Life in Hollywood, below-the-line

Life in Hollywood, below-the-line
Work gloves at the end of the 2006/2007 television season (photo by Richard Blair)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Bad Side of LA

"There was nothing wrong with Southern California that a rise in the ocean level wouldn't cure.” 

The Drowning Pool, by Ross Macdonald 


There are a few things I definitely won't miss now that LA has disappeared in my rear-view mirror. At the top of that list is the truly God-awful traffic, which is so miserably bad that it drives everybody crazy after a while. It's not just the freeways, either -- gridlock is increasingly common on city streets as well, generating massive frustration for everybody involved, which means you're constantly dealing with legions of pissed off...


When an otherwise normal, well-adjusted, "it's all good" Angeleno slips behind the wheel, a Jeckyl and Hyde transformation occurs, morphing him or her into a highly-territorial, anger-and-adrenaline fueled lunatic fully prepared to do battle in the mindless cut-and-thrust race to be first in line at the next red light -- and in LA, there's always another red light on the road ahead. Any notion of relaxing, easing off the throttle and just going with the flow vanishes into the smog. 

So much for the casual, laid-back LA you've heard about.

It's dog-eat-dog out there on the roadways, and all the more so if you ride a motorcycle or bicycle -- or in my case, both. Apparently jealous of the freedom a bike represents -- and its ability to slip through the madness of gridlock -- the erstwhile mellow citizens of the Southland will gleefully block your path and put your life at risk out of sheer spite. Toss the ubiquitous cell-phones into the mix (let's face it -- nobody out here pays attention to the laws that prohibit using a hand-held phone in a car), taking to the roads in anything less than an urban battle tank SUV represents an act of faith that is all too often repaid by the shriek of rending metal, shattering glass, and the explosive percussion of airbags.

The worst thing about this -- other than the sheer aggro of having to deal with all these over-caffeinated, lead-foot morons -- is that eventually I get caught up in their lunacy too, and soon I'm driving just like the rest of those assholes. Fighting fire with fire might work pretty well in the forest when properly done, but not on the streets, where the action/reaction dynamic just makes everything worse for everybody

What's truly depressing about this is that there are thousands of great places to go in LA, with endless things to do... but only once you get there -- and getting there is the problem. I know lots of people who grew up in LA, and they all tell me that when they were kids, a driver could go almost anywhere in twenty or thirty minutes. That was still somewhat true when I came here in 1977 -- yeah, traffic was always bad during the morning and evening rush hours, but between 10:00 A.M. and 2:00 P.M. you could motor around town without much trouble. 

Not anymore. That traffic window has shrunk to the hour between 11:00 A.M. and noon -- and it's really only good for about 45 minutes. The rest of the time, it's gridlock. 

Other cities in America and the world may well have worse traffic and worse drivers than LA (or not..), but this is the city I know, which is why I take a deep breath every time I enter the food chain of the streets. And -- piling insult upon injury -- whenever I do so on my motorcycle, bicycle, or on foot, I invariably run into some pendejo wielding a...

                                          Leaf Blower

               Yep -- he's blowing all that crap right in your face...

Leaf blowers? Why the hell would I hate leaf blowers? Maybe this is one of those "only in LA things" that won't resonate with residents of other cities -- but LA is an over-irrigated urban desert where the natives have no real clue what the term "winter" actually means. In this land of the endless summer, gardeners work year around tending to the lawns and yards of homeowners. Back in the good old/bad old days, they'd just hose down driveways and sidewalks to move the leaves and cut grass into the gutter, there to be hoovered up by the city street sweepers making their rounds once a week. 

The great drought of the late 70's -- when the phrase "If it's yellow, it's mellow: if it's brown, flush it down" came into our vernacular -- put an end to this egregious waste of water.  Rakes and brooms were too slow for gardeners who depend on a high volume of work to make a living, so they began using motorized leaf blowers. Powered by two-cycle engines (which are as bad or worse than low-tech diesels when it comes to spewing toxic pollutants into the atmosphere), these noisy machines made quick work of leaves and grass, and now every gardener in LA -- and there are thousands -- uses a leaf blower all day, every day.

That means whenever I take a walk, ride a bicycle, hop on a motorcycle, or drive my car on a day warm enough to leave the windows open, I'm liable to round a corner and receive a face-full of gritty dust in my eyes, nose, and mouth at any moment. I can't even remember the last time I traveled more than three blocks without having to squint my eyes, hold my breath, turn away, and sprint through another man-made dust-storm as rapidly as possible.

It's not so bad in a car, where you can roll up the windows for protection -- but on foot, a bike, or a motorcycle, those leaf blowers are murder.  

I know, I know -- these people are hard-working, underpaid, and earn every cent they make, but that doesn't make it any more pleasant to get sand-blasted every time I venture onto the street. It's just one more insult of urban life, and something I'm grateful to leave behind . 

And when it's time to clean my driveway or roof up there in the woods, I'll use a broom... or maybe my own electric leaf blower.


Then there's this... 

Look -- I understand the appeal of cell phones. Having carried one for almost two years now, I get it, and use mine all the time. But there's one thing you can be sure of here in LA; when the road-raging drivers and leaf blowers aren't making life miserable on the streets, you're sure to run across a young member of the digerati strolling languidly across the road while staring into his/her cell phone. At a stoplight, this is no problem -- hey, we're all waiting for the red to turn green, so whatever... but at a stop sign, this kind of self-centered, this-is-my-world, what-me-worry behavior is infuriating. Granted, I was just ranting about the lemming-like drivers of LA always in a frantic rush to go nowhere fast -- but is it too much to ask for a little basic situational awareness here?

The answer, apparently, is "yes."

Earth to cell phone people: this world is not your oyster, nor are the rest of us mere background players here to flesh out your own little digital dramas. That cell phone will not protect you from the harsh realities of Newtonian Physics, so pull your heads out of your asses and do NOT meander slowly across four lanes of traffic while enraptured by some Utube video or urgent text on that little screen. There's a time and place for everything, so look around and pay attention, or eventually you'll suffer the consequences -- and if you're really unlucky, you just might wind up being immortalized in the Darwin Awards.  

And deservedly so.

This isn't just an LA thing, of course -- people all over the globe are so entranced by their smart phones that they forget there's an entire world spinning around them -- but like I said, this is the city I've lived in for the past 40 years, and thus the launching pad for rants.

                                   Filming Downtown

Over at Totally Unauthorized, Peggy Archer recently posted a pithy, eloquent ode to the joys of filming in downtown LA, an ordeal most Hollywood veterans have suffered through more times than we care to admit. I discussed one of my own miserable experiences down there a long time ago in the following passage:

Many of these jobs – particularly the ubiquitous crime dramas -- involve lots of night filming in downtown Los Angeles, home to the largest concentration of homeless people west of Manhattan. Given that there are nowhere nearly enough shelters or bathroom facilities to accommodate all these people, parts of downtown LA have become the Calcutta of the West Coast. Certain alleys down there are nothing more than open sewers – and naturally, that’s where so many directors just love to shoot. Maybe they’re attracted by the haunting visual textures of a crumbling city -- or maybe they just like the smell of shit -- but as usual, it's the film crews who suffer the consequences. Production generally hires a water truck to make a pass through those alleys before we show up, which washes some of the human waste away -- but it also serves to rehydrate the rest of the dried crap and urine that’s been  baked into the pavement over the previous months, creating a fetid slurry of raw sewage in which we have to run cable to power our lights. I’ve seen nice neat cable runs fully submerged beneath six inches of shit and piss in those alleys, where a lungful of the foul, choking stench is strong enough to make you vomit.

The last time I worked under such conditions (while filming Rickey Martin’s music video, “La Vida Loca”), I staggered home at dawn after a long night and threw my shoes and gloves in the garbage can out back. I awoke later that afternoon with second thoughts -- those shoes weren’t cheap -- so I fished them out with a stick and dropped them into a Clorox solution for a couple of days, then ran them through a Laundromat washing machine and dried them in the fierce LA sun. Still, it was a couple of weeks before I could get that stench out of my nose.

So yeah -- I will definitely not miss filming in downtown Los Angeles -- or this city's infamous... 

                                           Yes, I still have this shirt...

When I first arrived in LA back in 1977, I was shocked at the smog -- which was unbelievably bad. I would ride my motorcycle up to Mulholland Drive and stare out at the thick curtain of yellow-brown crud that obscured any view of the Valley or the rumored  mountains beyond. Proper smog controls on autos and industry have worked miracles since then, but LA still spars with Houston every year for the crown of Worst Air in the Country, because even if much of the visible smog is now gone, the stuff you can't see is still eating away at our lungs every single day.

There's more I could rant on about, of course -- much, much more... but that's enough bile-spewing. Hey, I don't want to become one of those bitter "get off my lawn" old farts any sooner than is strictly necessary. Still, even though Ross McDonald didn't know it back when he was alive and writing, he was right about one thing: the sea level really is rising, and one of these days LA too will surrender to the waves that once claimed the lost civilization of Atlantis.  

The good news is, nobody reading this will be around by then, so count your blessings and enjoy the good, bad, and ugly in LA while you still can. Your distant descendants will only be able to dream about the wonders -- and horrors -- we experienced in this entropical paradise.

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