Diane Meyer’s exhibit of photographs and text at the 18th Street Arts Center might more accurately be called “Without a Car in LA,” but then you wouldn’t have the pun.
Meyer’s interviews with 100 Angelinos who don’t have cars is a fascinating sociological study of people living outside the accepted social norm for this part of the world. Her introductory text states: “90 per cent of American households have vehicles, making this the nation of the highest personal vehicle ownership rate on the planet.” Owning a car in America-and especially here in Southern California- is a symbol of affluence, independence, and freedom of expression. Los Angeles has grown around the use of automobiles and its perceived lifestyle is the lifestyle of the driver.
Meyer’s interviewees however, prove that being a non-driver in L.A. is not an impossible feat to accomplish. Her non-driving subjects typify both those who choose not to drive, for environmental or personal reasons, and those who are without a vehicle for economic reasons or because they are physically unable to drive.
This is not an especially visual exhibit. Some of the interviewees are shown with their bikes; most are photographed in their home surroundings. Surprisingly, although Meyer found many of her subjects while riding buses, few of them are shown traveling on public transit. Is there an image problem here? One interviewee, Chadwick Palma, an actor, says in the text next to his photo that he avoids job interviews at places near bus stops-he doesn’t want to take the bus to work and be revealed as a bus rider because “LA is how you look.”
Some non-drivers in the exhibit don’t have a choice-they can’t afford a car even though they believe in cars as the best way to get around. Carlos Trujillo, a cook from South Central LA, describes how he can’t get a bus at 6 a.m. to get to work so he has to leave a day earlier to get to work on time. Margarita Mejia, a homemaker, also living in South Central, says “I can’t go out at night and wait at the bus stop because there are dangerous things happening on the streets.”
But Meyer also displays pictures and statements of many voluntary non-drivers, most of whom are professionals with careers in teaching, consulting, or the arts.
Student Corrine Bird, shown perched on her unicycle, is known at Santa Monica College as “the unicycle girl.” She says: ”It’s not the most efficient means of travel but it’s a pleasurable and fun means of travel.”
Although Meyer’s exhibit features people from all over LA, one wishes she could have featured more people from the Westside, where new public transit projects and strong grassroots environmentalism are adding to the non-driver movement. But her exhibit does feature a recent covert to non-driving familiar to Mirror readers: novelist Carolyn See. Shown seated in her living room, See remarks: “I loved driving when I was driving….until the day that I didn’t-and then I just didn’t.”
Without a Car in the World runs through December 11 at the 18th Street Arts Center, 1639 18th St., 310.453.3711.