Greetings From the Coast

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.

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Union Station Passenger Terminal, December 2015. Image by Lynell George

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.

 

into the center of it

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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.

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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.

50 years.

So fast. So long.

And yet.

Post-Script

How Los Angeles Looked, 1850s | Photo courtesy LA Public Library via KCET | Departures

IT WAS great to see D.J. Waldie’s thoughtful consideration of our online conversation.

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

Seeking Los Angeles

The View from the Old Hill -- by Lynell George

The View from the Old Hill — by Lynell George

SOME YEARS back, not too long before I became a journalist, I noted that I seemed stricken by writers block when it came to fixing Los Angeles on the page.

Maybe I was just too deep in it, or standing far too close to really see it — my own day-to-day life here, and my place in it. Consequently it wasn’t until I moved to San Francisco briefly that I began to write deeply and vividly about the city I was born and raised in. And then it seemed, I couldn’t’ stop.

More recently, I have found myself wrestling with a different sort of writing challenge as I encounter the city — both physically and philosophically. Mostly of late it feels like I am chasing ghosts and, in a certain way, still writing about L.A. from a distance — but one of time and change.

The ever-sharp Carolina Miranda over at the L.A. Times convened three L.A. writers to talk about L.A.: the worn-out tropes, the city’s elusiveness. I had a great time having a virtual conversation with D.J. Waldie and Josh Kun, two Angelenos who also press into the city from unexpected angles.

Here’s the link to our online chat.

And thanks again Carolina for asking us to help pull L.A.into sharper focus.