demographics and freeways
Wednesday, June 21 2000
I realized today that much of the SQL work I do these days is similar to the unstructured programming I did when I first learned VBScript. This is necessitated by the weak support in Microsoft SQL for stand-alone blocks of code (functions and subroutines). Programming in such a primitive manner requires considerable cognitive skills and good memory of all kinds: short term, middle-term and long-term. It's impossible to program in this style while stoned or listening to interesting radio. In the absence of easily-imposable structure, I'm finding that it doesn't take much effort to create SQL stored procedures that are far too complex to effectively debug. There are a few ways to break a SQL stored procedure into smaller procedures, but passing parameters between them isn't straightforward, nor, in a lot of cases, is it particularly simple. The net result of these shortcomings is that only programmers talented in writing complex spaghetti code can write certain kinds of queries in Microsoft SQL. This is not true, by the way, of Oracle, which does support structured PASCALesque coding.
This evening after work Kim and I drove into downtown LA to Dr. Susan Block's studio. Evidently the Doctor's eccentrically aristocratic husband, Max, has been exploring my site and evidently sees me as a genuine bomb thrower and thus a suitable candidate for some sort of collaborative web project promoting his radical erotically anarchistic agenda.
One must be careful when driving in Los Angeles during commuting hours. This was something we knew, but it hadn't yet been internalized as a kind of dread, like the necessary fear of falling that makes a child extra careful when climbing a tree. So we made mistakes, little mistakes, that gradually cascaded and accumulated until we found ourselves back to within less than a mile from our home, facing northward on Bundy in the middle left turn lane at a red light without a turn signal, desperately hoping to make a U-turn. How did we find ourselves in this predicament? It all started about a block away, when we were headed south down Bundy, and Kim decided she needed some gas. After we had the gas, we were forced to head eastward on Olympic. Kim had a plan to make a U-turn and head back to Bundy so we could head down to the 10 freeway. But I said what the hell, let's head east a little, check out the neighborhoods, and catch the 10 somewhere else.
Depending on how we're counting, that was the first mistake. Soon we ran into congestion as we neared the 405. People working in the businesses of West LA were getting out of work and heading back to their bedrooms in Encino. This forced me to fully realize the impact of the difference of real estate usage upon freeway traffic flows. With the 405 you have a huge north south difference: to the north are the bedrooms and to the south are the businesses. Unless the freeway can be dynamically switched so that northbound lanes in the evening can be southbound lanes in the morning, there is no way for the traffic flows to be be efficiently supported by the available pavement. Conversely, with the 10, there is no large differential in the number of residences and businesses along its length through Los Angeles, so its rush hour isn't as bad.
As we passed the 405, I looked down Sepulveda (which runs parallel to the 405 all the way over the Santa Monica Mountains and through Encino) and saw that its northbound lanes were just as choked as the immobilized 405 itself. There simply isn't enough pavement for commuters to get back to the San Fernando Valley at the end of the workday.
East of the 405, in the absence of Valley commuters, Olympic moved eastward much more swiftly. We took Westwood south to Pico, where we found a surprisingly upscale commercial district, and then headed back towards the 10. At a certain traffic light, we encountered a line of motorists facing us in their left-turn lane. They had no turn signal, so they had to eat the meager scraps of free highway whenever they appeared. The motorists had a harried, hungry look which Kim instantly identified as they forced their way across our lane despite the traffic light. Had she been someone else, she might have misidentified these people as assholes. But, as she pointed out, they'd probably been at this light for 15 minutes waiting and waiting for the chance to make the turn. You can't be mad at a desperate person taking desperate action, especially when you're only being slightly inconvenienced. Sensitivity to desperation is an essential social skill.
The second traffic mistake came as Kim entered the 10. For some reason, she accidentally took the westbound ramp, and we soon found ourselves bogged down in the traffic trying to enter the frozen 405. Then came our third mistake, getting off the 10 on Bundy northbound instead of southbound. It turns out that like Sepulveda and the 405, all northbound traffic in Los Angeles is congested during the evening commute. This is how we ended up less than a mile from where we began, in the left hand turn lane, at a light with no turn signal, hoping somehow to maybe make a U-turn. The look of hungry desperation was now in our eyes, and we weren't getting much sympathy from the other drivers. Driving might seem, in theory at least, to be a relatively easy, mindless task. But if you don't pay proper attention to the routes, you can easily end up in a situation that's not too different from being stuck on the wrong side of a high brick wall from your destination.
Once we were headed in the right direction on the 10, getting to Dr. Susan Block's studio (at an undisclosed location) was almost effortless.
I suppose the meeting I'd scheduled with Max was sort of a "get acquainted session," with a view towards some sort of web collaboration. It was refreshing to me that, when all was said and done, he wasn't really interested in my computer skills. What he seemed to be saying was that the best application of my time was in writing and art, things for which I have received only ever received token compensation if I've received anything at all.
On the way to this point, however, we sat around the Speakeasy bar talking about all sorts of things and drinking Czech beer. The talk consisted mostly of Max's monologues, all of which are delivered with such thoroughness of articulation that they seem almost pre-packaged. But this is just the way of an effective writer, someone whose idle time is taken up with the spinning of phrases, metaphors and even, if he's good, whole paragraphs. For my part, I was trying to be a good listener, making my points in short humorous sentence fragments. For example, when someone at the bar brought up those new-fangled cell phone headphones that, from a distance, give the impression that a business executive is talking to himself, I referred to the devices simply as "the new schizophrenia."
Max said that his hope was to make the large room around the bar area into a "free zone" bed and breakfast. People would stay in an indoor trailerpark archipelago, bathing and socializing occasionally in a big bubbling hot tub, sipping drinks from the bar (which is in the process of being rebuilt to proper bar rigidity specifications). People taking vacations in this oddball trailerpark would enjoy freedoms much like those enjoyed by the people over in non-Puritanical Europe.
"Here in the land of the free," he explained, "no one realizes how little freedom we have in comparison to older societies where they've worked all this stuff out long ago." "Drugs, oh yeah, we know about that! Sex, oh yeah, we know about that too!" he said with generic European foreign accent.
Basically what he meant was that while the police here in America are interested in mucking with people's private lives concerning issues that don't really affect others (sex, sexual expression, drugs, gambling, etc.), in Europe, societies are so old and jaded that the people have more pragmatism and more of a sense of perspective. In a land where, only 60 years ago, great cities were leveled and armies slaughtered millions, cracking down on drugs and sex just seems like a misdirection of resources, an insult to the memory of people who died about real issues. Sure, there are plenty of drug laws in Europe, and there might even be laws governing sex. But they're not systematically enforced and are only there for cases where an individual is causing excessive societal disturbance.
Somehow the conversation came around to the subject of the "LA Riots" of a few days ago, the mass celebration by LA Lakers fans outside the Staples Center (immediately outside the Dr. Suzy Block Studios). "On the news they kept showing this one burning newspaper stand and cop car and calling it 'the LA Riots'," Max sneered. He then pointed out something that no one in the media had bothered to mention in describing the chaos. The people involved: black, white & Hispanic, had a strong sense of shared jubilation and camaraderie. The violence was interesting in that it didn't target people at all, just property. Everyone was in a festive mood as they joined forces to turn over minivans and ignite cop cars. And by some miracle, the LA cops for once understood that there was nothing they could do to improve the situation, so they stood back and let the energy play itself out. Sure, the next day they were criticized by the usual "marine father in American Beauty" tough on crime & drugs types, but had they gone in and started shooting, there would have been hell to pay. The people were happy and destructive, but they were also irrational. And large groups of irrational people aren't to be trifled with, any more than herds of stampeding cattle. In such a situation the collective consciousness is governed by the peer pressure of the people within shouting and seeing distance. It's a strange sort of consciousness, capable of making individuals do all sorts of things outside their nature much the way a flip-flop can be coerced into performing part of the calculation of a square root or my cynical self can be coerced into applauding a Grand Pooh Bah as he threatens to fire 20% of the staff of his ill-fated dot com.
Another interesting fact that hadn't been adequately explored by the riot-obsessed news media was the fact that thousands of Laker fans with non-premium tickets had been forced to watch the game on a projection screen while milling around in a parking lot outside the Staples Center. Lacking the intimacy of actually being in the stadium, many of these people expressed their intimacy with their surroundings, in effect fucking it. Max thought that if someone had just thought ahead and planned a concert immediately after the game, perhaps the jubilant somatic energy could have been channeled in a less destructive way.
Suddenly came a tinny, increasingly loud, vaguely doppler-shifted-out-of-tune electronic rendition of La Cucaracha. It was coming from an old beat up fruit-laden truck driven by a couple Mexicans, slowly plying the alley behind the studio, its drivers hoping to sell their fruit to residents on either side. Max ran out and bought a $2 pineapple. I'd never seen anything quite like this in my life, except perhaps suburban icecream trucks. "They're completely illegal," Max explained gleefully, "but absolutely necessary. Around here, the market comes to you."
Indeed, there are no grocery stores anywhere within the dense matrix of warehouses in the southern part of downtown Los Angeles. But if the police were to crack down on the illegal marketing of fruit, they'd have starving grandmothers on their conscience. That's the anarchistic beauty of an urban center. Sometimes, for logistical reasons, the law has to be ignored in a pragmatic, European sort of way. I could tell this was a delicious thing for Max.
The strongly Hispanic character of the surrounding neighborhoods was another thing Max found delightful. "We fought a war against Mexico," he observed, "and no country has ever successfully held land they've invaded." He then went on to tell about the crack down on illegal immigrants at the Tijuana border. "They reduced the number of Mexicans crossing by 400,000 last year," he observed, "but I read somewhere else that in El Paso, the number had increased by 400,000." Suddenly I realized that keeping Mexicans down in Mexico was like keeping a fart under water.
The Dr. Susan Block Studios are about as a radical (in a refreshingly fun-loving sort of way) as any place I've ever been, and it had crossed my mind, "how do they get away with this?" Max eventually addressed this, in the context of describing a couple police raids he's fielded. The first was some time ago and came as a result of a complaint from a neighbor about "scantily clad women." The police, tipped off that the Dr. Susan Block Studio might actually be a house of prostitution, sent in a male-female couple of undercover officers impersonating a couple in need of "help." At the door, Max had them figured out immediately. The police, in the full glory of their Schteveish wisdom, had picked a couple that looked, in the context of the wild hedonists of the studio audience, like a pair of undercover police officers. The Dr. Suzy Block Studios were raided again recently by a contingent of officers claiming to be in pursuit of a couple of armed Hispanic robbers. When the officers came into the studio and looked around at the dildos and other assorted oddness, they called in the vice squad. In the end, though, these would-be Dirty Harries learned a little something from their more experienced superiors, "It may be kind of weird, but it's art."
And the fact that it's a gallery and a studio gives Max and Dr. Suzy a lot of armor. It doesn't play well in the news for cops to go storming into art galleries in a somewhat left-leaning town like Los Angeles. And, since studios are the very life blood of Los Angeles, the police are expected to show some deference with regard to places with lots of video equipment. Beyond that, of course, is the fact that Dr. Suzy Block is a world famous sex therapist. When you're a world famous sex therapist, chances are good that no matter what you're doing, no matter how odd it may look, you're doing what the doctor ordered. The bone headed constabulary can't begin to understand. Indeed, they'd rather just go and bust the heads of innocent negroes suspected of liquor store robbery.
And that's why Flynt Publications is on Wilshire and La Cienega and not in the redneck south where, as did my own, the Hustler empire began.
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