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San Vicente Blvd: The Road Too Travelled

For me, the summer of 2015 was the summer of San Vicente Boulevard.

A friend who lived for years in the Miracle Mile area once remarked that San Vicente is L.A.'s secret weapon against the clogged thoroughfares of Wilshire and Fairfax when you wanted to go north and/or west from midtown into Beverly Hills or West LA or West Hollywood or Hollywood. This is because San Vicente runs diagonally, cutting like a scissors through many landscapes in fewer miles and with greater efficiency than other streets that are better known. It isn't fancy or full of landmarks but it reliably gets to the heart of things. In L.A. it's that rare straight line between two points that takes you exactly where you want to go.

Diagonal streets in 1939 aerial photograph of Los Angeles show clashing grids. Courtesy of the California Historical Society Collection, USC Libraries.
Diagonal streets in 1939 aerial photograph of Los Angeles show clashing grids. Courtesy of the California Historical Society Collection, USC Libraries.

From July 4 to August 29--just shy of Labor Day--I took San Vicente every day to Cedars-Sinai to visit my husband Alan, who was in intensive care. Each day I drove north on La Brea from Inglewood, where I live, went several miles and made a left on San Vicente, which took me the rest of the way. There was always something slightly magical about the last leg of an otherwise unwelcome, sometimes dreaded, journey. Driving that distance from La Brea to just past 3rd Street took no more than ten minutes most days but the ground covered was impressive: Mid-city, Fairfax, Carthay Circle, Miracle Mile, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood. All can claim San Vicente Boulevard, and all these neighborhoods felt connected in that ten-minute span of roughly three miles in which Los Angeles is not spread out, but intimately together. L.A. is a towering plant with leaves and outgrowths so far-flung, even natives like me begin to assume there are no roots; San Vicente is a root. It's a foundation. Everything mystifying and disorienting about L.A. was made clear by this one boulevard. I was encouraged.

Though generally unremarkable, San Vicente is dotted with signs of L.A.'s quintessential good life.The Carthay Circle Theater in the 1940. Photo Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library
Though generally unremarkable, San Vicente is dotted with signs of L.A.'s quintessential good life.The Carthay Circle Theater in the 1940. Photo Courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library, by klxadm

Living through a medical crisis that blindsided me-- blanketed me with volcano ash--I needed whatever encouragement I could get. To that end I parked every day not at the hospital but across the street in the Beverly Center, a temple of healing in its own right. I did this so I could pretend at the end of my visits that I'd been not sitting in the most intense unit of the hospital forced to consider life and death, but inside the mall shopping. I never went inside the mall or even felt tempted--shopping is one of several pleasures I lost a taste for almost immediately when Alan took sick. But as time ground on and the crisis dug in, it became increasingly important to me to appear like a woman of leisure, a tourist, an imminent vacationer, some part of that carefree demographic that tends to populate the Beverly Center during the summer. I longed to be there for any purpose other than the one I was there for. And on some days that felt almost possible; San Vicente isn't a memorable street, but it does thread through all those parts of town famous for good times and the kind of casual urban glamour particular to L.A. and described regularly and rapturously in fashion magazines. Merely walking to and from Cedars surrounded me with those possibilities, and more than once I was encouraged, even exuberant--surely all these signs of the quintessential L.A. good life would influence Alan's condition in a positive way. Surely he wouldn't, he couldn't die at 3rd and San Vicente.

But he eventually did. I haven't made that trip since his death. Not that I'm avoiding it, I just don't have a reason to go that direction. Of course, I'm not driving like I used to; in the wake of a long crisis that flirted with hope and ended in tragedy, I'm finding very compelling reasons to stay home, and to stay put. San Vicente holds no more magic for me. Not much does right now. But it remains a root, an unerring straight line that proves that we're never as far from anyplace as we think we are, including the places we'd rather not visit at all.

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