Monday, April 12, 2021

Queen of Angels, Venice Graffiti, and other Southern California Day Trips from Westwood to Claremont and back

"Together forever..." "that was one of our friends...." la has soul....

Richard Serra at UCLA. It's like an art gallery here.

Hanging at my old college, Pitzer.
Pasadena, Northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

Judy below, Bobby Colomby and friends. 


We always put on Joni on our road trips, at least once a trip.


“Sitting in a park in Paris France
Reading the news and it sure looks bad
They won't give peace a chance
That was just a dream some of us had
Still a lot of lands to see
But I wouldn't want to stay here
It's too old and cold and settled in its ways here
Oh but California”


That’s the dilemma, LA or Paris, cold and settled in its ways.

Still the intrigue remains.


On the flight here, I read the Pox Lover, Ann-christine d’Adesky’s memoir of activism and Paris and New York, stories about walking on the Seine, about being and living and walking and culture seeping in, the movable feast that keeps on moving.


Our teenager has seen New York and Paris is uncertain, locked down again.

The California sun is compelling.


Driving, the images of green hills and farm workers fill the windows, on our way through Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo, missions. Looking out at the farmland, I think of Steinbeck and the Grapes of Wrath, Cannery Row, etc.


It's not a California road trip without a stop at In N Out Burger. I recommend the protein burger. The servers are wearing masks.  A couple of kids are fighting with their parents.  Odd times growing up.  Might not be the best road trip they are about to engage.


Ninety minutes our of town, the traffic starts to snarl into a sea of cars.


An ominous feeling.


“This traffic is making my decision more complicated,” says the teenager.


The reality is Los Angeles is a place in ecological flux, on the edge of two continents.  “[T]he shelves provided a “land bridge” between the two continents,” says National Geographic. Earthquakes and fires are common.  Its main thoroughfare, highway ten, was built along the San Andreas Fault, intersecting with it in Coachella Valley. Living in Los Angeles means contending with a social history of a colonized city and the social forces of immigration and displacement, sprawl and anomie.  It also means contending with ecological history, as movements on tectonic places impact everyday life in countless ways.


In Rough-Hewn Land: A Geologic Journey from California to the Rocky Mountains, Keith Meldahl contends:


“Each scenario is about fifteen million years into the future, and each assumes that the Pacific Plate will continue to move northwest at about 2.0 inches per year relative to the interior of North America. In scenario 1, the San Andreas fault is the sole locus of motion. Baja California and coastal California shear away from the rest of the continent to form a long, skinny island. A short ferry ride across the San Andreas Strait connects LA to San Francisco.
In scenario 2, all of California west of the Sierra Nevada, together with Baja California, shears away to the northwest. ….In scenario 3, central Nevada splits open through the middle of the Basin and Range province....”


Ecologists all have hypotheses.  With each quake, they become more outlandish, particularly during late night conversations at the Dresdon Room.  At least that was my experience.


Moving closer, we pass an exit for Mulholland Drive.  Images the surrealist David Lynch movie scenes flash through my mind, the trip between here and there blurring between this life and somewhere else. Of course, there was also the Mulholland who devised the water plan, we learned about in Chinatown.


Movies and history overlap in countless ways here.  You see it everywhere, on exists to San Dimas where Bill and Ted had an excellent adventure.


A hour later, we get to Venice Beach, in time for skating.


A cavalcade of people, mostly in bathing suits, make their way up and down the boardwalk.


The beach is filled with skaters, vagabonds, and homeless sleeping a in tent city. Its like the dust bowl here, the smell of pot, bodies in motion, green, yellow, blue, brown on bikes.


Striking murals.


“Never St Mark the Patron Saint of Venice” says one building size image of the saint in white on a blue wall.  The images remind me of Naples, where similar murals are everywhere.


“Light comes in all colors,” says one artist’s work.


People in bikinis, stating, half dressed, kids on scooters, jetting into the air, out of the bowl.


Packed between Mexico and Canada, with an ocean and Asia further West, this land has much to inform us. Indigenous people its earliest inhabitants, once a Mexican space, then a Spanish colony,  El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles (The Town of the Queen of Angels) was founded on September 4, 1781.  For , Spain's colonization of the region seemed to be a reaction to Russian movement into Alaska and Northern California.  Expansive shores drew developers and religious fanatics, including Abbot Kinney. writes:

“In 1905, Kinney opened “Venice of America,” a planned seaside community which featured its Italian namesakes Italianate architecture and copied its world-famous canals. Kinney constructed seven man-made canals with fanciful names including the Grand Canal, Venus and Aldebaran. Tourists could travel by gondola to take in the new city, and private cottages soon dotted highly-coveted canal-front lots.”

Caroline and I sit on the beach as the kids skate, the sun descending in the horizon.

Next day, everyone takes it slow.

A little skating.

And then a trip out to UCLA.

It’s kind of epic.

I can’t believe we’re here.

Bobby Colomby, Caroline’s dad’s best buddy from years and years ago touring with Blood Sweat and Tears, joins us in Westwood.  He lived on the East Coast too, going to CCNY, before he made his way out West.  It took him about three months to decide this was for him. A warm place where moods elevated, he didn’t look back.

Over our two hour lunch, he tells us stories about jamming with Jimmy Hendrix, talking guitar with Paul Simon, running around town with Bruce Willis, discovering Jaco Pastorius, rooming with Pam Greer, and touring with Al Smith, Caroline’s dad, recalling him arranging a song, and booking a new hotel in a flash.

I love talking music with him, dropping names of drummers to hear what he knows.

I mention Keith Moon. 

“I saw him in town here with his head on the table,” says Bobby.  “Sat town and introduced myself. Moon was complaining about ‘Roger’ the singer for his band.” The two swapped stories about the idiosyncrasies, of their respective lead singers. David Clayton-Thomas was the more eccentric.  For every story Moon could recall about Daltry, Colomby could top it his band’s singer.

What about Gene Krupa’s drum solo in “Sing, Sing, Sing” ?

Not that hard, says Bobby.

He pauses, telling a story about meeting him for a goodbye party with other drummers before he shuffled off.

“You know I wasn’t that good,” says Krupa, the drummer once known as a one-man army, the original king of swing, who turned out to be a humble guy.

On and on the stories go.

I’ve been lost in the tapes of Chick Corea in the Bitches Brew sessions, I follow.

Such a wonderful guy, says Bobby, wearing a t shirt that says, “Weapons on Mass Percussion.”

On and on, we talk about Los Angeles and music and cultural history.

He drives us through the neighborhood, past Tiffany’s where Audre Hepburn ate breakfast and Alicia Silverstone shopped in Clueless, and the Viper Room, where River Pheonix shuffled from this world to the next, and Chateau Marmont, where John Belushi took his final bump and on and on, through the Sunset Strip, where the Doors played, Barry Sanders saw Lenny Bruce and that opened up a history of ideas and humor for him, that he told us about at Pitzer.  We all find our own histories here.  On Bobby takes us, past Barney's Beanery in West Hollywood.  This is a place to get away from the New York that is always pushing you beyond what you want to do, he says.  My experience is different.  I found LA another tough city.  But he’s got me thinking.  We make our way through Beverly Hills and back to Venice.

Judy meets us at a coffee shop before we make our way to the beach.

And Prageeta, another Brooklyn transplant, meets us for a bite.  She’s now teaching at Pomona.

The next morning, the teenager and I make our way east on highway ten to Pitzer College, where I first found my base in California three decades ago. Nested an hour East of Venice and another West of Joshua Tree, Claremont is a distinct place, the mountains on one side, the dessert the other.  With five ideologically distinct undergrads and a grad school, it is a unique college town.

Our first stop is at Pitzer, my alma mater. Cacti and graffiti, mark the paths around the campus in the dessert. The cactus garden has expanded throughout the campus. We check out the Grove House, where Taj Mahal smoked a jay with us.  And the dorms and art studios where bands played.  Ghosts of my former professors everywhere, we walk to the academic complex, places where I ate shrooms and read Proust and wrote drafts of novels and conducted oral histories and met friends, on and on and on.

The neurotypical garden intrigued, with a mural that reads:

“Engage with everything becoming – make a common world.”


And off we wander to Harvey Mudd and Scripps and Pomona and the Grad School and back, looking at coffee shops where a friend read the Golden Notebooks and a secret pool where we swam late into the night.


By the time we’ve seen all five campuses, I’m exhausted.

Off to Pasadena to see Mike, my old Pitzer roommate, who drove across the country with us, and back to Venice to drink beer on the roof, before a quick dip into the water.


It was not a quiet night. 


“Get out!!!” a woman screams over and over in one of the homeless camps.


No idea if the intruder was in head or in our world.


Voices in her head unwelcome intruder, thoughts not quite sure at all. 

The dustbowl in a pandemic is not always a welcome place.


We go for coffee and another stroll on the beach the next day before departing.


Our trip up to Pacifica to see Ron, the DogsinSpace podcast keeps us company.


In Central CA, we stop for a bite of deliciousness at a taco truck, on the way back to SF.


Stories about the Dead Kennedy’s on the podcast help us make our way.


“It’s the suede denim secret police,” everyone does their own Jello impressions.


Everyone needs Jello.


There’s always room for Jello, his campaign slogan.


Dodi is anti Dodi, she says it over and over again, like Dada.


We’re still unsure if Dada would have liked a day like this.


Maybe, maybe not?  Why so serious?


Who knows where any of us will land, where the teenager will?


Ron landed here out of nowhere, a transplant from Queens welcoming us.


The kids are growing up and out, lives in flux, moving, navigating complicated terrain.


“Celebrate,” a man screams at the gas station.


“I’ll celebrate when everyone is vaccinated,” says the teenager.


Big city vs small town, making our way from here to there, choices everywhere, lots to think about on the road.


Who knows what’s going to happen out there, kids coming, growing, going.


Who knows what’s going to happen?


But in a few years, they are all going to be gone, out on their own adventures.

Travel was fun along the way.


Ron greets us for a quick BBQ in his backyard, with his teenagers, before we make our way to our hotel.


Just as we began a week before, its dark as we leave Pacifica the next morning.


Pictures of Harvey Milk remind everyone in the airport at SF Airport.


“Harvey Milk lives” declares the graffiti.


Our days in California were a joy.  


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