Downtown Los Angeles: A Tale of Two Cities

Downtown Los Angeles: urban hipster paradise, or a living, breathing museum dedicated to the decay of modern society. M.L. Porter ponders the highs and lows of life in the most Golden of States.

Damn.

Where do we begin?

It was the best of times, umm, well, it was a time, at least.

And oh what a time to be alive!

They make movies here. I live here. This is where they killed Ms. Wallace’s oldest son (That’s Biggie for the non-hip-hop heads). And although the Spring St. winds blowing in from Santa Ana deliver smells that are uniquely Californian, and while young couples still grocery shop in flip flops past midnight, I know something is not quite right in the only city in the world where all the biggest stars in our superficial solar system reside in the ground.

Catching Flies by Davin Sanchez

Photo courtesy of Davin Sanchez (Flickr Creative Commons)

I get off the Expo line train and head for King Eddy’s. On my way there a man dressed all in beige stops me in my tracks, and I shove my hand in my pocket so as to appear prepared for a confrontation. He says nothing. He just stares at me. And before I can ask what this is all about he whispers: “The Red Hot Chili Peppers are overrated. Always get the green sauce.”

I walk away, unharmed.

This is the new Downtown, and it’s a dead museum cautionary tale. It’s where the poor, indifferent and rich blend into one another to form a neat little circus. Always performed for free and whether or not you want to see it.

There’s organic food on every corner, and crippling depression as far as the nose can smell. Oh, right, that smell. Don’t mind that. It’s all part of the, umm, charm? Welcome to the best-kept secret in America: Skidrow, Los Angeles. Well, they tell me Skidrow is in L.A., but all the pictures I see of it on Instagram only show off new lofts and brunches at little bistros with clever names, and the faces of the nameless “others” are pressed up tight against the glass. The invaders do their best to not see them on their coffee runs, or while they cycle in the hot new spin class everyone at the Orsini is just fucking raving about.

| Los Angeles, CA | 2017 David Patrick Valera

Photo courtesy of David Patrick Valera (Flickr Creative Commons)

The poor don’t attend any spin classes but do reside in spin cycle limbo. They look up and see tops of palm trees just like you and I do, but they are not really here. But there they are: always watching.

Always nervous.

Simultaneously vulnerable and villainous and depending upon which Westside paper you subscribe, just like terror level indicators, the darker the tone the more dangerous the vagrant. But that can’t be true because Spring Street is an urban hippie paradise ripe with the fruits and labor of people who some believe should not be allowed to work here. In this country. In this city. And at night Skidrow looks like Gotham (minus the fog emanating from the sewers). But The Dark Knight is nowhere to be found. Bat signal must be down or maybe he’s just out of town and couldn’t be bothered to take a look at the mess that is Downtown L.A.

But even if Downtown L.A. isn’t the happiest place on Earth or even Los Angeles for that matter, there’s still plenty to smell, to do, and to see.

This is the new Downtown, and it’s a dead museum cautionary tale. It’s where the poor, indifferent and rich blend into one another to form a neat little circus. Always performed for free and whether or not you want to see it. Like a stepchild who just learned how to perform a cartwheel. But instead of sticking the landing, he tumbles into a dumpster and whoops the dumpster was full of gasoline and oh boy, did that dumpster just explode? That’s Downtown L.A.

Saved Flies by Davin Sanchez

Photo courtesy of Davin Sanchez (Flickr Creative Commons)

It doesn’t make any sense. And that’s because it’s not supposed to. It’s being designed as a surreal, anti-city where rent is 4k and The Mayor descends upon the city but once a month for the French Dip at Cole’s. And who can blame him, it’s fucking fantastic!

But even if Downtown L.A. isn’t the happiest place on Earth or even Los Angeles for that matter, there’s still plenty to smell, to do, and to see.

There are also places to go hear things. Things like sounds, and maybe even music. They call them concerts. It doesn’t matter what kind of music you like because everyone comes to play here because this is Los Angeles.

Take your pick. Grab your tix.

| Los Angeles, CA | 2017 David Patrick Valera

Photo courtesy of David Patrick Valera (Flickr Creative Commons)

The Walt Disney concert hall is a house built by a mouse and has never been mistaken for anything but an achievement in modern architecture. And on any given night plays host to classically trained musicians and performers from all corners of our big blue planet. Just down the road is The Museum of Contemporary Art, better known as MOCA. Modern art, classic art, and even blank canvases which some say (not me) is the truest form of art THAT can be found here for your staring and debating pleasure. And if flaming dumpsters are more your cup of tea, Staples Center still sits pretty on Figueroa, and the teams that play there: The Clippers and The Lakers – dole out two very different versions of disappointment. Would you like a 12 dollar Coors Light with your 60 loss season?

Done.

They make movies here. I live here. This is where they killed Ms. Wallace’s oldest son (That’s Biggie for the non-hip-hop heads).

Even if this is still a Lakers town in name and name alone, The Los Angeles Lakers remain the top sports draw in Southern California. To Lakers fans, a five-year drought of relevant seasons may seem like an eternity, but try being a Dodgers fan. For 29 long years, the boys in blue have come up short. But rather than hold court in the smoggy confines of Pico Blvd, The Dodgers call a less hazardous atmosphere home. The Ravine Of Chavez, who’s history is less than stellar, still proves to be the very holiest of holies when it comes to the discussion about greatest American Ballparks this side of the Mississippi. And speaking of stellar, how bout them Dodgers?! (If The Dodgers aren’t doing well at the time of your reading this, replace Dodgers with Lakers, and if neither are doing well, replace Dodgers with weather).

| Los Angeles, CA | 2017 by David Patrick Valera

Photo courtesy of David Patrick Valera (Flickr Creative Commons)

If you don’t like sports, art, or music, then maybe alcoholism is more your speed. A litany of options exist throughout the densely populated concrete haven. There’s The Falls which features jazz shows every week. The Down N Out, located down the road is for when you don’t want to hear anything your date is saying and has a strict no drinking in line policy, so heads up. After a few drinks, why not pop into the world famous Last Bookstore. The store hosts poetry readings, plays, and book signings. As far as bookstores go, this one qualifies as a labyrinth and the second level can be dizzying for a first timer so leave yourself a trail of breadcrumbs, or ask the polite staff where you can find what it is you’re looking for – that is, if you aren’t trying to get lost on purpose which can be quite fun.

At this point, if you’ve followed along with me on my tour, it must be getting close to seven, no, 8 o’clock. I suggest you get on the train and head back west. I’m late for a date at King Eddy’s.

Cover Picture Courtesy of Krocky Meshkin (Flickr Creative Commons)

Michael Lorenzo Porter is an American-born short story writer and occasional journalist. His love of card games and fear of spiders have formed his world view in equal measure.
  • eldente

    Porter got them hands! Hand writing hands!

  • Dean Goldberg

    Kinda like NYC.

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