Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Have you seen the movie "Chinatown," dear readers?
It was released in 1974, and starred a very young Jack Nickelson, Faye Dunaway, and John Houston (not young), and was directed by the since exiled Roman Polanski. It was nominated for eleven Academy Awards, and won for Best Original Screenplay.
The story revolved around a private detective in 1937 investigating sinister goings on concerning water in Los Angeles, and the entity responsible for its dispersal, which today is the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP, DWP for short).
As the name implies it is also responsible for the power distribution to over four million Angelenos, including yours truly. It was established in 1902, and today is the largest municipal utility in the country. It provides a substantial amount of income to the city of Los Angeles.
Personally I've done business with the DWP through most of my adult life by paying my monthly electric bill, which I was happy to do as they supplied me with a consistent source of power so I could watch television, and keep things in my refrigerator nice and cold. For the life of me I can't remember an instance when electrical power was not available to me for as long as I paid my bill.
But since I've lived in my box here in the Las Americas, I've experienced at least two power outages per year, lasting anywhere from a few minutes to four or five hours. I wonder why?
What is further irritating is that the outage only affects a small area surrounding the hotel, a relatively small square bordered on Central Ave., from 7th to 5th, extending east to Sante Fe Ave., resulting in a little square of powerlessness within a bustling... powerful, city.
That sucks. From my window upstairs I can see the traffic light of 6th and Central working away like crazy. But close by here at 6th and Alameda, oh no, there you have a dark traffic light, with cars and trucks haltingly approaching the intersection, unsure of what to do, taking timid turns at crossing, hoping they don't get broadsided as they leap across. If I step outside I can see the power on down by 7th, so I know MacDonalds is doing well. If I look in the opposite direction the gas station on 5th seems to be A Okay as well.
It always happens like this, at least twice a year. Why?
I have to tell you I had a great day last Sunday, the best I'd had in over a week due to illness. I woke up at about seven forty, straightened up my box a bit, made some coffee, and checked the old Email.
When "Meet the Press," came on at eight, David Gregory was interviewing David Axelrod, the Senior Advisor and spokesperson for President Obama. Well I pretty much knew what he was going to say regarding the ongoing crisis in the Gulf of Mexico, so I switched channels and found Reps Steny Hoyer and John Boehner being interviewed on "This Week," so I sat back and watched that for a while thinking it might be interesting.
At one point the Republican House Minority Leader trotted out one of the right's most beloved talking points, "How long are you (democrats) going to keep blaming President Bush?"
Well I knew what my answer to that question was, and I was awfully surprised and pleased to hear the Majority Leader say it, "For as long as he is responsible."
Yes! I said to myself. Golly, Bush had a good eight years to screw things up as best as he could, and it's going to take at least that long to clean it up... probably longer. Then I made some pancakes.
The rest of my day was spent doing administrative work, clearing up my appointments for the upcoming week, updating my all important calendar application on my computer which I rely on heavily, clearing my Email, etc. I did this while watching silly movies on the Sci Fi Channel, the Jackie Chan vehicle "Rush Hour," half of "Pearl Harbor," and then the movie, "The Mummy," starring Brendan Fraser and the lovely Rachel Weisz. At one point during the movie my lovely case manager, Erin, gave me a call to see how I was feeling. That was very nice of her and I sent her a lovely Email telling her so.
I'd seen "The Mummy," before, many times in fact. They play it all of the time on the various cable networks as well as it's sequel. It's not a bad mummy picture as mummy pictures go, has a great cast, and is "action packed." Still I was patiently waiting for it to end so I could see the season finale of the AMC original series, "Breaking Bad."
"The best show on TV," they say on the AMC ads, and I can't disagree. Created by "X Files," veteran, Vince Gilligan, and starring Bryan Cranston of "Malcolm in the Middle," and Aaron Paul, it tells the rags to riches story of a high school chemistry teacher who is diagnosed with lung cancer. Faced with the daunting aspect of not being able to provide for his family (one son and a pregnant wife) and treat his illness with his meager resources, he hits on the desperate idea of becoming a "cooker," or manufacturer of crystal methamphetamine. He takes on a partner to distribute the ultra fine product he's able to make, and their little operation grows, and grows, etc., etc.
And Sunday night at ten was the third season finale, which for this series is usually a pretty good show.
Well ten o'clock came, "The Mummy," ended right on time, cut to commercial. I plugged in my Continuum Transfunctioner into its wall charger, and...
Bzzz, boom, bbbooommb..... blackout! The power cut off throughout the building, sputtered back on for a few seconds just to tease, than out again leaving me in total darkness.
I waited a few moments hoping the lights would turn on again. No luck. My three fans wound down. The computer was off of course. No sound from the fridge. No "Breaking Bad." F--K!
I heard some of my neighbors moving around out there. Fortunately the day had been rather cool so it wasn't immediately unbearable in my box. I made sure my windows were open to get some ventilation, then ventured into the hall.
The emergency lights had come on making it fairly bright in the hallway. Sure enough as I gazed out my window the street directly below had darkened, the traffic lights off on 6th and Alameda. Fortunately it being a Sunday evening there wasn't that much traffic, but what little there was ran through the intersection as if there were no tomorrow.
Looking over at the intersection of 6th and Central the traffic light was working perfectly. Cars stopped and started just as they should. The streets were fully illuminated. The world was at peace.
Off in the distance I could see the bright electric lights along 7th Street. I took a deep breath and resigned myself to the situation and that it might last a while.
I got my rolling office chair from my box, bringing it out in the hall by the window, got a bottle of water from the now warming up fridge, a copy of Steinbeck's "Tortilla Flat," and sat down to read.
I saw other residents peek out of their rooms, coming to windows to look out. They eventually made their way downstairs to the lobby below. I did not follow. I knew what was going on down there. They would just be talking among themselves, milling about. Some would go outside, others would stay inside near the front door, or sit.
I choose to stay where I was and not mill. I knew nothing of importance would happen until the power returned.
I was hoping that would happen before the repeat performance of "Breaking Bad," at eleven. That would not happen.
During the next two and a half hours I would have three significant and separate conversations with three different neighbors of mine. The first and craziest was with a small black lady named Debra, who dresses in flannel shirts, pants, and tennis shoes, her hair made up in dread locks. She is the residence's left leaning philosopher... or she's an anarchist, I'm not sure which. I admit it was difficult to keep up with the flow of her conversation, as it was rather disjointed and convoluted, a difficult combination. It was certainly lively though, I have to admit that. For some reason she knows my name, knows that I am rather attached to my case manager, Erin, as was she, and I admired Erin's ability to endure hours of conversation with Debra, which has happened at times.
I have to agree with Debra on a few points that I could make out, money is God in the United States, and at the present time our government works directly for Big Business, not the people.
My second conversation was with Lester the Molester. He told me of the problems he was having with the Housing Authority with paying his rent. He seems to think I'm concerned over his personal finances. I am to a degree, as Lester borrows money from me sometimes.
And my last conversation was with Ray, and older white gentleman, with a head of pure white hair. We spoke of hotel gossip mostly, past managers, the habits of some of the residents, including our own. I'd lived near this man for eight years now, but we hadn't spoken all that much and it was a refreshing change of pace to chat with him.
After these three retired I sat by myself, read for a while about Senora Teresina Cortez's quest for beans and tortilla's for her children. I wondered what it was about this little area of Los Angeles that the DWP couldn't seem to manage.
At twelve thirty the police finally showed up to place flares in the intersection below. An ambulance arrived at the entrance to our hotel to help someone who was stressed by the continuing power outage and suffering an attack of asthma.
I decided the time would pass more swiftly if I was asleep, and moved all of my stuff back to my box, and locked up. By candle light I made my way to bed, closed the windows as it was cool now, and laid down.
As a final tease the light flickered on twice, then no more.

They came back at four twenty four exactly. It took nearly six and a half hours for the largest municipal utility in the country to restore our power. I'd hate to see what would happen in a more serious situation involving a much broader geographical area.
My box returned to life. I was happy. I immediately got up and began resetting clocks and such. I made coffee and a bagel, checked my Email, magically downloaded last night's episode of "Breaking Bad," for later consumption. Took a shower. I looked forward to the day.
A little after five thirty I decided to take a morning walk over the 6th Street Bridge, a forty five minute to an hour long affair.
6th Street was filled with big trucks that had been unable to unload their contents at the terminal across from the Las Americas. I'd never seen so many hanging around at one time before.
As I approached the bridge I noticed a cop car further down the underpass with two officers standing around outside. I didn't know what they were doing and didn't care. It was none of my business.
It was bright out, but the sun hadn't shown yet over the San Gabriel Mountains in the east. It would in a few minutes as I approached the bridge's summit.
On the way back I passed my arch rival... Hardy going up. He wanted to greet the day too.

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