The Pioneer Spirit
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Throughout the history of the American West, doughty pioneers have moved into desolate landscapes. You know: Watered the desert with their souls. Sent cries to echo from cliffs of once-silent granite.
The Urban Man likes to do his part. So this year, when I heard the opera season would open on a Saturday afternoon in downtown L.A., I seized the hand of my sturdy mate.
"Darling," I said, "let's book a room on Bunker Hill for the whole weekend. Together, we'll bring life to a mesa of big architecture, big art, and freeway ramps. We'll stroll its massive concrete plazas and lounge its hostile corporate bars. They say Grand Avenue is our manifest destiny. It's time we made a start."
My wife's a good woman. She let her eye cross the hazy plain to the skyscrapers rising in a toothy crowd. She trembled but once, then packed the trail mix.
Late Friday, we made camp on the 13th floor of the Omni Hotel, last outpost on the grim reaches of California Plaza—come the weekend, a place of windy terrain, slot canyons, and clever water features. From here we could survey other fortresses of culture: MOCA, Colburn, the Cathedral, Nick & Stef's.
After gathering a simple meal from the mini-bar, however, we trained our binoculars on the condos across the street. We'd heard that chic pioneers were moving into burrows there, but never did we spy anyone going in or out the front door. Apparently, like many desert dwellers, chic pioneers have adapted by digging secure underground tunnels.
We got excited when a single taxi passed. A police cruiser. A few concert-goers scurried to Disney Hall—where the great stainless steel waves signaled our perpetual future as a sophisticated world city, but just now stood frozen in the moonlight.
We were not, however, alone. Down in the bar, a handful of other campers gathered as a troubadour played "Piano Man." Laughter spilled out on the plaza as if upon a darkling sea—and lo, we spied the lights of another campsite in the distance. Folks had circled their wagons in the mysterious "Watercourt" for a concert. Their music boomed off granite heights, and I thought: "Yes, like us, these good people are doing their job."
Each morning, G-d brings joy to the most severe wilderness. The Urban Man took a lonely Saturday jog to see the sun on laughing peaks and listen for the stir of little creatures. I did spot a few bleary-eyed guards dwarfed by huge doorways. And later, I explained to my wife how L.A. has always longed to birth a few blocks of Manhattan. How a whole neighborhood was bulldozed here in 1955 so that each skyscraper might create a shining urban life.
"Darling," interrupted my wife, "Then why did they build a place with all the charm of an airport access ramp? And why can't we just drive in and out, like everyone else?"
"Darling," I replied. "Why did G-d create wild places? Not merely to delight us, but to intimidate, to challenge…even to punish us. A 150 years ago, when pioneers reached the sea, they worried they would run out of wilderness. That's why architects use their genius to create forbidding new places for us to conquer. It's crucial that Angelenos never get too comfortable, and I can only hope developers will continue to grasp their essential mission here. There's a new, multi-billion dollar development going in around Disney Hall. They speak of greenery and destination retail. But I hope they won't forget to make it overwhelming."
It was time for the opera. The Urban Man and his mate dressed in their best and linked arms to stroll the yet-unspoiled center of Grand Avenue, all the way to the glittering rise of the Music Center.
Copyright © 2007. Marc Porter Zasada. All rights reserved.
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