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the skunks of los feliz
To supplement my meager pittance while I continue the search for a permanent gig, I've been doing some production work as a boom-operator, mostly on student and no-budget flicks. I spend my days cramped into the one corner of the set that is not on-camera, headphones jammed over my sweaty ears, trying to decide who deserves strangulation most: the neophyte director who doesn't know what he wants (storyboards, anyone?), or the neophyte actor who keeps stepping on his co-star's lines. Which is to say, I love production work, but I hate boom-opping, because it takes the joy out of production work. The creative process between director, actors, and camera becomes an impediment to your job. You begin to despise ad-libbing, last minute camera adjustments, and shifting frame-lines. You cry out in your internal monologue: "Hit your mark, fer chrissakes!".
Still, you are on set. You get to meet new people, see new places, often fascinating places you would never have known about, or had access to. On my latest shoot, I was able to work in the Barclay Hotel, a historic downtown landmark which, even in it's faded seediness, is far more welcoming than the brutal, glass-sheathed towers of a hotel like the Westin Bonaventure.
As cool as that was, however, the absolute best location we worked was the Red Car Toluca Yard. The Red Car, the L.A. streetcar system which gave way to freeway construction in the late Fifties, actually had a one-mile stretch of subway running from the downtown Subway Terminal Building to the Toluca Yard just south of Echo Park. The yard still has some traces of the once-ubiquitous Red Car: a power sub-station and the tunnel head, now sealed. The tracks have long since been removed from the track-bed, and the sub-station and yard retaining wall have become covered in graffiti (see my photo-blog at right), but to stand there is to get a sense of what Los Angeles was like before the automobile did it's work on the fabric of the city.
I recently returned from a weekend in San Francisco (whassup, Julianne and Danny?!?!), a city that, along with being almost insufferably picturesque, has an absolutely kick-ass transit system. Sure, it's transfer and fare system can be inscrutably picayune, but you can get everywhere on one of the Muni's clean, safe busses, trolleys, or trains. And their F-Line features historic cars from around the world, including Pacific-Electric Red Cars.
I'm not saying we need to ditch cars altogether. L.A. would not be L.A. without being able to cruise down Sunset or Mulholland in your own little fossil-fueled isolation chamber, chatting on a cell-phone since you're most likely driving alone. And the reality is that our city is just too spread out for transit to entirely do the job of moving people around. But standing there in the Toluca Yard, I had a vision of hopping on the Red Car, clanging up Glendale Boulevard past Echo Park, the air clear and smog-free, the palm trees straining up into a crystal blue sky, the roar and filth of the 101 a science-fiction nightmare. I'm sure that the past was not nearly so idyllic. But what a dream.
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