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Driven Los Angeles

The elongated David Kipen - who appears taller in every encounter - invited some non-drivers over to his pop-up lending library and bookshop at the Hammer Museum in Westwood. The poet and memoirist Marisela Norte, novelist and chronicler Richard Rayner, and I were the Kipen-picked representatives of pedestrian L.A.. Arts writer and non-driver Shana Nys Dambrot moderated.

About 40 others - including a few who had walked, biked, or bused by - filled up and spilled out of the lobby gallery that Kipen and volunteers have remade as a comfortably shabby used book shop. There were once more of them in Los Angeles.

Kipen's store/library at the Hammer is the temporary, far-west outpost of his Libros Schmibros shop atop Boyle Heights, where he has been selling used books, collecting books, and checking out books to eastside readers young and old since July 2010.

Part great-hearted generosity, part performance art, and part base of operations for Kipen's catholic range of interests, Libros Schmibros is currently at the corner of First and Cummings, a little east of the freeway. The Hammer Museum branch - officially an "artist-in-residence interpretation of Libros Schmibros" - continues until Sunday, October 9.

The "car schmar" that Kipen rounded up generated a number of themes, from the values of the bus to the beauty of sidewalks. Unfortunately, the discussion wasn't recorded.

Here are some of my thoughts, taken from a KCET online illustated essay called Rush:

Los Angeles loves wheels.

It loves the steel wheels on trains, chrome wheels on custom cars, and the urethane wheels on skateboards. Wheels over the asphalt, the concrete, the adobe soil of any freeway or sidewalk or backcountry trail, if it leads away from wherever it is you are.

Wheels are the fix for this city's need. The need - the rush - is momentum. Los Angeles moves or it isn't Los Angeles.

Nothing is too good for wheels. There are 21,198 miles of roads, highways, and freeways in Los Angeles County; two-thirds of our public space is space just for wheels.

There aren't enough acres of parks for all of us, but there are acres and acres of parking lots.

Nothing is permitted to stop the city's wheels, unless it's the presence of even more wheels.

Angelinos, even if they've been here only a year or two, claim to remember a better time, a time when the traffic wasn't as bad, and when driving was exhilarating, a release, and a promise that you could be in control of something, even if it's only a car.

Wheeled Angelinos will pretend to be in motion, rather than be seen pausing, all of us making a rolling stop, making a right turn on red, making a lane change just to get one car-length ahead.

It's not about the cause for all that motion - bike or subway or relentless treadmilling - or even the reason for moving; it's all about the momentum that seems to stand for something else.

Or maybe it doesn't stand for anything. In "Play It as It Lays," Joan Didion's freeway addicted Maria drives the way a dancer moves or a jazz player riffs on a familiar melody:

It's not in the destination; it's in being carried away. This is a city of joyrides, often disappointed.

The blues in Los Angeles are played to the slow beat of tires thumping over lane dividers on the 405 or the 710 or the 101. No sound in this city is more melancholy than that.

I was made for the city's wheels, but I don't drive. I would, if I could. But that's another story.

So I'm detached from the skin of steel and high-impact plastic that surrounds the city's drivers as they move in beautiful crowds, completely alone in their cars. I watch them from the curb, a pedestrian exile from the city in motion.

And when the urge to move overcomes me, when the longing that is Los Angeles takes me, I ride the bus or the Blue Line just for speed.

Los Angeles isn't one place; it's many places, their disconnections relieved only a little by the wheels that turn, all of us in motion because there's no still point where our place in the city is revealed.

That would be the ultimate gridlock, if we could find it, if the wheels of Los Angeles would stop, and we stepped out of the car, got off the treadmill, dismounted from the bike, and looked at ourselves at rest.

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 archived by the Multnomah County Librarty. It is used under a Creative Commons License.

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