Sunday, August 09, 2009


Street hawkers are commonplace in Mexico's 32nd estado, aka the eastern end of the Los Angeles coastal basin.  Vendors sell grilled corn, pork rinds, roses, even manure, from trucks, stands, handcarts and bicycles.  Most wide-spread of the "informal economic practices" are the tamale outcriers--typically women, pushing cooler or tamalera (steaming pot) laden shopping carts stocked with masa morsels.

The tamales come wrapped in corn husks or plantain leaves (a tropical variant), generally filled with chicken or pork in either a green or red sauce.  Tamale peddlers commonly offer Atole or Champurrado, a maize-based hot chocolate-like beverage as well; and, sweet tamales (de dulce) around holiday seasons.

The tamales are mostly fixed in large batches by groups of four and five women--sometimes extended family, who pool expenses and divide territory, beginning before sunrise (though meat fillings are often prepared the night before), for morning distribution, breakfast or merendar, a holdover tied to the disappearing Mexican practice of a substantial, late lunch.

Some critics fear the safety of unregulated fare and a few efforts (notably around MacArthur Park where a co-op kitchen operates; image left) have been made to register vendors.  Others associate a street transaction with a measure of cultural authenticity, and as a class equalizing measure.
The going street rate is a buck a piece, with discounts in bulk.  


Monday, April 20, 2009

Walkabout Closets?

Bedrooms serving as closets, er--dressing rooms, once seemed supremely decadent, reserved for fashion professionals and the wardrobe department. Now, despite a consumerist backlash, they're practically commonplace.
The ultimate walk-in and the latest of status wrinkles, with full length mirrors, center islands and jewelry organizers, cedar-lined, or finished like a ballpark locker room.

Typically the smallest of the second floor bedrooms is conscripted, sometimes augmented by de-partitioned adjoining space, a hall or linen closet, or even the landing of a back stairway.

The smart aleck would suppose I've been encamped in Fremont Place (seldom) or the homes of wealthy gay men (more often); but, likely it has something to do with shrinking household size. Demographers predict within ten years, the most common household type in the United States will people living alone.

I guess fewer tykes, equals more togs.
Or just better display.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Bicycles, tricked out scrapers and retro cruisers, carbon fiber fantasies and e-bikes, have become the latest fashion accessory, runway set pieces, celebrated by the Sartorialist, with fenders fashioned of bamboo and luggage racks fit for Louis Vuitton.

But the homemade bicycle, the arty ride, has always been a mix-or-match proposition in the bar-etto, where a "masser" might be confused for an aggressive lothario and a cyclo-commute sounds like something to do with particles.

These are just the sardines, traveling between work and home, neither to subvert or disrupt, nor in support of Tibet. They haven't a Maybach in the garage, or a bouncy pad in the Oaks; and, they ain't freshmen. They've merely personalized their ride, injected a little art into the "get there" machines.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Halloween 2008

Trick-or-treating ain't what it used to be, and not for mean streets, though fear trumps fact. On Halloween night, most houses present an unlit, non-participatory facade.
The demographics help explain why. Only about one-third of American households include children under 18, down from nearly half in 1950. On my block, only five households in 40 host young'uns full time.

In large parts of the city that sort of simple head count is anything but simple. The children of the well-to-do and middle-class are nearly invisible. Kids are shuttled to far-away alternative learning institutions or activities, where they spend dawn to dusk. Better than 50% are enrolled in after-school programs according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Unstructured outside play has disappeared in all but subsistence level neighborhoods*.

I was asked once by a parent, "if the neighborhood was safe enough for her kids to play outside."
"It's as safe as the next neighborhood," I responded, and in a reckless moment continued, "but since when do kids have time to play outside? Mine's in school till 3:30, with swimming or music lessons thereafter, homework to complete, dinner to eat, and a bath to take. Bedtimes's 8 pm."
"Gee," the parent responded after a moment, "I guess our schedule's about the same. Maybe on a weekend or during the summer, when they're not in camp or visiting relatives?"
"Maybe," I answered, "but with whom?"

*Traditional family values, in many forms, are most alive in the 'hood/barrio.


Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Owl Decoys

There's something laudable about owl decoys, a popular form of pigeon control. Simple genius I suppose, a comic ruse, the scarecrow re-cast.

Most are stationed in shadowy eaves, atop knee braces, or at a gable's peak.

Largely made of molded or inflatable plastic, many are fastened at a base, others are tethered, and sway with the wind.

By all accounts the ploy works, though often only for a time, as even pigeons eventually get wise to an unchanging owl. Accordingly, some homeowners move their great horned helpers around, or employ multiple models (a parliament, as the collective noun goes).

In neighborhoods where home prices are higher, the owls may be high-tech, battery powered models with motion detectors, a swiveling head and lit eyes.

Other home owners favor plastic snakes.

Either way, a pretty green solution.


Friday, October 10, 2008


I don't much trust sprinklers. I've heard the party line: properly installed, they're the most efficient means of watering. But what I see is the broken head, a geyser-like spout, water pooling in driveways, and along foundations, spilling over sidewalks, waterlogged, rotten clapboard, a play hazard.

Maybe I'm dissembling--it's about the grass. Everything's about the grass.

I got no beef with drip systems.


Tuesday, October 07, 2008

More Barrio Services

The urban commercial landscape is ever changing. The video rental businesses of 15 years ago have been replaced by cell phone stores, the function halls of social clubs now host charter schools, the skateboard shops of the 1970's have been given over to...the skateboard shops of the present?!

Many insiders credit the marketing efforts of the late 1990's with this retail explosion, new skate idols like Tony Hawk and the X-games as well as a law that shielded cities from the liability issues present in skatepark operation. Whatever the case, Skateboards shops (and bike shops) have multiplied, particularly in neighborhoods of mixed color.

The outgrowth of that diversity is on display. A recent issue of Skateboarding magazine featured Asian, Latin, African-American, and Brazilian riders amongst others. Filmmaker Larry Clark's 2006 release Wassup Rockers, followed a group of Hispanic "grommets" or young skaters from South Los Angeles.

For some Hispanic youth, the skateboarding sub-culture has become an expression of rebellion, more American (and more alien to their parents) than beisbol, or rock-and-roll.


Saturday, September 06, 2008

Tour de Ghetto (Part 2)

While excitement builds in anticipation of the Expo Line and the expansion of intra-urban passenger train service in L.A., the bike militia are similarly stirred by Expo Line "extras." Billed as a transit parkway, the Exposition Boulevard right-of-way will also feature bike and pedestrian paths, not unlike the Orange Line, or Valley busway.

Class 1 bikeways, exempt from motor vehicles, enjoy heavy use in Los Angeles County, particularly the 6 mile Ballona Creek path and the 22 mile beach lane from Will Rodgers to Rancho Seaside.
Most feel safer on these auto emancipated facilities; and yet, some research suggests that accident rates are the same or even greater (than on accompanying full purpose roads). Still, because these routes eliminate many traffic interruptions, they allow cyclists to cover longer distances more quickly, a key inducement.

While the green benefits of cycling are typically hailed, a competing opinion, argues that diverting street space for cyclists (via bike lanes or exclusive parkways), could cause more traffic for the auto majority, more idling, and more pollution.

In the continuing transit options debate (and Westside subway proposals), I would link always bikeways with light rail and existing rights of way. While a Wilshire Boulevard extension might achieve the highest ridership, I would instead exploit broad medians (San Vicente, Burton Way, Hyde Park, Century Blvd., etc), remnants of the Pacific Electric Red Car and Los Angeles Railway Yellow Car systems. The MTA owns over 250 miles of former railroad rights of way, and their estimated light rail construction costs are 80% less than subways. I'm betting ridership projections (not to mention the "network effects") of five lines, would dwarf those of one, the Wilshire/Purple Line extension.

Plus, we'd get more bike paths!


Thursday, August 14, 2008

Tour de Ghetto Part 1

More people are riding bicycles in Los Angeles. I'm sure of it.

At least down my street. As I stare out the large picture window of my home office, lost in composition, cyclists pedal past.

I don't think our transit woes can be solved by cycling. Commute distances, site visits, the need to transport materials, wear a suit, foil the flywheel. It's also hard for many to feel secure cycling around LA, or any big American city for that matter.

Nor do I think buses are the answer. Sure they're a more efficient use of resource, ferrying 35; but nothing interrupts traffic flow like a bus, tying up the right hand lane with constant stops and slow starts. City driving rule number one is don't get caught behind a bus.

I'll get nasty notes from the bus riders union now, inverting the status quo (a most endearing quality), faulting instead--and perhaps accurately--the urban haute bourgeois and the auto obsession. They don't strike me as much of a union though, maybe a band or a brotherhood or a loose confederation or something.

I'm riding a bit more myself, mostly along the Ballona Creek (see images), to the beach path, South and North, with a stop for food. Sure my gasoline bill has gone down, but my Cliff Bar bill is way up.


Thursday, January 10, 2008

Who Needs to Shovel Snow?

The L.A. equivalent, frequently bemoaned--at least here. The sweeping of the palm berries, the none too easy disposal of the palm fronds, following a high wind, rain.

Many rush to defend the gawky palm, miscast glamour icon and non-native. Palm defenders don't actually live on palm-lined streets, and they don't have to deal with the berries, tending to every nook and cranny, down chimneys and thru mail slots. A dirtier tree there isn't.

Still I don't call the tree removal service because they're part of the historical landscape, evident in most early photos of the neighborhood.

Under my yet to fructify category, Lifeways, some neighbors spray the apt to germinate palm berries from their lawns following heavy rains, an unfortunate water consuming practice or "give back", negating the conservation benefit of the odd rain. Weeding is not an activity in which they're willing.

Come to mention it, I'm not sure anyone weeds anymore. Gardeners sure don't seem to.

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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Lifeways Part One

More Light Festival images, no relation to text.

Inspired by Allen L's protestations (please see Those Dangerous White Suburbs comments), I invite readers to contribute what cultural anthropologists call Lifeways, a custom, practice, or art, behaviorisms (an approach to psychology that measures observable behavior) particular to their neighborhood. Allen notes wilding dogs cast adrift by indifferent owners, and "mid-streetin'", traffic blocking conversations between motorists.

Lifeways in the center city are evolving, owing in part to technology and unyielding demographic change. The cell phone, for example, has replaced the "ghetto bell", that practice of horn honking to summon passengers.

Ever noisy street vendors have been reinvented, peddling tamales, pork rinds, buttered corn, and even plant food for roses. Fruit sellers encamp at high traffic intersections, hawking oranges by the bag, cut flowers, and salted peanuts.

The Free Gaff or House Party has been replaced by the Fiesta, frequently an indoor-outdoor affair, accompanied by effect lighting, and often preceded by a daytime kiddie bash with requisite Cartoon Network themed jumper.


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Hooray for High Gas Prices--No More Ice Cream Trucks

In my Los Angeles neighborhood the ice cream trucks, despite the lenghtening days, the completion of many school schedules, and the building heat, are absent--what a relief!

I'm sure the hill toppers must think me an awful grouch, celebrating the demise of the Good Humor Man, of American tradition, and summer staple. But when you live in the basin, in "the grid", on a residential street with slower-moving traffic--the ice cream colporteurs are constant. Push carts with bells, converted econolines and vanagons, blanketed in product stickers, or backyard stenciling, streaming sirenous ditties from make-shift audio systems like "Pop Goes the Weasel", or "B-I-N-G-O", luring children to the dairy moonshine of Chocotacos or banana-less splits. For shame.

During peak summer hours, two or three trucks, can sometimes be seen idling up and down the long blocks of the St. Vincent College tract, their big grey frames like so many Walrus on a mating-crazed beach, trolling for packs of complicit, caramel-crazed youth. "Go forth and pressure your conflict averse parents", the icy ayatollahs encourage.

The food pyramid inverted, its tomb raided, the family dinner highjacked, undermined, undone by the pharoahs of fat and the frozen feast. But, no longer! They've been driven from their den like a pack of hunted wolves--by soaring petrol prices, and, and....and....

Maybe the Republicans really are for family values.


Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Vacation Home

More Americans own second homes than ever before. More Americans own third homes than ever before. Yet another sign of the ever-widening gap between rich and poor? Class polarization 101? Tsunami economics?

Among the nation's entire existing housing stock of 115.9 million homes, 6.6 million are vacation homes (according to the National Association of Realtors). In 2005, vacation homes accounted for 13% of total sales volume. It's not just the Martha's Vineyards and the Vail Colorados attracting the second sect either. The majority of vacation homes, according to researchers, are within a two and a half hour drive of an owner's principal residence.

The typical vacation home buyer is reportedly 55 years old, and earns $71K a year. Seventy-one K a year, that ain't exactly Rockerfeller or Snoop Doggy Dogg dinero! So what's fueling this thing?

The trendsmiths attribute portfolio diversification, low interest rates, post 9-11 jitters, and the increase in telecommuting (citing the average three-day stay).

I think it has something to do with the costliness of urban real estate.
Moving up the neighborhood ladder takes more than a little stretch nowadays, it takes downright financial contortionism. Forsaking monster mortgages, and swollen property tax bills, buyers are reaching out. In Los Angeles they're reaching towards the desert, or to the mountain ski communities (like Big Bear). In the Bay Area, buyers look to the wine country or Tahoe. In D.C. they target the Virginia countryside, and in New York City they go every which way (the Jersey shore, the Hudson River Valley, the Hamptons, etc).

As downtown L.A. continues its Phoenician rise, as the breadth and sophistication of apartment homes (condos) grow, I believe this trend will take deeper root, with middle-agers downsizing into culture-close, low maintainance flats. City centers will be front and center, as many buyers move from suburb to city, rather than vice versa.

The European model in full effect.