My grandmother, her mother, her sisters, my grandfather (in the baggy pants), friends and neighbors at their first Echo Park home. The home no longer exists and the neighborhood is now called Historic Filipinotown.
I wrote this a couple of months ago but was hesitant to post. But as a friend of mine (a prolific emailer and a notorious drunk – a bad combination) once told me “just close your eyes and press enter”
My friend and I tried to go to the Stories Bookstore opening in Echo Park. We walked by 15 minutes before the opening party was due to start and got a handful of stares from the young guys silk screening in the store window. Hmmm, no sign of opening party anywhere and the sign on the door says “open next week”. Perhaps it’s a private party, oh well.
We walked into the Time Travel Mart, I’d been curious about the place. It looked cool in photos. My friend walked in with me but leaves immediately because he cannot tolerate pretentious irony and the store was chock full of it. I thought the place would be more interesting somehow but it wasn’t. It could be me, I just didn’t get it.
A few seconds later a live performance of some country singer comes blaring over the speakers. It’s a song about rednecks, something like “I’m a redneck” for blah blah reasons and then there’s hootin’ and hollerin’ by the crowd. It’s possible I reacted to the song with a bemused look on my face but I can’t be sure. I was the only “customer” in the store besides the white hipster girl who worked there and her white hipster friend. The guy seems to really enjoy the song. The clerk girl seems embarrassed and says out loud for my obvious benefit, “Oh! I don’t think I can stand this song anymore.” Her friend disagrees and is like “Wait, it’s just getting good…” (The guy is in the redneck groove!) “I’m changing the song” she says but the her friend slightly moans in protest, until he notices me. Obviously the clerk didn’t have to think about the song until the Latina girl came in the store. I’m feeling very awkward, like I walked in on a secret. It’s like suddenly the curtain of kitsch and irony has been pulled back and exposed the reality of the situation, the one none of us in the store really wants to deal with at the moment. I leave so we can all feel comfortable again.
My mother’s family has lived in the Echo Park area since the 1930s. I spent a good chunk of my life living in the area. My grandmother was the first Mexican-American president of the Echo Park chapter of The American Legion (she was a Republican but voted Democrat, she had her reasons) and was super involved in all sorts of community activities to make the neighborhood a safe and better place for people to live.
On Sunday mornings, we’d drive in her big white 1950s truck to Pioneer Market (now defunct) on Sunset and she’d get her groceries for the week. (This was in the 80s.) There was a toy shop in the basement of Jensens my brother and I would get to visit once in great while for a rare treat. On the corner of Echo Park and Sunset there was a newsstand where I’d buy my latest music magazines from England and my grandmother, the Los Angeles Times. After that, we’d head to the Big Top Liquor store (no longer there except for the giraffe sign) on Temple St for menudo. She would bring her own pot, of course. Sometimes we’d see my mom’s best friend from childhood on the front porch of her duplex home on Logan Street near the park and we’d wave hello.
Now when I go to Echo Park I’m reminded of David Hoch’s quote “I feel like I’m a tourist in my own city.” It’s beginning to feel more and more like a hipster Disneyland. My mom’s best friend Antonia was pushed out of her duplex apartment she lived for half of her life. She now lives in the desert. It was worse for her son Junior. He knew all the store employees in the Echo Park-Sunset shopping district, you know one of those dudes that hangs out all the time and chats everyone up. He couldn’t bear to leave the home he lived in all his life. Most likely many of the store owners he knew are gone too. Big Top Liquor is gone, but the gang remains behind for now. Once in awhile we drive by Antonia’s old duplex, it’s been restored and finely painted in tasteful colors. It looks nice. She’ll say wistfully to my mom “Look Ana, look what they did to my old place. Wow, they really fixed it up.”
The neighborhood is still cool. It has stores I would’ve loved when I was a teenager and reading music mags from England but it’s not really a place for me anymore. And I guess it doesn’t have to be. But I think about all the people still there wondering what happened to their bars, restaurants and stores. I wonder what they think?
March 5, 2009:
Just to clarify, I do not consider Echo Park to be part of the Eastside nor do I support any blogs that promote this mistaken designation. In particular, the blogger “Eastsider” LA has refused to stop using my words and writings to promote his ill informed site. His blogging practices are atrocious and disrespectful, borrowing other people’s content without permission and pretty much stealing this here blog’s name. When I asked him respectfully to take down my quote his reply was: “What are you going to do about it?” Tsk, tsk. This person is a good example of what’s wrong with Echo Park.