My Morning Constitution

My Morning Constitution

DeSoto Avenue runs north and south in the 818, the San Fernando Valley. The San Fernando Valley is a 260 square mile bowl that was once under water. The 818 deserves its own identity, but we’re lumped in with Los Angeles…for better or worse…we are LA’s child, a child that lives in the guest house and rarely takes meals with his parents. I live in one of 37 towns that make up the San Fernando Valley. Towns of varying size. 1.77 million people in total. Canoga Park is situated in the West Valley. It’s not as bucolic as it sounds. DeSoto runs from dirt road Mulholland Drive at the southernmost end to Oat Mountain in the north. A 20-mile drive. I live more on the southern end, right beside the Orange Line. The Orange Line is the Metro that cuts East West through the valley. Public transportation. Woot Woot.

At any rate, I’m a walker. A saunterer. It’s no stranger an activity than any other. In fact, I’m in good company. Colin Fletcher. Henry Thoreau. Kierkegaard. Aristotle. Mary Oliver. Jesus. John Muir. All proponents of making good use of the feet. On most mornings, I walk along Deering Circle to get to DeSoto. I pass the rancid smell of the homeless encampment adjacent to the Orange Line. People live in tents and on this morning, there is a woman sweeping the street outside her front “door.” T-shirts and underwear hang on a makeshift dryer line that runs along the chain link fence separating the Orange Line from the street parking. And this is where the homeless bivouac. Not exactly white sheets flowing in the sunshine like in the Downey commercials. DeSoto & Deering. It’s like something out of a Tilly Olsen or John Steinbeck novel. Except it's not. It's here. Now.

I made a right turn on red at the Orange Line once. Once. 600 bucks and a day in traffic school. Now I stop on yellow. Let them honk. One day a guy in a beefy pick-up truck went around me horn blaring and I saw the lights flash as the cameras took his photograph from every conceivable angle. Just like they did to me two years earlier. 600 bucks and a day in traffic school. DeSoto and Victory.

But this morning I am walking.

South of Victory on DeSoto the air is sterilized by the middle class. The white-collar workers of Warner Center. Living in places called Trulia and The Met and Bella Vista. Bella Vista. Beautiful View? Jesus. There are thousands of people stacked up in apartment buildings in this area. Beautiful view. Insurance agents and lawyers and, oh look, there is the bankruptcy courthouse. Who knew? A bankruptcy courthouse so conveniently located near a hospital and insurance buildings. I laugh right out loud. Not a phony laugh like at a dinner party when the host tells a stupid joke that you’re supposed to think is funny. No, this is the laugh that comes from seeing straight through the façade to the heart of social engineering.


Past Kaiser Hospital to the 101 overpass. More homeless. The smell becomes rancid again.

Good grief, why do they stay beneath the overpasses? LA is full of overpasses with tent encampments. It smells like piss and exhaust. It smells like defeat. If I were going to be homeless it would not be under the overpass. I could never handle the noise, first of all. I would need a quieter place to be homeless, destitute, hopeless. Are they? Hopeless? Maybe the noise distracts from the sadness of squalor.

Just on the other side of the 101 overpass is the DWP building. Again, homeless folks strew their belongings along what passes for a front yard. Drought resistant landscaping. Rocks, people. But, too, the DWP offices are gathering places for the homeless all over the valley. What is up with that? Is there some benefit to being situated near those industrial looking buildings with no windows? Maybe that’s it. The no windows thing. No one staring at them. Other than me, of course.

LA’s homeless population exceeds the population of my old hometown of Mechanicsburg, PA. Everybody’s from somewhere. And I was from there a long time ago.

I make a right on Ventura Boulevard and at the bus stop is another shopping cart and makeshift bed beside the bus stop bench. Blankets on the concrete. Tough night. What is that smell? I press on.

I pass the Trader Joe’s and the Courtyard at Woodland Hills. Tourists? Insurance types more like. I never see tourists walking at dawn. Prolly use treadmills anyhow. Wonder what our little burg looks like through tourist’s eyes?

The Porsche dealer. And then Whole Foods. I like Whole Foods. I know, shame about the whole Amazon thing. The way they treat their workers. But there’s something so, I don’t know, satisfying about being around such abundance! All that organicyness. Anyway. Okay, look, I’d love to change the world, too, but I don’t know how. It’s the corporatocracy, man. The people have voted; bring on the chain stores.

Moving west along Ventura. Arms are really pumping. I’m about 2 and a half miles into it now. The Ford dealer. Vista Ford. The Ford Raptor. In your face! 15 whole miles to the gallon. These are the people our taxes bailed out?  It’s as if people aren’t dying every day for the sake of oil. Ford Raptor. Have you seen this thing?  Jesus Christ died for this?

Bunch of chain stores and eateries. Western Bagel. Ugh. If I never eat another piece of bread, that’ll be fine with me. We weren’t even meant to eat bread. Our systems, I mean. Can’t digest it. But I miss soft pretzels though.  Mmmm


Ralphs at the corner of Topanga and Ventura. More homeless. At the bus stop again. A woman. Sidewalk Sara. 50 years old? 30? Hard to tell. She’s awake and sitting upright covered in blankets. All I see is her head. She’s just a head. Wait, is she pretty? I bet she was. Once upon a time. Prolly had fuckin dreams too. Hmph. The bus farts, hisses, and comes to a stop. Towering over her there on the concrete. Dropping off early morning commuters. They step around her to get off the bus. Damn.

Heading north now along Topanga Boulevard. The overpass. Yup. Another tent. But that won’t be here tomorrow I bet, cops roust ‘em out over in the west valley. DeSoto? That’s Canoga Park. Topanga? That’s Woodland Hills. Different deal. Even more different further west in Calabasas and West Hills. The West Hills overpasses suffer no such indignities.

Back into the sublime calm of the several square miles known as Warner Center. An explosion of red and pink bougainvillea. And I am on the west end of Warner Center Park. Hey, free concerts on Sundays all summer. Cover bands. Tribute bands. Mostly. Always thought that would be a cool gig to get. Plus, they play movies in the park at night. Family movies. But who wants to bring their family down to the park and have to step around the homeless types.

Ooh, would you look at that. Three tents and two grocery carts. A mattress with blankets. Oh my goodness, it’s a couple. In bed. Using a palm tree as a headboard. Bikes and trash strewn in a thirty-foot area. Broken bottle shines in the morning light. Almost pretty the way the sun hits the shards of glass. Two things I don’t get: homeless hoarders and hipsters in hot tubs who claim they live off the grid. Anyway, this a persistent little colony. I saw them two weeks ago surrounded by sheriffs. No way is Warner Center Marriot of Woodland Hills gonna let this stand. But they’re still here. In fact, I think they have increased in number. Harrumph.

Ol’ Mayor Garcetti dug himself a bit of a hole claiming he’d solve the homeless problem. It’s growing, dude. Ain’t your fault. Hell, it ain’t my fault either. But it’s growing. Don’t tell me you guys don’t see it, too.

I push on. A study in contrasts. Homeless bivouacs peppered along my route leading past the Cadillac dealership and the Village at Topanga. The Village. An open-air mall. No homeless along that arboreous path. High end shops and eateries. Suzie Cakes…best carrot cake around! Celebrated a recent graduation at Jimmy’s Famous American Tavern. Nice appetizers. Cool vibe.

Continuing north to Victory Boulevard where I head east. ¾ of the way done. Ya ever see those tiled murals on the north side walls of Costco? Pastoral pictures of the Tongva living in harmony with the natural order of things. Indigenous people who lived in this valley. Once. Long ago. People long gone now. 300 years gone. Replaced by missionaries and Mexicans and white folks and Asian folks. Now Middle Eastern folks, too. Basically, us. Their contributions memorialized in a mural. The irony we are asked to swallow is just…ah, don’t think about it. It’s a one-way ticket to an existential crisis. No thank you. Not this Morning.

I run now. I can’t run like I used to. I want to. But I can’t. The system ain’t what it used to be. But I am all about not going gently into that good night. Pushing hard to get to Canoga Avenue. Big breaths. Man, I’m out of shape.  Big intersection. Cross over and do my best version of a sprint past the Petco to the west end terminus of the Orange Line bike path.

I Black top it the mile or so back to DeSoto. Turn left back onto Deering Circle past the woman who is still tidying up around her tent. How many Tupperware containers does a homeless person need? Someone has put Old Glory on a pole outside their tent. 6.1 miles and I am back home, Independence Avenue. I am dripping in irony and sweat. My morning constitution complete.

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