Secret Agent: How to Discover Your Neighborhood in Los Angeles

Kev with the new Los Cuentos Black & Gold Cap; Summer 2019

So it’s the second week of summer and you read How to Beat Summer 2019 Parts I III, 10 Ways Not to Beat Summer 2019, and even How to Outline Summer 2019, but you’re still not quite sure what to do with all this newfound time on your hands.

In this case, you’re likely making it just a tad more complicated than it needs to be (I know from experience). But with this blog, we’re going to give it one more shot in a last-minute challenge for you.

The only requirements for this challenge are a few hours of time on your hands, permission to go out for a few of those hours, and either a parent, friend, sibling or pet turtle to accompany you. Okay, maybe not the pet turtle. Sorry pet!

Ready? You’re now officially a secret agent going on an adventure. Your mission: to explore the second most populous city in the world and bring some of its top secrets back to headquarters. Your key ‘weapons’ for the mission are: walking shoes, a smart-phone, a Los Cuentos hat, and a water bottle.

There are also no cars allowed for the assignment. Metro buses and rail-lines only.

Ready to find out where you’re going? You will choose one of the following places for this mission:

  1. Little Tokyo
  2. Plazita Olvera
  3. Koreatown

In true secret-agent fashion, you’re not visiting these places just to ‘have fun.’ You’re going to ‘excavate’ them for some classified info like a world class spy. Sure, you can go with your people, get some ice cream at the stores, and check out the stuff on sale like a lookie-loo. But the real purpose of your visit to these other places will be to find out the following:

I. Where is ‘the heart’ of the neighborhood? (As in, where is the public square, or main area? What kind of businesses are there? Is there any kind of art you see there?)

II. How does it differ from your side of town? (What kind of people are there? How many languages do you hear spoken? And what can you tell about the ‘other’ kids at this other part of town?)

III. How might your neighborhood ‘be’ more like this one? (Could there be a different Metro Station to make it easier to get to your side of L.A, like with these other neighborhoods? If you could choose the stores you’d have in your neighborhood’s main area, what would they sell? And apart from the stores, where would the kids in your neighborhood hang out? Would they have their own main area too, or public square?)

That’s it! It’s true that these are quite a few different questions to remember during your visit to the assignment, but we both know you can glance at this blog while you’re out there on assignment.

We also both know that this is a mission you can definitely accomplish in three to four hours. Metro’s lines were made for you to use for exactly this kind of challenge, just as these ‘other’ places were made for you to visit and learn about.

At the end of the assignment, you’ll feel accomplished for learning about a new part of Los Angeles for yourself, send me the answers to your questions for a top-secret review, and receive a brief follow-up mission, if you so choose.

So, what are you waiting for? Give this last-minute challenge a shot and get out there, young storyteller. Your city is counting on you!

J.T.

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Still Resilient in Los Angeles

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Metro Red Line Station; Vermont Ave and Santa Monica Blvd.

When you’ve known a place your whole life, a place that you take pride in, where you’ve found love in, and where you’ve found yourself in, what do you do as that place is taken from you? When the people who comprise this place are people who look like you, or who speak the same language as you, who hail from that same “otherness” like you, what do you do as they’re taken from you, too?

I think of the local Metro’s Vermont and Santa Monica Red Line Subway station. A place where thousands of people pass one another by each day, past the flocks of pigeons nestled above in the station’s arches, and past the heaps of other people laying by the entrances to the terminal.

The birds cradled in the station’s altitudes are conditioned to the factors of the environment, which are often rather unfriendly to their livelihood: Food is scarce, competition for food is abundant, and the winds push people and traffic through their huddled masses daily.

The humans below, whether moving with the traffic or anchored to the sidewalk, are conditioned to the factors of the environment, too: Food and housing are expensive, finding decent work to afford decent food and housing is likewise competitive. As people push through flocks of pigeons in the race to get to it all, we push past one another too; over time, this has the effect of insulating us from the environment and one another as a whole.

I think of my own experience in this sequence, in terms of just how many people I’ve walked past over the dozen or so years I’ve stepped foot through Metro’s Vermont and Santa Monica corridor. Past people conflicted by mental health disorders, addiction, or no place for shelter at night. Past people trapped in abusive relationships, police violence, or no access to a steady meal each day. Past children who had no choice. I’ve got a feeling that this is an experience which binds me with millions of other people in the U.S. today.

In the 21st century, America isn’t just pushing people away from its borders, but it’s also pushing them from their homes, their livelihoods, and even from its street corners. In the pending displacement of Super Pan, my pueblo is dealing with wealth in this country, and the power of wealth to shove human beings out of the way instead of using it to uplift them and our community together as a whole; a legacy as old as the country itself.

But all around us are more mom and pop shops at risk of displacement, just as there are more Metro stations serving as shelters for more people with less than us. Not far off are also those individuals with wealth who simply want to take each of these spaces for their own benefit without pausing to consider how others can be harmed by such obnoxious claims to space.

If I’m somewhere in between, that is, not enamored by the power of wealth, but also not forced to sleep by the Metro stations at night, then just where do I stand? I pass by the less fortunate like the rest, to try to be better in some other way, which is for the most part what I have to do. But I don’t believe I’ve always got to do things this way.

I believe there’s still a world to build right through the one we see now, both with and alongside others: a world that’s been here before, actually, and which still glimmers through the shadows in moments each day out there; a world of people helping each other, uplifting each other, and building great things as a result.

A world we have to fight for, and which we continue fighting for each day: Nuestro Pueblo, Los Angeles.

More on Super Pan in the Virgil Village SOON,

J.T.

In It to Win Los Angeles

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Wilshire Boulevard and Westmoreland Avenue; L.A., CA

I pedal my way down Wilshire Boulevard on my bicycle and think of the day that the Olympics return to Los Angeles. In 2028, I will be 37 going on 38 years of age.
Then I find my bus stop, wait for the one that goes up Vermont, and once it arrives board my bicycle onto the carrier and then myself on for the ride. On being seated I start to fidget with my phone, and there are so many things I’d like to go over.

For a moment I think of the gravity of the LCD screens today, that is, in how absurdly I depend on them from minute to minute, but once I find the Chess app a moment later, I connect to the one-minute lightning round and begin to hammer away at the screen under the sixty second time limit set for players. Just after the game ends, I go in for a second, but not without another pause first: I’ve got a book in my backpack, and it’s supposed to be a really good one, but why go through the motions when I’ve got all my entertainment in front of me on the screen?

Eventually twelve or so minutes through Vermont pass and I close in on my stop; I slide the phone into my pocket, make my way towards the entrance of the bus, and once the driver breaks dash past the entry doors just before the next flock of passengers file their way in to unload my bike.

Just as the final passenger taps their card to filter inside, my bicycle is unloaded, and I lift up the carrier to return it to its original position. I then wave thanks to the driver, mount back onto the bike’s seat, and pedal on towards the final leg of the journey.

It’s just a few minutes from home then, but as a vibrant breadth of air envelops me through my ride I realize it’s another summer day in Los Angeles and that I just might want to stay outside a bit longer. First though, I’ve got to get back in for some of the day’s last tasks.

On arriving back to headquarters, there lies the other screen; the one of my laptop. I know that I’ve got to reply to an email, or two…but then there are so many other tabs I’ve also got open. I seal the laptop shut, scurry over to the kitchen, and figure I’ll take care of what’s left after a couple of quesadillas.

There is much to do this summer, but not without much concentration. And as the wonder of brilliant daylight threatens to outshine the urgency of the times, I’ve got to remind myself: persistence is still key, and so it’s with persistence that I pedal onto these next tasks.

But I know I’m not the only one taking it all on.

So then, let’s make it happen Los Angeles,

J.T.