One of the first columns I wrote for this newspaper dealt with an encounter I had at the Santa Monica Pier: I was at the Pier, enjoying a typical sunny beach day and the energy of the crowds there. Hungry from my bike ride, I decided to get a hot dog. I don’t eat hot dogs with any sort of frequency, so it was clearly one of those times when we let ourselves enjoy a little carnival food at the carnival.
I was ingesting the hot dog with a noisy level of gusto when a guy with no shirt and a bandana on his head rode past me on his bike and openly criticized my lunch choice. He cited “chemicals” in the hot dog, mumbled a few other things… then rode off, a kind of freelance Robin Hood of nutritional assistance. He was my first encounter with the up and down seesaw of Santa Monica/Venice tolerance.
Our community is open-minded and mostly liberal, except when it’s not. And then there’s this odd overload impact, demonstrated by the guy on the bicycle. He wasn’t wrong about the health aspects of hot dogs, but it’s my suspicion that knowing he was right and supported by facts imbued him with the chutzpah to blurt out his right/correct knowledge to complete strangers. Still, couldn’t I be allowed to enjoy a hot dog unmolested by an unsolicited review of my eating habits? It was the Pier, not a public school lunch program.
Now fast-forward to last Sunday’s Festival of the Chariots, an event that circulates positive vibes and fills the air with happy chanting as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (the Vaishnavas) sponsors a parade down Main Street with three colorful wagons and members of varied ages dancing, chanting, and playing musical instruments on and around the wagons. It’s certainly a celebration of diversity, and last Sunday was no exception.
Walking with stern seriousness some distance ahead of the actual parade were about a dozen fundamentalist Christians, who carried banners offering warnings about judgment day. While one was free to take what they wanted from the effervescence of the Krishna wagon parade, the block-type messages carried by the fundamentalists left little philosophical wiggle room. Never mind the buzz kill they were putting on the parade, how does one open up a free-ranging dialog that begins “God will judge the world” except maybe to ask “When? Have we still got time to talk?”
I observed some level of fatigue from the crowd in reaction to the fundamentalists, even though a few of the banner-carriers attempted to goad those on the curb awaiting the parade with assertions that the curb crowd was “mistaken” and “wrong” when it came to dismissing the warnings of the banner Bible quotations. But for all their invoked darkness, there wasn’t much you could accuse the fundamentalists of except extreme party-pooping. They marched and shouted a few times, but they were mostly ignored.
Cut now to row of camper trucks in Venice near Rose Avenue, where the problem of people living out of their often aged RV’s is once again coming to a boiling point just past simmer. Los Angeles City Council member, representative of the area, Bill Rosendahl would like to at least try a concept of providing overnight parking for those living out of RV’s in parking lots that are empty after sundown. It certainly sounds like a fair idea, even if there later prove to be dimensions that reveal it wasn’t a 100 percent perfect idea. There is one immediate good perceived by Venice property owners: The RV living group would relocate off their neighborhood streets. One survey done as recently as this spring says there are 84 people living in cars, trucks, and RV’s in Venice. Tolerance for noise, behaviors of mental illness and public urination is testing the patience of those who live in the neighborhoods the RV dwellers call home.
An article in a July 23 edition of the LA Weekly posited that the RV dweller situation had “exposed a fault line in Venice” and that the “tectonic plates run mainly along the line of liberal and left-of-liberal…” That’s a glib way to make sport of the tolerance of Venice and nearby Santa Monica residents, of which I happen to be one. I would posit that the statute of limitations on unmitigated compassion for RV dwellers has possibly, over the course of time this situation has persisted, run-out. A residential street could reasonably become a campground in the wake of a cataclysmic earthquake or brush fire or flood. Is such an instigating event even remotely tied to the RV dwellers?
And yet, if not… how? How do they become this constituency and where in that sequence of events are we compelled to help and more specifically find a working solution? We are compelled at a primary level, because they are human beings. At a secondary level, because we are the ones equipped by resources and talent to help them. And finally because a community that looks to simply relocate troubled souls will, at some point, be one with concerns about its own soul. Bizarre as the circle I’m drawing might be, that brings us back to the fundamentalists. Personally I don’t reckon with Biblical threats or those who would have me fear them. I do hear myself say on occasion in regard to those who have trod a considerably rougher road than I have, “There but for the grace of some force unknown to me… go I.” And then I take another look at Bill Rosendahl’s proposal.