Academic journal article Western Folklore

Making the Sprawl Vivid: Narrative and Queer Los Angeles

Academic journal article Western Folklore

Making the Sprawl Vivid: Narrative and Queer Los Angeles

Article excerpt

Making the Sprawl Vivid: Narrative and Queer Los Angeles'

In the first hot month of fall after the summer she left Carter (the summer Carter left her, the summer Carter stopped living in the house in Beverly Hills), Maria drove the freeway. She dressed every morning with a greater sense of purpose than she had felt in some time, a cotton skirt, a jersey, sandals she could kick off when she wanted to touch the accelerator, and she dressed very fast, running a brush through her hair once or twice and tying it back with a ribbon, for it was essential (to pause was to throw herself in unspeakable peril) that she be on the freeway by ten o' clock. Not somewhere on Hollywood Boulevard, not on her way to the freeway, but actually on the freeway. If she was not she lost the day's rhythm, its precariously imposed momentum. Once she was on the freeway and had maneuvered her way to the fast lane she turned on the radio at high volume and she drove. She drove the San Diego to the Harbor, the Harbor up to the Hollywood, the Hollywood to the Golden State, the Santa Monica, the Santa Ana, the Pasadena, the Ventura. She drove it as a riverman feels the pull of the rapids in the lull between sleeping and waking, so Maria lay in the still of Beverly Hills and saw the great signs soar overhead at seventy miles an hour, Normandie 1/4 Vermont 3/4 Harbor Fwy 1. Again and again she returned to an intricate stretch just south of the interchange where successful passage from the Hollywood on to the Harbor required a diagonal move across four lanes of traffic. On the afternoon she finally did it without once braking or once losing the beat on the radio she was exhilarated, and that night slept dreamlessly.

Los Angeles was and is the first city of a type. The geography of the place encouraged-even suggested-sprawl. Cross its hills and you have a seemingly endless valley. To its east, the desert stretches forever. To the south, you can drive from west Los Angeles to San Diego without ever getting a sense of having left the city and moved into another (San Diego's protests notwithstanding). But the sprawl is not singular. Though from the bubble of the car it might seem so, the character of the people and the land change as you move through and past them. In Sandra Tsing Loh's recent novel, If You Lived Here, You'd Be Home By Now, characters discuss where in L.A. they will and will not go,

"Petra doesn't like to come east of the 101. She was saying all of this on a shoot we were doing a couple of months ago. Glendale? Pasadena? Forget it. And she won't go north of Studio City-Ventura Boulevard is the cutoff for her in the Valley.. And she won't even go below the 10... Occasionally she'll do Venice, but that's about the exception." LA Bronwyn thought sadly. A town without a center. Not that she cared that LA. had no center, no one place that everyone would drive to. Nor did she care that she and Paul lived in Tujunga. Sunland. Off the 118. So far away that it was not even attached to the 101-or to any of the freeways that these people were talking about [1997:51-21.

Bronwyn's thoughts about freeways call to mind the famous Didion quote that I have used to begin this article. Both deal with the freeway as the central metaphor for making sense of a somewhat senseless place. Know how to drive, know where to drive, and you know what you need to about L.A.

But knowing cars, knowing the freeway is not enough when it comes to knowing Los Angeles. Mike Davis, in his monumental history of Los Angeles, City of Quartz, writes of the evolving city. He argues that as the century progressed, especially into the 1990s, the city became less public, "In Los Angeles, once-upon-a-time a demi-paradise of free beaches, luxurious parks, and `cruising strips,' genuinely democratic spaces, is all but extinct" (1990:227).2 If the city has, as Davis argues, turned inward, even indoors, in a relentless push for safety and the hope that life could be like the movies the city makes, then how do people live in it at all? …

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