8.72: Anson's Eatery

The multicolored "Open" sign is the most exciting thing at Anson's Eatery...and that's ok. Photo by Dan Johnson.

The multicolored "Open" sign is the most exciting thing at Anson's Eatery...and that's ok. Photo by Dan Johnson.

by Dan Johnson

I intended to write about Glatt Kosher on 9th St between Broadway and Main St, but a quick perusal of their menu revealed an unbecoming selection of unaffordable items. Go figure.

Instead, I popped into Anson’s Eatery next door. It’s the small glass front bistro with the multi-colored “OPEN” sign. The polychromatic letters are possibly the most exciting aspect of the Anson’s experience.

I’m not even disappointed. I’m content.

Of the absurd menagerie of addictions afflicting addled 21st century Americans, I rank entertainment next to outrage and sex as the most pernicious.

Our collective national identity is hitched to a notion of exceptionalism. We’re special. A special people deserve special things. Now more than ever, we’re so accustomed to having our minds blown that we actually use “acceptable” or “sufficient” in the pejorative.

This is a mindset that we tend to associate with the fast-living of city life. It is by no means a recent phenomenon. The 1920 census was the first American survey in which more people inhabited cities than the countryside. Shit went wrong long before that, but strictly speaking, this is the beginning of an important historical continuum, the ass end of which we inhabit.

Why? It’s complex, but Michael Lesy did a pretty swell job of nailing that hide to the wall in the conclusion to his epic of American neurosis, The Wisconsin Death Trip:

“The people who left the land came to the cities not to get jobs but to be free from them, not to get work but to be entertained, not to be masters but to be charges. They followed yellow brick roads to emerald cities presided over by imaginary wizards who would permit them to live in happy adolescence for the rest of their lives. By leaving the land, they disavowed a certain kind of adulthood whose mature rewards they understood to be confusion and bereavement. By going to the emerald cities, they chose a certain kind of adolescence forever free from frailty, responsibility, and death. It is this adolescent city culture, created out of the desperate needs and fantasies of people fleeing from the traps and tragedies of late nineteenth-century country life, that still inspires…”

Boy, that sounds familiar. Especially in the context of Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle, where every relationship is defined by the excitement it generates and the worst fate is to become unenviable.

I’ve been swishing this idea around my mind a lot lately given the rapidly degenerating quality of our national discourse and the abundant attacks on the scattered remnants of the middle class and the internet.

Here in the cities, we took it for granted that the terms of our entertainment were not subject to modification. This is the height, after all, of every possible human ambition. Look at our technological savvy and inspired morality. Sweep the crazy beneath the carpet and hush hush the questions about the suicide epidemic. Never mind the horrors—look at all our cool shit!

It’s time for a most welcome gut check: what if this $7.95 diet burrito bowl from Anson’s were all I have to look forward to from here on out? What if I woke up tomorrow morning and all the pleasant fuckery of Facebook and the happy hour beers and abundant media were gone and in their place was a circular medley of steamed vegetables, brown rice, salsa and some avocado?

This is what we deserve for all our inspired morality and technological savvy. Photo by Dan Johnson.

This is what we deserve for all our inspired morality and technological savvy. Photo by Dan Johnson.

I would probably survive.

The zeal of living in Downtown would certainly change, but that’s already happened for me. The “gee, wow, you wouldn’t believe” letters home to Ma and Pa are long departed. I’m beginning to doubt their authenticity in the first place. I’ve replaced this sentimentalism with a calculated Libra impression by which I try to weigh good against evil without tipping over or confusing the two.

Cue BB King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.” Now the name of the game is a less-than-enchanted search for all-too-elusive nutrition, metaphorical and literal.

To borrow from once and former Downtown bard Timothy Turner, it’s like someone turned off the sunshine. Once you move past the lust for fame and fortune, the true dimensions of Los Angeles reveal themselves. The palm trees fade and the models exit stage left. This city’s soul feels like an endless night sometimes. So many lost people wandering about in darkness, destined never to find their way. The acknowledgement of that Los Angeles will change you fundamentally.   

Here I am. My life is this meal. It is cheap, wrapped in plastic and pretty hearty, actually. I’ve got some spinach and zucchini and broccoli and sprouts. The avocado is meager, but it’s well sliced so that none of the fleshy brown rot remains.

It’s enough. It feels like a relief to say that. It’s enough.

It’s not the feast you imagined yourself digging into as a child, but fuck your childhood self (not literally…hate that I have to qualify that statement in this day and age especially with the prospects for lunatic owned time machines increasing every day between Moore’s Law and tax breaks for the wealthy).

Most of us don’t even fathom how unrealistic our expectations are. Americans grow up living in a world where reality is just an inconvenient obstacle to the things sitcoms and magazines and movie told us we could achieve in America if only we have the gumption to make the right friends and fuck over the right people.

As a nation that acts out on its every picayune desire, however immature, because we deserve it because grandpa shot a Nazi and Coca Cola and jazz, we’re widely out of step with the trajectory of the world and possibly doomed because of our ignorance to that fact.

Anson's Eatery's wall decorations remind customers of the bucolic scenes they left behind for a rousing city life that never quite panned out. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Anson's Eatery's wall decorations remind customers of the bucolic scenes they left behind for a rousing city life that never quite panned out. Photo by Dan Johnson.

My big worry is not that we’ll wake up one day with nothing but $7.95 diet burrito bowls for our enjoyment, but that we will spend every day of our lives afterwards trying to get back to a place where we can almost, just about, not quite grip the things we think we deserve.

I award Anson’s Eatery a “1” on the binary and encourage you to stop by and enjoy their pastoral landscape design flourishes while applying some culinary balm to the crucifixion marks on your ego.


A Ruthless Ending for LA Weekly's Staff: Q&A with Gwynedd Stuart

The world of Los Angeles journalism and media was dealt a shocking blow when 9 out of LA Weekly's 13 editorial staff were abruptly fired. The timing came immediately following the purchase of the weekly print and web publication by an undisclosed company called Semanal Media, with just one identified manager, Brian Calle. We chatted with Gwynedd Stuart, Arts & Culture Editor at LA Weekly who was amongst those fired, to ask what happened, hear her and the team's feelings, and get a sense of what the future might be.

GDT: Did you know that this was coming in any way?

GS: We found out the sale was coming back in October. Ever since then, there’s been such a stunning, staggering lack of communication from the new company. Everything’s been dealt with in a pretty malicious way. So I didn’t have high hopes that much of the editorial staff would stick around.

GDT: What were you and staff able to learn about this new company?

GS: We learned nothing. They wouldn’t say who it was. We found out pretty immediately it was a new LLC called Semanal Media, but beyond that there was no information. Eventually we found out marijuana attorney David Welch was listed on the LLC. But we didn’t find out that Brian Calle was involved until an LA Times article came out where he was touting all his big plans to be so “creative and innovative”.

GDT: How did the firings actually go down?

GS: We had individual meetings. No one from Semanal was in the building yet. As soon as the sale went through, our previous owner VMG was responsible for dealing with all the firings. It seemed undignified that no one from the new company even knows who any of us are. From my understanding, all they requested from VMG was a list of employees and their job titles. I don’t think they cared or knew who they were laying off. Though I’m personally glad I didn’t have to meet those people because I don’t want to! It would not have been terribly pleasant for them to deliver the news. Instead it was a VMG employee and our editor Mara Shalhoup in the room, which was so big of Mara because she was canned too. After finding out she was fired, she had to sit there and be part of firing the rest of us one by one. And our publisher Matt Cooperstein, after being laid off, had to do the same on the business end.

I’m essentially third in command on editorial staff, so I felt vulnerable because I figured they may not want to have people in top editorial positions there anymore. But as I was standing in my office, cleaning stuff up, I’m seeing everyone come out one on one and give me the thumbs down, it was like… holy shit, it was a fresh shock each time. Each time someone would come out of the office and tell me they were canned, I thought, oh god, they really really went for it. The whole thing has been unpleasant from the get go. They really don’t know us and are not at all familiar with the work that we do.

GDT: It seems even ickier that a few select staff weren’t laid off...

GS: Well they kept our copy chief Lisa Horowitz, which makes a lot of sense. If they plan on publishing anything immediately, they need her. She knows how to put out the paper. They kept a few people in production, which could indicate they plan on continuing to put out a print publication. And they kept Hillel Aron, a news staff writer. I guess they figured they need a writer.

GDT: So you think there will be a paper next week?

GS: It’s confusing, I don’t know. This week’s paper is on the streets today, but not a lot for next week’s issue has been filed. We don’t know if they’re going to be moving forward with this skeleton staff or if they have a new staff starting immediately. It seems like Brian Calle has his big ideas and could have been secretly staffing up a paper this whole time. Or maybe they’ll have only a couple managing editors with lots of freelancers.

I really don’t know if the paper can survive this. I hope so, for the sake of all the great freelance writers who need an outlet to write for. LAist just closed, so there goes that. If there’s no LA Weekly…

GDT: Now that everyone is starting to know what happened, and our Facebook feeds are filled with “RIP LA Weekly” status updates, do you think there’s hope that LA Weekly could somehow recover from this?

GS: I think we’ll see as we learn more. I’m really hoping information starts trickling out. I mean, we have former coworkers in the office today. Once we know who these people really are, we can get a better idea of what they’re intentions are.

What we’re seeing happen everywhere is hostile takeovers of independent media, for nefarious reasons, to, frankly, destroy these things. I obviously hope that’s not the case. But, of course, I don’t think the paper is the same without the staff. We’re all represented in our editorial in such a positive way. Andy, our music editor, is so savvy and so hard-working. Our film critic (April Wolfe) was laid off, and she’s one of the top film critics in Los Angeles right now. She’s not replaceable. She’s up for Journalist of the Year at the LA Press Club Awards this Sunday. I’m also up for awards, Andy’s up for awards. We as staff are up for 20 awards total. I really don’t know if the paper can survive this. I hope so, for the sake of all the great freelance writers who need an outlet to write for. LAist just closed, so there goes that. If there’s no LA Weekly…

GDT: Have you been speaking with other fellow employees?

GS: Yeah, most of us stuck around yesterday after we all got the news. After everyone was ready to leave the building for the day, we went down to a bar down the street and commiserated. Everyone was shocked and upset, but I think, like me, people knew this was a possibility and had prepared in some way shape or form for the emotional difficulty of it. Then again, as much as that’s the case, though everyone felt vulnerable, I don’t know if anyone could have known the cuts would be this deep. The justification is just so… I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around it, that they would just eviscerate the staff like this.

GDT: Though we’re speaking only the day after this happened, is there anything you’re hoping Angelenos out there will do to help support you and the rest of the team?

GS: I’m hoping everyone who worked at LA Weekly lands on their feet and finds ways to get their voices out, hopefully in other LA-based organizations. So continuing to support local media is hugely important - there’s nothing more important than that. And it’s easy, and fun! Just read! These are interesting stories that people are telling, written by people who are deeply dedicated to keeping Angelenos abreast of what’s going on in our city. It’s just so important.

A screenshot from LA Weekly today, capturing the questions staff and the rest of us are all asking about the newspaper's new buyers. (screenshot via LA Weekly)

A screenshot from LA Weekly today, capturing the questions staff and the rest of us are all asking about the newspaper's new buyers.
(screenshot via LA Weekly)



8.72: ABC Chinese Fast Food

We're surprised it took this long for Dan to review ABC Chinese Fast Food — it is perhaps the most 8.72-worthy establishment in all of Downtown. Photo by Dan Johnson.

We're surprised it took this long for Dan to review ABC Chinese Fast Food — it is perhaps the most 8.72-worthy establishment in all of Downtown. Photo by Dan Johnson.

by Dan Johnson

At ABC Chinese Fast Food, cut-rate philosophy is also a powerful advertising tool.

When you mention the bargain barrel noodle house at 7th St and Main St amongst polite company, you are guaranteed to receive a horrified reaction. Locals of all stripes accept the consensus that ABC is a dump and should not be handled with a ten-foot pole.

After all, the signage is crafted from cheap-o stencils, the stock ceiling fans wobble precariously and the seating is a motley array of repurposed articles that suggest salvage from thrift and clearance outlets.

We are meant to assume that the food is equally shitty because we are a society that does not know how to distinguish between the way something looks and the way it actually is. Enter influencer culture, which has established its headquarters at the opposite end of the block from ABC where Little Damage inspires people to wait in line to get a photographable cone of melt sugar.

Yet, an ABC lunch hour spent at a fold out table by the grease flecked sneeze guard revealed an extremely brisk business. Locals of all stripes packed themselves cheek to jowl in an assembly-line model of food service efficiency.

Have these people not heard the scoffs? Are they worried about the potential blow to their image if they’re seen entering the premises? Have they given up on their personal brand???

No. Because that’s not how the actual world works. Décor is nice. Right? But is it worth paying for? Not especially. Not unless you’re trying to get laid or you need to convince a loved one that you’re doing alright psychologically.

I enjoy sitting inside Don Francisco, but I can’t help but wonder what the cost of that nice interior design works out to on a per sandwich basis. These are not calculations anyone at ABC is worrying about. Because it’s clear that rent and utilities and possibly some disinfectant are the only overhead.

That’s the draw. Plain and simple. Combo A gets you fried rice or chow mein with one dish. Combo B gives you the same prerogative with two items instead of one. It’s three bucks for another item and two bucks for a heaping side of fried rice.

Cheap prices and speedy service means a crowded restaurant. At ABC Chinese Fast Food, the food doesn't get a chance to sit around for very long. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Cheap prices and speedy service means a crowded restaurant. At ABC Chinese Fast Food, the food doesn't get a chance to sit around for very long. Photo by Dan Johnson.

With this savings should come reasonable questions about the basic ingredients. I don’t feel as if this price point accommodates the best in organic or even fresh meats and vegetables. Quite the contrary. I feel as if perhaps the owners might be inclined to stretch a buck here and there and make something last or acquire an item that may be past its prime.

With that in mind, I played it safe with an enormous five dollar helping of wonton soup and aforementioned side of fried rice. I’ve been burned by orange chicken before. Badly. Moreover, I felt nervous about the orange hue of the chow mein. In a week devoted to gluttony, why fuck up my play with a quick taste of medium rare poultry mixed with radioactive noodles?

The result was strongly in the positive. First, I had to wait five minutes for my wonton soup, which is an eternity at ABC Chinese Fast Food. The name does not lie—customers get processed within a minute. It’s a model of streamline possibilities that also ensures a deceptively large volume of customers trudge through in any given day.

(This, incidentally, is a strong refute to my earlier qualms about old food. Items do not seem to sit beneath the heat lamps for long enough to go bad.)

Second, the carrot, broccoli and onion broth was populated by fresh vegetables. They had nice coloration and a strong crispness. The wontons themselves were abundant and not chewy-weird.

The wonton soup at ABC Chinese Fast Food is chock full of fresh vegetables and not-chewy-weird wontons. Photo by Dan Johnson.

The wonton soup at ABC Chinese Fast Food is chock full of fresh vegetables and not-chewy-weird wontons. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Third, the only issue I experienced in the hours afterwards was the customary sodium dehydration. Foodies will knowingly look down their brow at me and ask “what was I expecting from Chinese food?” Really, that’s cheap food in general. Salt and sugar are the actual bottom rung of the food pyramid in this country and, if we’re being honest, the true gateway drugs at the root of our nation’s substance abuse problems.

The more I think of it, the more I suspect all of the ABC detractors are actually long-time customers who don’t want to out a decent restaurant with limited seating. It’s an effective trick for ensuring that a low-rate institution can continue doing business without getting sideswiped by trendiness.

We should try it on a large scale. When someone asks you if you like living in Downtown Los Angeles, tell them it’s a shit pit where twelve-foot tall crack heads walk around collecting the skulls of retail managers and armored cars circle the blocks at night looking to abduct dogs whose owners don’t pick up their shit.

That will keep the hordes at bay for a bit.

I award ABC Chinese Fast Food a “1” on the binary and thank brewmaster Peter Mumford for being a steadfast proponent of his kung pao secret spot.


Why We Rent Strike: Boyle Heights Mariachis' Fight to Stay Housed

On Friday, November 17 at The Smell, a lineup of great bands played a benefit show to raise money for the legal fees of the tenants of 1815 E 2nd St in Boyle Heights tenants who are at serious risk of eviction and have been on a rent strike for several months. For some context for the show and the struggle, here’s an edited transcript of a conversation that aired on IndyMedia on KPFK (90.7FM) between host Chris Burnett (CB), Fernando, a member of the LA Tenants Union and Unión de Vecinos, and Francisco, a tenant at 1815 E 2nd St who is participating in the rent strike.

Donate to help the Mariachis and their fellow tenants pay legal fees.

Mariachis and tenants protest unjust rent increases in their Boyle Heights neighborhood. (Photo via Timo Saarelma)

Mariachis and tenants protest unjust rent increases in their Boyle Heights neighborhood. (Photo via Timo Saarelma)

CB: Fernando, maybe you can explain to our listeners what's happening and some background here:

I’m part of the LA Tenants Union, the East LA Chapter and also Unión de Vecinos. We’re actively fighting against gentrification and displacement in Boyle Heights and all over East LA. We linked up with other groups, other activists in the area and we’ve been actively fighting and organizing against unjust rent increases that are happening, against the displacements... 

...We’re fighting to try to keep people in the community. We’ve had some victories in the past, where we have maintained buildings under rent control where landlords had tried to evict unjustly tenants that were under control, which is illegal. We’ve also helped other tenants that are not under rent control, buildings that have faced major increases, unjust increases, helped to come up with a plan to unite all the tenants in their building, to join the LA Tenants Union, to launch a campaign against their landlord, and they have won...

...Right now we have the Mariachi building, 1815 E 2nd St, another example of a building that’s not under rent control, and basically you have this corporate landlord buying it and literally raising the rent unjustly over $800. This is happening all over LA, from Crenshaw to South Central to Boyle Heights to East LA to Inglewood, all over... This is a housing crisis in LA and no politicians are actually about gentrification or ever trying to help the tenants that are facing illegal evictions like the Mariachis, so that’s why we really have to depend on the community and I think the Mariachis and Francisco, right here, and his building are setting the example for that.

CB: Francisco, why don’t you explain what happened with your building and with this new landlord BJ Turner.

Francisco: In my building where I’ve been living for 12 years– and there’s a lot of other people living there for 25 years, 27 years, 21 years– most other people are Mariachis, because it happens that my building is a block away from Mariachi Plaza, where are the Mariachi bands play and gather so they can work as Mariachis. This year, BJ Turner and Steve Goodman bought my building...and we got a letter saying “New landlord” and that we’re gonna get a rent increase of 80%, which is up to $800 more than what we’re paying right now. Unreasonable right? Who can pay $800? We couldn’t do anything about it. We didn’t know our rights, what to do...

...So the next thing that we did was get together with the LA Tenants [Union] and Unión de Vecinos to do something about it. So we’re doing some protesting, trying to negotiate with BJ Turner and Steve Goodman, and no success. Nothing. We’ve been doing protesting all over LA. We’ve been in Beverly Hills in Boyle Heights, in Hollywood, the rent strike…There is a group of people doing the rent strike and it’s been for 4 months already, and we’ve been doing this [protesting] for 8 months already.

CB: My understanding is that was that there was going to be a protest near BJ Turner’s house a few weeks ago, it was cancelled [because Turner said] that they were ready to negotiate and meet, but [after] they met, apparently we went immediately to court and filed papers, is that correct?

Francisco: That’s correct... Finally, after months of protesting...he gave us a letter...[with] unbelievable requests. One of the things that he wanted was to meet one-on-one. We’re a union and we want to meet him as a union, as union members. But he decided not to do that meeting. Instead of postponing, or agreeing with what we want for him, he sent us to trial basically. And in this past week… – after having posters outside of our homes, protesting again, being part of the newspaper, on TV– he wants to negotiate again. Then last week, or two weeks ago, he just walked away from us. He didn’t negotiate...

...I just want to tell you one thing about not having rent control. This is for the people who live in non rent control buildings. This is a wake up call. We cannot just stand there and be quiet about it. We have to speak out, we have to find someone that can help us, and that’s why we’re doing all these [actions]. This is for a wakeup call for a lot of people. We’re doing a protest in BJ Turner’s community, which is going to be Tuesday November 28, at 5:30 at Manning and Pico Blvd...This is protesting for the landlord, so he can listen to us, listen that we are not alone. There’s a community that is behind us…

Fernando: Like Francisco said, this a wakeup call. If you’re a renter, a working person that rents in LA, you are in jeopardy of being displaced, your rent being raised dramatically, especially if you live in working class communities, so the best solution is to get active, get organized...


Seeking Out Swifts in Downtown LA

A Q&A with Jeff Chapman, Senior Manager of Interpretation and Training at the Natural History Museum of LA County

Every early autumn, and again in the spring, the late afternoon skies in Downtown LA become dotted with Vaux's swifts - a species of small, fast-flying black birds who make temporary residence in Downtown along their migratory path. Though this year, we didn't notice the same concentration of them as in other years. To learn more about the birds and what's changing their habits, we spoke with Jeff Chapman from the Natural History Museum (NHM).

GDT: Tell us about Vaux’s swifts. Why is it that they migrate through Downtown LA?

JC: Vaux’s swifts are really cool birds - they’ve been described as cigars with wings. Like a lot of birds, they migrate from the south where they winter to the north where they breed their young. In the spring months they travel from Central America and Southern Mexico up through Mexico and along the Pacific Coast heading towards Canada, and we just happen to be a great stop along that route both coming and going because of food resources and other things the birds need to survive. They eat primarily flying insects, which there are tons of in the sky, that they feed on all day long. They fly all day long, they never perch and never land, until at night when they form these amazing roosts we see in Downtown LA, which they do in other places too like Downtown San Diego or along the San Francisco Bay, and up through the whole Pacific Flyway.

GDT: Do they specifically seek out urban environments like Downtown LA?

JC: It’s kind of a coincidence that we have the habitat requirements they need. Not only do we have an abundance of insects, but they also require these cavernous cavities to roost at night. Because we’ve deforested and our habitat has changed over the years, they’ve found old brick chimneys to be analogous to roost in say a burned-out redwood tree. Historically they likely used sycamore trees or cottonwood trees that would have been found along the LA River.

GDT: How did you come to learn about and track these Vaux’s swifts?

JC: I formerly worked for the Audubon Society in Los Angeles. I was contacted in 2010 by someone who was organizing people along the entire West Coast of the US looking for these birds. He was very interested where the birds were seen in Los Angeles. I also connected with an artist named Mark who lives down near Santa Fe and the 10. The birds used to roost in the Nabisco Building down (in the Arts District) and he used to watch them there back in 2006. Around that time, that building was renovated and the chimney disappeared, so Mark was also on a parallel mission to find where they had gone. He located the roosting site at 5th/Broadway at the Chester Williams Building in 2010.

GDT: What chimneys are the swifts currently living in?

JC: The only site we know of at this point is the Spring Arts Tower, located behind the building off the alleyway on 5th St. I’ve watched the swifts from Spring St Park, that’s a good vantage point to see them roosting. 

GDT: There are of course a lot of changes happening to the Downtown environment - a lot of construction, changes of use. Is this impacting the swifts?

JC: I’ve been documenting this process with my colleague at the Natural History Museum, Kimball Garrett, who has been watching swift's here since the 90s. He would track them at a building at 9th and Hill. That building chose to put up barriers to keep the birds out of the building. Then the Nabisco Building changed uses and the swifts were unable to roost there. In 2010 is when we located the roosting site of the Chester Williams Building. At the time, it appeared to be vacant. But slowly we started noticing more activity and it was of course converted into a residential building, so then the owners put a barricade over that chimney. And, frankly, the Spring Arts Tower has erected a barrier to exclude the birds from entering as well. I’ve met with folks from these buildings, and it’s tough because when you have 20,000 birds in a chimney, hanging out on the walls, they’re pooping, doing other things, and that can be really not a pleasant thing for people who are living and working in a building near these chimneys.

GDT: But even with the current barricade on the chimney, birds are still getting in?

JC: To some extent, yes. I noticed some this season but nothing like the amount we used to see historically. So they may have spread out a bit and are using new locations we haven’t determined yet.

A brick chimney in the Historic Core was for several years a temporary home for Vaux's swifts. (image via LA Weekly)

A brick chimney in the Historic Core was for several years a temporary home for Vaux's swifts.
(image via LA Weekly)

8.72: Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken

Fortunately, you don't have to go to the South for decent fried chicken and biscuits any more. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Fortunately, you don't have to go to the South for decent fried chicken and biscuits any more. Photo by Dan Johnson.

by Dan Johnson

I can’t rightfully call myself the biggest fan of chicken and biscuits that chicken and biscuits ever had.
That title is reserved for someone already laid low by the potent magnetism of oven-baked flour meal and oil-crisped chicken breasts. Given my relatively inadequate body mass, the throne of superlative chicken and biscuit fandom is beyond me. Still, I count myself among the multitude of Southern expats who treat chicken and biscuits as a sort of demi-religion.

Full disclosure: I grew up in Virginia. Not just any Virginia, but northern Virginia. With their public schools and their economy and their “highways,” northern Virginians often earn the ire of the more-geographically envatted southerners.

They are fond of saying that Virginia is not a part of the South. To be fair, our embrace of quality public education, tech economies, science and an acceptance that we are indeed in the 21st century does lend credence to the notion that we are divorced from our cheap symbol fetishizing, ten commandment adoring, overtly racist, ephebophilia defending colleagues down in the former Cotton Kingdom.

In this day and age, declaring oneself as Southern is akin to treading a tightrope by which you retain your mannered individuality without succumbing to the well-deserved stereotypes of a region intent on falling over itself to reembrace backward nostalgia as a redemptive pursuit.  

There is no safer identifier for the reluctant Southerner than chicken and biscuits. It is a universally beloved instrument of southern culture. It is a simple pleasure that doubles as a litmus test for culinary quality.

This should come as a shock to no one, but chicken and biscuits are incredibly easy to screw up.

It’s often a product of laziness. Day old biscuits or biscuits left too long in the oven have that nigh-on-lethal dryness that works only if you are deeply malnourished and in a survival situation. The fried chicken itself has to skirt dual hazards: undercooked salmonella threats and stomach afflicting grease.

There is a happy middle ground that shouldn’t be too hard to find. And yet, the all-too-often result of a chicken and biscuits meal is either some pink-on-the-inside, shit-for-days fraud or a Popeyes throat-closer mess of desiccated dough.

Don't worry, you won't find an arid, throat-closing biscuit à la Popeyes here. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Don't worry, you won't find an arid, throat-closing biscuit à la Popeyes here. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Also important is price point. Chicken and biscuits should not be expensive. Despite aforementioned experience and supply costs, a slab of fried meat on a fresh-made biscuit should not be cost-prohibitive.

Praise be to on high, Astro Doughnuts have proven themselves capable of satisfying all demands placed on chicken and biscuits. For $6.02, you too can get a breakfast sandwich hewn from juicy meat, crunch-rich breading and a cheddar biscuit that ordinarily retails for $2.75 on its own.

Not since Semi Sweet entered the abyss has there been a readily available Downtown biscuit of this caliber. Still more exciting is the $7 two-piece dark meat option and the $8 white piece two-fer that includes a breast and a wing.

Best of all, I didn’t have to go to the South to get it. No offense to people who choose to make their lives there, but the South, like most places, is at its finest in the imagination. The entire crux of Southern literature is coming to terms with the crushing weight of history in a punishing physical landscape overwritten by the psychic topography of a people forever cursed to reconcile myth with a wildly divergent reality. Faulkner wasn’t wrong.

Not to say we here in the West don’t have a similar problem. Blessedly, our region is imbued with a sense that there is an innovative way forward from the impasse of tradition. The trick for Californians dead-set on chucking the past into the dustbin of history is knowing a good thing when we see it and keeping that baby from going out with the bathwater.

I salute Astro Doughnuts for doing the good gospel work of preserving quality chicken and biscuits in a form that is still relatively affordable. They have earned a “1” on the binary and a special 8.72 merit badge for having an abundance of hot sauce.

8.72: Asian Fast Food & Grocery

Don't expect a freelancer-designed, Grand Central-esque neon billboard to beckon you towards Asian Fast Food & Grocery. You'll have to read the fine print – or better yet – go inside to see what it's about. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Don't expect a freelancer-designed, Grand Central-esque neon billboard to beckon you towards Asian Fast Food & Grocery. You'll have to read the fine print – or better yet – go inside to see what it's about. Photo by Dan Johnson.

by Dan Johnson

Asian Fast Food & Grocery is not outwardly impressive. It employs a bare minimum of signage. Had a reader not recommended it, I would have never known the hospital adjacent point-point joint existed. The condolences oriented florist next door is easier to find.

Despite having a less-than-obvious profile, it is a substantial and busy node of pan-Pacific cuisine served up in keeping with the finest traditions of the Filipino people who have been an essential if understated aspect of the Angeleno experience.

First, I don’t mean to trigger the herd of ostriches currently known as “the American electorate,” but our national prestige has almost nothing to do with our culture, morals or freedom. It has everything to do with advantageous geographical positioning astride two major oceans and the particular fortune of having established ourselves on aforementioned plot of land with equal parts cunning and propensity for violence against categorical others.

Anyone with a difference of opinion is welcome to howl their thoughts into the bajillion grains of sand surrounding their earth-implanted head or wake the fuck up.

The history of California (and really the United States in general) is inexorably linked with the Philippines. Here in Los Angeles, we are surrounded by quiet reminders of the link between the shared histories of America and the Philippines.

Much of early European activity in Alta California has a strong relationship with Spanish maritime traditions in the Age of Discovery. They were looking for wealth (and souls) and they had an abundance of nautical knowledge with which to project their national ambitions westward from the Pacific Coast of Mexico.

Thanks to oceanic currents, the annual Manila Galleon and its rich haul of gold wound up hitting the West Coast of North America somewhere north of Point Conception, which encouraged Spanish development along the littoral. This in turn encouraged English privateering a la Sir Francis Drake. It begins a precedent of double-edged wealth extraction that has come to define the relationship between the two land masses.

The American people, who are historically enamored with their own supposed value in God’s eyes and thus predisposed to assuming that the world is there plaything to extract value from at whatever cost, eventually established themselves in California and industrialized. Eyes were soon set on the Spanish holding in the Philippine Sea.

In the late days of the 19th century, an ambitious Assistant Secretary of the Navy named Roosevelt instructed the sea service to draw up plans to capture Manila Bay should things come to blows with the Spanish as they did in Cuba in 1898. On May 1 of that year, Dewey’s ships creamed the living fuck out of the Spanish defenders there and America’s military officially purchased its first overseas colony (shhh! We say client state these days!).

Greater Los Angeles is home to over 600,000 Filipino Americans. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Greater Los Angeles is home to over 600,000 Filipino Americans. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Almost two years to the day after the capture of Manila, then President Roosevelt traveled to Los Angeles where he mounted a stage at the corner of 6th St and Olive St and addressed 50,000 people on two subjects: western conservation and the importance of developing a Pacific fleet with which to establish ourselves.

Blah blah blah…so what? Well, because we love extracting natural resources and have the financial wherewithal to build business mechanisms with which to convert those resources into finished goods, the Americans on the West Coast were well positioned to invest heavily in the Philippines. Once invested, we were loath to let what we viewed as a financial fiefdom go to seed.

Our city bears the stretch marks where that monetary commitment sagged into a military burden. Pershing Square bears the name of the general who made his fame fighting the Moro Insurrection. One of the few statues in our esteemed park honors the Californians who fought in the Philippines.

More importantly, Los Angeles the metropolis owes its identity as a budding mega-city to a military industrial complex that was developed here to fight off the Japanese Empire that deigned to separate the resource-rich Philippines from the American interests that benefited from it.

Libraries have been filled with accounts of those campaigns and figures like Douglas MacArthur whose experiences in Southeast Asia established strategic precedents that caused America to commit to war in Vietnam decades later. Thanks to that conflict, countless American service members reacquainted themselves with the Philippines through lurid stories of the shit that went down at bars near Subic Bay and Clark Air Force Base.

That’s the tragedy of America’s understanding of the Philippines. It’s all too frequently seen in relation to the maintenance of American influence across the ocean. When, in fact, the American narrative is undergirded with the story of Filipino people who today represent over 1% of the national population. They are a mainstay of American life and an important touchstone of cultural influence in a California that increasingly sees itself as a Pacific entity more than a continental force.

Often burdened with a stereotype of anonymity and over-accommodation, Filipino Americans remain somewhat invisible to a broadband of insensitive Americans who register Asian identity on a binary. Though our city is stocked with important Filipino-owned institutions that stretch far beyond Temple St, it is not always readily apparent how bedrock the Filipino people are to Los Angeles life and culture.

They are mainstays. Undeniable participants and partners in the experiment we call civics. Were I a reddit-binging bigot, I might say they “infiltrated American society.” The fact is that Filipino-Americans have earned their strong presence in our nation’s life. They are historically endowed with a marvelous versatility.

The Philippines themselves are located an important crossroads between the Western Hemisphere, Mainland East Asia and Oceania. These islands have been a venue for cultural cross pollination. The Tagalog language is stocked with “loan-words” that attest to linguistic borrowing and adaptability, but also a stalwart commitment to the foundations of Filipino culture. So too is cuisine an indication of an interplay between essence and influence.

At the corner of 6th Stand Lucas Ave, Asian Fast Food & Grocery is a textbook example. The squat turo-turo joint gives no outward indication that is of Filipino derivation. This is perhaps a survival mechanism to help it blend in with the latino oriented tax business and liquor store across 6th St and the Pacific Dining Car across Lucas Ave.

The chop suey is indicative of the "mélange" at Asian Fast Food & Grocery: the chop suey tastes more like the winding road of history than chop suey, and it's delicious. Photo by Dan Johnson.

The chop suey is indicative of the "mélange" at Asian Fast Food & Grocery: the chop suey tastes more like the winding road of history than chop suey, and it's delicious. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Here’s how you know. The menu offers up both silog items and merienda. That’s what we call a mélange folks, one that offers culinary homage to a tradition slung between Filipino tastes, Iberian influence and a knack for Pan-Asian adaptation. This goes-aways in explaining why my single item combo of garlic rice and chop suey did not quite taste like chop suey, but was delicious nonetheless.

That’s $5.75 of history for you. One that was exceptionally filling. One that tasted like a true blue collar meal and not some steak and eggs, Bruce Springsteen-adoring, United Auto Workers ’83 Detroit bull shit, but some actual carb-stocked power bomb.

I award Asian Fast Food & Grocery a coveted “1” on the binary and to the community of Filipino-Americans that have made Los Angeles, California, the West and America undeniably better for their contributions, I doff my cap.


8.72: La Cocina

Need to get away? Sick of the suffocating constraints of urban living? Take a trip to fabulous Santa Clarita, where the warm booths and cheap booze at La Cocina await you. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Need to get away? Sick of the suffocating constraints of urban living? Take a trip to fabulous Santa Clarita, where the warm booths and cheap booze at La Cocina await you. Photo by Dan Johnson.

by Dan Johnson

I see it all the time these days: “if you don’t like it, move to the suburbs.”

It is the height of rhetorical inanity and the go-to nuclear defense for triggered urbanites who have mistaken a global communication network for a universal invitation to issue opinions on subjects they will never be qualified to discuss.

A kindred spirit to jingoist Arizona hicks who sputter “If you don’t like America, leave it,” when anyone has the temerity to criticize the myth of their fucked but somehow infallible country, the suburb jab has become the moth-eaten blanket statement of choice amongst Downtowners (and Downtowner wannabes) who feel the need to defend a neighborhood that is growing more indefensible by the day.

The suburbs are shorthand for mediocrity, insularity, boredom, cultural atrophy and spiritual death. What could be spookier on this Halloween 2017 then to sojourn to Santa Clarita, the scariest suburb of all, in search of cheap food?

Despite its proximity to Los Angeles, Santa Clarita is seen by many as a superlative backwater. In many ways, the desert adjacent bedroom community has more in common with Ventura and the Antelope Valley than it does our bustling metropolis of failed hopes.

In actuality, Santa Clarita is a constellation of smaller communities that have banded together like some big box Pleiades to shine a little brighter at the periphery of southland civic power. Saugus, Newhall, Canyon Country and Valencia all merge in a geographic conglomerate where people go to seek affordable housing and a modicum of relief in the assurance that LA’s troubles are over the hill.

It’s a place forged on the anvil of reasonable escape. Though it may lack in live music, art or any other sense of cosmopolitan self-aggrandizement, Santa Clarita excels at the sort of uncomplicated quietude that comes with distance.

I have a difficult time imaging myself living here because I am complicated and fickle and somewhat high strung. Still, there’s a place deep within Santa Clarita that feels like it could be home.

La Cocina is a perpetually busy Mexican restaurant near the fringe of Santa Clarita’s corporate limit on the ass-end of Bouquet Canyon where suburban regulation fizzles out into the boonies with a civic planning shotgun blast that is a trailer park located across the street from a youth detention camp.

You’ve all been to La Cocina before. It’s that Mexican restaurant that Chile’s wanted to be. It’s got the brick arches and the murals and the comfortable booths and the bottomless chips and the colorful bar and the patio. It always seems to have a crowd. Sporting events are well attended here even though it’s unclear whether most of the people on hand are actually paying attention or are just there to numb themselves with strong drink and dancing ions flickering on a screen.

If you spend enough time at La Cocina in Santa Clarita you'll notice that most people are perfectly nice and normal. It's difficult to say the same about Downtown LA. Photo by Dan Johnson.

If you spend enough time at La Cocina in Santa Clarita you'll notice that most people are perfectly nice and normal. It's difficult to say the same about Downtown LA. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Like the rest of Santa Clarita, La Cocina is priced to keep you there. The egregiously generous spicy michelada (with draft Negro Modelo!) is six dollars. The a la carte chili relleno I prefer is a modest $3.95. Either would be sufficient on their own, especially given that these bar room savants are overly eager to pack lard-fried chips into your gut to prolong your alcohol ingestion period. It’s a genius business model—try not to fuck with the customer’s urge to spend money doing something that requires relatively little work on the establishment’s part.

I get my signals crossed here. In Downtown, I can usually tell by someone’s attitude, dress or inflection whether they’re functioning with a mental illness, affecting edge to subconsciously counter deep-seated Daddy Issues or are just a garden variety asshole.

In Santa Clarita, my instincts do not serve me as well.

In the dozen or so times I’ve been to La Cocina, I have encountered a host of brusk men with motocross branded flat-brimmed ball caps who give off-the-cuff right wing hot takes to their bros in too loud voices then scan the room to see who responded. I’ve seen clearly closeted men whose eyes brim with carnal desire while they chat it up with other hyper-masculinites in a through line about corporate tax rates that is clearly laden with penetrative undertones. I’ve borne witness to a predominantly latino staff whose white-washed speech has aspects of both survivalism and hidden dimensions of contrarian counterstatement hidden beneath. Then there’s the one or two people I pegged as liberal interlopers who sat perfectly still in a corner silently acknowledging the t-rex rules of Santa Clarita alpha male culture where vision is based on movement.

Mostly though, people are perfectly nice and normal. It’s hard not to be. The meal is delicious. The booze is quick and cheap. The world’s problems are somewhere else.

Like Downtown, Santa Clarita harbors all types: gun-toting paranoiacs, jesus lovers, pant-suit nation fallouts, tweekers, junkies, incredibly nice people, world class jackasses, community advocate Christ figures, burn outs, aloof geniuses and, of course, the self-righteous. For most of these people, the true crises of our time exist in an abstract, unseen way.

Fuck street art and galleries and oligarch humble-brag museums. Fuck pro sports and fuck mass transit. Fuck trendy restaurants. Fuck new bar concepts. Fuck status. Fuck Beaux Arts architecture. Fuck the constant cock-measuring contest between tallest buildings. Fuck proximity to political power jockeying. Fuck feeling like I constantly have to sate my restlessness.

Sure, these things help assuage the pain, but the real reason I’m not ready to pick up and leave to become a regular at La Cocina is my need to keep the sorrows of the world close. These other places, these supposedly safe places, are the true epicenters of sorrow because there is a tendency there to see sadness and chaos and irrationality as something apart. When it is not. It lives in each of us. It haunts the core of humanity from time immemorial.

I have no patience for people who look into a screen every day and see violence and greed and then are shocked when those crows come home to roost in their humble little ‘burb in the form of a shooting or a land grab or an unseen toxic waste dump leaching death into the soil.

I’d rather tough it out here.

In the last week I’ve seen a man go to stab someone with a screwdriver before the cops (miraculously) showed up. I’ve been woken up on two consecutive days by the same crazy lady. First as she loudly berated a “Mexican” because “all his people got the HIV and Donald Trump gonna kick them out” and second so she could shout repeatedly, “you aint eatin’ out my ass no more!”

Over that same period of time, I’ve watched a superlative dickhole milk his connections to the city to foist another shitty film shoot on my street while a much-delayed cluster fuck of a skyscraper project people bent over backwards to applaud as block-changing has suddenly commandeered the sidewalk on Broadway and 4th St. Meanwhile our own dear mayor strokes his ambitions with cryptic pronunciations about his political future.

Imagine drinking a michelada and not having to think about The Broad museum! Santa Clarita is so enticing! Photo by Dan Johnson.

Imagine drinking a michelada and not having to think about The Broad museum! Santa Clarita is so enticing! Photo by Dan Johnson.

Guess what? That’s life. There’s no going home to the Cleaver’s perfect little mansion anymore. Awful shit will continue to happen here and everywhere else while people in the know remain powerless and people with the means to affect larger change self-serve instead. Sorry. Even the regulars at La Cocina stand the risk of getting sideswiped by a Panera delivery truck or having their genitals accidentally bitten off by a morbidly obese Tea Party neophyte having an ill-timed epileptic fit at the tile-adorned urinal in the back bathroom.

You don’t get to predict it. You haven’t earned the right to forget it. It happens whether you like it or not. So try to enjoy it or at least get out of its way.

In the meantime, if you could stop making it worse by being a dumb fuck on the internet, that would be helpful too.

I award Santa Clarita standout La Cocina a “1” on the binary and pray to whatever life force it is that undergirds this world that someone in a position of power gets their head out of their ass sometime in the next year before the flood of crazy jumps the banks.

Q&A: Walt Senterfitt of the Los Angeles Tenants Union

An LA Tenants Union action in Boyle Heights. Image via LATU.

An LA Tenants Union action in Boyle Heights. Image via LATU.

Los Angeles is in the throes of a housing crisis where people are increasingly facing eviction, displacement and rising rents. The Los Angeles Tenants Union (LATU) was formed a few years ago as a grassroots response to the crisis, and has grown to be a prominent voice for tenant and housing concerns in neighborhoods throughout the city. We spoke with Walt Senterfitt, a member and organizer of LATU, about the group’s history, struggles and their cluster of actions happening this week called "Days of Rage."

GDT: First off, how is the union structured and who participates?

WS: We’re all volunteers and we have no elected leaders, so the best thing that I can tell you is that I’m a member of the LA Tenants Union and I have been a member since the beginning, two and half years ago. I am active in the policy and research team, which is a committee that supports the overall work of the union from the perspective of policy issues, tracking them, making proposals, informing people of what’s going on. We have a number of committees, such as policy, outreach, media, sustainability, language justice, etc. And I’m also a member of the Eastside local section, based in Boyle Heights.

We made decisions from the beginning that it would be a horizontal, non-hierarchical organization, that we would explicitly reject the kind of non-profit foundation or government-funded model, that we would operate on consensus based decision making. And then soon after that, we decided that having just one form of meeting and gathering in one place in LA is not realistic for our city, as big and diverse and geographically spread out it is. And so we started to grow by propagating neighborhood or regional-based local sections. Now we’re organized into seven local sections, with an eighth in the process of being organized, and hopefully there will be a continuing rollout of more sections as organizing teams come together to start them in different neighborhoods spreading across the city.

GDT: That makes sense – while gentrification is an issue city-wide, each neighborhood has issues that pertain to them more specifically. Hollywood is seeing an influx of new hotels being planned, while Boyle Heights is fighting the art galleries, and Northeast LA has its own struggles.

WS: Exactly. Different neighborhoods have specific manifestations of the crisis that are hitting them the hardest, or that people perceive as the most immediately urgent, which is why the locals are important. But we also think that it’s vital that we figure out a way to build a city-wide movement so that these neighborhood-based fights and movements, as strong as they are, are not isolated or provincialized. It’s important that we connect both in terms of our analysis but also in terms of building power to effect things, sharing experiences and best practices, and to realize that it’s not just happening in our own particular neighborhood or to our own particular ethnicity or to our own particular economic class, but that it’s a city-wide and of course state, national, and global crisis.

GDT: So at this point, how many members are there total?

WS: We have over 500 dues-paying members and over 4000 supporters in the sense that they are people who have come to an event, have signed up for a mailing list or a Facebook page to be kept informed and have shown an interest in participating.

GDT: When LATU was created, was there inspiration from other cities or did this tenants union grow organically in Los Angeles?

WS: It was specific to LA and grew out of struggles and of people putting their heads together to think what could be done to fight and resist gentrification, evictions, mass displacement, and the rising tide of totally unaffordable rents. In the process of doing that we did research on other models of tenant organizing out there, but we didn’t draw from any particular one. We started by combining people who were actively struggling in their own buildings with people who had already been fighting, particularly a group called Unión de Vecinos in Boyle Heights, who had been working already for 20 years resisting gentrification and displacement, and another group called the School of Echoes, which is an open participatory popular education process to actively study what’s happening in our communities through community engagement and reflection. Out of these different streams we came together to form the Tenants Union in July 2015.

GDT: What are some specific local governmental bodies that are involved in enabling this crisis?

WS: There are two main city entities dealing with housing, one is HCID, which stands for the Housing and Community Investment Department and then there’s HACLA, the Housing Authority of the City of Los Angeles, which operates public housing, section 8 subsidies and few other things.  But HCID, formerly called the LA Housing Department, is the one that’s in charge of enforcing or regulating the rent stabilization ordinance, our form rent control. They’re also in charge of inspections and monitoring of housing, whether it’s under rent control or not, for habitability and landlord abuses.  

GDT: That sounds like a city body that is in theory supposed to protect tenants. But it seems like LATU is doing a lot of that work instead of HCID.

WS: Exactly. In reality it often prioritizes protecting landlords, partly under the guise of them saying “we’re supposed to be neutral” for both tenants and landlords. But neutrality when power is unequal doesn’t actually mean neutrality. They also run workshops and things for landlords supposedly to tell them about tenants rights and housing regulations, but the workshops are often basically telling landlords how they can make more money, how they can avoid getting in trouble with tenants, essentially telling them how they can get away with exploiting us and stay legal.

GDT: So where does Days of Rage come in?

WS: This is the third year we’ve done it. The first year was a cluster of actions focused most specifically on the struggles of our founding organizations. In my own building in Los Feliz for example, we held an action that targeted our State Senator Kevin de León, trying to push him and the state legislature to repeal the Ellis Act, which allows landlords to evict tenants and under which we and many other people across the city were losing our housing. That first year we also had actions focused on the proposed hotel at the Villa Carlotta in Hollywood, a building in the Crenshaw district that had tenants who were being pushed out because the landlord didn’t want to deal with Section 8 anymore, and one of the SB complexes in Downtown whose owner was raising rents sharply because the building was not under rent control. We also had a fight in Boyle Heights for the right of return for tenants being displaced by a non-profit housing developer at 1st and Soto.

This year the theme is “Stop The Evictions." We want to challenge the narrative that it’s simply an affordable housing crisis, and particularly the analysis that it’s a problem caused simply by a housing shortage. We say the crisis that we are experiencing is one of evictions and displacement and that should simply stop, by any means necessary or by a combination of means. That government, private owners and tenants like ourselves should resist evictions for any reason because it is forcing people into the streets, forcing people away from their neighborhoods, forcing people out of the city.  

GDT: Right. And it seems like the only reason that it’s happening is because of profit-driven developers and landlords.

WS: And the city policies and state laws that support them. The Ellis Act and the Costa-Hawkins Act are two key examples of that. As well as all kinds of zoning and land use policies that promote and encourage development as the solution. And the myth that if we simply build more “affordable” units we will eventually solve our problems. But we have to ask, affordable for whom? A large number of the so-called affordable units are not affordable for the people most at risk of homelessness or actively homeless because they have minimum income requirements. We also find that affordable units that are attached to market rate or luxury developments lead to more displacement, not only onsite but indirectly by driving up land prices and rents in the whole neighborhood. So one project that might have 10 affordable units and 90 market rate units, even if that’s replacing 10 affordable units that were destroyed to build it, will lead to, indirectly but inexorably, the displacement of many more people in that neighborhood.

GDT: Tell us about some of the Days of Rage actions that are coming up.

WS: There are two actions on Friday. The one that starts at HCID is called “Passing the Ball to City Hall” and is on Friday morning, and Friday afternoon is the “Houses Not Hotels / Casas No Hoteles” action in Hollywood. We have confronted HCID for their failure to defend tenants repeatedly over the last two years or so. We’ve had public meetings with them. They wanted to have just private negotiations, we’ve said no, this needs to be public and that they need to be accountable to the tenants at large. One of their themes has been “we can’t do anymore because City Hall is the one that controls our purse strings and the regulations and laws,” but we don’t think they’re doing anything like what they could do to stand up for tenants. We’re going to roll our demands from their office down to City Hall and leave them on their doorstep as well. And we’re literally using a big ball filled with tenants demands to roll up to City Hall.

GDT: How can people get involved with LATU?

WS: People are welcome to join us, to look us up online, to come to our meetings. We have general meetings the first and third Monday of every month from 7-9pm at the United Teachers of LA headquarters at 3305 Wilshire Blvd. And then each local has its own meetings generally also twice a month and you can find out details on our website and on each local’s Facebook page. And if people can’t come to meetings, message us on Facebook, send us an email, we’ll get you plugged in. Like I said we are an all volunteer organization, so we have lots of roles. On the one hand we think that’s our power and strength that makes us different, that we aren’t beholden to a funder and that we aren’t staffed so we aren’t beholden to what the staff thinks is feasible. But on the other hand it means we have to keep training new leaders, recruiting new volunteers and keep ourselves growing.


8.72: Antojitos Puebla #2

In Downtown LA, authenticity is easily faked and frequently watered down. Fortunately, that is not the case at Antojitos Puebla #2. Photo by Dan Johnson.

In Downtown LA, authenticity is easily faked and frequently watered down. Fortunately, that is not the case at Antojitos Puebla #2. Photo by Dan Johnson.

by Dan Johnson

There’s this weird cognitive delusion by which people are enchanted by the sight of poverty. It’s the exclusive purview of folks who have never experienced poverty first hand—a slight of hand seen as somehow exciting by people who need to supplement their experience watching The Wire.

Poverty is a desperate downward spiral. No matter how much the GOP touts “getting a job” and “upward mobility,” the truth is that wealth inequality tends to be a self-perpetuating cycle. If you have the privilege of wealth, you’re more likely to keep it. If you know poverty, there’s a good chance that will become a perpetual state. It drags people away from the vaunted fringes of the pedestal of prosperity toward a squalor known throughout history.

The people who get off on poverty porn generally do so because it’s a counterpoint to the sleek veneer of Corporate America where every event from healthcare to dining out to vacation is mediated by the thick shellac of a business entity that has spent many, many dollars to create a comfortable experience that also seems “authentic.”

This goes a long way in explaining “urban revivals” and the fetish with blight that comes with it. Authenticity is an incredibly rare commodity nowadays especially given that the past few decades have been devoted to cultivating an aesthetic of authenticity complete with reclaimed wood, exposed concrete, work shirts, boots and consumerism throughout while simultaneously removing the risk of having an actual blue collar existence founded in scrounging one’s own resources.

It’s what we might call a paradox and one inherent to urban living where decades (if not centuries) of tumultuous societal division and the largess that comes with concentrated capital creates pressure differentials that play out in urban geography.

Apologies for the long-winded, somewhat abstract introduction indicting much of society including myself, but the fact is that “real” and “authentic” are on a spectrum that is easily manipulated with design flourishes to encourage those who fundamentally lack the “real” to purchase “safe” versions of it that are themselves “fake.”

I could save my nickels and go to any number of frou-frou restaurants that market themselves as being grassroots urban experiences that challenge the status quo with a pricey approximation of culinary punk. But what the fuck is the point of that?

There is no authenticity without risk.

Dining out cheap is not a fail-safe arrangement. It should have a Russian roulette feel because, as the adage of American capitalism goes, with great risk comes the possibility for great reward. Over the past year and a half of my gastro-life, the hammer has fallen on a lot of empty chambers and more than a few loaded ones.

You take the good with the bad. What would the glow of satisfaction be without a grudge against awful meals. Local interloper Theodore Roosevelt might say that the taste of an excellent meal found cheap is made all the better for the memory of all the other shit food you’ve eaten.

This is all a nice, wholesome, Americana way of explaining social contradictions as they pertain to culinary karma. Well folks, this week I cashed in all my awful meals for a lunch that made it all worthwhile.

Hungry shoppers can only get Antojitos Puebla #2's superlative lamb barbacoa on weekends, when the streets are particularly inundated with both coprophagic organisms and authenticity addicts. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Hungry shoppers can only get Antojitos Puebla #2's superlative lamb barbacoa on weekends, when the streets are particularly inundated with both coprophagic organisms and authenticity addicts. Photo by Dan Johnson.

The vinyl sign outside Antojitos Puebla #2 at the corner of Los Angeles St and Winston St is a siren song inviting all discerning customers on the avenue to a slice of slow-roasted heaven. If Los Angeles St is the new Broadway, and thus the nerve center of Latino retail in and around the Historic Core, then Antojitos Puebla #2 is a shining temple of authenticity with a golden grail of lamb barbacoa sitting on an altar within.

It’s a weekend only special. Fourteen bucks buys a full pound. I opted for the overwhelming satisfaction of a half-pound priced at seven bucks.

To be clear, there is risk inherent whenever you purchase a chunk of meat of any variety. (See Casa India.) Although, the fact that this establishment had already invested in a vinyl sign to advertise their signature dish suggested to me that risk was low.

What concerned me the most (beside the lack of a functioning light in the kitchen-accessible bathroom) was the open door. The true risk is not an article of faith between you and the cook, but the battle between you and the flies.

Elsewhere in the world, someone might read this and say, “flies, big deal!” At the corner of Winston St and Los Angeles St, it’s a pretty good bet that the local calliphoridae was born and bred in someone’s shit. I have a pretty decent idea of who’s shit it was as well.

I know we’re very much in a mode where vilifying people for shitting on the street is a dubious stance given the lack of sanitation options, but the particular confluence of bowel habits at Winston St and Los Angeles St is something that truly strikes terror in my heart.

Shit flies on food is no good. We have rules in polite society to prevent this: wash your hands before you eat and never go ass to mouth.

This dining experience is not a cheap thrill. It’s an existential conundrum that exists on both an intellectual and sensual level. There is an amazing meal of warm tortillas, fall-apart meat, onions and cilantro, too-spicy salsa and pickled jalapenos available for those willing to play the one degree of separation from poop game with a resilient and highly-mobile species of scat spreaders that will long outlast humanity.

Having played that game many times, the thing I resent about poverty tourism and the undertones of authenticity extraction that come with it is the misguided notion that the immediate connection between a delightful experience and cruel reality is a rare aberration.

We are subject today to the fallacy of “whig progress,” or the idea that all of humanity has been a forward march toward a golden era and, baby, we’ve finally arrived. Today’s beneficiaries of advanced capitalism have in many ways been mind-fucked into the bland complacency that comes with years of absorbing that goddam GE jingle, “you’ve got to admit it’s getting better.”

Would the barbacoa taste the same without the dutiful accompaniment of the shit flies? Definitely not. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Would the barbacoa taste the same without the dutiful accompaniment of the shit flies? Definitely not. Photo by Dan Johnson.

The great bulk of human experience past, present and future has been intimately involved with an up and down that comes with perfecting food techniques that are never far from the scourge of disease.

So roll the dice. Put down your seven bucks and keep that open hand flapping so the flies don’t land and enjoy the taste of superior roasted lamb and hope to god that the things you eat are pure but know in your heart of hearts that things are rarely pure and ultimately the nature of things is a gamble that you cannot buy your way out of forever.  

I award Antojitos Pueblo #2 a well-deserved “1” on the binary and encourage all takers to keep their fly hand strong with embracing the equilibrium of seasons and the deeply-entrenched motif of confronting the fickle and impermanent nature of humanity that comes with it.