SOME PHOTOS from the penultimate dinner service at Hop Louie Restaurant in Chinatown. Among my favorite moments was watching multi-generational families slide in for their last meal trying to recreate dinners long past. Too: the young Emo couple slouched over sweet & sour which they paid Dutch for with a pile of crumpled bills and change. One waitress said she was ready for a long vacation after 25 years. One of the owner’s children gave us a crash course on the historic hows and whys of “Chop Suey cuisine.” “If you don’t have bok choy you use broccoli.”
I hadn’t been in that building for dinner since the 80s. Which of course was the echo of the evening. A fact about which the ready-for-vacation waitress quipped: “If we had only been busy like this every night….”
Yes. If only.
The first floor bar is to remain open for now. Upstairs? “Maybe movies.” Another server speculated. Always some scratch in location filming.
Those spareribs and crab Rangoon were just as I remembered from Sunday downtown dinners with the extended family decades ago.
Happy to have the memories but sad to say farewell to all of that.
L. A. leaves us bit by bit by bit.
WHEN WE think about the place we’re from, what we are really pondering is something something much deeper than a recitation or f street and family names. How you get there and who lived where, tell just one layer of the story.
Here in Los Angeles, for as long as I can remember, I’ve noticed when someone wants to place (or categorize) you, the first question often is: “What high school did you go to?” Geography/affiliation is supposed to give away an essential clue or building block. (Or feeds a perception.) But with so many remade Southland neighborhoods, that location on the map we once knew so well for decades, may vanish overnight. Consequently, we hold onto our neighborhoods most reliably, and most vividly, in our heads, and through a series of personal sense memories.
Poet, playwright and journalist Jerry Quickley deeply understands this. For the last seven months, in collaboration with Center Theatre Group and the Community as Creators project, he has been working closely with members of two ethnically disparate crosstown neighborhoods — Montebello and Leimert Park –to tell their stories: the histories, struggles and joys.
I’ve been peeking in and out of their work in progress since early last year, and met with Quickley before he and his team had identified both the community “connectors” (networkers and facilitators) and the writer/actors themselves. (I’ll be writing a piece for CTG looking at the process and the community impact). The play, Through The Looking Glass, will fold these individual observations, histories, and remembrances into an on-stage “across the fence” conversation, but one that, as rehearsals already suggest, goes deeper than one might think.
Participants took part in several weeks of writing workshops — asking and answering questions about what it meant to be from a particular place. Drilling toward a working definition meant reaching for precise language and examples. For both groups, the goal has been to shatter misconceptions — starting with their own.
We’re getting close. This past two weeks’ rehearsals revealed something rare and beautiful about creating safe and sacred spaces for dealing with unresolved business and their attendant emotions — something this city is still rife with. The play will be performed both in Leimert Park and Montebello with a final performance at the Kirk Douglas Theatre on February 8.
For more information about the project and upcoming performances click here.
LAST WEEK, I met up for dinner with my friend Victoria who wanted to make sure we checked out Las Posadas at Olvera Street. It was my first full day back in Los Angeles after a very immersive trip to New Orleans. We had a leisurely dinner and talk about all manner of things Los Angeles. And then the procession passed by — the air fragrant with frankincense laced with accordion and brass and voices. Later we happened upon the remains of a piñata and the scent of spicy hot chocolate.
It felt good to be home. It’s become a state of mind that is more difficult for me to locate lately. But there was something about the weather and the ritual and the conversation that conjured a feeling that felt familiar and calming.
What capped off our night was a lovely moment of serendipity. Here we were, two L.A. daughters making our way across the plaza, talking about holidays past and present and sort of struggling to find the words to talk about absence. When we look up, just across Alameda, we see something out of the ordinary — the facade of Union Station in a wash of ruby and emerald lights. Elegant and transporting in its own way.
As it turned out, they’d just flipped the switch the moment we’d emerged from El Pueblo. When I had disembarked the Metro earlier that evening, the station was lit as usual, crisp ,clear white light. I had wanted to come back and photograph the tree. But this? I couldn’t have wished for a better way to re-enter the city. Thank you Metro.
And Happy Holidays to you all from the Coast.
LAST SUNDAY, I drove into Watts pulled by something larger than an anniversary.
I’ve been back and forth a great deal in recent years, months, weeks — for work and personal visits — but this journey felt more like flipping back to the opening pages of a book, to re-orient myself in a story that didn’t move the way I had expected.
I’ve been swimming through all the coverage today — and in the weeks leading up to — this 50-year anniversary of a what began as a traffic stop and then exploded into an italicized exclamation. One that now echoes across decades.
Like so many, I’ve been revisiting photos and essays and spoken testimonials that so freshly recall that stretch of hot August days. I’ve been talking to old friends and old colleagues. I stare deep into the frames of these grainy newspaper images of collapsed buildings, piles of wood, the silhouettes of storefronts, fancy blade-signs and realize — once again — that so many never re-opened. The story finished there. Full stop.
As a small child, I felt some foreign emotion creep in, take up real space; a feeling related to the noise, the smoke, the tanks, men in uniforms and guns at the market — where we bought our milk and fruit — the strange measure of days that hemmed us in within our own home: That new word “curfew” flashed in my brain like neon.
August 1965 was the summer my grandfather visited from New Orleans to take the first, in-person glimpse of his infant grandson. The two-pronged reality of that visit: the first bloom of the new family branch, strikingly backdropped by the racial inequity and violence not at all foreign to this quiet and proud Southern-born man — just Southern-California style. Early the next morning he woke before the rest of us, disappeared. We later learned, through his detailed stories, he’d wandered off, to find the hot center of it. To know the story better.
How — he must have reasoned — could you be so close and not try?
The journalist that I would become understands.
Now, as an adult, I realize the emotion I must have been trying to sort through was the very same that might accompany the instant when a table might be upturned and there’s a moment — long, protracted out-of-real time — where everything was still in the air. The finish yet to be determined. Ruin or reclamation? It was all still up for grabs.
So fast. So long.
Some of his musings:
We haven’t yet learned to speak the language of the Los Angeles that is coming. It’s a post-sprawl city, where “sprawl” had been the clichéd label for the city’s multi-centered urban form. It’s a post-diversity city, where “diversity” talk is both a sign of Anglo anxiety about the new people living next door and a word of self-congratulation about not being too anxious. Los Angeles is post “middle-class” as well, having been made into a city of struggling working-class aspirants below and a crust of oblivious wealth above.
You can catch the rest here at KCET Departures