Karl: Today is February 19, 2010. It’s a Friday night. I’m here at Hamburger Mary’s, in West Hollywood, California with “Al.”
Al: Tell me what you want to know. I know it all.
Karl: How old are you, Al?
Al: Ugh… We seem to have a lot of static on the line, I can’t make out the message.
Karl: Shall we say… *looks Al over* Over 40?
Al: Ugh, very slightly, over 40, yeah.
Karl: How long have you been frequenting West Hollywood?
Al: I never frequent West Hollywood. I find it offensive and too precious for words. I was forced to live here… and boy am I glad I got out. I think the place is too antiseptic, I think the place is too well policed. I think there are no margins in this town that you can get anything done in. And yet, all matter of stuff has been institutionalized, like pot shops, and hookers who take credit card transactions. So it’s sort of stripped life of all of its grit. And I think of all the neighborhoods who have been bohemian and gay in the United States, this is the worst. On the upside it’s also very clean and safe and pretty, which has been a big draw to the straight families moving in, ’cause, who in their right mind doesn’t want to live in a place that’s clean and safe and pretty?
Karl: I think that attracts a lot of females, which attracts a lot of males—the fact that it’s clean, and safe.
Al: It may be hard to believe, but males even like it to be safe and clean. If they’re hooked to each other, yeah I can see couples coming down here. But I don’t particularly see an influx of straight singles, either men or women in West Hollywood.
Karl: How do you feel about the changes you’ve seen over the years that you’ve been in Los Angeles? How long have you been in Los Angeles?
Karl: Well how do you feel about the changes you’ve seen in the last decade?
Al: The last decade of my life was an entire blur to me—one that I don’t want to think about. What I’ve seen, in West Hollywood specifically, is that the hipsters have moved out, the gays have moved out, and they’ve been supplanted with young couples with kids—both gay and straight. The hipsters, I think, are more indicative, because they’re slightly ahead of the gays, ’cause they’re willing to live in grungy areas. When West Hollywood lost its grunge, it lost the hipsters who went looking for cheap rent in Hollywood and remade Hollywood. Like anyplace that attracts young, and hip, and gay people, there’s always a process that it gets cleaner and better and more populated, and safer. So there’s an upward mobility to any area that is infested by these three subgroups. And now they’ve moved slightly further east, to Silverlake. And Silverlake is going through another Renaissance. It’s always been… it’s sort of sputtered there, with starts and stops, but the hipsters open it up, and the young couples have moved in. And the old people are dying and leaving, and selling their houses. So it seems to be progressing eastward. I don’t know where it’s going to go after that because you can’t go much further east. I guess you could go to Koreatown which is also attracting.
Karl: So they’re leaving a decayed West Hollywood behind?
Al: It’s not decayed, it’s the opposite of decayed… it’s “incayed.” *laughs*
Karl: Gentrified then?
Al: Yes. It’s precious. It’s getting to be precious. Having Irvs Burger *points across the street* become, declared a national landmark is precious. It’s a shack! With crappy food! *smirks*
Karl: I love Irvs.
Al: It’s still a shack! *pause* Life, I think, here is better than it has been. It’s a very healthy place to bring up kids. And by definition, that means it’s a healthy place for adults to live. But it doesn’t have much life to it anymore. Tourists from Long Beach go to Micky’s, and Rage, they get drunk and try to drive out of this part of town causing enormous traffic jams on the weekends.
Karl: Tell me about some of the places you used to go out, and some of the places where you go out now.
Al: I don’t know if that applies to me, because I never went out in West Hollywood. The one or two bars I go to periodically, I’ve gone to for 20-years.
Karl: What did Rage used to be before all the Long Beach tourists started frequenting it?
Al: It was pretty much the same thing but filled with locals who are no longer here. I’ll tell you what’s happened… There’s been a new bar opened up called The Gym Bar, and I happen to know the owner. It’s a gay sports bar, but they purposely set it up so you couldn’t tell it was a gay sports bar. It’s a sports bar, with a lot of guys in it. And many of these guys have self-identified with not being a traditional West Hollywood gay. And so conversely, or curiously enough, they fit in with the new population that’s moved in here of upscale professionals. The Gym Bar is not a dive bar like you’d see on Cahuenga, it’s like a refined Barney’s Beanery, with a lot of video screens. The other place that’s caught on very big, that seems to also bring in people from the outside, and an older clientele is Eleven. I don’t know how old it is but I know that when there’s an event that takes place, it’s usually held there, and everyone who’s anyone shows up. There’s other issues too, the cost of rents, the young people can’t afford as much rent as older people. So the hipsters and the younger gays are not staying here.
Karl: And the rent is going up here?
Al: Yes. Rents are staying up here, and they’re falling elsewhere. I’ve noticed a migration towards Koreatown.
Karl: Yeah, K-town’s pretty hot right now.
Al: Yeah. Lots of big buildings, lots of space… Lots of Koreans, *laughs* but also becoming safe, clean and efficient. I don’t know where else to go in LA. Silverlake had a reputation for having some rough edges to it.
Karl: You’re saying “where I should go?” How do you identify yourself? Are you a hipster?
Al: Actually… It’s not how I identify myself, I’m an observer that… The hipsters and the gays open up a neighborhood, they do. If it’s a neighborhood with houses, it’s the gays, if it’s a neighborhood with apartments, it’s the hipsters. *pause* The young always lead the way.
Karl: Where was that community prior to West Hollywood? If they’re opening neighborhoods, where did that start? Did it start in Weho?
Al: Well, LA is growing, so they came from the outside. People who would normally have moved to the suburbs are now moving to the center city because it’s more fun here. Say, you know, a 35-year old studio exec, married to say, a similar-aged artist. They would normally probably move elsewhere, but the neighborhood is welcoming, it’s got good schools, it’s clean and safe, and so they move here. I would bet that there was probably a time that they thought about moving elsewhere, they looked at various options, but found that life here was good. So they stayed, by all the indices that makes sense for yuppies. *pause* Of course I’m talking about you here now. *laughs*
Karl: No that’s true, that applies to a lot of people.
Al: It is. But you’re a microcosm, an exact example of this. You could’ve moved anywhere else in town but you made a decision that you wanted to stay here because it was so easy. It’s centrally located to both the east and west sides, it’s safe, you can walk to get drunk, you don’t have to drive to get drunk, which is always a drag.
I think it’s in a bubble right now. I think the economy’s gonna get much worse. I think places like West Hollywood and West LA are going to be little bubbles of civility and civilization, and people outside of it are going to be falling into barbarism and eating each other.
Karl: Are you referring to the imminent zombie attack?
Al: What I’m trying to say is that I think there’s going to be riots in the streets. They’re not going to happen in West Hollywood, they’re not going to happen in Hollywood, but they’re going to happen in East LA, and they’re going to happen in Silverlake, and downtown. And I can actually foresee a period where West Hollywood shuts off its borders to traffic.
Karl: Wow, can you imagine that?
Al: Absolutely, the only way in and out are through certain designated roads. It’ll be under the rubric of adding green belts, that are ringed with barbed wire on one side. I really think that things are going to go to hell in a hand basket. When it’s going to be, I have no idea, but I’m kinda glad that I’m not going to be around to see most of it, because life is going to be very dislocating.
Karl: So this boring, stale, artificially-hip suburb will be like a safe-haven during all of the chaos?
Al: Have you ever seen a film called “A Boy and His Dog?”
Karl: I have not.
Al: It’s about this post-apocalyptic world where dogs are telepathic. And this guy and his dog are like, scrounging around. It’s worse than “Mad Max.” And evidently, underground, there is a place called Ohio. Entire cities are underground and they’re all rigidly controlled. They’re all policed, and everybody’s gotta be happy all the time. If you’re not happy, you get reported, and they can throw you out, or kill you or something.
Karl: Sounds very “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” Orwellian.
Al: In the end, he eats the dog. *pause* Which I always thought was a nice twist. The dog was very loyal, stuck by him… But hey, it was a dog.