My Rudeness Backfires

The Santa Monica Pier at Sunset

I was waiting for the Number 1 Santa Monica bus on 4th Street, near the Expo Line Terminus, when two young women suddenly hove into view as my bus was approaching. When I don’t want to talk to strangers—and I almost never do—I answer them … in Hungarian. Well, these two girls went away thinking I was some kind of a genius instead of a rude bastard manqué.

In English, they asked me which way was the ocean.

In Hungarian, I answered, “You mean the beach?” Their eyes widened. How did I know they were Hungarian? I gestured toward the beach and said, “That way!” in my best Magyar. They thanked me profusely as I boarded my bus.

Actually, they were rather cute.

 

 

Santa Monica and Saint Monica

Statue of St. Monica in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park

Statue of St. Monica in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park

I’ve walked past this statue hundreds of times in the last half century. I always wound up shaking my head because St. Monica is made to look so Nordic. It’s like all those blonde blue-eyed Jesuses favored by Evangelicals. Protestant America doesn’t like to admit that, in certain countries surrounding the Mediterranean, people come with dark hair, brown eyes, and various skin shades of a darker hue.

Saint Augustine was born in present day Algeria, where, presumably, his mother Saint Monica, lived. Here is a painting of Saint Monica by artist John Nava which more closely corresponds to how she may have looked:

Painting of St. Monica by John Nava

Painting of St. Monica by John Nava

This painting is from a Saint Monica’s Church in Trenton, New Jersey. Too bad the people in Santa Monica are afraid of ’fessing up that their eponymous saint could be … shudder! … colored. And also likely to be banned from the local country club.

 

Pilgrims

Homeless in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park

Homeless in Santa Monica’s Palisades Park

The title of this post comes from Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness:

I went to work the next day, turning, so to speak, my back on that station. In that way only it seemed to me I could keep my hold on the redeeming facts of life. Still, one must look about sometimes; and then I saw this station, these men strolling aimlessly about in the sunshine of the yard. I asked myself sometimes what it all meant. They wandered here and there with their absurd long staves in their hands, like a lot of faithless pilgrims bewitched inside a rotten fence.

Except, the pilgrims of whom I speak are not European ivory traders in the Congo, but either the homeless or people who do not wish to be labelled “homeless,” so they merely appear to be “in transit” with multiple bags.

Now that I work only two days a week, I like to spend more time in libraries, specifically downtown L.A.’s Central Library or Santa Monica’s Main Library. Curiously I see more pilgrims in Santa Monica, which comic Harry Shearer has dubbed “the Home of the Homeless.” Most are young, approximately half are black, and they travel with a lot of “stuff.” Usually, they just drop into a chair and doze off. Some use the Internet to try to find a way out of their present circumstances.

The library discourages homeless that smell very bad or have too many bags with them, as they inhibit families and students from using the books and computers. That tends to discriminate against elderly bums who have lived on the streets for years and and who have accumulated a vast store of “stuff.” (I have seen some with regular choo-choo trains of multiple supermarket carts.)

At night, Palisades Park along the bluffs overlooking the Coast Highway turns into a large encampment full of tents, shopping carts, plastic bags full of rags and food scraps, and whatnot.

There are Salvation Army and other accommodations in Santa Monica for the homeless, but I suspect not enough. And many of the homeless, as I hinted, are “in transit” and do not consider themselves to be homeless. A goodly number are stark raving mad, and a couple are probably homicides or arsons waiting to happen.

 

Santa Monica 1966-2014

The Santa Monica Promenade Today

The Santa Monica Promenade Today

When I first arrived in Los Angeles between Christmas and New Year in 1966, the whole place looked brand spanking new. I had just arrived on the Santa Fe Railroad’s El Capitan at Union Station and saw a city very different from the grimy red brick and industrial pollution that was Cleveland. Within the first two days after my arrival, I took the Santa Monica #3 bus from San Vicente and Barrington down to the Santa Monica Mall, or, as it’s called today, the Promenade.

I was impressed by the neatness and cleanliness of the place. There were movie theaters, restaurants, bookstores (yes, several), anchored by a J. C. Penney at the north end by Wilshire. It used to be fun to visit Santa Monica. The place made such an impression on my friends that most of them still think I live in Santa Monica, rather than West L. A.

But now, I try to avoid Santa Monica, even though it begins a scant two blocks west of me. All the restaurants I loved are gone, replaced by places that are more pretentious and less tasty. The bookstores? Now there is only one, a Barnes & Noble at the Wilshire end. The movie theaters are sort of hanging on, but it looks as if the Criterion were history. The J. C. Penney store is long gone.

What changed? There are two ways of looking at it. On one hand, the city has become a ghetto for the 1%, with only a few downmarket neighborhoods along Pico Boulevard that escaped gentrification. Also, I have changed. My taste in food is probably far different from that of the 21-year-old that ate at Castillo’s (the daughter of the owner was muy guapa), Las Casuelas, Marco Polo, Chowder Call, the Broken Drum (“You Can’t Beat It!”), the Little Inn Swedish Smorgasbord, El Tepa, the Great American Food & Beverage Company, and the El Sombrero on Fifth Street. Somewhere between Santa Monica becoming too hoity-toity for me, and my own self developing into another person, I found the place chilled me.

Oh, I still use their excellent library—though I have to pay for the privilege now. But Martine and I almost never eat in Santa Monica any more. Today, for a change, we ate at the El Cholo on Eleventh and Wilshire. And we regretted it.

Hot Dog Stick

The Original on the Boardwalk in Santa Monica

The Original on the Boardwalk in Santa Monica

We got together with our friends Bill and Kathy Korn today and did something a little bit different. Bill had been visiting restaurants featured on the late Huell Howser’s television programs and decided he wanted to try the Original Hot Dog on a Stick restaurant on the Santa Monica Boardwalk, just a few steps from the Santa Monica Pier. The above picture shows the restaurant, which somehow never had the connective words “on a” painted on its sign that is now part of the company name. So it was to the original stand dating back to 1946 to which we repaired to dine on a delicious hot dog stick.

Martine was not particularly enthralled with having to sit on a wall that was liberally decorated with dried bird droppings, and even less having to maneuver through the massive crowds on the pier; but she put up with it. Bill and Kathy are from a part of Los Angeles where going outdoors in July is, to say the very least, uncomfortable. Just to get an idea of the crowds, see the picture below:

Crowds on the Beach North of the Santa Monica Pier

Crowds on the Beach North of the Santa Monica Pier

Curiously, we had some rain this afternoon. Not only did we have rain, but also a rare lightning strike that killed one twenty-year-old male and injured several other people. By the time we went, about an hour and a half later, the storm, such as it was, had moved eastward.

Speaking of Hot Dog on a Stick, I remember visiting the Pier one Sunday morning in 2009 and wandering into the middle of several hundred young men and (mostly) women dressed in the standard uniform for a corporate meeting:

Hot Dog on a Stick Meeting 2006

Hot Dog on a Stick Meeting 2006

 

 

Back from the Dead

The Luftwaffe Drew This Card Too Often

The Luftwaffe Drew This Card Too Often

I have always enjoyed visiting aircraft museums. The one in Palm Springs is nothing short of spectacular. The Western Museum of Flight in Torrance is smaller, but fun to visit. Until 2002, there was a great Museum of Flying on the north end of Santa Monica Airport. Then it closed down. We heard that they were looking for a place to move somewhere in the desert. It appears they never found one.

Then, all of a sudden, we heard that it was re-opening on the south side of Santa Monica Airport. Finally, Martine and I paid it a visit yesterday afternoon. The new Museum of Flying is about one-fourth the size of the old one and focuses heavily on the airport’s history with Douglas Aviation, back when it was named Clover Field. Still it was sufficiently interesting to engage our attention for a few hours.

Russian Yakovlev Yak-3 Fighter from World War Two

Russian Yakovlev Yak-3 Fighter from World War Two

Among other displays, they had a Russian Yakovlev Yak-3 fighter parked outside (above). The much beloved plane was preferred by Russian pilots over the planes supplied by the United States during the days of Lend-Lease, such as the P-51 Mustang and the Supermarine Spitfire.

It was good to see the Museum of Flying back from the dead. I hope they can accumulate enough money and volunteers to grow back to what they used to be before a greedy landlord snuffed them out of existence to get a higher rent.

 

Muscle Beach Party

Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello Hit the Beach

After lunch today, Martine suggested we take a walk. I suggested something that would include part of the Venice Boardwalk heading north along the beach to the Santa Monica Pier. As beach parking costs $9.00, we took the bus and got off at Brooks Avenue in Venice.

Martine does not much care for the Boardwalk because of the smells (burning sage and incense), anarchic bicyclists who brush back pedestrians, and crowds. Of course, there were the usual bums, drugged-out hobags, and crazies with Tourette Syndrome carrying on intense conversations with the Void

But, after about a half mile, we were able to pretty much shake the more picturesque denizens of Venice and walk along the beach at Ocean Park and Santa Monica. Along the way, we stopped briefly at the original Muscle Beach, just south of the Santa Monica Pier, to see a lithe young blonde maneuver back and forth on the rings. She was surrounded by tourists and picture-takers. (I would have been one of the latter had I remembered to bring my camera.)

There are now two Muscle Beaches, the original one, and another one about a mile and a half south, between where Windward Avenue and Venice Boulevard meet the ocean. The new one is enclosed and has a lot of weights and exercise machines, unlike the original site which is decidedly low tech.

It is pretty inconceivable today to imagine anything as wholesome as a 1950s beach movie taking place in Santa Monica or Venice. It might, for all I know, still be happening at places like Zuma Beach in Malibu or Huntington or Newport Beaches in Orange County. Santa Monica and Venice Beaches are a bit too downmarket for Frankie and Annette.

This afternoon was beautiful. The sun was out, but it wasn’t over 80° Fahrenheit (27° Celsius) with just a slight breeze. On the bus on the way back, we sat behind another Tourette crazy and just smiled.