Awkward moments in Los Angeles

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.

64 thoughts on “Awkward moments in Los Angeles

  1. Wow–the unscrupulous, corrupt, or even well-meaning but ass-backwards nonprofit seems to be a thing a lot of people have experience with. This seems like it could be fodder for a seriously great journalistic expose.

    Which is not something I do. I do lighthearted arts & culture pieces. I hate all the work you have to do for hard-hitting journalistic exposes. But I’m sure someone out there loves to do that sort of thing. Right?

  2. I have pitched this story about every year for the last four years or so, but people don’t like hard hitting stories by poc unless its about gang corruption or corrupt politicians that are poc, oh it can also be about how “we” should work harder in school. Mainstream media loves that shit.

    It goes back to the “dancing for the man” bs.

    The journalist who are poc or working class also won’t do this story correctly, because they are afraid to insult their new friends.

    When this story is written by the typical journalist in a weekly or the LA Times it’s going to be done with the angle of the poor little minority instead of the corrupt bastards of the art world. The issue of class and gender will also be ignored, because that’s not good news and sounds too commie.

    That’s the kind of things that get published, never the truth. The people in control have the average journalist in their pocket, because they are neighbors and go out for cocktails with them.

    Though we have the internet…

    The problem with the arts and grants is this:

    I got a little zine from Edith Abeyta by called “Abolish Restaurants” and it was about the restaurant business and to me I would apply it to the world of grants and nonprofits. As restaurants are divided with jobs with one cultural group being in one section of the house as dishwashers and bussers the other side of the house the front as another cultural group.

    People of color are only funded for programs that are poverty based. Programs about AIDS, getting jobs, faith based kind of stuff, education without art, people in jail (and even then we only get a little bit of money.) Nothing wrong with these programs, but it is something wrong when this is the only programs that we are allowed to do. Grants are funded by all of us, so I don’t understand how that works.

    If you’re doing an art related thing that’s main purpose is getting people to think or create you won’t get funded. If you make it multicultural, you won’t get funded. Meaning if you are Latino and you want a program to include all ethnicities, you won’t get funded, African-American, same thing. Us working together is a bad thing. In order to get funded, if you are a person of color you must only work with the group that matches you, because as I said time and time again for some reason the mainstream thinks people of color have to be two ways: In their neighborhoods, just talking about people who look like them, just dealing with people who look like them and you have to specifically say that in the grant or project that you are are doing OR completely color blind and never bring up race at all (this would apply more on an individual basis of publishing and art shows, that’s why while there are lots of African-American bloggers and even joournalists in LA you will be hardpressed to find an unfuzzy picture of them or a picture of them at all and they NEVER, EVER bring up race or even chime in…ya’ll know who you are, when I get drunk one day I’ll out all of ya’ll and your odd silence.) Diversity and diversity issues of class and gender apparently are not things we can do.

    These are the two types of people that they love to fund.

    Media we also won’t get funding, especially if it seems that we are going to focus on the status quo instead of just our “poor” conditions…even though lots of people have started blogs yesterday that can get funding through all kinds of new journalism kinds of grants, but again the usual suspect is excluded from this kind of money.


  3. Dorit stated: “Browne: If the cops stopped to intervene every time they though a chick was harassing her boyfriend, they would have no time to get anything else done.”

    What Browne was stating was that the cop DID harass her, and that what they should be doing is getting other things done. Please re-read the comment.

    Too, the same cop has been observed in his pattern of harassment. Click on my name (above) to see exactly what was being stated by Browne.

  4. Scott stated: “When you went to the Stories opening party, were the stares you received hostile or otherwise uninviting? I ask because you seem to have given up on the idea of attending without asking any one of those “young guys” if it was in fact a private party.”

    Scott, since Stories is a book store, and as such can be assumed to have an appreciation for reading and writing, they should have put up a sign announcing it were a private party. It is a fundamental concept that most proprietors observe. Moreover, being the only person (or two) in a crowd who is clearly different can make one uncomfortable. White folk rarely travel to Compton BECAUSE they do not wish to be in a situation where they are clearly the minority. I feel that if you were to be in such a situation, especially in your own nabe, you might come off a little less cocky.

    As for Echo park Time Travel Mart, it is a fine store. And I especially like the idea of teaching children reading comprehension (which appears inherent to the programme, what with the concept of the store) rather than the face value—i.e., phonetics, which I have always maintained is a rather retarded approach to learning how to read, comprehend and write English—of what literature can offer. However, if you wish to understand what Chimatli meant, perhaps you should attend a Paul Mooney concert to see humour can do when it is white folk who are served:
    It is exactly the same but the colours are in different positions. Perhaps that will help you “come to a different conclusion.”

    Then again, you may have ditched this “failboat” and are not listening. I do not feel you were listening even when you were aboard, and that only corroborates Chimatli’s observations.

  5. Hi Bustard,
    My committ to Brownes committ was met to be funny- but being that I am not a funny person and can’t tell a joke to save my live- it seams that iti did not come out that way. Sorry if I offended you

  6. “and they NEVER, EVER bring up race or even chime in…ya’ll know who you are, when I get drunk one day I’ll out all of ya’ll and your odd silence.” –Browne

    Somebody buy that woman a drink!! I’ll pay for the round after that! 😉

  7. ” I was into art (as well as my wife, she went to the art center while I went to the LA river) and was socially deviant, and fell into that narrow crack of 85% of urban kids who arent good enough to get into art programs and not bad enough to stay in jail for those long stints where you get to participate in art classes. ” Art

    So obnoxiously true.

  8. I might add that with what little cash I have available I mean to purchase from Echo Park Time Travel Mart a copy of a book titled “All Known Heavy metal Bands,” a title what is available at said store (and not just because it mentions all of the obscure metal/crusty/hardcore bands with which I worked many years ago). If anyone knows my background with the petite handful that is mentioned therein, as well as my previously active participation with the anti-Rick Moody org, ULA, (based in Philly) headed up by Karl Wenclas, well, you’ll know I might mean well even as I sneak the figurative cigarettes. . .

    Still waiting for the “failboat” rat to respond,

  9. BTW, Browne, when I noted “85% of urban kids not good enough to get into art programs” I meant in terms of behavior and not artistic aptitude. You know, like those AP art classes, or school art classes in general. When I was in various continuation schools art classes were non-existant.

    The problem is that often times those f-d up kids who arent behavig well enough to get into ap art classes or programs are the ones who should be steered into the subject for therapuetic/productivity inducing reasons. Our nonprofit was initially started mainly to just expose art to any local or kid interested and to beautify our communities in the most impactful/cost effective way/viable way we could. What ended up happening was so many local street kids had talent and wanted to paint/get atention that we became known for/focused on socially deviant kids. Tons of these kids had talent and I wish we had the funding to hire these kids.

    The world of graffiti in LA is a good example of LA’s art scene: the brown/black/poorkids live in their mom’s back house and rep the hood no matter theri talent, the rich (often) white kids get art degress and become famous like Barry McGee(Twist), Saber or Shepard Fairey (giant). These kinds of artsy coifish sleeved whiteboys befriend urban mminorities and hang out in hoody areas to feel validated. Initially that drew me to graffiti culture because I thought it was cool for something to transcend demographics until you begin to feel like a circus animal being displayed.

    there’s a whole tagging crew called TKO devoted to this, brown guys being validated by white artsy types and that whole destruction/stripper/thug wanabe BS.

  10. “BTW, Browne, when I noted “85% of urban kids not good enough to get into art programs” I meant in terms of behavior and not artistic aptitude.” Art

    I know 🙂

    I even get that your response is not a response to me, but a response to people who don’t get shit unless you paint a freakin picture and then hold their damn hand.

    That’s why it was obnoxious. When I use the term obnoxious it’s a compliment meaning smart without being obvious and annoying.

    I totally always get what you are saying and feel that you are a great asset to the world of conversation. I wish you would put up more posts, but you do not exist to make me happy so….


  11. I am a student at UCLA and I am currently working on a historical research project for historical Filipino town. Mt research consists on an array of things but one important component is collecting pictures of the area before it was considered historical Filipino town. Do you know the location of your grand mothers picture? the year? Do you have any more? any information will be helpful. thanks

  12. Hello Jessie,
    Thanks for your interest in my family history. It wasn’t clear from your comment if you are using my photo for your project. If so, it is courteous to ask beforehand before using personal family photos like mine. I will contact you regarding your other inquiries.

  13. I’m a little late to the party here, but I’m a white, Echo Park-dwelling hipster who volunteers at 826LA, and despite being in the same demographic as the girls who work in the Time Travel Mart, they are still total snotty bitches to me. I just wanted to point out that assholes are assholes, no matter what color/class you are.

  14. I couldn’t agree more. I was born in Boyle Heights, raised in Monterey Park, and had family in Echo Park. My uncle still has his imprint on the sidewalk in front of Patra’s: Curiel 1/31/70. I moved to Echo Park in 2005 and although I loved the neighborhood for its roots and bohemian dwellings, I had to leave because of the hipster invasion.

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