By Dan Johnson
There’s an apocryphal story about the Ronald Reagan Building on Spring St. between 3rd St. and 4th St. It was originally named the Ronald Reagan State Office Building. Rendered as an acronym, it spells Ronald Reagan S.O.B.
Apparently, a choice node of power brokers at the center of a Venn diagram uniting humorless bureaucracy with humorless hard right sycophancy couldn’t abide by that. Nor was a proposed alternative, the Nancy Reagan Let Her Friend Rock Hudson Die of AIDS Memorial Apparatchik Atrium, suitable.
So that’s how the bland ziggurat of state power at the south end of the Civic Center got its abbreviated name.
Deep in the shadow of the RRB is a humble retail arcade joining Broadway and Spring with a slice of fluorescent-lit businesses. I like to think of this nook as a Bureaucratic Support Zone.
There’s a dry cleaner. (Here’s your pant suit, ma’am.) There’s a shoeshine operation. (Your wing tips are ready for the big meeting, sir!) There’s a New Orleans quick service restaurant. (One more stamp on your frequent customer card and you can cash it in for a heart attack with premature medical retirement.) Don’t forget Wells Fargo. (Ouch, did we accidentally open three false bank accounts in your name and willfully perpetuate this con years after the fact? That sounds uncharacteristic of us…)
The crown jewel of that proud promenade is Biddy Mason Park, a parable written on the walls of the city itself.
The park(let) honors a superlative Los Angeles midwife of the mid-19th century. Biddy Mason came to LA as a slave and was only freed after California gained its statehood. She took her owner to court after he attempted to coerce her into going to Texas where, historically, everything is bigger except the freedom of non-white, non-male pseudo citizens living in the shadow of a desert spanning shooting range.
Newly manumit and gifted in the ever-valued art of childbirth, Mason worked long and hard to save up enough to purchase the plot of land across from today’s Ronald Reagan Building.
First—wrack your brain for an LA memorial that rivals this one for substance of biographical material. Second—scour your gray matter for a comparable monument to a) a former slave, b) a woman, c) an African-American in general, or d) a midwife.
It’s truly a remarkable piece of civic memory that tells a number of neglected stories through the vessel of a particularly resilient and beloved woman who beat red-lining before red-lining had a name other than white supremacy.
Further, the whole narrative feels like an allegorical buttress for the condition of the 9-5er. Feeling trapped? Worried you’ll freak out long before you get your pension? Physically ill at the very thought of spending another Monday in that Kafkaesque labyrinth of policy?
Chill out. Look at Biddy. She played it cool. Got a house. Made a name for herself. Broke on through to the other side. You can do it too. You’ll see.
If you’re still hyperventilating, forming ruthless critiques of your colleagues and boss in your mind or generally fantasizing about the end of days, I hereby invite you to pop into the First Cup Caffe. It’s a breakfast/lunch joint across from the Dry Cleaners and next to the shoeshine.
I invite you to peruse their menu online. It is chock full of pricing lies that have been remedied at the restaurant itself. This trifling deception pales in comparison to the generally accepted social arrangement by which you work for your entire life to defer true fulfillment until your happy twilight. If you can live with that onerous untruth, the roughly seventy-five-cent price disparity between online menu and physical menu shouldn’t be that hard to overcome.
Basically, from 8am to 2:45pm on workdays, you can order from a robust menu of breakfast items (First Cup) or lunch selections (Second Cup…get it?).
The options are manifold. If you tried a new menu item every week, you’ll be well into November of 2017 before you try them all. How’s that for bargaining with the gods to let time pass mercifully fast?
Here’s what really tickled my fancy: at 8:30am the kitchen staff was more than willing to accommodate my Second Cup request. So I paid a mean $8.67 for a veggie burger combo with a cup of water.
Briefly high as a kite on a serum of value derived euphoria, I descended into the seating area, which is a jovial collection of mismatched tables, couches and lost dining room sets that feels like a health code compliant version of the furniture room at St. Vincent de Paul.
Outside, a pack of diverse and chipper professionals clad in battleship gray suits and inoffensive navy blue dresses assembled for what could have been an impromptu JC Penney’s catalog shoot. Maybe I had been wrong in gauging the level of desperation seething deep within the hearts of state employees. Then again, it’s always the ones you least suspect, right?
Then my burger arrived, courtesy of the friendliest person to have ever served me lunch before 9am within fifty feet of a major bank branch location.
Whole-wheat bun with generic veggie patty, tomato, lettuce and a thick stratum of pickle. The entire sandwich has been cut in half for my dining pleasure. Beneath the bun, the tomato has been quartered for reasons unclear. As starchy attaché, a selection of freshly oil-drowned fries of the Sysco light gauge variety have been lumped together.
It’s not great. I’ll be honest. Nor is it expensive. Which is nice. More still, FUCK THE WORLD, cause I’m eating lunch at a time of my choosing—before work!
In her spare time, Biddy Mason helped found the First African Methodist Episcopal Church. Newly invigorated with a Second Cup fortified lust for life, I begin to ponder all the things I would like to accomplish: convince Tom Gilmore to buy the Spring Street Park and turn it into a museum of dog feces, travel back in time to watch the Da Vinci burn in person, ride the Oue Skyspace slide endlessly and free of charge until I can verify that it is the premiere gimmick in Los Angeles.
With all those noble pursuits to choose from, I instead opted to write this. So chock that up to another day squandered in the 300 block of S. Spring.
I award First Cup Caffe a “1” on a binary though I qualify my review with the sincere chastisement that any business that truly cared about the well being of full time office dwellers would serve generous pours of alcohol beginning at 6am.