geography

The All-American Schlep

Why did I schlep around in the rain the other day? For America.

Not really.

But kind of.

I went car-less for environmental reasons. In my hometown of Los Angeles, I would spend two hours a day in traffic, and in 2006, I decided to move to the East Coast in order to live in a walkable city and get around the old-fashioned way: on foot.

Standing drenched in the rain the other day, though, clinging to a pathetic bounty of three CVS bags, I suddenly thought of my Irish forefathers in Bedstuy, Brooklyn and wondered, “(Why) am I… living like them? They left the East Coast for California so they wouldn’t have to do errands on foot… is this history repeating or just my dumb ass being stubborn?”


I imagined them looking at me, shaking their heads. Thinking, poor girl…100 years and a Masters degree later, and she's still living like this.

For the record, I would have taxied my errands, but npf (non profit salary). And I would have skipped church and the two mile walk there, but it’s Lent, and I do my Jessica's Affirmation's Catholic-style.

In the words of David Brooks, groups are smarter than individuals. Last year, a bunch of young people here in DC did a Tweed Ride, in support of “19th century transportation solutions.” They dressed up vintage and spent their Sunday afternoon on bicycles.

They did the All-American Schlep the smart way = in style, and in the sunshine. 

Their event was an enormous success; because the end of the day, the All-American Schlep is a pretty good thing.

Just not when it’s raining.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/7662983 w=400&h=225]
DC Tweed Ride from ReadysetDC on Vimeo.

On Gentry, and Gentrification

The Fenty vs. Gray mayoral race here in Washington, D.C. has brought to light old feelings about the g-word. That word that every city planner, journalist, and city resident cringes at: gentrification.

The big-G banks on the idea that Gentry - folks with new Masters degrees, a new job, and a big checkbook - will line up to buy condos that cost as much or more than a home would, all for the charm of living in the city. It banks on all of the Gentry choosing not to move into or in some cases moving out of the suburbs into inner cities and in doing so transforming (read = eradicating) either poor or struggling neighborhoods.

The idea sounds gross, and the practice is by and large gross. But it's also more complicated than we think.

The Gentry that the fancy new "multi-use" housing developments are built for don’t really exist. None of those structures have offered a return on the investment needed to build them; hundreds of millions of dollars have been poured into them, yet development upon development lays unoccupied. Half-finished. Failed.

And that’s because middle class people - not the upper class Gentry - are the ones moving into big cities across America. These people are assumed to be Gentry, but they're not. The Left howled and whined when the new commercial development in Columbia Heights was built here in Washington, D.C., claiming that the area's residents, mostly Latino, couldn't afford Target, a gym, Best Buy, or...Payless. That turns out to be untrue; that Target (the Macy's of the masses) is the only store in the District that is actually diverse in terms of race and class, and that Washington Sports Club is the only one in the District to have a sizable amount of Central American immigrants as members.

While it was well-intentioned, the Left's argument there was actually a racist one; Latinos are seen as "disadvantaged" American consumers only because they are assumed to be so. But when businesses come to their area, Latinos participate like any other consumers.

And so works the "invisible hand" of the market:  the consumer base for Target is large, as Target is low-priced, but the consumer base for half a million dollar lofts is very small. And amongst the young hipster adults moving into cities, it's even smaller. I mean, let's face it: hipsters are broke as f***. They make property values go up as people move in to try to live like them, but they themselves can't keep up with those prices.

What made a dirty port city known for manufacturing, shipping, and schlepping into the "New York City" of Carrie Bradshaw-awe are the broke-ass artists and writers who defined Broadway, the Village, and Brooklyn from very small, rented rooms. The big new lofts of Williamsburg, NY and the Arts District in Downtown LA were built for (hipster) Gentry, but the hipsters who create work there can't afford them. (And if they can afford a $400,000 condo, then they're not hipsters. They're attorneys in skinny jeans.)

I have friends in Columbia Heights, Washington, D.C. who had to get on affordable housing lists to buy a "gentrified" condo because "people like them" (read = college grads) were assumed to be able to make those price points, but in real life, "people like them" who work in non-profits make less than plumbers and elevator repairmen.

Plumbers and elevator repairmen buy homes in the suburbs whose prices aren't over ninety percent dependent on subsidies, loans, or the kind of ballooned mortgage structure that caused the housing collapse in the first place.

So while the Gentry do gentrify, loft by loft, they don't in the kinds of large numbers needed to make the policies of people like Mayor Fenty even work. When Fenty catered to those he thought wanted to improve the city by "gentrifying" it, he was actually catering to nobody. The Gentry bought cheap in quiet ol' Virginia, and those who vote early and often in the District live along the Anacostia River.

Little Ms. Illicit

Illegality is in. The Stimulus bill isn’t working, and the gulf is drowned in oil.

What’s left to do? Make movies!

The TV show Weeds and new movie The Joneses star two women conducting their life just on the wrong side of legal, and loving it. These women, maybe 15 years ago, would have done things the right way, but are just kind of over it. One sells pot, and the other uses the pre-fab name of Mrs. Jones to sell…well, herself.
These new Sopranos of the American Sunbelt are interesting to a country in the midst of a recession, a country vaguely fascinated by the fact that there is now a black market in white suburbia. That there is an informal sector - the Hot Dog Vendor On the Corner sector - but with an asking price of $2,000, not $2. The type of profession where your boss doesn't chat with you by the water cooler but pulls up in a black limo and says, "Get in."
As U.S. suburbia gets broker and broker, the people living it will become more and more broken. 
Maybe Demi Moore’s chose her lifestyle because she thinks being a real Mrs. Jones might be boring, and Nancy, is, as Andy her brother in law says, just terrified of being ordinary. But eventually, emotions get the best of them. Ms. Jones ended her fake wifery and took up being a real one, and Nancy Botwin is...well...chingada.
A woman who started off as a soccer mom in the San Fernando Valley chased non-taxable money far enough down a rabbit’s hole to find, at the root of it, men who teach her that mota = money. The higher she ranks in the drug trade in Southern California, the more Latino her life becomes. She ends up baby mama to a drug kinpin-gone-politico in Tijuana, unable to leave the house and stuck in the strands of a real politik she doesn't understand. She is the hacienda wife of the hacendado landowner, nothing more, but gladly enough, nothing less.
Ms. Illicit’s 21st century America of Rich vs. Poor, of Get Yours, doesn’t look all that different from Latin America. The neighborhoods of the Nancy Botwins of the world, and the Joneses of the world, might soon be adding new steps to a popular tune in Latin America.
What wouldn’t Ms. Illicit do for love or money? Por la plata baila el mono – would the monkey dance for money? (Que si, que si! )

In the Land of the Well-Heeled

Here in Washington, D.C.:

- People talk about post-graduate fellowships like everyone has one.
- Most people know someone who has been on TV; if not TV, then interviewed on the radio.
- The colors black and grey are the coolest.
- People actually know what Green Jobs are.
- People buy square-rimmed glasses instead of getting tattoos.
- Lattes are not considered a voluntary expense.
- Everyone is in the process of Getting Back to Someone.
- People commute to work on segways.
            (They actually go to work on segways.)

On Los Angeles and place...

What do you do when you’re not Jewish in Beverly Hills
When you’re not Mexican in Huntington Park
When you’re not white in Santa Monica
When you’re black in Boyle Heights
When you’re Chinese in Baldwin Hills
When you’re Muslim in the Fairfax District
When you’re Catholic on Crenshaw
When you’re WASP in Alhambra
When you’re Ethiopian in the Valley

You return to your people in the Backbend Turnover March otherwise known as Rush Hour.
Returning to real estate, phone cards, and clothing that matches your kin.

Rush hour in Los Angeles is called North, South, East, West, this-is-how-we-do-unrest.