| Travel Photography Desert Southwest
jazzman dropped his saxophone and joined us in the parking lot outside
of Compton's Chicken and Waffles. Alvin and I explained that we had just
been kayaking the Los Angeles River and were headed up-river, by car.
"Not as bad as people think. If you go past Anaheim Boulevard, its
"It'd be a pretty good idea if they could make it so it was used
for som'thin like that," the Jazzman said.
Yes, I thought, Los Angeles has San Antonio's Riverwalk, it's just a dusty
red carpet waiting to be unrolled. This is not the five burros of New
York. Los Angeles neighborhoods are more complex diversities of people
- there are Central American neighborhoods (one is called 'The Banana
Republic'), Iranian neighborhoods and Armenian neighborhoods. There are
places entirely composed of German Americans, where one can purchase hard
salamis, and there is a city on a hill, composed of Norwegians and Japanese,
a contingency of longshoremen wanting to live in the hills above their
They overlook Long Beach: the Los Angeles River discharge, which
was formally a Samoan enclave, and now the center of South LA's gay community.
The Samoans have moved on, to Gardena, near an enclave of Hawaiians and
other Pacific Islanders, not far from Carson, the largest community of
Filipinos outside of the Philippines. There are places like the South
Bay; a mix of sleepy locals with sun-bleached hair, and ambitious and
confused immigrants from the East Coast and Midwest.
most of this flows the river; dirty, unnoticed, polluted. Plans have been
drawn by some optimistic organizations to make the river completely clean;
to purchase the properties along the 53 miles of embankments. Some plans
cost ten million. Others are ten or twenty times that.
need their river - they want it to be a clean river, with green banks
and riparian plants, steelhead trout and terraced restaurants along its
edge. Los Angeles wants a unifier for their city. Civic-minded and thoroughly
ethnocentric, the Angeleno would at last have a vein of life through his
city's gray heart. The Hollywood sign is two-dimensional, the Staples
Center looks like an office supply store. The Los Angeles River is LA's
Times Square, somebody just needs to plant the seeds.
should have a garden of palms and grapes in the midst of which you should
cause rivers to flow forth, gushing out. (The Children of Israel 17.91)
we passed Fry's American Cuisine, Golden Dog and Swirly Freeze Restaurant.
I asked Alvin if he thought that rap pervaded black LA. I pointed out
that the local paper in Compton had one feature on a musician - a violinist.
And the Jazzman and his reggae friend? Where was this pervading rap scene?
Maybe rap was an image which television had put in the suburban mind to
make Compton and Watts look an evil, uninviting place. Like the rest of
LA, the real black LA is clapboarded, friendly, smiley, dirty, and also
peculiarly absent of rap.
Notorious B.I.G. was killed (a rapper from New York who came to LA to
mend a coastal division), there was no more gun-talk, there was no more
'I gonna kill me nasty ho', there was only a salty-haired mother crying,
which made all the rap-talk look silly; made the rappers message seem
provincial, fickle and distant; like two men in Arkansas fighting over
the size of a fence.
was not a small man; the inner city brims with Krispy Cremes and Devil
Cakes, chicken livers, Hot Links, Pork Rinds and Sugar Cakes. All this
anger; was it inner-city strife, or was it bad food, indigestion, and
irregularity? I'd get cranky after a Seven-Eleven Big Gulp of Red Mountain
Dew too. Snoop Doggy Dogg? Acne - too many microwaved breakfasts, not
enough roughage. I'd pack a gun on the street if I had to spend an hour
in the John after breakfast. Maybe rappers need more oranges in their
diets, some salads and chickpeas. Maybe the forced image of black LA is
just a coincidence of the rapper's poor diet?
Watts, we drove along the river through Downey, South Gate, and Huntington
Park. So-called 'East Los Angeles.'
"Notice how the houses change once you enter Mexican Los Angeles,"
Alvin said. It was true - the white clapboard gave way to early-twentieth
century mission-style homes with irregular red tiled roofs and steep curved
palisades. Coastal LA is known for its taco-bell homes; cheaply and quickly
slapped with a paste resembling adobe; cheap cements to resemble the red-tiled
roofs of the Mexican don era.