Hollywood Uprising

Hlwd Protest Art Call

The last couple of weeks have been intense. Protests throughout the nation sparked by the killing of George Floyd. The National Guard being deployed in major cities. Viral videos exploding across social media. Politicians scrambling like mad to try and cover themselves. It’s been a wild time.

And it’s been pretty wild here in Hollywood. I have not personally been involved in any protests. I’ve been mostly hanging out in my apartment, scanning the news for the latest developments and listening to the sirens wailing outside. And even without having been in the thick of the crowds, it’s been an emotional rollercoaster. Horror over the death of George Floyd. Excitement about the growing protests. Anger over the looting. Depression at seeing the National Guard on LA’s streets. Again.

And then today, I actually feel kind of happy and kind of hopeful. Let me tell you how I got here….

Like I said, I haven’t been to any of the protests, but I was following the news reports of the massive gathering last Tuesday in Hollywood. The next morning I was out on Hollywood Blvd., and here’s some of what I saw.

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Boarded-up storefront on Hollywood Blvd..

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National Guard troops inside a parked vehicle.

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LAPD action at Hollywood and Vine.

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Photographer at Hollywood and Vine with her camera trained on the LAPD.

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Discarded sign lying on the sidewalk.

It was definitely depressing to see the boarded up windows and the National Guard vehicles parked on the boulevard. I have vivid memories of the unrest that rocked LA back in 1992. Walking down the street on Wednesday morning it was hard not to draw parallels.

On Saturday afternoon I needed some groceries and when I walked down to the market I caught the tail end of another gathering. A few hundred protesters were blocking the intersection at Hollywood and Vine. Lots of car horns honking. It was hard to tell whether the drivers were mad at the delay or glad to see people taking to the streets.

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Protesters at Hollywood and Vine.

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Some protesters were sitting on top of cars parked in the street.

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Protesters are demanding that funding for the police be cut.

And at the same time that I’m trying to follow what’s happening locally, the national news media is feverishly trying to document the protests, chase down the politicians, and keep up with the seemingly neverending stream of daily controversies. Elected officials across the country are trying to demonstrate their empathy and understanding, with wildly varying degrees of success. A lot of promises have been made, but we’ll see what those promises mean six months or a year from now.

I wish I could say I was completely enthusiastic about this massive uprising, but actually I had a lot of doubts about where this is all heading. First, I don’t have much faith in politicians, and I’m pretty certain that for the most part the carefully thought-out statements they’ve been feeding the press over the last week or so will quickly be forgotten. Second, while I think the protests are a great way to start a movement, making real change happen means taking things a lot farther. It’s exciting to see so many young people take to the streets to demand justice, but the only way to ensure that justice is delivered is to stay on top of elected officials, show up at city council meetings and go to the polls on election day. In other words, it takes years of difficult, sustained work to guarantee progress. Sure, I’m glad to see thousands of people marching for justice, but I wonder if these same people will still be on board for the less exciting and more challenging job of re-writing our laws and re-thinking our budgets.

But today all my pessimism magically disappeared. Not to say all my doubts are gone forever, but this afternoon they were pushed way into the background, at least for a while. As I walked along Hollywood Blvd., I saw that artists had transformed all the boarded-up windows into canvasses bursting with color. These are the images that greeted me when I walked out of the Red Line station at Hollywood and Vine.

Hlwd Protest Art Be the Change

Be the Change You Want to See

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Artists at work transforming the streetscape.

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Another artist covering drab boards with vibrant color.

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George Floyd

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A splash of psychedelia.

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Maya Angelou

Like I said, it’s not as though I’ve buried all my doubts, but I forgot about them for a little while. Walking down Hollywood Blvd. today, looking at all this amazing art, I felt happy. I felt hopeful.

Hlwd Protest Art Heart

Life in LA Under Lockdown

C19 PlaBoy Sign

Many people have been documenting how life has changed in our cities since stay-at-home orders were issued. Sorry if this post seems redundant, but because this blog is about reporting on life in LA, I felt like I had to write something about this episode.

Life is definitely pretty strange these days. I’m fortunate in that my health is good and none of my family or friends have been infected with the virus, but it’s heartbreaking to read about those who are dealing with the worst impacts. In addition to those who have been infected, there are so many people who’ve been hammered by the shutdown. What’s going to happen to the folks who have lost their jobs? While some may return to work when the stay-at-home orders are lifted, it’s clear that the economy is getting pounded, and it seems like many jobs will just go away. In LA the City Council took action to stop evictions during the pandemic, but there’s still no certainty as to how affected households will make up rent over the long term. I’m concerned about the pandemic, but I’m actually much more worried about what comes next. The news from the US and abroad seems to point to a global downturn.

But right now I can only focus on what’s in front of me, and that’s getting through the day during the lockdown. I can’t say it’s been especially difficult for me personally, but, as I’m sure everyone has noticed, life in LA is pretty weird these days.

Last week I was out to get groceries, and on my way home I saw a young woman standing on a street corner waving a styrofoam head that was wearing a black mask. I had no idea what it was about. Then yesterday I went out again and realized that there are a number of street vendors selling masks, and many of them are waving styrofoam heads at passersby. It does look kind of surreal, but I guess that’s just a part of the landscape right now.

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Street vendor selling masks in Panorama City.

One of the strangest things about the pandemic is the contrast between the businesses that have shut down and the businesses that must remain open. Grocery stores are so busy they can’t keep the shelves stocked. But many other businesses are shuttered. Here are a couple of photos to illustrate how this looks in Hollywood.

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People waiting to enter Trader Joe’s at Vine and Selma.

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Businesses shuttered on Hollywood Boulevard.

The closure of the newsstand on Cahuenga is one of the things that worries me most. Obviously, print journalism has been getting hammered for years. This newsstand has been shrinking steadily for over a decade. Will it ever reopen? And even more troubling is the question of what will happen to newspapers. I heard that the LA Times has lost one third of its advertising revenue and could be laying off 40 people. I’m sure other papers are getting hit as hard or harder. Will more papers fold as a result of the pandemic? Probably. And if that happens, we’ll see even less local news than we do now. This is very scary. The internet has pushed local news reporting to the brink of extinction. (Aside from TV news shows that focus on murders, fires and sports scores.) Already the vast majority of LA’s citizens have no idea what’s going on at City Hall. As a result, the Mayor and the City Council have been letting the City go to hell for years. Corruption is rampant at City Hall, homelessness is out of control, and we’re facing huge budget deficits. If the LA TImes and/or other local papers go under, we’ll have even less local reporting and less oversight. This is very dangerous.

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Will this newsstand on Cahuenga ever reopen?

Of course, signs are popping up all over the place. Stores are posting their rules, restaurants want you to know they’re open for delivery, and public notices tell you what you can and can’t do.

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You have to use the rear door when you board a bus.

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Groundworks is North Hollywood is only open for take-out.

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You’re not even supposed to push the button to get a walk signal.

One of the strangest changes for me is the disappearance of rush hour traffic. Ordinarily during rush hour in Hollywood, Cahuenga northbound is jammed, often to the point where traffic is backed up several blocks. For the past few weeks, Cahuenga has been wide open, even at peak commute times.

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Rush hour traffic on Cahuenga is no longer a problem.

But cars haven’t disappeared completely. In fact, given the stay-at-home order, I’m kind of surprised at how many cars are on the road. Here’s a shot of Highland north of Hollywood.

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Even during a pandemic, there are still plenty of cars on the road.

And speaking of Hollywood and Highland, that’s one spot that’s been completely transformed by the outbreak. Ordinarily the sidewalk on the northwest corner of that intersection is crowded with people. Even at two in the morning you’d find a collection of vendors, partiers, rappers, cops and costumed characters parading around. Here’s what it looked like yesterday in the middle of the day.

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The corner of Hollywood and Highland is nearly deserted.

When will we get back to normal? Impossible to say. And you have to ask what “normal” is going to look like. Even when the stay-at-home order is lifted, life is not going to snap back to the way it used to be. As I mentioned before, LA’s budget was a mess even before the pandemic. With the global economy tanking, you can bet that LA will get hit hard. I wish I could end on a positive note, but there’s not much reason for optimism in LA these days. The city was in bad straits before the virus hit. Our elected officials have shown a frightening inability to address LA’s problems even when the economy was supposedly going strong.

Right now this city’s future looks pretty bleak.

C19 Hlwd Homeless on Hlwd Blvd