Saturday, January 07, 2006

A walkabout.

Would you ever find yourself in the San Fernando Valley?

Actually, that isn’t quite what I meant to say. It’s too obtuse, it doesn’t properly get the point that I had intended to make. So.

Would you ever put yourself in the San Fernando Valley?

Would you lace up the new boots that you had bought for some other purpose, grab a bottle of water that claims to be from glacial paradise but is really from yet another city reservoir, and journey out to the disconnected land of the dry arid heat, the land that might as well be a part of Los Angeles even though it technically isn’t?

I’m not here to tell you if you should. I’m not here to tell you if you shouldn’t. I’m not going to argue the pros or the cons, and I’m sure as hell not going to decide where you should spend your time if you decide to venture out to the City of Angeles for whatever fucking reason. No.

Instead, I’m going to speak of something just a wee bit more specific.

You see, the San Fernando Valley is my home. For going on twelve years.

Twelve years since I was put into the land with the vast expanses of streets, asphalt stretching out and glittering underneath the wavering air that gives the “city” vistas an eerie similarity to the expanses of ‘Once upon a Time in the West’ (or ‘Kill Bill volume 2’, whichever of those you’ve seen). Twelve years of Mexican men wandering down the street with a small cart, pedaling Chicharron while grinning with a face made of half-toothed smiles. Twelve years of walking by the LA river, watching the multi-colored bounty of the ball pit from a nearby McDonalds, watching as they try as hard as they can to drift away in the squalid dribble of moisture that may or may not be water.

They try. But they’re never going to make it anywhere.

To tell you the truth, I don’t really care for it that much. But through thick and thin, through sickness and health, and certainly through love and hate -- it’s been my home. And for better or worse, that makes it special to me.

And honestly, as with anywhere else, you might be able to find something there.
Something worth seeing.
If you know where you should look.

Should you ever find yourself in the San Fernando Valley?

Take a walk. Walk past the people idling in the fronts of almost a dozen Pawn Shops that populate a short stretch on Van Nuys Boulevard. Walk past the front of the Police station where, as I was being led along in handcuffs, the officer assigned to me got pissed off because I couldn’t keep myself from whistling a jaunty tune. A story for another day.
Walk past the small shop where I bought myself a harmonica that I never could learn to play.

Walk past the lives and stories of hundreds of thousands of people who are probably more interesting than me. Stop and talk to them, if you can. If you can. But when you finish talking, when you’ve found your moment and moved on, bring yourself to the new destination.

A little grand new thing called “The Metro Orange Line”.

There it is. The first throwback to Southern California’s oft forgotten beacons of public transportation efficiency, the street car. Such a thing hasn’t really existed here since General Motors tore them down with their tyrannical tirade to spread the mass use of automobiles back in the late 40’s. They ripped through the streets with their agenda, giving us a stable full of inefficiently phallic buses which destroyed public transportation in this town, a trend which has continued until this very day. They made a movie about it. It starred a private detective and a cartoon rabbit.

Remember that?


With this new beast, with this private furrow that back-alleys its merry way throughout the length of our non-town, it seems as is if the fates finally hope to make amends for the clogging of our expressways, our passageways, and our breathways with more automobiles than you can loll a dead horses tongue at. Have they?

Shit no. They’ve done something else.

They’ve given us something to see this town in a whole new way. So, once again, it has become time to take a walk. That’s right. Walk. Don’t take the bus line, those silver beasts that glisten like duralumin while being held together by the flimsy rubber neck that never ceases heaving, as if it were drawing air into an iron lung. The buses, they move fast, in their dart like path. But they don’t show what you can see.

So walk. Walk down a road that goes on and on. A new road that never seems to end. Because when you walk down this road, you’ll see things. Things that aren’t quite right, things that only seem to fit in the driest air, in the land where the skies are clear, where the sun beats down and bounces up. Walk down this road, and you’ll get a chance to look inside.

You get a chance to look over the lower edge of a crumbling brick wall, only to see a burned out warehouse that looks as if it would be more comfortable on some forgotten New England dock, the rusty sheet metal withering in the Atlantic chill. See this building, with bits of failing mortar hastily shoved around the steel and the aluminum, trying as hard is it can to hold itself up against the harshest sun, the sun that beats down upon it as if it knew that the building was jus a little bit off. Look at this place. And then look through one of the numerous holes that have been torn in the fading face of the sheet metal.

You’ll see a warehouse full of brand new cars. Sports cars, classic cars. Glittering, purring, trembling. Trying to will themselves free of their bonds. See this. Feel the strength of their endurance, a collective mechanical will that can be felt even if you couldn’t care less about fancy vehicles. And then move on.

Keep on keepin’ on.

Walk through the air, feeling the sweat push its way out of your skin, your body wanting to look at the things about you as well, as well as lubricating your joints, forcing you towards a destination that you might never reach if you only walk. It’s a long way, you know.

A long way, if you’re actually going somewhere. If.
Think about that.

The soil in this area may contain a chemical at concentrations known to the state of California to cause cancer.

Now, think about that.
Think about that as you keep on walking, the road in front of you never relenting. Never relenting, but always inspiring, as all of a sudden, a single man seems to fade in from the haze of the afternoon golden hour sun. He’s drifting towards you atop the chariot of the modern age, a Segway. Slowly but surely. As he gets closer, the hum of his vehicle, although subtle, becomes apparent to you, as it lazily chops its way through the air, whirring along, making you notice even as it tries to hide. As the man passes by, all he does is nod, a motion that is slight, at best. Even so, the gesture must be returned.

And then he’s gone. Wisping away, just as he came.

Perhaps it’s the fresh traces of the aforementioned cancer pressing its way into my brain, but whenever I think of this man, of the Segway rider that came and went as if in a dream…I get an image in my head.

The image is of a man, a classical hobo from a yet to be forgotten age. His clothes are tattered rags, hanging about him with nothing but single threads, the only solid cloth being the striking red kerchief that makes up his bindle. The bindle pole is slung over his shoulder with a brash carelessness that echoes the immortal pose of Kikuchiyo, something which I cannot be sure if he knows. Even if he doesn’t, this pose makes me like him. That, and the squinting eyes of the inquisitive cat which now pokes its small head out of the bindle, looking for a breath of fresh air.

The neo-hobo drifts by. On a Segway cobbled together out of scrap metal and tricycle wheels. Still whirring quietly. Always moving, never stopping. Riding the rail of the road without end.

That’s an image the cancerous road gave me. What do you suppose it might do for you?

What builds in your head as the sun finally drifts down, letting the sweat that came forth finally dry away beneath the newly orange light of a street lamp?

What builds in your head as you still walk forward, letting your effort bring forth new sweat which beads over the dried remnants, leaving you with a dual sensation of heat and cold?

What might you see, that I failed to see? What might you say, that I failed to say?

Should you ever put yourself in the San Fernando Valley?

That’s your choice, kid. Your choice.

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