Lit Rail

Photo courtesy of The Figurehead

In 2008, I wrote the self-indulgent post below, the re-telling of an anxiety driven dream. At the time, I was skeptical of the fabled “Subway to the Sea,” I thought it would never be finished. There was much resistance to the trains/subways crossing certain areas of the Westside. Wealthy residents complained of noise and traffic issues, all the usual NIMBY stuff. Many of us felt like the resistance was really rooted in not wanting the train to deliver teeming masses of urban folks into their neighborhoods. Funny, how much has changed since 2008. For one, the teeming brown masses of the city are increasingly being pushed to the margins of the County, and out of the urban core. Most of the neighborhoods currently being gentrified are neighborhoods along the new train lines.

A couple of years ago, I went to a house flipping workshop, out of curiosity and to chuck tomatoes and rotten eggs at the pompous house flippers (not really, sadly, I behaved). The house flipper or rehab investor or whatever professional euphemism is in use, explained how he looks for homes that run along the Gold Line. His target homebuyers were hipsters wanting to live near train lines, not so much for transit purposes but because it gives them identity. He said, they want to know they can “drink in Downtown bars and catch the train home.” Doubt they are using public transit, most likely it’s uber or lyft. The only drunk people using public transit are the same drunk people that have been using it. This is not Berlin. Our current transit system was developed to help move people, workers, across the city but those workers are being displaced from their neighborhoods, and replaced by casual transit riders. Metro ridership is down.

8 years later and you can now take a train, the Expo Line, to Santa Monica from Boyle Heights (you have to switch trains, but still). The Purple Line, the O.G. “Subway to the Sea” won’t make the coast until, maybe, 2035. Guess we can’t complain that the Expo Line takes about an hour for the crosstown trip, at least it’s not a hologram.
I’ll be back in 8 more years with the next part of this story.

From 2008:
It was sometime in the future, I had recently returned to Los Angeles after a long absence. I was pleased to discover not only had the Gold Line been finished but I was told the subway to the sea was also completed. I entered the Gold Line station at Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights hoping to get to the ocean. Around me the station teemed with thousands of Brown folks. I followed the masses down escalators, assuming they were headed to the platform where I could catch the train to the beach. The escalators kept going down, down, down and then I ended up wandering through a complicated Escher-esque maze of escalators and tunnels. Finally I could see this intense bright, light coming from the floor I was heading to. As the view became clearer, I see the ocean, so brilliant blue, the sand, the palm trees swaying and I can feel the ocean breeze. At a railing, Latino families stand admiring the vista and smiling. As I get closer, I make a shocking discovery. It’s not the ocean at all but a giant hologram, an extremely realistic simulation of the beach. No one around me seems to notice and I feel like that character in the Twilight Zone episode where a woman is yelling to the humans boarding a spaceship to another planet that the alien book titled “To Serve Man” is a cookbook not a manual for the betterment of humankind. I feel incredibly disappointed and let down. Worse yet, I look over and notice in between the teeming tunnels and escalators are stands for every fast food chain and long lines of people waiting to order.
Keep dreaming Los Angeles.

Who is behind the camera?

Who is taking this picture? The faux seductive looks of my great-grandmother, grandmother and great aunts have piqued my interest. Who was this person, capturing their daily activities, asking them to pose on the porch? They had many suitors and I’ve been told many fellas would visit the house and family. But my grandmother swore to me they were chaste and innocent. I believe her.

Found in Lincoln Heights: Little Waves

“Come on back to the water mama!”

Like a lot of other Lincoln Heights residents, I’ve moved from one rented house to another, sometimes moving one house down from the previous, sometimes one block over. All of my neighbors did the same and we’d often find ourselves neighbors again on a new street.

It seems we are all pretty settled now, our wandering ways curbed by the bad economy and the tight rental market. When we do move, it’s due to a reason not of our own choosing: eviction, gentrification and the other assorted maladies that affect the landless class.

It was in one of these houses I found this photo. I’m fairly certain it was the 1907 Craftsman house on Griffin Ave. I do remember finding the photo right when we moved in, maybe behind a drawer, in a door jam or under the carpet we pulled out. It was a treasured find which I taped to the wall as a tribute to the families that once made the house their home.

Five Feet High and Rising-Johnny Cash

“How high is the water mama?”

Favorite Video(s) of the Week: Serial Killers

I’m no reader or researcher of serial killers, they hardly interest me. Unlike lots of Chicanos from this part of town who seem to be fascinated with the genre, the less I think about the ugliness of humanity, the better. However, they have been the theme of some great songs, a few examples below.

Sufjan Stevens – John Wayne Gacy Jr

A song documenting the sad evolution of John Wayne Gacy, one of this country’s most notorious serial killers.

His father was a drinker
And his mother cried in bed
Folding John Wayne’s t-shirts
When the swingset hit his head

Sufjan Stevens asks at the end of the song, “And in my best behavior, I am really just like him. Look underneath the floorboards for the secrets I have hid.”

Super Heroines – Night Stalker

Super Heroines were a popular band in the early 80s LA punk/goth rock scene. According to local punk rock historian Jimmy Alvarado, the lead singer Eva was penpals with The Night Stalker. I guess she was taken in by the cheekbones and pentagrams.

Most everyone else in Los Angeles during this time was terrorized by Richard Ramirez. He was dubbed The Night Stalker by the media for his night time criminal activities which included horrific murders and rapes and the infamous juvenile Satanic scribblings he left behind.

I lived in South San Gabriel during his summer rampage, it was an extremely hot brutal summer too. Our family seared in our stuffy house, all our windows and doors were closed and fortified at all times. A few of his first victims were killed a mile away in nearby Monterey Park causing much fear in our household – my mother slept with a bat keeping vigil at night. My mom’s comadre and her daughters who also lived in South San Gabriel swear they were followed home one late night by The Night Stalker after leaving our house. The city was in a state of paranoia and true terror! When his photo and name were announced, we were all taken by surprise. A Chicano serial killer? There was an unspoken sense of collective shame. Imagine how proud we Chicanos and Eastsiders were then, when Richard Ramirez was caught and beat down in good ol’ East LA! Everyone celebrated on that day.

To commemorate the 25th anniversary of this infamous bit of Los Angeles history, my blog compadre Al Desmadre is planning a kick-ass walking tour “..with numerous stops and sights beginning in Downtown’s Skid Row and a trip to the “Eastside”, culminating on Richard’s street of broken Satanic dreams;…Hubbard Avenue in E.L.A.” Sounds interesting, no? Here’s the link for more info: The 25th Anniversary Night Stalker Tour.

Amandititita – La Mata Viejitas

Amandititita, the queen of excessive Mexican diminutives and the originator of anarcumbia (anarchist cumbia) uses her music to explore the everyday life troubles of Mexicans, especially of DFeros. With songs covering everything from metrosexual boyfriends to not fitting in on Mexican television for being too dark and short to this “fun” song about a crazy nurse who befriends elderly women and kills them to collect their dentures.

One last note, while doing a small amount of research for this post, I discovered both Richard Ramirez and John Wayne Gacy suffered moderate head injuries as children, Gacy from a swing and Ramirez had a dresser fall on him. In both cases, some feel there might be a relation between these injuries and the abnormal behavior that followed them into adulthood.



My great-great grandmother Matilde Vizcarra Tellez, Los Angeles, circa early 1930s.
Such mystery behind her small smile.

Favorite Things: Amok Bookstore


In my early years, I lived in Echo Park. I went for long walks with Amok Bookstore being my main destination. The folks who worked there never much talked to me or my friends but they didn’t hate us either like other Silver Lake shop proprietors who gave us the “buy something or leave” look.
We appreciated their selection of radical literature, strange music guides and bizarre ephemera. There were no hipsters in the 90s but if there were, they’d probably like Amok.

The original location was right behind where Casbah Cafe is now.

Hollywood Jail


Teens and novelty photos, does anyone remember the good times? The concept of a Hollywood jail is a peculiar one, I don’t quite understand the appeal. A novelty photo on a stuffed donkey, now that I understand. Despite the kitsch, their faces say so much, too much.

In this photo: my mother, some of her cousins from Mexico and a very young future Silver Lake optometrist.