hear three languages while waiting for a bus or standing in line at the grocery store, a city where you can find food from almost anywhere in the world (though I’m still on the hunt for authentic Puerto Rican, having gotten a taste of what I’m missing on the east coast a few years back).

I think it is fair to say that Los Angeles embodies everything that is wrong with our society: the lack of foresight; the careless assumptions of human superiority and invincibility; the divisions among the haves, the have-less, and the have-nots; the tendency toward selfish individualism. But at the same time the city is a monument to the hope, ingenuity, and folly that characterizes our species. I think what I love most about LA is the way that it constantly reminds me how small we are, and how big we are, all at once.

You might be a gardener if….

Earlier this week I had what I, upon waking, immediately characterized as a nightmare. In the dream I woke up and looked out my bedroom window to see a backyard lightly covered in white flecks. Snow. Overnight temperatures below freezing. Somehow in the dream the front of the house and the back were different microclimates because while it had only snowed in back, in front there was snow and freezing rain. It was a day when I had to go to work so you might think that the nightmarish part of this dream would be driving across the city in freezing rain (which sounds practically suicidal to my wide-awake self since around here just regular rain makes for a stupidly treacherous commute). But it wasn’t the danger of death by SUV-driver who’s never seen an icy road that left me crying hysterically in this dream. No it was the fact that I hadn’t known it was going to snow and hadn’t covered the peppers I’m overwintering or brought in my potted tomatoes. My entire garden was ruined! I sobbed and sobbed over the death of all those plants.

Of course it is always possible that my garden might succumb to a sort of similar fate. A few years ago we actually did have nightime temperatures low enough to result in frost and Earl kitty’s water dish freezing (he was still an outdoor cat at the time). If it gets that cold, though, I can probably save the potted plants by moving them into the garage. I’d probably also try to save the peppers by way of protective blankets. But even if everything currently in the ground died it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

I definitely don’t miss cold winters. And you couldn’t pay me enough to drive across L.A. in freezing rain. But I think awake-me has a better grip on what constitutes real tragedy than dream-me does. Of course if those tomato plants were actually strong producers instead of borderline failures I might feel differently.

Related fragments of reflection

Five years ago I wrote the following lines in a poem:

The Santa Ana winds
always leave me reeling in fever
unable to sleep.

This might explain why today I feel as if I spent last night partying despite having really had a quiet evening watching TV and folding laundry. I keep slipping into a zombified haze of reflection, despite attempts to actually be productive and make progress on one of my current projects. Of course it isn’t just the winds. Air quality is also lousy as a result of various fires and my throat is dry and scratchy. Lately the phone conversations with my mother start out “so are the current fires anywhere near you?”

Last week I started a job which involves a commute to UCLA three days a week. I’m still figuring out the best time to make the commute within the constraints of a normal workday. Meanwhile I have realized that it has been way too long since I swapped the CDs in my car for something new. Most of what is there is from a hard time in my life and brings with it interesting memories.

Continue reading “Related fragments of reflection”

By the People…

Sometime between now and whenever I go to vote tomorrow I need to figure out how to vote on the seven propositions on the ballot (as near as I can tell those are the only ones I need to worry about since Prop S doesn’t seem to be on the ballot in Altadena). My polling place is within an easy walking distance so I will probably postpone much of this though and research until tomorrow morning and then take a nice stroll to vote, get lunch, and wander around enough to declare it a day I exercised.

I try not to be politically apathetic. I really do but all too often the ballots are overwhelming and I end just guessing on a lot of it. While that’s perhaps not a bad strategy for your average multiple choice tests it seems like a lousy strategy when the test is “what do you want politics to look like for the next X years.” In some sense I think voting blindly is really worse than not voting at all so I often skip things that I haven’t had a chance to research, particularly if they’re non-partisan positions where I’d be voting based on something utterly arbitrary like gender or how melodious the names are. Continue reading “By the People…”

Smells Like Teen Spirit Testosterone

I commute 60 miles round trip on days when I go to campus. I’m pretty careful about avoiding the times with the worst traffic, but it still works out to somewhere between an hour and a half and two hours in the car. Lately I’ve decided I’m sick and tired of the selection of CDs I have stored in the sidepocket of my door (don’t bother breaking into my car, they’re almost all CDRs from emusic, and I have weird taste) so I’ve switched to radio. It turns out, though, that there aren’t that many stations that I like that actually come in consistently all the way from Altadena to Westwood. So I’ve settled on KROQ. They advertise themselves as the “World famous KROQ” and “LA and O.C.’s only new rock.” I can only conclude from the latter that rock is dead, or at least half dead. Large quantities of the music that gets played regularly is stuff I know from high school. The DJs seem to have a particular penchant for the black Metallica album. I imagine if you listened more regularly than I do it would only take about a week to hear the whole damn album. (The heavy play might be attributable to last year’s live album but I’ve heard songs that don’t appear to be on that album so it doesn’t explain it all). To put this in perspective, if I had had a kid when I was listening to that album obsessively, that kid would now be older than I was then. Add to this the fact that they play a lot of Green Day and Smashing Pumpkins and Red Hot Chili peppers and I started to suspect that their main demographic wasn’t 16 year olds but rather 20- and 30- somethings nostalgic for when they were 16. Of course this suggests that I have no clue whatsoever what “kids these days” listen to. But I’m ok with that. Continue reading “Smells Like Teen Spirit Testosterone”

Musical Gentrification or Cleaning up the City One Neighborhood at a Time

Yesterday’s LA Times has an article about the effects of police efforts to curb crime in the part of downtown known as skid row. The claim is that since last fall when LAPD increased the number of officers in the area and put an effort into reducing crime downtown the homeless in skid row have migrated to other areas of the city, particularly those accessible by bus. This apparently is putting a large strain on the service providers to the west and south of downtown. Arguably, “cleaning up” downtown is a positive thing. A close friend used to live in the loft building on the corner of 4th and Main, which borders on skid row. It was a scary neighborhood. And I say that as someone with a pretty high neighborhood tolerance. Nonetheless, despite thinking that downtown could benefit a lot by a reduction in crime, I’m not at all heartened by the LAPD strategy. Nor do I find the dispersing effect it seems to have surprising.

I do find this story amusing in a sort of tragically ironic sort of way. I haven’t been in LA long enough to make claims with any certainty about the reasons for the existence of skid row. However, from what I have seen, it seems that part of the process has involved “cleaning up” other areas of the city and pushing the most vulnerable towards downtown. It appears to me that many homeless have migrated downtown as they have been pushed out of places like the part of Hollywood near the Hollywood & Highland complex (home to the kodak theatre). Hand in hand with the cleaning up of other neighborhoods comes the dumping, done by hospitals, service organizations, and LAPD itself, of homeless individuals into skid row. The friend who used to live in the area was pretty convinced that the city was happy to just shove all the problems into skid row and forget about them.

Needless to say, this is not an effective way to address the problem of homelessness. One service provider characterizes the strategy as “the leaf-blower mentality” asserting that increasing police activity without increasing housing and other services is just going to move the population around without changing anything. Enforcing laws against sleeping on the street in an area that is essentially a city of tents and cardboard boxes at night is a laughably simplistic way of dealing with the problem. The same can be said for increasing the number of drug-related arrests. Both possibilities are simply bandaids over gaping wounds.

That said I do feel a bit of sympathy for those in the police force having to make decisions about how to deal with skid row. No matter what LAPD chooses to do, they aren’t actually going to have much effect on the very serious problem of homelessness in this city. There is nothing, really, that LAPD can do aside from trying to deal with the crime in the area. Though I will note that the logic of this quote threw me: “Officials said they expected the police presence would lead to more arrests but not reduce the overall homeless population, which they said is benefiting from safer streets.”

In the end this isn’t a problem that’s going to go away until we a) have sufficient affordable housing and b) deal with the systematic factors that are associated with the particular challenges (such as substance abuse) that homeless individuals are so likely to be dealing with. We do an extremely lousy job in this country of dealing with mental health issues (not to mention a lousy job of dealing with physical health issues for the poor). And we do a lousy job of providing services for veterans. And honestly, though I don’t have citations on hand to back me up, I think these two factors are a huge part of the trends in homelessness. In the meantime I don’t much like the idea of a homeless ghetto (which is really what skid row is/was) but I don’t think that dispersing people away from the biggest concentration of homeless services in the city is a dramatically better idea.

No Clemency

I wish I had something insightful to say about Schwarzenegger’s decision to deny clemency to Stanley Tookie Williams. For me it comes down fundamentally to the fact that I am firmly against the death penalty. Given that, I need not delve any deeper into the questions of guilt vs. innocence or whether Williams has legitimately changed. But this case makes me sad at a deep level because it is not just a question of the morality of state sanctioned killing. For me there is something much deeper to this than just the case of a man convicted of murder who will be put to death by a criminal system structured around revenge rather than reformation.

Surrounding all of this are the realities of race and class hierarchies in this country. Williams is a founder of the Crips. Given that fact, it is perhaps easy to understand the bloodlust that this case seems to inspire for some. But it ignores the question of how gangs form and survive in the first place. It’s not my area of expertise so I can’t lay out all the forces involved. But I will suggest that perhaps when society denies you access to resources and infastructure it is logical to form social structures that give you access to other resources. Too often it seems to me that the way violence and crime gets talked falls back to the assumption of actual equality, both under law and in a the reality of day-to-day living. It always surprises me when people assume that all that is necessary to get out of poverty is the desire to get out of poverty. As if somehow wanting an education will change the quality of the school system you are in (on this one I can assure you from my own experience that it does not). As if somehow wanting a job will change the labor market you are in. It’s a pervasive myth. And a dangerous one.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not arguing that we should shrug our shoulders at the activities of gangs. But I think discussions of these things need to face the realities of what the choices for young men of color in poor urban areas are. These boys are not making the choice between gang life and a job on wall street. But who am I kidding? It is precisely the ability to stick your head in the sand that race and class privilege buys.

Tonight I am sad, and angry. I am also mildly concerned that other people’s sadness and anger may be expressed as violence (lots of my friends seem a bit concerned about violence in my neighborhood and surrounding areas but my fear is more generic than personal; perhaps this is naive) . I’m not normally the type to pray in recognizable ways. But tonight I will light a candle and hope.

Historical subdivision?

I live near downtown L.A. in a beautiful reasonably well-maintained Victorian house (see photo). It really is lovely, and it makes me very happy to live here. Our lovely, well-maintained house, however, is flanked by two horrendously dilapidated houses. Since I don’t actually own property, the state of the neighboring houses is only a concern in the sense that for my own comfort I’d rather they not become home to squatters, etc. Actually one of the properties came preloaded with a squatter, a tenant who stuck around after the former owner was indicted for being a slum lord. He lives in an RV in the abandoned lot that adjoins the property and is a bit eccentric, but seemingly harmless.

Until recently the condition of the neighboring properties was not much of a concern. In the past few weeks, however, the new owner of the next door has started remodeling, or should we say gutting, the house. This is annoying due to the noise, but overall an acceptable thing to do with a dilapidated house that one owns. Except two weeks ago he began redoing the roof, at 7 a.m. on a Sunday. I wasn’t actually present for this event but apparently it was loud. Also, apparently illegal. I guess doing this sort of work on a Sunday is illegal (but yet Christians claim their beliefs are persecuted, no comment). The neighbor across the street called the police. Turns out the reroofing of the house hasn’t been approved. At this point the neighbor who called the police tells my roommates that we should show up at the planning meeting where the roof will be discussed.

And thus I found myself Tuesday night in the office space of one of the neighborhood realtors sitting on an uncomfortable bench with one of my roommates. Our house is in a Historical Preservation Overlay Zone, which I would have thought a priori would be something I would approve of. But I left the meeting rather troubled. Being in an HPOZ means that anything that’s done to the outside of one of these old houses has to be approved by the board (I don’t know what the date cut off is, but their authority extends at least to building built into the 1920s or 30s). It’s not like the system elsewhere where you only have to worry if your property is on the historic registry (which generally means its in reasonably good condition anyway, and someone in its ownership trajectory had a personal commitment to its historical value). No, the zones were established by the city. As near as I can tell there’s no way to opt out (short of selling off your property and leaving the zone). And while existing non-historically accurate features are grandfathered in, once you start doing any work on the exterior you’re stuck doing it in a historically accurate way.

The board is made up of architects and planning folks. Some of whom live in the neighborhood. The chair person described the whole process of board selection, but I don’t remember the details. Suffice to say, people with an interest in preservation, at least some of whom also have personal interest in the neighborhood itself. As she was pointing out the residency requirement she noted “so it has a very community feel.” Funny. The people sitting around that table didn’t look anything at all like how I think of this community. First, this community is not a majority white community. And it isn’t composed solely of monolingual English speakers (ok, to be fair some of the board might speak a second language, but I’m willing to bet that English is a first and dominate language for all except possibly the one of them with the Spanish-origin surname). Second, this community is not predominately middle-class, though the proximity to a University means there are incursions. So yeah, forgive me if I felt the only contribution of a “community feel” came from the non-board community members present.

First up on the agenda was the owner of the house next door. My first thought when he started talking was to wonder if translation is available for those homeowners in the area who are not capable of communicating with the board in English. Of course, economic realities being what they are, most of the actual property owners probably are at least fluent enough in English to get by. But one does wonder about provisions for those who are not (and while we’re talking about access, let’s note that the meeting was held in a second floor room accessible only by a set of stairs with an extremely flimsy handrailing that could not actually be used by anyone needing something they could put weight on). Now I’m not going to throw too much support in the direction of this man since it does strike me that he pulled down the roof without permit in a blatant move to guarantee that the board would let him reroof. And there’s something about the man that suggests to me that he might not be a significantly better landlord than the notorious slumlord before him. Still, I have to wonder about a process wherein you need to get permission for your choice of color and material for shingles.

I’m torn. I love these old buildings. I love our porch (which would have been replaced with something much less historically appropriate were it not for the intervention of the HPOZ board) but I have a bit of a problem with the level of control over private property. Usually I’m not of a rabidly individualistic bent. I have libertarian sympathies sometimes, but fundamentally I think for society to function as society there needs to be some attention paid to the good of the collective. But the problem here is that good that is in question is property values. And as much as I’m in favor of thinking about the well-being of the collective, and even the economic well-being of the collective, I have deep problems with the notion that I am obligated to follow certain aesthetic patterns on my property in order to increase the value of yours. I understand that this is, in part, about historical preservation, a love for the past. But the “quality” of a block was invoked at one point during the meeting. And it sent my hackles up.

The couple after our deroofing neighbor claims to have been unaware of the rules of the HPOZ. So they tore down their old porch and started building a new one, without a permit. Granted, had they pulled a permit the way they were supposed to they would have discovered the need to approach the board before doing anything. But right now they’re in the position of having to tear down the new porch they started and start over, in a more historically accurate (and much more expensive) way. It’s just a guess, but I’m betting their budget doesn’t have much room to allow that.

Throughout the whole thing I was a bit uncomfortable but it wasn’t until the third person on the agenda that I realized what it felt like. They were telling him that he had to get paint colors approved, was required to use three colors, etc. And suddenly I felt like I was in the sprawling subdivisions of suburbia, where the board determines that your ranch house (one of four possible designs) must be painted in one of the six community approved colors. And again, I have to admit that a priori I would think that I would be in favor of historical preservation. But there is something about a table of middle-class white people telling a room half full of non-middle class, non-white people what to do with their property that just doesn’t sit well. I can forgive the draconian subdivisions. At least there the boards choosing the range of allowable colors really are representative of the community as a whole. At least there you choose to buy that property with the knowledge of the rules. But here the board is not really OF the communi
ty even if some of them live IN the community. What’s more, at least some of these property owners didn’t opt in. And that strikes me as problematic.

I also wonder if the end goal is well-served by this strategy. It strikes me that the incentives get a little weird in this situation. If you don’t do anything to your property you’re not subject to the jurisdiction of the HPOZ board. But as soon as you start doing any changes, you have to face the board (which means all projects become dramatically more expensive). So basically what we have is an incentive to let your old Victorian house descend into disrepair. Now granted, it’s not that simple since there’s a built in incentive (in the form of your own property value) to make improvements in the ways that the board leads you. But ultimately there’s a payoff question, and particularly for the absentee landlord types (the vast majority of these houses are subdivided) the incentive not to improve is likely higher than the incentive to improve. And hence, the neighborhood retains its gritty slum character despite the gentrifying force of the HPOZ.

I know a middle-class white academic who owns property in the neighborhood. One thing she noted in a discussion about this is that her neighbors who are not middle-class whites don’t seem to have the same aesthetic appreciation for the old houses. And I think it’s worth pointing out that these are Victorian houses, hence by default this is a white upper class aesthetic we are attempting to protect. I’m just saying….

It’s not that I’m against preservation of history (though I’m not sure I believe there’s any inherent need to do so on a grand scale for reasons other than aesthetic ones). I just am suspicious of placing the cost for that preservation on individuals who don’t necessarily benefit from it. If we agree that this is a public good, the cost should be distributed. If we don’t agree that preservation is a public good, then it shouldn’t be legally required. Mostly, my issue is that this seems to be something imposed upon the neighborhood from the outside and the people enforcing the rules are not the ones subject to the cost. And I can’t shake the feeling that this whole thing was probably put together by politicians who wouldn’t be caught dead here.

Neighborhood Effects

I’ve been thinking a lot about community. Last week I voted in the L.A. mayorial election. I didn’t really have a deep attachment to either candidate, but I couldn’t help but think that I should at least pretend to walk my talk and focus on local issues rather than letting national ones eclipse everything else.

I walked to my polling place. I have a friend who insists that voting in person is more civic and community minded than voting absentee. I decided to take his argument one step further. It’s not just about seeing the people in your polling place at the time you vote. It’s about seeing the people in your community. Who is out on the street. What do the blocks between here and there look like.

I don’t walk much in L.A. (Don’t even start with the song lyrics. “Nobody walks in LA” is utter bullshit; in poor neighborhoods lots and lots of people walk). I used to walk more in my old neighborhood since there was a drug store within a few blocks. But even there once I got my car, I stopped being locally self-locomoting.

I’d forgotten how different neighborhoods feel on the ground. I know the blocks around my house well enough. I’ve explored a little there. I walk to the 7-11 on occasion (too often, though, I drive… to buy ice cream… how sad). But I almost never cross Hoover. The neighborhood West of Hoover is ever so slightly sketchier than the blocks around our place. I can’t point to anything solid that makes me less comfortable in that segment of the neighborhood than my own, but even were it closer I wouldn’t walk to La Barca (our favorite neighborhood Mexican restaurant) at night, whereas I have walked over to 7-11 after dark with only a minor fluttering of nerves (and anger at a world that makes walking at night such an issue for me). But, at 5 in the evening with bright LA sunshine beating down, there was no reason to think that I’d have any problems going to vote.

So I headed out. And it was an interesting adventure. Just after I crossed Hoover a car drove past and honked. I looked up and the (male) driver waved. I was mildly put out about this. I hate being forced into street interactions with men I don’t know. I hate the presumption that somehow my mere existence in the world should somehow satisfy their sexual needs, if only verbally. I hate being drug into interaction. So I was a bit annoyed at Mr. Honk&Wave. Of course I was grateful it had just been a way and not a “hey baby” yelled out the window. As far as creepiness goes it was largely innocous.

And so I kept walking. It’s important, perhaps, to note that I am not the majority demographic in my neighborhood. I am white, appear vaguely middle-class, and speak English as my first language. The neighborhood is predominantly immigrant Latinos. The houses are run down and it isn’t uncommon to see men in front yards working on cars. It’s a very comfortable neighborhood to me because I grew up in a rural working class environment and somehow, despite the radical differences between there and here, this neighborhood feels like home.

After voting I came back up a different street. I was quite content and relaxed, enjoying the sunshine and the breeze. I passed a man hauling a refrigerator. He paused and moved slightly to the side so I could pass. Without thinking about it I murmured “gracias” as I slid past. (He had spoken in Spanish to two women blocking the sidewalk). I rounded the corner and my breath was taken away by murals that I had never really registered on the side of the corner building. How many times have I driven past those paintings without a second glance? I am obsessed with mural art, and so I paused to take in the colors (and wished I had my camera in hand).

Walking up the street I was surprised by the number of dogs. Lots of barking as I passed. “Beware of Dog” signs. In some sense I could understand why people would be nervous on these streets. Decaying houses, barking dogs, working class men out on the street (who regardless of ethnicity do tend to come off as more threatening than middle class men). But I felt entirely content and comfortable.

As I came up toward a driveway a man crossed in front of me, heading up the driveway. He looked my way and said hello. It was something that would normally annoy me, make me feel put upon with its presumptiousness. I think he said “how’s it going.” Before I could even open my mouth to answer he had turned his head back to his own path and was going about his business. Not an insistence upon interaction, merely an acknowledgement of my presence. I was oddly comforted.

I came to the corner. A car was waiting at the stop sign to turn left. I paused to let him pass, but he waved me across. As he turned he smiled and said something out his open window. I couldn’t hear him well enough to understand what he said. But oddly I didn’t care. I just smiled in response and turned away.

It struck me suddenly that what felt right about all these interactions was that they were simply friendly. Growing up I was used to waving at people as they passed. If you drive past a neighbor’s house and they are outside you wave, whether you know them well or not. This felt like that. Somehow even Mr. Honk&Wave felt almost like that. And I felt utterly unthreatened.

Saturday I walked to the corner store to buy some orange juice. The cashier asked me “do you need a bag sweetheart” when I paid for the juice. I smile and told her no. On my walk back I passed a group of three women in conversation who said hello to me.

It is an odd feeling. But somehow it is like this little section of LA is it’s own small town. Except less restrictive because none of these people actually know me.