Echo Park Rhythm Section Series


Echo Park Rhythm Section

Continuing down Grand, I passed Central Library and had nearly reached Seventh, when it came back to me. I’d put the job announcement in my pannier bag and the hotel was practically next door, why not? Reaching the sidewalk, I turned the corner, went the extra block, and headed down the driveway. Out came the doorman.

“Where’s the chef?” I said.

“You have an appointment?”

“I’m here to see the chef.”

The direct approach. Like at my storage unit—surrounded by cameras, “Keep Out” signs and barbed wire, yet if you just pull the back gate a little you can walk right in.

He nodded. “Go through the garage. Take a right. Ask for him in Receiving.”

In the garage, the pavement shone, concrete columns stood out bright white and assorted limousines looked like they’d just come from the showroom. In Receiving I climbed the metal steps and tapped on the glass.

“Where’s the chef?” I said.

“You have an appointment?”

“I’m here to see the chef.”

The clerk stood, tied his apron and handed me a paper. “Fill out an application.”

I didn’t take it. “I’ll give him my resume,” I said. “It’s okay. Call the chef.”

He eyed me, untied his apron, sat back down and called.

“He’s coming.”

I watched the elevators and wondered from which he’d emerge. What would he look like? Would he hire me? Soon a bell rang, an arrow lit and a two hundred-twenty-pound redhead stepped out. He went up to a stainless steel cart, joked with the delivery man, signed a receipt, checked off a box of canned artichokes, a barrel of olives and a bag of cold cuts, then headed back towards the elevator.

“Chef,” I said.

“Yeah.”

I handed him the resume.

“Academy graduate. Twenty years experience. I do it all. Soups, salads, vegetables, decoration.” I smiled. “Ready when you are.”

“I’m the Sous Chef.”

He went back into the elevator and I went down the steps, but once he was gone, climbed back up. The clerk in the glass booth looked the other way.

Soon the bell again rang and the chef appeared. He was five-foot-six with sparse black hair and a uniform stained head to toe.

“Chef?” I said.

“Yes.”

“Executive Chef?”

“Yes, yes.”

I handed him the resume. “Academy graduate. Twenty years experience. I do it all. Soups, salads, vegetables, decoration, menus. You see, I write too. I’ve written thirty-two books—sixteen novels, seven novellas and nine plays. I’m working on number thirty-three. It’s about a circus owner who bickers with his acrobats. Tom Toleno said I copied Charles Springwire’s Breakfast in Bell Gardens, but in my story there’s a secretary, a stage hand and an old girlfriend. That may seem trivial, but when she gets stuck on the catwalk—”

“So you can cook?”

“I’m the best. People love everything I make. It’s the only reason my wife stays with me. You see, she doesn’t like it when I have the band over. And if we practice late, she gets angry. That’s why I told Chuck to arrange studio space in Hollywood.”

“What schedule are you looking for?

“Schedule?”

“What hours?”

“Anything you got.”


Echo Park—CLOSED

Heading back, the bike path forked down a back street of stucco garages, fiberglass fences, slump stone walls, corrugated awnings and wood-slat gates—everything turning its back on a place taggers wouldn’t bother graffiti. A line of power poles marched into the distance, their shadows cutting through the pavement every forty feet.

The path continued past the Little League and a couple in a luxury truck. From there I wound through the Sepulveda Dam Recreation Center and came to a porta-potty, a tree branch stuck into the middle of its toilet. Further down the path leaking pipes led to a bridge over the L.A. River.

After Balboa, the path traveled along Victory, the Recreation Center’s northern border. Planes took off and landed. I turned down Havenhurst, then Vanowen, then after the runway, Valjean—a semi-industrial avenue with high-design warehouses along its western side. A girl in a green dress walked down the sidewalk talking into her cell phone.

“I’ll be there soon,” she said. “I know, I know.”

Crows cawed. A white pick-up truck passed, its bass pounding. Inside the paper outlet I wiped the sweat off my forehead, drank water and bought 100% recycled paper.

“Are you going to carry it on your bike?”

“Yes,” I said. “I have pannier bags.”

“Is your car in the shop?”

“I don’t have a car.”


Echo Park—FOR SALE

A lumber yard appeared followed by high voltage towers. Warehouses, business centers and public parks preceded the entrance into the Santa Susana Pass. White-haired British tourists boarded and found their seats.

“Nice train,” said one. “Very relaxing.”

“Quite,” said another. “We don’t have trains like this in England.”

“I used to see them in Scotland though.”

“Did you?”

“Often.”

Heading uphill, backyards expanded to include horse runs, stables and corrals. The first characteristic rock formations appeared.

“Now, isn’t that something.”

“Wondrous. Looks straight out of a Western.”

“Yes, yes, the ambush scene.”

We entered the first of three tunnels...

“Oh, my.”

“Black as pitch.”


Echo Park—SOLD

There is a bank off Vose Street in Van Nuys, its glass and concrete awning sheltering the main walk where skateboarders pull Impossibles. Trimmed hedges line planter walls that also serve as benches and obstacles. The lawn extends to the sidewalk where sprinklers wet unsuspecting pedestrians nine-fifteen each morning.

Though now clear, it had rained through the afternoon and storm clouds hung low over the shopping mall. There, by the water machine, a man spoke Chinese into his cell phone and a high-heeled lady in a yellow Sari pushed her shopping cart over to the crate of melons. Behind them, a white-haired Russian couple disengaged their car alarm, climbed into a van and backed out of the expansive parking lot. Seven-lane Sepulveda Boulevard (not including curb parking) awaited and as they turned south past the one, two and three-story motels, guests (having vehicles, but no kitchens) emerged from their rooms in search of pancake specials.

Lines of on-ramp traffic crawled through a hodge podge of houses, parkways, billboards and businesses. Waiting for red to turn green, ladies sat silent as their black dog barked from the backseat, and behind them, an overweight man rested his chin squinting through thick glasses and thin windshield.

Locking my bike to a post, I went inside the automat and took a handbasket. Rice, soy milk, an eggplant, a squash, tomatoes, onions, apples, I slid a twenty into the checker machine, packed my pannier bag and walked out. There was a payphone by the bakery.

“Well, I hope you’re happy,” said Tami.

“Relieved might be a better word.”

“Don’t forget court.”

Selected Works

Indigenous roots of Los Angeles’ layout, center, commercial corridors and the buildings that line them.
L.A.’s planning achievement, its sabotage, how it was done, who did it and why.
Although paved over, L.A.’s spirit remains. Visions rise from the asphalt guiding vegetarian musicians like Marc, an Angelino Heights rare bookseller who rides a bike and packs gourmet lunches for his over-worked wife. What happens when he lands a holiday gig at downtown’s most exclusive (meat-eating) haunt?

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