by Dan Johnson
The future is a beautiful place mostly because you don’t have to live there.
It’s fun to imagine years to come where the discord and suffering of our own day have faded. We harbor utopian fantasies. We indulge an idea of time as an upward slog from primitivism to divinity. We assume progress. We lash lavish delusions of grandeur and symbiosis onto an unseen time that can never live up to expectations.
Imagining a bright future just doesn’t cut it. Ask the Romans in 400 A.D. how their future looks. Alaric and the Vandal hordes had other plans. Ask the bright eyed, bushy tailed Modernists of the early 20th century where technology got them. They’ll point you down a road that dead ends in Hiroshima and Auschwitz.
Hey, it’s not all that grim. Once you’ve got an eye for the absurdity of failed social planning, the world around you will appear as a whimsical map of preposterous, ill-conceived, drably arrogant and downright silly fixtures of innumerable yesteryears where visionary architects tried to impose themselves on a time yet unseen.
In Downtown Los Angeles there is one such noteworthy landmark. It may be the single greatest example of the gaping chasm between well-meaning design and the future’s astounding ability to disabuse the clairvoyant with hefty doses of reality. It’s called the Westin Bonaventure—a 1970s pipe dream of a hopeful mixed-use millennium that was never to be.
The Bonaventure appears sleek and impenetrable from an exterior of cylinder towers coated in curved glass. A cavernous lobby space holds tiers of labyrinthine walkways built around massive concrete stanchions. Someone clearly had a grandiose idea of shared public space as being a valuable commodity in the future. The smell of recycled fountain water is rampant. Unseen security cameras are everywhere. The place feels eerily like a panopticon.
Ideally, the curved passages and curiously integrated workout spaces would be populated with happy, productive, peacefully co-existing members of various ethnicities and classes all eager to sample a smorgasbord of shopping pleasures and exotic dining options packed into the abundant retail space.
But that’s not the way the past four decades worked, is it?
Instead, a sparse host of bureaucrats and tourists skitter past empty space after empty space to briefly patronize a few comically out-of-date quick service restaurants and a spa.
This is not the future we were promised, but it’s the future nonetheless. It is not without pleasure. Over in the “red tower,” you’ll find an overlooked patch of lunchtime dining options maintained in strict preservationist compliance to the architectural mores of the mid-‘80s.
I was drawn immediately to The Health Winner because no one likes losers and the sign’s font package reminded me of Michael Dukakis for reasons I cannot articulate.
The colors are bold and the giant banana on the wall is incredibly aggressive. I’m not sure at what point clean eating became a “salvaged wood and good vibes” affair, but The Health Winner is clearly a holdover from the age of competitive body-builder fuck oxen and spray tan queens that haunted the Financial District when I was still trying to figure out how to use a toilet.
You’ve got options here—there are smoothies and sandwiches and soups and salads and wraps and baked potato specials. It’s basically a collection of all the things that New Yorkers mock Angelenos for obsessing over before their pizza-fed East Coast arteries collapse at age forty-eight from massive coronaries and general angst.
Look around. The Bonaventure is the perfect place to buy an avocado sandwich special. It reminds you that nothing is written and the rest of your life will be an unpredictable series of disappointments. Eat for health. It’s one of the few things you control in this life.
Case in point: aforementioned special, which included my choices of pasta, fruit or veggies, came out to $8.72 exactly. Unfortunately, because I used a credit card, I got an extra fifty cents tacked on. Worse still, the Health Winner counter lady (who did not look too terribly healthy, I might add) disappeared “next door” to scan my card.
Making a mental note to check my credit account later for suspicious transactions, I adjourned to a series of light dappled tables near the elevator shafts where I had a perfect view of the hotel lobby’s interior and a sad looking man working in a deli shop. He gripped his forehead and stared at a point on the floor six to seven feet in front of him. No one—I repeat—no one entered his store while I was there. Is this the boom time he was promised?
The sandwich/pasta combo, like the future, cannot be called “good.” I would rate both “sufficient.” The wheat bread, hummus, avocado, sprouts, cucumber, tomato, lettuce stack was merely filling. It was the sandwich equivalent of dating someone superfluous after you and your long time partner break up. It will do. The pasta was generic. I could have lived with the tri-color sprayed with oil standard had they not jammed celery into the concoction. That vegetable had no place in that mix and I think they knew that.
This is what the future tastes like: meh. It promises improved health and sophisticated vistas. Mostly what you get is the same old mediocrity served in fancy elevator-lined courtyards with a side dish of concern that your personal information has been compromised.
Ordinarily I would crucify The Health Winner for shafting me on the $.50 surcharge, but times is tough in the future so I award them a “1” on the binary and light a candle for their eternal souls. Further kudos are given to Katie G., whosoever she may be, for having the audacity to knife her name into a Bonaventure table. I hope you’re well, Katie.
You can experience the future at The Health Winner, inside the Westin Bonaventure, at 404 S Figueroa St.