My suburban grocery experience

I have a colleague that I chat with once in a while about life, work, etc. Sometimes we get on to the subject of living in the neighborhood (he lives out in Fullerton).

“Whenever I’ve thought about living around here,” he says, “I think about the time I went in to the market and looked at the produce, and realized that they don’t have the produce here that we have where I live.”

I respond that there is a Ralph’s around the corner, and that it provides a very “surburban” shopping experience, complete with all standard fruits and vegetables, and offering Emmentaler cheese and Odwalla bars. There is also the Superior, which has lots of interesting produce with a Hispanic twist, is much cheaper, but also has much longer lines. (I should also mention the Farmer’s Market– Tuesday mornings, corner of Hoover and Jefferson).

We’ve now had this conversation 3 times, spaced about 6 months apart. Unfortunately, my colleague’s lived experience (went to market once, saw sub-par vegetables) sticks in the memory much more strongly than hearsay (descriptions of an un-seen Ralph’s).

In a larger sense, I suspect that many of my co-workers are still operating on memories of 1970, or 1980, or 1990 (riot days?) as far as downtown LA, University Park, and West Adams are concerned.



We went to see a house last weekend that had a chicken next door. The neighbors had also planted a vegetable garden in the front yard.

I grew up in a very clean, neat, safe neighborhood with beautiful houses. I’m sure the homeowner’s association would be on your doorstep within an hour if you brought home a chicken. I figure the advantage of living in a less orderly (=less “nice”) neighborhood is more freedom. Chickens? Farming? Old cars in your backyard? Why not? It’s the up side of urban decay: do whatever you want on your little piece of land. (Or other peoples’: look at the South Central Farmers; urban farming is a progressive movement!)

Mind you, I have never actually lived next door to a chicken, so I will be reversing my opinion if they smell really bad, or if there’s a rooster that cock-a-doodle-doos in the middle of the night.

File under: LA – someone should have planned this better

We had a lovely meal at Casita Mexicana this last week, courtesy of one of the owners, who is the neighbor of a friend of mine. The mole was just excellent, along with the stuffed peppers with cream and a flap steak dish.

It is completely worth a trip out to Bell, and if you drive through Vernon, you will also get to see the Farmer John slaughterhouse pig murals, which I have been meaning to take a look at ever since reading about them in LA Bizarro.

Since we were going for dinner, we took surface streets on the way there. The route took us through the “real” South Central, which I will say parenthetically, looked pretty OK to me. We also crossed through Huntington Park, one of the many little cities inside LA that along with Bell, Vernon, Cudahy and City of Industry, I really do not understand the purpose of. Why are there all these little cities of 36,000 residents (or 777) in the middle of the metropolis? A lazy-man’s jaunt through Wikipedia leads me to believe that in most cases, someone rich bought a lot of land, started a proto-suburb (this was before there were suburbs, proper, so these were more like semi-rural towns near LA), and incorporated it as a city. In some cases the city boundary marked a color line, such as with Huntington Park, which was a all-white city next to South Central.

All of this conspires to make the city of LA a very weird shape.

On our way through South Central, my husband commented that LA could accommodate a lot more people. This is a somewhat contrarian view, but indeed, there are big swathes of LA filled with cheaply-constructed 1-story buildings, which could be replaced with multi-story condos.

I think that eventually, if LA continues to grow, we will all be taking the subway everywhere, simply because all the highways and surface streets will be in perpetual gridlock. (I drove up Western to Larchmont Village yesterday and, as usual, was reminded that I hate, hate, hate traffic. Free wireless and power at Le Pain Quotidien made up for it, though.) At that point, the busses aren’t even going to help, so we had better hope all these proposed subways and trains go through.

Chicago or LA?

Wikipedia on South Los Angeles:* I think I have heard this story before

  1. Great Migration: African-Americans come north during Great Depression, post WWII
  2. Restrictive covenants: blacks are restricted from owning houses in certain neighborhoods, confined to particular areas
  3. Freeways built: affluent whites move to suburbs
  4. “Block-busting”: real-estate agents buy a house on an all-white block, sell or rent to a black family, watch as the white families sell/move, then buy remaining homes at discount prices and sell to blacks
  5. Riots
  6. Collapse of manufacturing base: middle-class jobs for blacks disappear or move to suburbs, away from urban core
  7. Major shift from majority black to majority Central American/Latin American

In broad form, this is the same as the story of Chicago as I know it… were the Wikipedia writers copying from Massey & Denton, or is the narrative of the two cities more similar than I thought? I suspect one difference is the influence of Latino populations — in Chicago, racial politics was for a long time a black/white story; the Chicago School of sociology dealt traditionally in only 2 colors. LA, as a part of the country that used to be Mexico, borders Mexico, and after all has a Spanish name, must have had an earlier and stronger Hispanic influence than my former home in the Midwest.

I do not know if Chicago today is shifting Hispanic; is there an analogue to East LA? And should we map Chicago’s Polish population to LA’s Armenian population?

(Remember: if you get confused: if your eyelashes haven’t frozen together all winter, you must be in LA, not Chicago.)

kids + money

I have been waiting for some time to see Lauren Greenfield’s “kids + money,” and finally got my hands on a copy through Netflix. It was totally worth the wait.

The film is a documentary about kids in LA and their relationship to money. There are a mix of kids in the film, from very wealthy kids with nannies, house staff, and unlimited credit cards to kids from families who are barely making ends meet. They talk very articulately about how having money or not (translating, in many cases, in what type of clothes they can buy) affects how they feel about themselves and how they are perceived by others.

The film brought back painful memories of middle school, being judged by your clothing, and in particular, a certain peach-colored sweater. The most popular girl in my class pointed out in front of everyone that this sweater I was wearing was a fake — not the brand everyone else was buying, but a cheaper imitation.

(Funny, in my memory, I feel like I deserved her mockery. I should have known better than to buy a knock-off.)

Anyway, the film reminded me of why it is actually quite nice to live in a slightly lower-income neighborhood: no pressure to have fancy cars, clothes, or gadgets. Of course, that’s from my perspective — I suppose that what I see as my very average car, clothes, and gadgets could be a source of pressure for lower-income neighbors.

Enough with Pasadena, already

I am in San Francisco this week on a business trip. I ran into a colleague who lives in Pasadena, who took the opportunity to tell me (as people do) that I live in an inferior location. Why, he asked, do I not live in Pasadena and drive the mere 20 minutes to work each morning?

I love this myth, the myth of the 20 minute drive to/from Pasadena.

I go to Pasadena every other month or so, at various times of the day. It rarely takes 20 minutes; sometimes it is more like 45.

Enthusiastic Pasadena residents will insist that if it took me more than 20 minutes, I clearly went at the wrong time of day. Didn’t I know that I needed to leave before 7:20am and/or after 7:00pm?

Aaah, if only all events could take place at those convenient times…

Now, as a corollary of the 20-minutes-to-Pasadena-myth, we also have the hypothetical attraction to walking around at night. Walking around at night is the most cited objection to living in my neighborhood. “Aaah,” they say. “But it isn’t safe. You can’t walk around at night, or you’ll get killed.”

For the moment, let’s just bypass any analysis of the getting-killed statement, assume the worst-case scenario that yes, my neighborhood is dangerous at night, and go from there.

Really, people, who walks around at night? I mean, seriously. Do you have a dog you need to walk around at 8pm? OK, then fine, I get it. But otherwise… do you really drive your 20-45 minutes back to Pasadena, park your car in the driveway, and then go out strolling on foot each night? Is your house close enough to restaurants for you to wander over and find something to eat? And is this integral to your lifestyle, so integral that it trumps getting pissed off at the traffic every day? If so, great, but…

Meanwhile, I walk around every day. To and from work. It’s very pleasant and convenient, and I don’t get stressed out from my commute at all. I probably walk more than you do. I just don’t walk around after 7:30pm. After dark I will drive if I want to go somewhere. Seeing as how I usually eat at home, this doesn’t happen all that often anyway.

Attention, Pasadena residents: yes, Pasadena is pretty, there are nice mountains, a Banana Republic and an H&M, exemplary egg-salad sandwiches at Europane, and many other fine attractions. I do hang out in your fair city from time to time on weekends. Maybe I will even move there too, someday.

You can expect me to stop by your house at 10pm with my dog and invite you out for a walk.

Temporary crush

It looks like we have found a house (or two).

We saw the first one a week ago and loved it. I loved this house in the way I love my husband, our cats, and the color yellow. I planned the furniture arrangements in my mind. But we did not make an offer. (See previous posts about sex offenders, fences, etc. and you will understand some of the emotional reluctance.)

Then, today, we found a much, much cheaper house that is even better. All of my house love has now evaporated. Not only am I out of love with the old one, but my relationship with the new one is merely a pleasant regard, combined with appreciation for a good business deal. Offer to go in soon.