Neighborhood, Night

And Home To Bed

The season has begun when, waking in the morning or walking home, my day begins and ends in the dark.

Although it isn't exactly night. There's hardly true darkness out-of-doors in the Los Angeles basin, so much brightness pools on sidewalks from the regularly spaced street lights, and almost as much ambient light reverberates back from even the least cloudy sky. There's barely any room for shadows on my block.

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The city has been trimming the tall, slim eucalyptus trees on the parkway along South Street. The contractor doing the work left a bin the size of a freight car on the service road. When I crossed the boulevard last night returning home, I could see that the bin was filled to the top, dark above the yellow of the bin at the end of my block. But I could smell the cut limbs and crushed eucalyptus leaves - a sharp, almost citrus scent as enveloping as a blanket - as soon as I stepped from the curb to cross. The scent followed me almost to my porch step.

There's a street light on the strip of grass next to my neighbor's driveway that lights the porch, in fact the entire front of my house. Most of the city's lighting is its own, but in my older neighborhood, the street lights are Edison-owned. The company recently replaced the original metal poles with concrete ones. I vaguely remember when the original poles were stalled.

I thought then that the new street light would help my father find his way when he walked home at night from the bus stop on Lakewood Boulevard, about a quarter of a mile away. He worked in downtown Los Angeles, and it took him well over an hour (and two buses) to get home.

The street light is the marker I still use to tell a cab driver which house is mine on a street of houses that seem even more similar in the almost dark.

My walk home is accompanied -- almost through the entire year -- by the racket of crickets. Perhaps it's the recent spell of cooler days (or just my noticing), but the familiar sound seems to have separated into distinct voices - a regular choir with basses, tenors, and sopranos picking up at different points along my block. Just like the ambient light, which is everywhere but also drawn up into distinct zones of brightness, the crickets' chirping is pervasive but also layered into overlapping choruses.

The crickets, for reasons of survival, throw their sound into a world that would be dark except for all the light the city -- and all of us -- give away every night.

I'm grateful for the waste.

D. J. Waldie, author, historian, and as the New York Times said in 2007, "a gorgeous distiller of architectural and social history," writes about Los Angeles on KCET's SoCal Focus blog.

The image on this page was taken by flickr user Carl Berger. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

About the Author

D. J. Waldie is the author of "Holy Land: A Suburban Memoir" and "Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles." He is a contributing editor for the Los Angeles Times.
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