Consumption Curmudgeon

The traffic is worse and they are blowing up mountainsides to expand freeways.  Four lanes, five lanes, six lanes.  People will continue to live here and the roads will cram up again and their “progress” will be rendered obsolete.  This makes me angry.  A lot about this place makes me angry.

I drive through the Sepulveda Pass, which looks like a head of chopped-up, wilting cabbage and not any sort of natural thing.  Concrete walls rise vertically where the chaparral used to grow.  Once I saw a deer at the foothills of the Getty Center and I felt badly for it – what a miserable place for an animal.  There are red brake lights and people driving badly.  Faded yellow machines of industry wait to dig at more things.  Steep roads lead to cheap houses that cost a lot of money – million dollar views of the creeping 405.

Blue skies are routinely replaced with a shade of smoke white.  Marine layer mixing with smog and other things that probably kill you over time.  There aren’t many birds here; I always thought there were more birds.  There were definitely more Blue Jays, that much I know.  We used to feed them peanuts with the shell still on off of our brick front porch.

When I was younger, though I didn’t drive, there was an open window of time before the traffic hour: between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. you were free to navigate the freeways without concern of gridlock.  While I was in high school that window had shortened from about 10:30 to 3:30, and since then it has constricted itself into a tight little ball of time that happens sometime around 12 noon and 1:30 p.m.  That’s when you’re free to drive, sometimes.  Sometimes the roads never open up.

The drive to Orange County is uneventful save for the idiot in the Pathfinder who nearly runs into me.  I honk and swerve and mouth, “What the fuck?!” to express my disdain for him in that moment.  I don’t miss this way of life, not really at all.  I shut my brain off, flipping between radio stations that aren’t very good and flicking my turn signal.  I pass cars, not looking at the people inside.  I watch the road.

I pull into a large, expansive mall parking lot filled with too many cars for this early hour in the middle of a workday.  I detest these places: malls filled with opportunities to look like everyone else.  Small.  Medium.  Large.  You, me, and everyone else we know all wearing the trends from the latest seasons.  Lucky us.

There are plenty of spots in the back row.  I park there, underneath a tree that’s still green.  I don’t understand the people here: how they fight for parking spots close to the entrances but live at gyms.  Old ladies are dressed up, wearing Hermes scarves and matching pantsuits.  One day I want to move to the middle of nowhere an associate myself with no one except an open ranch and a horse, and then I can pretend that places like this don’t really exist.  I would quite like that.

Through the department store doors are racks of clothes that nobody really needs.  More shit, more stuff.  They circulate tepid air and music by Sade.  They offer you perfumes.  Models advertise things you can never be.  Buy me.  Buy me.  Buy the life you’re not really living so you forget what that even means.



The Realist’s Guide to Los Angeles: Runyon Canyon

When people move to Los Angeles, they often express joy at the close proximity to so many varied topological options.  You can ski, surf, hike, swim in infinity pools in the Hollywood hills, etc.  They list off these attributes with smiles on their faces and stars in their eyes.  These are the people who are new enough to the city to not have been beaten down by distance and traffic, hazards of an overblown car culture.  Yeah, I’d go surfing if it didn’t take me 45 minutes to travel the 7 miles to Santa Monica.  Yeah, I’d ski all the time if the first decent mountain wasn’t 6 hours away.  I’m not negative, I’m just burnt out.  I grew up here and if I could push my car off a cliff into a beautiful privately owned beach and roll it into a polluted, public owned ocean…trust me, I would.  What I do take advantage of is the hiking as it is conveniently located to my house, it’s cheap, and it’s good for my heart.  At least once a week I make the treacherous, dog shit ridden journey up to the top of my little LA world.

There is much to be aware of before you commit to hiking Runyon.  The following is some advice I have to the newbies.

1.  Heads Up, Seven Up

Never look up for more than a second or so.  Doing otherwise will most certainly result in stepping into the aforementioned dog poo.  I usually make a point to only observe my surroundings and relax at two particular vistas.  I’d like to fully commit to exercise induced euphoria, but I’m too busy concentrating on keeping my shoes clean.  I suggest you do the same.  Save the sightseeing for later.

2.  “Hello” and other Niceties

LA is a big place.  And like other giant, overpopulated cities, people become increasingly protectionist to minimize the likelihood of befriending sociopaths.  Saying “hello” to oncoming hikers is like asking a stranger over for tea time.  How dare you?!  You want me to eat macaroons with you and I don’t even know your name?!  Jesus, man.  Telling someone to “have a good day” is like stripping them of their personal bubble, their private time.  Blood pressure raises and anxiety rides high.  Once you tell one person you like their dog, they think they’re perhaps expected to do the same…to “pass it forward” like that terrible movie with Kevin Spacey.  Can you imagine what that does to someone’s day?  Better to leave well enough alone.

3.  Weird Dog Varietals

This rule is similar to #2.  Engaging in any type of conversation is strictly foreboden, especially if the conversation is about the variety of someone’s strange looking or unique looking mutt.  In particular, if you ever get the chance to hike Runyon around dusk, you will inevitably come across a man walking a dog who looks like a canine burn victim.  It has no hair with the exception of a few sparse strands on his back and its skin is a deep freckled mahogany.  Its tongue pokes out from the left side of its closed mouth.  By far and away, this is the ugliest dog I have ever seen.

One day, a friend’s mother was visiting from out of town and was not briefed on Runyon etiquette.  She brazenly asked what type of dog it was.  Of course the owner was irritated when responding, having been asked this question – I’m assuming – daily.  But to be fair, he’s the one who volunteered to purchase an ugly dog.  I generally believe that asking an owner what type of dog they have after squealing, “Oh my God!  How cute!!!!” is acceptable.  However, I do have a friend that is in possession of one such adorable pooch and apparently it is equally as bothersome.  Better err on the side of caution and avoid uncomfortable interaction altogether.

4.  One…Two…Three!

There are a few places I recommend holding your breath to avoid full on inhalation of toxic feces.  Depending on the wind, I say holding your breath for at least a ten foot radius from any trash can.  This is where the shit that isn’t still on the ground is deposited.  On a blustery day, you’re really just screwed.

5.  We’ll Have a Gay Old Time

To really make the most of your trip, I recommend bringing your gayest best friend.  These are the people who seem to always be having the most intense conversations, invariably littered with “Oh my GAWD”s and “No fucking way”s.  I wish my life was this dramatic.  My only concern is that these twosomes swallow more flies with their mouths perpetually agape.

6.  (Skin) Safety First

Always, always wear sunblock.  The sun’s glaring rays can be pretty intense way up their in the smoggy blue yonder.  And how on earth will you be able to lie about your age if you’ve got premature wrinkles?

I have learned a great many things from my Runyon Canyon excursions, mainly that you have to work hard for any reward in life.  All of the shit you have to put up with – in this case, literally – hopefully ends in a grand payoff.  As I stand looking at the skyline of Los Angeles – the Lego-like rectangles of downtown, the planes skimming the space above and below the cloud line, the marine layer ebbing and flowing from the west, the glittering reflection of the sun off of Hollywood buildings – I think to myself, maybe this city isn’t that bad.  Maybe the people who choose to live here are on to something.  And then I look back down, and continue my hike.