The ’Burbs

I Have This Problem with the Suburbs

There are several ways we went wrong after the Second World War. The main thing was our hubris. We thought that everything we did was right—because we were the only major country not in ruins. The government decided to help returning GIs buy little ticky-tack houses on the fringes of our major cities, and let the cities themselves go to hell. Oh, there were half-hearted attempts to build urban housing projects that quickly became dangerous slums.

And the suburbs? They were a refuge from the big cities. There was one little problem: We brought our children along to live in those ticky-tack houses, even when they didn’t buy into the dream. Being our kids, they had their own dreams, and they didn’t include barbecues and mowing the front lawn.

Interestingly, the suburbs are in some cases politically liberal, and in others utterly racist and fascistic. Even within Southern California, one can find examples of both. Take Sherman Oaks on one hand, and Moreno Valley on the other. Sometimes, suburbs start up hopeful and end up mean, such as Palmdale and Lancaster in L.A.’s Antelope Valley. At one time, the city was thinking of moving L.A. International Airport to Palmdale, which would have been a major disaster. Aside from the bad neighborhood, it’s at least a one hour drive, and usually more, from the more populated parts of the county.

One of the things about living in the city is that you have to get along with people. Across the street from me are a number of bums living in tents amid piles of assorted malodorous garbage. While I don’t ever give money to panhandlers, I don’t do anything to make their lives any more difficult. That’s not because I’m a nice guy, but because these mental cases, alcoholics, and druggies happen to be my neighbors. I maintain my distance from them, and although I casually wish their encampments were fire-bombed, I myself wouldn’t light the match.

As a city dweller, I frequently use public transportation because (1) it is cheap for me as a senior citizen and because (2) parking fees are getting out of hand. I have no problem with driving two or three times a week during the coronavirus quarantine and leaving my car parked in the rear carport. Suburbanites, on the other hand, would rather put their arms in a meat grinder rather than board a bus or light rail.

No More Kicks on Route 66

Another Monstrosity Going Up in West L.A.

I live just a couple hundred feet south of U.S. Route 66, the “Mother Road,” as it comes close to ending by the shore of the Pacific Ocean. In my neighborhood, it is called Santa Monica Boulevard, which joins with Sunset Boulevard in East Hollywood and runs some ten miles from there to the Ocean. There is a mile-long stretch of Route 66 near me in which the old low-lying buildings are being replaced by high-rise apartment buildings mostly intended for filthy rich tenants.

There may be a few apartments in each building reserved for low-income tenants, but knowing the power of unscrupulous real-estate developers, most are not. And many of the units will be empty for years to come, especially as the coronavirus depression takes hold.

Martine and I cynically note the endless FOR LEASE signs on newish buildings. At the same time, there is a real shortage of housing for non-millionaires throughout the metropolitan area. Every month, it seems there are more tents with raggedy bums, more weather-beaten RVs, and more genuine homeless who have been turned out of their housing by greedy, unscrupulous landlords. The units in the building shown above will, no doubt, house only the well-to-do.

At the same time that multi-tenant units are springing up all over West L.A. (and other parts of the city), little attempt is being made to face the traffic problems that will inevitably ensue. Mayor Gil Garcetti thinks everyone will take the bus or rise the MetroRail trains; but I think that most of the people who can afford the new units would be afraid to take public transportation, as it brings them face to face with homeless turnstile-jumpers, and—oh horrors!—black people.

There will be a reckoning in the years to come—one that will topple the political ambitions of Garcetti and his associates who are altogether too cozy with the developers. And the developers? They will have moved on to cause problems elsewhere, as they always do.

 

 

The Pacific Red Cars

Martine at the Orange Empire Railroad Museum (2016)

If you have ever seen the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), you’ve heard one theory why the best intraurban transportation system in America was destroyed. I think I can assure you that Judge Doom’s hatred of cartoon characters was not the reason why the Pacific Red Cars stopped running around the 1950s. If you’re looking for a reason, you could blame the construction of new freeways, the desire of General Motors to put every American behind the wheel of a Chevrolet, or the aging of the Pacific Electric rolling stock.

My late friend Bob Klein even wrote a novel in which the Red Cars figured—The Road to Mount Lowe—an enjoyable work (if you can get your hands on a copy of it).

The Pacific Red Car Network at Its Height

For whatever reason, the Pacific Red Cars were replaced; and, L.A., which once had a world class public transportation system, wound up with bupkis. When I first came to Southern California, there were the buses of the Rapid Transit District (RTD), which were grossly inconvenient. For instance, going from West Los Angeles to Long Beach took upward of three hours or even more. Then the RTD gave way to the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), and things slowly began to change for the better. First of all, the old Red Car right of way between downtown and Long Beach was rebuilt as the Blue Line. Two subway lines were built: the Red Line, connecting downtown to North Hollywood/Studio City, and the Purple Line, from downtown to Western Avenue. (The latter will eventually extend slightly west of the UCLA campus.) Then there was a Green Line connecting Norwalk to El Segundo. (Why didn’t they run from Norwalk to the airport? Politics?) Finally, the Expo Line now connects downtown L.A. to the beach at Santa Monica.

I am a regular rider of the Expo Line, allowing me to go downtown for thirty-five cents instead of paying twenty plus dollars for parking.

Although the present network is still nowhere as extensive as the original Red Cars, it’s nice to know that the public transportation scene in Southern California is no longer going into eclipse.