by Dan Johnson
If you were to read nothing but local government press releases, you might confuse Los Angeles as a city poised to eliminate car culture once and for all. As excited as I am about light rail and regional connectors and bike shares and
monorails street cars, I think it’s important that we all face facts.
Los Angeles is a car city in a car state in a car region. What the Conestoga wagon and iron horse did for the region is momentous, but our present era is defined by the highway system and the near-infinite plenitude of personal automobiles operated by motorists of varying degrees of character and ability.
I relish the privilege of owning a car, however humble and unimpressive it may be. I’m one of a host of Hybrid drivers in the Southland. Sorry if that offends your gas-guzzling, “I’ve got an SUV…don’t you dare question my penis size” compensatory mindset. Sorry too if you think my battery dependent vehicle doesn’t go far enough in mitigating carbon emissions and I should instead endeavor to ride a fixed gear bicycle through the Mojave Desert in search of my true, green self.
I’m not alone in savoring this facet of my Angeleno identity: in a raucous metropolitan area of fourteen million, we delight in trapping ourselves in steel and glass coffins that afford an amount of tightly controlled personal space unavailable via mass transit.
My dear motor coach has accumulated a fair amount of wear and tear recently. On Monday, little stupid me said, “Hey, I’ll pop into Midas this morning and get a pair of new tires. How long could it take?”
The answer, as it turns out, is four and a half hours. I could have gotten out of there in three and a half had I not asked Greg if the car had been aligned. A look of shock overtook him. I wanted my wheels aligned???
Well, yeah, frankly, I do. I wonder, Greg, how often it is that people come in and purchase new rubber tires and don’t want them aligned so as to facilitate another trip to your fine institution in a matter of months? As much as we all love sitting in your waiting room watching “Dumb Shit Dumb Drunk People Do” on your communal TV while you prattle on the phone, most of us down at the Midas on Figueroa are getting stiff at the idea of being anywhere else.
Thanks be to civic planning, the stretch of Figueroa near Midas is an absolute glut of affordable food. As much as I enjoy anonymous rice bowls and colon capsizing Taco Bell, I tried my hand at Grinder.
Note the extra vowel there. I’m talking about the humble table service restaurant, not the app for finding willing same sex partners within geographic proximity. I didn’t detect any kinky play going on at Grinder during my stay. Although there was one particularly eerie looking fellow with Mennonite type garb and bowl cut popping in and out of the restroom now that I think of it.
Still that’s about the most bizarre thing to have transpired at Grinder where I was treated to an $8.04 pancake, home fries, over-easy egg combo that tasted delicious and sat well in my stomach over the ensuing four hours of bull shit that would come to pass up at Midas.
Grinder is a treasure for a variety of reasons. First, the food is good and the service is quick, but congenial. Second, it’s highly affordable. Third, Grinder has ample and free parking. Fourth, despite being so close to USC, the cardinal and gold themed restaurant festooned with Trojan memorabilia doesn’t appear to be frequented by anyone affiliated with the University.
In my years in Los Angeles, I’ve really come to value this last point. Always beware of institutions that have a “master plan.” Especially when that “master plan” is staked by a culture of self-proclaimed arrogance and architectural aesthetics that look like they were heavily inspired by Universal Studios’ Harry Potter world.
You know shit has gotten bad for a California college neighborhood when a Del Taco is converted into a drive thru Starbucks. That’s your canary in the proverbial coal mine warning you that the atmosphere of entitled pretension is verging on the “catastrophically fucked.”
To Hogwarts 2.0’s credit, the University has done quite a bit of community outreach and despite new fences surrounding the campus, USC is still a fantastic place to ruin a public toilet on a sunny April afternoon when your Prius is being held hostage by a man who swore he ordered your house-brand tires from the warehouse hours ago, but they haven’t mysteriously arrived yet and that one husky dude with the Ford Focus has clearly just skid-marked the hell out of the one-hole Midas bathroom.
With hours to kill after my Grinder meal, I popped into the Southern California AAA HQ at Figueroa and Adams to renew my membership. This place is a little-known treasure. The Spanish Revival structure is a testament to the imagined grandeur of Progressive Era Los Angeles when a flourishing and wealth neighborhood made this particular corner the busiest intersection in America for automobile traffic.
As a kid, AAA was an anonymous fluorescent lit suburban retail space where well-meaning affiliates attempted to sell me and mine on life insurance and camping trips to Busch Gardens. This AAA is a whole other monster. Inside you’ll find curiosities including an expansive dome decked out in flags from the various powers that once held sway over California. Better still, there’s a gigantic relief map of California and a magnificent Sequoia tree ring slice with which to indulge all of your dendrochronological inclinations.
There are much worse places to be stranded in California. Mecca for instance. Those looking to assuage the enduring pain that is getting tires changed at Midas on South Figueroa need look no further than Grinder, which I have seen fit to award a “1” on the binary.