A Day in LA
A Day in LA
Most museums are categorized or divided by type: art, history, geography, industry etc, and knowing this I expected the Petersen Automotive Museum to simply be a building full of car varieties. Ford, Chevy, Honda, Lamborghini, and so on and so forth. I expected old through new and broad representation. I went to the car museum the same way I go to the symphony- rarely, and expecting to appreciate but not necessarily enjoy it.
But I loved it.
It was all the types of museum mixed into one. It was history, it was an educational explanation of an industry, it was a celebration of of a culture, and what I loved the most, was art.
Bugatti is art. When I look at a Picasso the little placard could read something like “Portrait of Woman, cubist genre in the medium of oil.” A Bugatti could read, “Rolling Wave, art deco era, in the medium of car”.
Ferrari, a name I first learned from Magnum P.I., is the perfect marriage between art and function. No, that’s not quite right. Ferrari is art and adventure, style and unreasonable speed. Ferrari is as if the Italian sprinters showed up at the Olympic starting line wearing suits and ball gowns then promptly won every race.
I guess today’s children would appreciate seeing Lightning McQueen (he’s in the museum) the child in me appreciated seeing Herbie the Love Bug, Magnum P.I.’s Ferrari, Marty McFly’s Delorean, and the Batmobile all in a row. I suspect Kit from Nightrider is kept in the basement in order to prevent visitors like me from having a heart attack. That being said, I do consider it an oversight to not include Cameron’s father’s wrecked Ferrari from the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in the Ferrari room.
I do not have survey data or comparative sales reports, and yet I have no hesitation in declaring Diddy Reise as LA’s favorite ice cream sandwich. It just is.
Located right next door to UCLA’s campus this little shop serves up your choice of ice cream flavors to be scooped up and squished between whichever freshly baked cookies you prefer.
For $2 per sandwich. These are confectioner’s quality at McDonald’s prices.
Just know that they only take cash and there will be a line.
There is always, I repeat, always, a line.
If you just want cookies, $4.50 gets you a dozen. Hawaiian shave ice with a scoop of ice cream inside? $2.
You cannot lose.
To get to the Getty you take a tram from the parking lot. No, that isn’t completely true. I took a tram, you can walk up the hill, but it was hot outside and it is UP the hill. Don’t worry the line moves fast.
While walking into the modernistic rotunda looking for our tour guide, I wondered aloud why this place was so busy. “I don’t think I’ve seen an art museum this crowded since the Louvre.” My wife gave me the side eye and asked, “When is the last time you saw a Rembrandt and Van Gogh for free?”
They also had Gauguin. And they had, I mean have, Monet, Manet, Goya, and my favorite- tourists taking pictures.
As a painter, I have always appreciated other’s work in that same medium, but as an appreciator of history, I have learned to love sculptures.
For example, while the tour guide was talking about the technique used to craft marble or get stone to look like silk, I was learning that long before plumbing, before electricity, even before we understood the human circulatory system, men were taking the time to groom super cool mustaches (their opinion not mine) and dress with a little swagger. There is art in the subject not just the medium.
Or maybe there was this woman, Mary Seacole, a Jamaican who treated wounded soldiers in the Crimean War- which I should note was before America’s Civil War- who taught me not only about an artist’s skill with chisel, but that the look a black woman gives when someone says “confederate statues are history” rather than a celebratory memorial to racism, has been the same for more than 100 years.
I can hear this statue better than I can see it. I had several seats after viewing it.
I also learned that even before digital media, there were pixels. Poor resolution and revivalist mosaic are pretty much the same thing.
What struck me about the Getty, even more than the sculpture, and crowds, was the space. I am too lazy to investigate the planning process or theory in its creation, but it functions as a location first, and houses art second. There are gardens surrounded by architecture placed on a hilltop overlooking LA.
It is a place. A space. To be in. To be surrounded by and lounged in and enjoyed. It is an environment.
And I like that.
The University of Southern California is not in South Carolina. You would think this goes without saying but some people need to hear it. They are known as the Trojans, they have almost 40,000 students, and every year the school receives more donations than almost any other university. They need those donations because while New York is the old world of inherited position, Los Angeles is the new world where nobodies just buy their way in, and USC is not just IN LA but in many ways IS LA.
I have been to more than 200 hundred American college campuses and nowhere have I been surrounded by so many kids who look like well-manicured super athletes. Remember that one sociology class you had sophomore year with all the football players? They would show up in sweat pants, unshaven, with bed head. At USC they arrive in crisp ironed t-shirts with tweezed eyebrows. These polished Adonises appear in white brown and black, male and female, with the only requirements being that they appear chiseled and leave behind first place trophies. There are so many trophies.
Winning is a big deal at USC.
At Harvard you can find a statue of John Harvard. At Penn you find a bronze Ben Franklin. At USC you find statues of a dog wearing a cap playing with a football, the 1969 defensive line nicknamed the Wild Bunch, a white horse named Traveler, several bronze Trojan warriors, actor Douglass Fairbanks, and six, count them six, Heisman trophies. There would be seven but Reggie Bush lost his due to NCAA violations. O.J. Simpson’s is still on display in the Hall of Champions.
Commerce. Transcations. Goods. Units. Revenue. Profit. Growth. Market. Market share. Margin. Money. Money. Stuff. Stuff. More. More. More.
More work, more money, more time, more things. So much. So-so, much.
I walked through LA’s Santee Alley in the fashion district. There were crowds of us walking right next to each other looking at $1 sticks of lipstick that claimed to be MAC and $10 shoes that looked exactly like Chuck Taylors save the Converse logo. T-shirts, piñatas, skin tight pants and bustiers went on for blocks and blocks. The people behind the counters or in the isles hocking goods did not appear to be particularly concerned with makeup or fashion, they were interested in transactions. They were merchants, not artisans.
That same day, only a few miles away I strolled through The Grove. The street is wide enough for the double decker trolley to roll on its tracks and still allow the crowds to meander in safety. There the MAC lipstick is $25, the Chuck Taylors are $50. You can easily find skin tight jeans and bustiers (maybe not piñatas) but they will all be much more expensive. Still, the people selling them were just retailers. They may be better funded consumers, but they are not artisans, just merchants.
It is hard to comprehend or appreciate the grand scale of how many dollars and units pass through these places daily, monthly, yearly. The volume of dollars, the hours spent creating, shipping, distributing and retailing is almost incalculable. Almost. No- not true. They are absolutely calculable and that is why they, we, go through the trouble. We are making calculations and transactions because that is what we do. It is how we live. It is who we are, or at least it is who we have become. We are a society of consumers on a grand scale.
Walk through any mall in any suburb in any state and amid all those people buying, selling, and transacting, what you will rarely find is a person behind the counter doing what they love. So many of them, of us, me, are not following passions but just doing things and tasks to get by. We are trying to make it, and by make it I mean pay the rent. Maybe pay for our kids to do something they like. Maybe. Some of the people doing the buying may appear a little happier, but they are only visiting, this isn’t what they do to survive. Many of the buyers in malls are simply enduring. They are on an errand to get some sort of affordable necessity, meaning it is what the other kids are wearing and not conforming will cause discomfort. Maybe they are like me and have gained ten pounds and two inches resulting in the need for a new pair of Hagar slacks. Navy blue non-iron with those invisible stretchy side tabs allowing for the 5 extra pounds still to come. But in that mall is a fountain that no one stops to look at, a sculpture by an artist with no name, and performances attended only by parents and friends.
And the scale is astonishing.
Commerce. Transcations. Goods. Units. Revenue. Profit. Growth. Market. Market share. Margin. Money. Money. Stuff. Stuff. More. More. More.
More work, more money, more time, more things. So much. So- so, much.
I see all those widgets and things and the time and the effort and the dollars going strictly to transactions and I feel dread.
I feel that dread because I have also seen people struggle to pay the rent or buy food. I have known people whose entire existence is a struggle for the day to day necessities of life. I have seen people turn to crime or medication, or wish for death, because they cannot get their hands on enough money to flush the toilet, or heat the stove, or pay tuition, or drive a car. These people will never have need of a financial planner or investment manager. These people will never need a real estate agent, stylist, or consultant. There are plenty of things they will need, they are obvious, but they won’t, or don’t, get them. And what is even worse, is that these people will likely never be able to spend their hours doing things they love. They will look inside themselves and see their own value, and they will feel passion for this or that, and they won’t ever get to go there or do that, for any meaningful period of time.
Anything neglected over time will wither and die. Plants, muscles, passions, and self worth.
I was and have been told, that there is no helping others, at least not on a societal level. I have been told that the problem is the poor themselves. I have heard and been told and been taught, that the answer is God and that things must stay this way till God comes to Earth and everything becomes heaven by magic. I am quoted the scripture that says the poor will always be with us and that I should just do my best to care for me and mine. It is odd that despite my belief in God, real, actual belief, I don’t believe that. I can’t and I won’t.
I cannot believe that we humans must wait for divine intervention because we lack the knowledge will or ability to help the poor huddled masses- because I have seen Santee Alley and the Grove. I have seen and watched and participated in the wonder of producing, shipping, distributing, warehousing, selling, and consuming of piles and piles and dollars worth of stupid pointless things. The drive for dollars and plastic toys or mascara, or a fourth pair of shoes, has made distance from China to Arizona irrelevant. It has made the state of oil in the ground and rubber solidified into soles of shoes the monetary equivalent of a night at the movies. We pay millions to individuals, and billions to businesses, whose sole purpose is getting a ball through a hoop. We spend millions of dollars and millions of hours to risk our lives climbing mountains for the sole reason of saying that we did. We do all of that all of the time.
And we have to wait for God to come to Earth to find jobs for poor people? It will take Jesus and Armageddon to educate immigrants?
It makes no sense at all. None. No sense in that I see the merchants in the alley who do not love these little trinkets and have no passion for taking money in exchange for toys- but yet they do it. Every day they do it. I see the people buying things at the mall and they don’t really love that stuff and the teenagers who work there hate the stuff, and even the manufacturers who make the stuff could care less what stuff they make as long as there is profit. There is no love in it at all and I cannot stand it.
We have sacrificed passion, craft, and humanity on the altar of efficiency and revenue. We killed the unblemished lamb and blessed it with the name of free market capitalism. We have slaughtered the scapegoat and called it communism. We have made these sacrifices and at the end I fear we don’t have blessings just dead animals. I have this fear because I know so many good people doing great things, yet they, like me, remain a foundational part of the problem.
I know a doctor who spent decades studying and suffering to earn the ability to save lives, and now that he does in fact save people’s lives, he bought himself a motorcycle in addition to his every day car just for fun and because he has earned it. Meanwhile the life of the person whose life he has saved is in shambles because the insurance won’t cover the procedures and now he cannot afford to sustain his newly saved life. I know of a farmer who toiled with dirt and with books till he accumulated enough money and knowhow to industrialize. Now he makes a fortune producing food that is shipped around the world to feed the poor yet those who still work on his farm are mostly undocumented because those with rights cannot afford to live off the wages the farmer pays and those without rights have no choice but to try.
We have inhaled so completely the myth of American meritocracy that we feel we deserve the good we get and that others deserve the bad. We believe that the freedom we covet is inherently tied to private property and capital yet turn a blind eye to the correlating truth that tying freedom to those things robs the poor of all hope to be free. Every business person I know will parrot the axiom that it takes money to make money, knowing full well the poor don’t have any, and the act of loaning anything to the poor is so remarkable that doing so at a non-predatory rate will win you a Nobel Prize. Watching and hearing this is infuriating and it is easy to see why so many who care for the poor from some religious obligation could lose hope in humanity and resign themselves to wait for deity. Not me. The deity I know has never really forced the human hand and while there is definitely drama in divine interactions, they are not normally mixed with direct compulsion. Destruction maybe, but not forced action. In addition, humanity has an amazing, even godlike capacity, to strike out and accomplish whatever it is they, or we, decide we wish to do.
So the question is not, nor has it ever really been, “how do we solve world hunger?” or just, “how do we help the poor,” but rather “how do we decide to help the poor?” or “How do we convince ourselves to put people above profit?” It is all about the will. And this lack of will, or our misplaced will, is where my feelings get hurt. Because we, as a whole, have so readily and foundationally dedicated ourselves and our will to something, or everything, that so many of us simply don’t care about.
We dedicate ourselves to daily work, because we believe we have to, and our heart is not in it. Meanwhile, we gloss over or walk past, things, or activities, or people, in which or in whom we would and could so easily invest, but we do not. We cordon off our hearts and passions as extracurricular or as hobbies and see charitable donations as a tax exemption, viewing poverty as a political issue. Some discover and chase passion projects or are lucky enough to synchronize fulfillment and career, and they are almost always beginning in the middle or upper class.
If we can create a world where we can pull oil from the ground in Wyoming, ship it to China where it is formed into a Shopkin, then ship it back to California and sell it by the truckloads at Target for $2 per trinket, we can do anything we want.
Is it possible that we could restructure in a way that those who are currently laboring with transactions with no heart at all could instead follow their passions and still fill their belly? Isn’t that what a 1st world society should be? Would we be less efficient and productive? Probably. Could we craft a true meritocracy that enables the ambitious without crushing the lost and lowly? Maybe. But maybe we would also be better. Not better on an income statement or maybe not even better quality products all the time but possibly we would be better people.
Maybe. I don’t know. I do not have the detailed answers but I am convinced they exist. Maybe the one who has, or who could, decipher the answers is right now making change from a five dollar bill for someone who wants to buy a one dollar stick of lipstick.