(A little change of pace today, for all you oenophiles out there who thought the California wine industry started with Ernest and Julio Gallo. From our Los Angeles correspondent, Ned Teitelbaum, Executive Director of Plant The Vine, an urban landscape history and public memory project intending to create a greater awareness of L.A.’s wine-making past through the establishment of small community vineyards. Viticulture?! Everybody knows L.A. has no culture.)
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I had been researching a public-history project about Los Angeles’ first truly dominant industry, that of winegrowing and winemaking, when I realized that I’d been running across quite a lot of what I can only describe as an open and obvious bias against Los Angeles terroir. Continue reading →
(While we’re off visiting New York City, our Los Angeles correspondent, Ned Teitelbaum, writes a post about Dodger baseball, linking it back to Brooklyn and public transit. [Did you know them Dodgers got their name from Manhattanites derisively referring to their borough counterparts as ‘trolley dodgers’ because the Brooklyn streets were once filled with trolley cars?] The serendipity of things, huh?)
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There are times during baseball season in Los Angeles when I feel closer to my father’s Brooklyn than I ever did living in New Jersey or Manhattan, or even Brooklyn itself, which we’d pass through on our way to see my grandmother when I was a kid. Those times are when the Mets are in town and I am lucky enough to catch one of their games at Dodger Stadium.
“Pick you up at six?” my friend, a New Jersey transplant with season tickets offers one recent evening. Great seats at the game, a meal that comes with the seats, and door-to-door service as well? He’s a great friend, but I decline the ride.
“I’ll just meet you there,” I tell him, thinking that’s how busy people do it in a big city, even if Los Angeles long ago abandoned its urban rubric for a more suburban slant. My friend knows I’m on a transit kick, and now since my car was recently totaled, I just walk and take transit practically everywhere.
Still, I feel a sense of guilt at not taking the ride, as if I’m being anti-social, biting the hand that feeds me.
“I just need to walk a little, climb some stairs,” I explain, and he pretends to understand. We’ll meet up at Will Call.
I gather my things — my glove, my cap, my Lee Mazzilli shirt — and am about to leave when the phone rings.
“I can’t talk right now, Mom,” I say quickly into the phone.
“Where are you going?” she asks.
“I’m taking the subway to the Dodgers game…” But even before the words are out of my mouth, I am struck by a mysterious, ghostly and disjointed nostalgia, as if I had spoken those exact words in that exact order countless times before.
But of course, I hadn’t.
The Dodgers left Brooklyn for the West Coast the year before I was born. Still, I would hear stories all my young life from the devout Brooklyn Dodger fan that would marry my mother and become my father. He would tell me stories about Pee-Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, the Duke of Flatbush and of course, Jackie Robinson.
But Pee-Wee was his favorite. I’d never seen my father do anything more athletic than mow the lawn or pull up his socks, but in clips of Pee-Wee Reese playing shortstop, I recognized my father’s own physicality – short, quick and tightly muscled – and imagined him as a kid in Bed Stuy playing stickball or handball against the wall.
I take the Red Line down to Union Station from my local stop in Koreatown. When I get to the game, my friend has just arrived. He smiles under his Mets cap, and sports the team shirt as well. I read the name on the back – Dykstra. Lenny Dykstra, nick-named ‘Nails’ for his toughness and unrelenting drive to win. I see my father in him too.
We enter and take our seats. The sun is coming down behind the palms that top the ridge out beyond the parking lot, and while the visiting players are out on the field, stretching and cracking jokes before the game, I am distracted by the swallows flying above their heads and feasting on the gnats. A breeze, fragrant with sage and mountain pine, comes down from the mountains and fills the stadium. There is no question that the Dodgers’ current home is a powerful place.
After the Star-Spangled Banner, the game starts. The Mets lose a pitchers’ battle on the last at-bat of the game. My friend drives us home in his electric car with the disembodied female voice telling him how to go.
“We’ll get ‘em next time,” he says, and we both know it’s just part of the game, what you say when your team loses. I thank him as I get out of the car and close the door. I am grateful for such a friend.
The next day, I’m waiting for the 206 bus to take me back to my office after a Chinese lunch. A man sits at the stop. He has curly, prematurely white hair and looks up at me, at the top of my head.
“How long you been a Mets fan?”
At first I think it’s odd that he knows. But then I remember I am wearing the team cap.
“All my life,” I tell him with a certain pride.
He reaches into his bag and pulls out his own crumpled Mets cap and puts it on.
The man starts talking. And he is a fast talker, mostly about the Mets and how he was there when Shea Stadium opened in 1964, and for some reason, he gets free seats to any game he wants.
I want to tell him that I was there in 1969 when the Mets won it all, in the fifth game of the World Series at Shea, when they beat the Baltimore Orioles. But I can’t get a word in edgewise.
He continues talking, mentions ‘clients’ of his and I wonder what kind of clients he means. He tells me he got a ball signed at the game at Dodger Stadium the other day and the Mets players who had signed it.
“I got Campbell and Syndegaard and Morales,” he says, then doubles back. “Actually, I already had Morales. But I got Wright and Cespedes and De Grom and…”
He goes on like this even as we get on the now crowded bus and sit next to each other, taking up seats you’re supposed to give up to the elderly and the handicapped.
I glean from his non-stop stream that he is a professional drummer, which probably explains the round canvas bag in his lap. He plays the clubs in Koreatown, he tells me, knows a whole bunch of people from the world of entertainment, including Stevie Wonder and Zsa-Zsa Gabor, and is traveling around the country come June with the Platters. Wherever he goes, he checks out a baseball game. Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia…
We get to my stop and he gives me his card.
“Call me anytime,” he tells me. “We’ll go to a game.”
I nod and thank him and climb over a few people to get out of the bus. And then I realize I never got a chance to ask him where he was from. Then again, why would I have? It was obvious. As obvious as Pee Wee and Syndegaard, the Duke of Flatbush and Wright.
I have been thinking about the bus as a kind of plaza on wheels, the town square that requires an almost communal cooperation in order for it to work. In contrast to the smooth predictability of a subway ride, the bus trip, with its dips and turns, its brake jams and unexpected accelerations, forces you to acknowledge the stranger, either as someone you must work your way around in order to get to the exit, or literally anything else. It is much more intimate than a subway ride, in ways both agreeable and not. On a good day, though, and I swear this is true, it can start to feel like family.
Let me explain. The other day, I was on the La Brea bus, stopped at a light, when a serio-comic drama played out that we could all watch together from the comfort and safety of our seats. We saw an older driver at a gas station who had forgotten to replace the pump handle after she’d finished pumping her gas. The handle clanged loudly on the stained concrete tarmac as she the drove off, and remained there for only as long as it took the silver-haired man who was topping off his Mercedes to pick it up and place it back in its holder.
Only that’s not what happened. Rather, after a quick glance up from his I-phone, the man with the Mercedes went back to texting and topping off his tank.
We did not see what happened next, but apparently, disaster was avoided, and as the light turned green a spirited conversation arose. One person shook her head that certain people should not be allowed to drive. Another thought the man with the Mercedes was a dumb-ass because he would have been blown up too. Still someone else (me, in fact) thought that it was just the latest embarrassing confirmation of L.A.’s own particular suit of self-absorbed la-dee-dah.
The conversation continued thus, and as happens, my attention drifted to other things. Where else but on a city bus, I thought, could a person find such serendipity? If I had witnessed the event while by myself, it would have weighed on me, made me cynical about the city and all its inhabitants. But because I’d witnessed it together with my homies on the bus, it was no big deal, and I was grateful to them for being there, for responding, for talking about it, and not pretending like they didn’t see it or that it didn’t matter. They were there for me, and I was there for them, my bus family. It was one of those rare moments when I loved my fellow man!
But then a guy got on the bus who totally harshed my Kumbaya.
“Good morning!” the energetic, middle-aged guy shouted at anyone who would listen. I wasn’t one of them. Despite my effusions about a bus-ride being like family, there are unspoken rules of conduct and one does not get on a bus or train and start greeting everyone.
Anyway, not knowing what the dude wanted, I looked for the telltale candy bars and ear-buds that you see young men selling on the Blue Line to Compton. But no, this fast-talker wasn’t selling candy. He was selling Trump.
“I know you’re all for Bernie and Hillary,” he then set out. Guilty as charged, I thought, but still, why were my political leanings being questioned by a disruptive stranger on a bus? I tried to engage him with humor in order to defuse the situation. But that only served to provoke, and he launched into a menacing blitzkrieg of obscene political incorrectness that made my jaw drop. This had never happened to me before, and it was more than uncomfortable, it was frightening. Despite my growing sense of disbelief, I was nevertheless fully aware of the precedents – Hitler’s Brown Shirts, Mussolini’s Black Shirts, and the Brooks Bros.-clad Bushies shutting down the Florida chad count in 2000. Yes, I went there.
I wish I could say I was some kind of hero, but while I was shaken, I did not stir. I wanted to throw him off the bus, but didn’t, because a part of me refused to believe this was actually happening. Plus I’m a coward. Nevertheless, the man did get off the bus at the next stop. But for the rest of the day, I carried around a complex of uncomfortable feelings, from guilt that I had thought of violence, to shame that I had not been more clever, to anger at what the man had said and, equally, to embarrassment for being angry.
At the end of the day, I contacted one of my conservative friends, hoping to find some kind of reassurance that not everybody on the right thought this kind of behavior was okay.
“The first amendment is a wonderful thing,” my friend texted to my dismay.
But was this really just a case of a man exercising his first amendment right? Surely, there are limits to all rights. Wasn’t what he did akin to yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater? What if the driver had been bothered or provoked when the guy leaned over and murmured Trump catechisms into his ear? Yes, it could have been quite dangerous.
I went to bed that night thinking that maybe a bus isn’t really a public square after all. It’s too hard to get away from someone who chooses to provoke you by yelling Trumpisms in your face. Thank God for the unspoken rules of public transit, I thought to myself, getting into bed. And as I drifted off to sleep, I thought once more of my family, the one on the bus, and hoped that they were all doing fine. Kumbaya.