- Supreme Court Justice Benjamin Cardozo, 1870-1938
As we come closer to the end of another school year, and my last child prepares to graduate from Riverside Poly High School, I keep driving around the city and looking at the different buildings which have housed us -- her grandmother Alberta Sims and her three sisters, who all went to school here; her father and I, who met in junior high here; and our three daughters, who all walked to junior high two blocks from our house, and then went to Poly.
This year I spent time with four men who changed education here, back in 1965 when de facto segregation was the norm in California, when violently-enforced segregation was the law of the South. Back in 1965, Riverside became the first large school district in America to desegregate through voluntary busing, without the enforcement of court order. Three other men who were instrumental in that historic time died within a week of each other this winter. The heroic hours may be quiet or public -- their legacies useful to remember now.
Last week a friend reminded me that it was National Teachers Day. This struck me as a bit like celebrating National Sunrise Day, but I looked it up just to be sure. I could have asked my wife. She's a teacher. But even though it was six-thirty in the evening and she wasn't home yet. This wasn't unusual. It's pretty much the norm.
With no teacher to turn to, I turned to the internet (apologies to my own teachers). Turns out National Teachers Day falls within National Teachers Week. If they add a little more time to it, I believe they'll get it right.
I have known some remarkable teachers. If I were paid by the word I'd list them here and retire, maybe slip Warren Buffett a little pocket change. Even if I did list them, you wouldn't know their names. That's the way teaching is. Teachers do not reside on magazine covers or building-size billboards or under opening night lights. But I knew these teachers, and that has made all the difference in my life.
The other day while walking to mass, I crossed the cement apron that leads out of the alley behind the houses on Clark Avenue in Lakewood. I'd crossed that alley entrance from the time I was a boy and through the 32 years I walked to work after my father's death. But this time a narrow sheet of water, probably leaking from a backyard hose, spilled across the edge of the concrete. For the first time, I noticed there were names inscribed there, almost worn smooth.
The loose water brought out the contrast in the faint letters.
I'm not inattentive. The fractal qualities of the everyday interest me. Yet here were the persistent marks of lives that had neighbored mine which I had never seen, would never have seen except for the contingencies of the moment. I stopped.
Children had written their names awkwardly, haphazardly in the wet concrete but with respect for each other. Their names didn't overlap.
A sentinel from the city's past -- hidden in plain sight in Exposition Park since 1914 -- is a reminder that Los Angeles has roots. Literal roots.
Nathan Masters recently followed up his account of the city's 19th and 20th century terminals (here) with a further look at the fan palm (Washingtonia filifera) that stood for 25 years in front of the long-ago Arcade Station. (His story is at Los Angeles magazine.)
And that palm is perhaps the most footloose piece of the city's landscape. It had been uprooted in the late 1850s from one of the arroyos north downtown and replanted, along with several other specimens, perhaps to line the drive to a home on San Pedro Street not far from 2nd.
(You'll find a discussion of whose home here thanks to the tireless researchers of Noirish Los Angeles. Updated 5/14/13: The search may have ended. But that may not be the end of our palm's mysteries. Because the Noirish archivists have a question about the 1914 date of the tree's replanting here at Exposition Park.)
The palm moved again to the front of the newly opened Southern Pacific train station at Alameda Street around 1889, and moved again in 1914 (when the Arcade Station was demolished) to the entrance of Exposition Park, where it still stands, marked by an almost forgotten plaque.
Take a look at the future of Los Angeles, and what will you see? Less smog? A subway that reaches the sea? Flying cars? A professional football team at long last?
All of the above are still uncertain things. But what is certain will be our demographics: Los Angeles County's population will be predominately Latino and Asian. With the Latino population in California projected to surpass the white population sometime in 2014, and Asians now eclipsing Latinos as the largest immigrating group overall into the United States, our region will likewise follow suit.
What should we make out of all of this? Will there be racial tensions? Will there be socio-political power struggles?
Park-poor Los Angeles: perhaps it's no surprise that many of the city's earliest parks were born of refuse lands. Flush with public land inherited from California's land grant days, Los Angeles was practically giving away real estate in the latter half of the nineteenth century, donating lots to private individuals or auctioning off tracts to fill the city's coffers. But some lands eluded buyers.
The mayoral runoff is almost upon us, and every four years I think about how great it would be if all of us could vote for mayor. By "all of us" I mean everybody living in the 88 cities and swaths of unincorporated county that aren't technically L.A., but are part of L.A. nonetheless. More than most cities, Los Angeles is a state of mind. It's impossible to think of the civic zeitgeist (to the extent that we have it) or imagine our public face without trendy West Hollywood, beachy Santa Monica, iconic Beverly Hills, or equally iconic Compton. All are separate cities, but do you know the mayors of any of them? Unless you're a resident of any of these places, probably not.
The skin of the desert has been peeled away. It is aloft, and it chokes those of us who breathe here. Each scrape from each stray plow or dozer, each square foot of exposed lakebed with the water siphoned off, each section of desert deemed to be more useful as a blank square mile ends up as dust in the air. It hangs in our skies. It collects in our lungs. It kills us by increment, and someone else benefits.
That's all the sign said.
Perhaps it was short so as not to distract from the moment. I'd like to think so.
I drove past the sign, watching it dwindle and disappear in the rear view mirror, and then I was looking ahead, which is always a good thing when you are driving. Although several days have passed, I have not forgotten the sign. Its message wasn't new to me. I doubt it's new to you. But making it yours is no easy feat. And letting it go is an immeasurable loss.
"Terminal Island is to the extreme left (barely visible), and is connected to the Port of Long Beach (middle left, "claw-like" area). The white "thread" seen horizontally in the foreground is the Middle Breakwater, and the river running down the middle of the photograph and spilling into the ocean is the Los Angeles River. The city of Long Beach spans far into the distance." LAPL
The breakwater that separates the Long Beach coast from the turbulent currents of the Catalina Channel is eight miles of rock and fill that give cargo ships calm sailing into the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles. But if Long Beach city officials and the Army Corps of Engineers can ultimately agree on the costs and the risks, a third of the breakwater could come down one day.
And the beach at Long Beach, after more than 60 years, would be open again to the sea.